What the Android 4.4.1 update means for Google's Nexus 5 shooters
1 Android 4.4.1 software update changes
Google’s Nexus 5 marks a substantial advance in the frequently maligned imaging capabilities of the Nexus smartphone line. The camera’s optical image stabilization combines with its decent 8-megapixel sensor to deliver images that, while not class-leading, are certainly competitive.
However, in our review we found that the Nexus 5’s camera performance was undermined by speed issues: the camera app was slow to start up, exhibited frustrating shutter lag and felt pokey when focusing. Soon after the phone started shipping Google said it would address these issues, and it has delivered on its promise with the Android 4.4.1 update that’s been rolling out to Nexus devices since Friday. (Another update, Android 4.2.2, is already on the move as well, though it comes without the same sort of significant effects.)
We’ve put the refreshed Nexus 5 through its photographic paces and found that while the camera is indeed more responsive, Google also made other changes that may please some users but irritate others.
Need for speed
The update’s speed improvement is substantial. It doesn’t necessarily make the Nexus 5 blaze, but if the phone had shipped like this we wouldn’t have been scratching our heads so much about its stumbling pace in use.
Most importantly, shutter lag is significantly reduced: it’s still there, maybe a few tenths of a second, but there’s no longer the half-second pause that transported you back to the early days of digital photography. This means that if you lock focus, you’re more likely to catch those fast moving kid and pet moments than before.
Start-up speeds have been cut in half. Tapping the icon gets you ready to shoot in around half-a-second. More importantly, launching the camera from the lock screen shortcut now takes around a second and a half, a rather than the three or more seconds you’d spend watching the black screen before the update. It’s still longer than ideal, but you no longer start wondering if the camera app has crashed.
Focus definitely feels snappier. It wasn’t terribly slow before, but there’s now a welcome responsiveness that was missing. In low light, focus might be a little more confident, but it still misses the mark more than a lot of the competition.
Shot-to-shot time remains unchanged at around half-a-second, and there’s still no burst mode.
New exposure priorities
Google has altered the camera’s exposure algorithms to prioritize higher shutter speeds over lower sensitivities. This is a strategic shift rather than an “improvement,” and how you feel about it will depend on the kinds of subjects you shoot the most.
As we noted in our full review, the Nexus 5 leaned hard on its optical image stabilization system in low light, using shutter speeds that would lead to shake-induced blur without OIS (as low as 1/6 sec). This worked well with static subjects, with low ISOs translating into plenty of detail and relatively low noise. However, small amounts of subject movement at those shutter speeds causes motion blur. That’s a problem because people tend to move around, and a lot of camera phone shooters take photos of people.
With the 4.4.1 update, the Nexus 5 aggressively pushes ISOs up to maintain higher shutter speeds. This makes the camera better at capturing low-light candids, since the lack of detail that comes with higher ISOs looks better than catastrophic motion blur.
This is a better strategy for scenes with subjects that might move, but it can backfire when capturing static scenes.
This new exposure policy means that the Nexus 5’s HDR+ mode is more useful than ever. Faced with a low-light, high-contrast, static scene, HDR+ really shines compared to the normal mode.
Considering the subjects most people shoot with their phones, the new exposure logic probably delivers the greatest good to the greatest number. However, it penalizes static scenes in low light. On most Android phones, this wouldn’t be a big deal because you could always force shutter speeds down when appropriate by choosing a low ISO. However, for reasons best known to Google, manual ISO control remains absent on the Nexus 5, so you’re stuck with whatever the camera wants to do. So far, third-party developers appear unable to implement manual ISO control on the Nexus 5, though that should change when Google delivers its next generation camera API.
There are a few other minor changes in the update. The HDR+ mode now has a progress bar, so you have something to watch for the brief second and a half the phone takes to process an image. You can also digitally zoom in HDR+ mode, something we hadn’t missed when you couldn’t, but hey. Despite these minor improvements, there’s still an oddly long pause when toggling the HDR+ mode.
For detail sticklers, the aperture is now properly recorded in the EXIF data (though it still shows up wrong in the “Details” menu of the Gallery).
The more irksome user interface elements of the camera app have, unfortunately, been left as-is. So you still only see a cropped preview of the final photograph. The menu system is unimproved. There’s still no manual ISO control.
