The Nexus 5 shoots 1080p video at 30 frames per second (or 720p or 480p if you’re trying to save space). Video mode is accessed with the mode selector under the shutter button (there’s no way to jump directly to video recording from the main stills screen). The settings circle lets you pick a resolution, set white balance, toggle the LED for illumination, or switch to the front camera for video selfies. The 3.9X digital zoom works while recording, though it’s not particularly smooth.

The video mode view is straightforward.

The camera app’s video tricks are limited: there’s no slow motion, HDR, ultra-high resolution, real-time filters or the like. The Nexus 5 can shoot stills while recording (just tap on the screen), but disappointingly they’re only 2MP 16:9 files. 

The app’s one unusual feature is a time-lapse function that takes frames at a user-defined interval (which can be seconds, minutes, or hours) and assembles them into a video. It’s fun to capture frenetic city action like this, and with a tripod and some patience you could theoretically record Planet Earth-style billowing clouds and setting suns, though the phone’s battery life (the screen and camera stay on between shots) would complicate capturing extended sequences.

Video Sample 1: Good Light

In good light, the Nexus 5 captures detailed video with smooth motion. Exposure is good. It would be a totally satisfying performance if not for the camera’s maddening focus hunting: in some videos the lens seems to jerk violently out of focus for a fraction of a second before snapping back to a sharp view. It seems to happen randomly, not when focus distance needs to change or low-contrast subjects (which tend to give autofocus systems a hard time) appear. More mild focus hunting is a not-uncommon problem for phone cameras, especially in low light, but the Nexus 5’s focus spasms stand out for their annoying abruptness and frequency. LG’s G2 has a similar bad habit, suggesting the company might want to reconsider its AF implementation.

The other disappointment is that the Nexus 5’s optical image stabilization doesn’t quite produce the rock-steady image we know and love from other phones with OIS. It’s still better than having no OIS at all, but for some reason doesn’t have the Steadicam look we associate with, for example, Nokia’s OIS-equipped handsets.

Video Sample 2: Low Light

In low light, the Nexus 5 drops its frame rate to as low as 20 fps, presumably to allow for slower shutter speeds. The result is a bright, well-exposed video that isn’t as smooth as video from phones that maintain full 30 fps frame rates. Low light video looks a little grainier even though there’s clearly some noise reduction taking a toll on detail. 

Overall the output is middle-of-the-pack, acceptable but not as good as the best. In the sample below, the focus drift that plagues many phones in low light and the snap-pumping visible in the sample above are happily absent.