Camera Features cont.

Scene Modes

The native camera app features four scene modes: Action, Night, Sunset, and Party. 

The most useful is Action, which prioritizes faster shutter speeds to help avoid motion blur. While it’s obviously useful for sports-type moments, it’s also handy for use with people who aren’t standing still indoors, since the phone will otherwise aim for very low shutter speeds (enabled by OIS) that lead to motion blur. Unfortunately, when lights are really low it won’t push ISO up enough to do the trick, and in fact can lead to under exposure. Which takes us back to the lack of manual ISO control.

Night mode seems to darken exposures a bit, which makes sense since you usually don’t want to capture a bright version of a scene that is actually pretty dark. The effect is subtle.

Given the sogginess of November we haven’t have much chance to test Sunset on its intended subject, but it appears to be mainly a white balance change aimed at producing more dramatic colors in the sky.

Party mode is a bit of a mystery. You’d hope it would have an Action-like impulse to keep shutter speeds high enough to deal with excited people, but it doesn’t appear to do that or anything else especially helpful for capturing party scenes. Our festive shots were mostly blurry messes unless people froze and posed.

Gallery and Image Editor

The Gallery app provides a basic way to view images and peruse your albums.
Images can also be grouped by location, date, or tag.

The Nexus 5 ships with a Gallery app that at first glance seems like nothing special. It opens into an album view, which includes the camera roll, any directories with images in them on the phone, and albums you might have on Google+. 

Diving into an album, you can arrange images in a grid or filmstrip view. We wouldn’t mind an option for smaller thumbnails that would take advantage of the phone’s high-res screen for searching through large numbers of images quickly, but that’s a minor quibble. 

In addition to the usual chronological view, you can also group items by location (which is only useful if you let the camera location stamp your photos, of course), or by person or tag. Tagging people or adding custom tags has to be done in Google+ or Picasa. 

Sharing is integrated into the Gallery, with any service that wants to tie in being included in the drop-down menu (it’s prepopulated with Google offerings; you’ll have to install Facebook and Twitter apps yourself).  

Tapping the pencil icon when viewing a photo opens the gallery’s editor, which turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

For starters, there’s a selection of nine quick filters, reasonably subtle takes on favorites like vintage, sepia, and black-and-white. 

The editing function in the gallery features filters with live-preview icons and a handy draggable before/after view.
The editor packs in advanced functionality like curve adjustments (there are even separate RGB curve controls).

Next is a frame selector with eleven presets, useful if you like film sprocket holes or the look of a view camera’s ground glass. There’s also a custom function for creating a frame by specifying the corner and border thickness and the color.

Then there’s a cropping and straightening tool, functional but hardly exciting. So far, so ordinary. 

But the last icon, a +/- exposure circle, opens a cornucopia of serious photo editing functionality. You’ve got the basics, like exposure, contrast, saturation, and vignetting. There’s a one-touch Autocolor function that does a good job of correcting the blue cast of the LED flash. 

But the editor goes way beyond these basics. That saturation slider? You can also adjust red, yellow, green, cyan, blur and magenta tone individually. You can tweak hue and sharpness. A vibrance slider provides smart saturation correction. Google leverages its Snapseed acquisition to deliver control-point-based adjustment of brightness, saturation and contrast, which is a great way to edit on a touch screen. You can also tweak those variables through multiple graduated filters with full control over the transition zone size and orientation. A Shadows slider pulls detail out of the darker parts of the image, and a Highlights slider, while not quite as effective as the familiar Photoshop tool, helps reign in overexposed areas. There’s a curves correction (with up to eight inflection points!), and you can even manipulate the red, green, and blue curves separately.

Everything happens at full resolution, and all edits are nondestructive (you can always revert to the original image). Google essentially takes a full-featured photo editor that holds its own against the best third-party offerings, and tucks it into a corner of the native gallery app. It’s a powerful tool that will appeal to users who are comfortable with advanced desktop photo editing, but it remains accessible to less technical users as well.

If the Gallery feels overwhelming, the Nexus 5 also features Google’s Photos app, which offers a gallery view of the camera roll and a basic editor with cropping, rotating, and a grip of filters and frames. The filters each have several sub-variants, and various parameters (the strength of the effect, as well as saturation, brightness, and contrast as applicable) are adjustable through Snapseed-style swiping. Even this watered-down version of the full editor is impressively flexible. 

The Photos app duplicates some gallery functionality but offers a more filter-centric editor.

The Photos app also manages optional automatic backup of your photos to Google+, either at full resolution (which uses the Google+ space allotment), or at 2,048 pixels on the long side (with unlimited free storage).

As a feather in its cap, the Photos app also introduces Google’s “Auto Awesome movies” feature, which combines photos, video, and music to produce a ready-to-share mini-movie. Though hands-off automation is clearly the priority, you can change the order of elements and tweak the segments of video that are used. A selection of themes offers different transition styles and filters. As a fun, quick-and-dirty way of converting stills and video into something shareable, it works, though some of the themes are a bit too heavy-handed with the source material.

App Ecosystem

Android has a very rich app ecosystem, and since you’re not locked into a particular app store, you don’t have to worry about your phone maker or carrier stamping out an app that ruffles their feathers. If there’s something you want to do, there’s almost certainly an app (or ten) that does it.

That said, the huge range of Android devices means that not every app works perfectly with every phone. This is particularly evident when it comes to camera apps, since they need to work closely with hardware. We tried a number of camera apps on the Nexus 5 (Camera Zoom FX, Camera FV-5, Camera Awesome, HDR Camera) and found various levels of compatibility as developers scrambled to support the new phone. As of this writing, none of the apps we tried successfully implemented manual ISO on the Nexus 5, although several support the function on other handsets.