Finally, the Nexus 5 continues to occasionally choose a much higher shutter speed than needed, usually around 1/120 sec.
Join DPReview editors Rishi Sanyal and Carey Rose on Facebook Live as they share their experience and answer your questions about the new Sony a9, Wednesday at 9:30 AM Pacific time. Click here for additional details and time zones
German media reports that the founders of the company behind the Panono 360-degree ball camera have filed for bankruptcy at a court in Berlin. Read more
With a claimed 800 new custom parts, Microsoft's updated Surface Pro comes with the latest Kaby Lake processors, better battery life, a new hinge, plus the Surface Pen is updated as well. Read more
DW Photo is attempting to resurrect the Hy6 medium format camera, though the legal tangles of its development may stop it being branded Rolleiflex.
The Kodak EKTRA, the company's 'camera first' smartphone, is now available to purchase in the United States. Read more
Apple and Nokia have settled their years-old patent dispute. Apple will make an undisclosed payment to Nokia and sign a licensing agreement related to digital health products with the Finnish company.
David Gibson, one of Britain's best known street shooters, shares all.
Photographers from the SKYGLOW project travelled 150k miles and took 3 million photos in increasingly rare locations: those without light pollution.
The world's fastest 200mm was produced for 16 years. In that time, only 8000 were made.
Photokina, the biennial photo industry trade show in Cologne, Germany, has announced that it will become an annual event beginning in 2018, and expand its focus to additional areas of imaging technology. Read more
No mic socket? No problem. In this video, Daniel Peters at Photo Gear News shows you how to make a lapel microphone using just a smartphone and a pair of earbuds.
How does the iPhone 7 Plus stack up against the Arri Alexa cinema camera? Watch this short video to find out.
Canon Australia's video series "The Lab" is designed to make photographers experiment and think outside the box. In the latest video a group of photographers create images based on their sense of taste.
The GH5 is expected to get a firmware update this summer to support 400Mbps internal recording. NewsShooter explores what memory cards you'll need to make it work.
Microsoft's new Surface Pro offers Intel's latest processor generation and improved battery life.
Riding a mountain bike downhill is dangerous enough in daylight, but potentially lethal at night. Which is where drones come in.
Rumors abound that Canon (and maybe Nikon) may produce a mirrorless camera based using their existing DSLR mount. Does this guarantee immediate great lens choice or a perpetually second-rate experience? Read more
According to rumors, the next camera from Nest will be able to capture 4K video, though that resolution will be only used for 'virtual' pan and tilt functions.
Boundary's Prima 'fully modular' backpack is expandable to 30L and has a removable camera case and tablet sleeve. Early Kickstarter backers can get one for $189.
Stanley Greene captured 'brutally honest' photographs in the war zones of the Middle East, Chechnya and Georgia. He was also one of the few African-American photographers working internationally.
Owners of Leica M cameras that suffer from peeling CCDs will be able to claim a free repair in the future so long as the camera was purchased within five years of the fault becoming apparent, the company has announced. Read more
The Carl Zeiss Jena BIOTAR 75mm F1.5 Red T lens is very rare and priced accordingly. It can be yours today for the low, low price of $15,000.
The MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has developed a drone that does not require any human control for recording tracking shots. Read more
In this terrifying video, Iraqi journalist Ammar Alwaely narrowly misses a sniper's bullet, which takes out his chest-mounted GoPro. Warning: strong language. Watch the video
A new report expects action camera growth to increase about 15% by 2021, with Ultra HD cameras driving demand. Read more
Profiles for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom have been released for Irix's ultra-wide 11mm and 15mm primes. Like all profiles, these correct for distortion and vignetting.
An upcoming firmware update from DJI will cripple its drones unless they are 'activated' on the company's website. Live streaming will be turned off and flight radius/altitude will be limited.
Brent from ShareGrid rounds up the 10 most common products filmmakers are renting from one another for productions; chances are good you own one or more of them.
DaVinci Resolve is making strong moves to compete with Premiere and Final Cut Pro, including affordable control panels for colorists. According to Premium Beat, they're really good.
If you are not planning to fly your drone commercially you are not required to register it with the FAA anymore. This decision was handed down by a federal court in Washington, D.C.