Google's Camera app isn't the most advanced tool for taking photos. It completely avoids manual controls and generally lags behind OEMs for most major features. Where it's lacking in advanced features, the Camera app tries to make up for with a simple interface and clever techniques to intelligently deliver better photos without putting the burden on users. This means it works pretty well for simple point-and-shoot purposes, but skilled and professional photographers aren't likely to give it a second look. A teardown of a recent Camera update shows that Google is testing an option to save both RAW and JPEG files with each picture, a popular feature on many dedicated cameras and high-end smartphones.
Shooting In RAW+JPEG
Nearly two years ago, Google launched a new camera API with Android 5.0 Lollipop. One of the most important additions to the new API was the ability to collect raw sensor data from cameras and store it in DNG format. For those that don't speak Photog, that might not mean much, so let's start with a quick explanation. If you already understand this stuff, feel free to skip the next paragraph.
Most camera apps default to saving JPEG files. When a photo is taken, data from the camera sensor is passed to an image processor where it is manipulated by a series of algorithms to produce a generally desirable image. DNG stands for Digital Negative, and it's known as a RAW format. This means it was designed to store all of the data collected by a camera sensor with little or no processing. These files can be used by a post-processing application like Adobe Lightroom where the extra data allows much more flexibility than would be possible with a JPEG. Generally speaking, JPEG files will be smaller and look better as soon as they are taken, but there isn't much room to do color correction or fix exposure issues. DNG files will be very large by comparison and probably won't look as good in the beginning; but with the right software, time, and skill, they can often be used to produce a much better end result.
Google's Camera app has saved photos in JPEG for as long as it has been available, but that's probably going to change fairly soon. New text in the app's resources shows that users will soon have the option to save both the processed JPEG version of a photo and a DNG file to be used later.
<string name="pref_gcam_hdr_raw_title">HDR+ RAW+JPEG</string>
<string name="pref_gcam_hdr_raw_summary">Save raw DNG files when taking HDR+ images in addition to the standard JPG</string>
If you read closely, there appears to be one really big catch: this may only be available for Nexus devices. Both of the above strings seem to be clear about shooting in RAW while HDR+ mode is active. HDR+ was first introduced as a Nexus 5 exclusive, then continued to be limited to newer Nexus devices ever since.
<PreferenceScreen android:title="@string/pref_experimental" android:key="pref_category_experimental">
<com.android.camera.settings.ManagedSwitchPreference android:title="@string/pref_gcam_hdr_raw_title" android:key="pref_camera_hdr_plus_raw_out_key" android:summary="@string/pref_gcam_hdr_raw_summary" android:defaultValue="false" />
Google is currently testing the feature, which has been labeled "experimental" for now. It seems that there's no option to save just a DNG file. This makes a lot of sense given that most gallery apps don't support the file format. It would be confusing to most users if they weren't able to view the photo they had just taken.
Another reason for having both the JPEG and DNG files available is that it gives users a set of photos to share on social networks right away, while they also have a raw image that can be manually processed into a version that will be worth saving forever.
Many OEMs already ship their own camera apps with the ability to shoot in RAW+JPEG or standalone RAW. In that regard, Google's Camera app is catching up to the pack. If it turns out to be a Nexus-only feature, this can still be a welcome addition to Nexus owners. The ability to shoot in RAW could allow cameras like the one in the 6P to be used to deliver some truly great shots.
The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.