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Android 11 may not have had a lot of flashy new features, but at least we should credit it for fixing or improving some of the outstanding issues. Back in June, we examined a fix that had just rolled out in the first Android 11 beta that would lift the 4GB cap on videos captured by the camera. While the API that had previously been responsible for setting the 4GB limit was no longer a constraint, it didn't actually make a difference with the Google Camera app or most of the other popular video recorders tested. Now that Android 11 has rolled out and many of us with Pixel phones are running it, here's what has changed and how it works today.
To answer the obvious question, yes, the Google Camera app still has a file size cap. Video files recorded on Android 11 will now split at 10GB instead of the original 4GB imposed by Android 10. The new cap comes out to about 33 minutes at [email protected] — and much longer with a lower resolution and/or slower frame rate. This is a bit more than double the old time of about 13 minutes.
Left: Google Camera. Center: OpenCamera. Right: Filmic Pro.
The updated Android source code doesn't appear to impose any general file size limit, and my tests confirm this. Videos recorded with the Open Camera app on Android 10 were split at the 4GB cap; but a video recorded on Android 11 was allowed to reach 38GB before I stopped it manually (see the middle screenshot). And much like the original tests, the Filmic Pro app is still splitting recordings at 4GB.
This disparity between these three apps shows that the Google Camera and Filmic Pro are still imposing their own file size limits. Both apps are doing their own post-processing on videos between capturing and writing to files, which may factor into the decision, but shouldn't itself cause the limitation.
As for other phones and video recording apps, it's true that some have been able to record to larger file sizes prior to Android 11. A few OEMs patched their own Android builds before Google made the official change, while others only implemented workarounds in their own stock camera apps, which left most third-party apps to continue splitting files at 4GB. Once phones are updated to Android 11, most apps will record to larger video files automatically, but there may still be some inconsistencies.
A bit of filename trivia
As previously reported, the Google Camera app has changed its naming scheme to prefixing videos and images with PXL instead of IMG. Everything will now look something like PXL_20200924_121846975.mp4. One other change that didn't get as much attention, and probably won't matter to most, is that the Google Camera app now stores videos with a temporary filename during recording, and then renames all of the videos after recording stops. The temporary filenames have a .pending- prefix, followed by a mess of number sequences.
Above: Videos with temporary filenames. Below: Videos after recording stops.
Practical reasons do exist for splitting video files at record time, but most of them are based around supporting old and low-cost hardware and software. For example, everybody has a few old memory cards and thumb drives that aren't large enough to hold a single 20GB video, and some video players and editors have been known to fail when reading larger files. On the other hand, splitting a single video across multiple files is confusing to most users, and it turns into more work if you want to share, edit, or store your videos.
Even with the arguments for splitting files, 10GB seems like an unusual target. Any filesystem that supports files larger than 4GB could easily hold substantially larger than 10GB. Even most memory cards start at 16GB, so a target of about 15GB might have been more appropriate — or in a perfect world, a default would have been set to 15GB, and users would be allowed to change the setting as needed.
Regardless, most Google Camera users probably won't notice the new file size cap since very few people casually record a straight 30+ minute video at 4K (or a couple hours at 1080p). For the few that do, they'll either have to live with joining the files manually or choose a different camera app for video.