Testing Pixel 4’s incredible Night Sight photography
Posted on December 18, 2019
7 min read
When Google dropped the unreal Pixel 4, we were impressed by the updated Night Sight feature that allows for incredible astrophotography – the ability to take spectacular pictures of the night sky. We gave a Pixel 4 to Troy, one of our technicians based in regional Queensland, to see just what it could do.
We live in a vast, beautiful country outdone only by what’s above us.
I’m part of the team who builds and maintains Telstra’s mobile and radio infrastructure – more than 10,000 mobile base stations providing more than 2.5 million square kilometres of coverage to metro, regional and remote Australia. It means I’m out of town a lot, so to speak, for work.
When you get away from the city lights, the Milky Way is awesome. Truly awesome.
I’m also a keen snapper. Astrophotography typically requires some serious gear, lots of settings adjustments and patience to yield a result, so I was interested to see how the Google Pixel 4 would go on my recent travels.
The key to nailing that starry night shot is to get out of the cities and into the country, where there’s little to no light pollution to clutter an image. Light pollution is the bright hue that is cast across the sky by things like cars, street lights and buildings. It’s a disruptor and stops us from seeing features of the night sky.
These photos were snapped near one of our mobile base stations at Mt Kent, west of Toowoomba. Both are straight out of the Pixel 4 with no edits. It really shows off the shots you can get of the night sky without light pollution.
I used a high intensity LED torch to help compose my shots (as it was basically pitch black). I used objects in the foreground to provide some depth to the photo.
Once the photo was composed the Pixel 4 basically did the rest. 4 min long made up of multiple exposures that are stacked on top of each other, this gets rid of any movement in the sky (star trails) and as you can see the Pixel pulls light that the human eye struggles to see.
On the flipside, you can also use a light to create a fun element to your pic. All I did with this shot is leave the interior light on in my work car to create a cool extra point of interest.
And finally, this is a four-minute exposure shot pointing straight up at the stars for a shot that’s unheard of on a phone. You can see the constellation of Orion clearly in the night sky, shot with nothing but a phone camera and a native Android app.
Troy’s tips for better night photos
Google has a number of recommendations for getting the shot after the Sun goes down. Here are a few tips on how to get the shot from the Pixel 4:
● Stabilise your phone to make sure it will not move during long exposures: prop it up on a stable surface such as a rock or a fence post or use a tripod if you happen to have one.
● Launch the Google Camera App, switch to Night Sight, and frame the shot.
● Once the phone is steady, the viewfinder should display a message that says “Astrophotography on” to indicate that long exposures are enabled, and that, depending on the brightness of the scene, taking a shot may take up to four minutes. If there’s strong wind and the phone is on a tripod, then the camera may shake too much for a sharp long exposure and “Astrophotography on” may not appear. If that’s the case try shortening the tripod legs to keep the phone closer to the ground, use your body to shield the phone from the wind, or move to a spot that is less windy.
● The phone will try to focus automatically, but autofocus can fail in extremely dark scenes. For landscape shots you may just want to set focus to “far” so that anything further away than about 4 meters (13 feet) will be in focus.
● For best results set the self timer to 3 seconds. This shifts the beginning of the exposure to 3 seconds after you have tapped the shutter button, and avoids unwanted motion-blur by ensuring that the phone doesn’t move when it starts capturing light.
● Once the exposure has begun, the viewfinder displays a timer that shows how many minutes and seconds are left until the exposure is complete. If you want to stop the exposure early for some reason, for example, because a car’s headlights have appeared in the frame, tap the shutter button again. You will get a photo even if you stop early, provided at least one frame has been captured, but letting the timer count down all the way to zero will produce a brighter and clearer image.
● The viewfinder in the Google Camera App works at full moon light levels, but in environments darker than that the on-screen image may become too dim and grainy to be useful. When this happens we recommend the following: point the phone in what you think is the right direction, then tap the shutter button. As soon as the exposure for an individual frame is complete, the frame will be shown in the viewfinder, and you can check and correct which way the phone is pointing. Wait for the next frame to see the effect of your corrections. Once you are satisfied with the composition, tap the shutter button a second time to stop the exposure. Then tap the shutter button once more to start a new exposure and let it run to completion without touching the phone.
● You may want to reduce the phone screen’s brightness and also enable Android’s Dark theme. This will help you preserve your own night vision while working on astrophotography.
Customers who purchase a Google Pixel 4 or Pixel 4 XL through Telstra will also receive an exclusive bonus Google Nest Hub. Using the bonus Google Nest Hub, customers will also be able to take advantage of another Telstra exclusive – Voice-activated Calling – allowing you to make voice calls via the Hub and/or other Google Nest devices. Bonus offer ends 13 January 2020.
Both devices are available on Telstra’s new post-paid mobile plans that offer consumer and small business customers greater flexibility with month-to-month plans, the freedom to change your plan once a month, no excess data charges in Australia, and the ability to personalise your plan through add-ons, including the option to pay off your device over 24 or 36 months.
The Google Pixel 4 (64GB) will be available from $1,049, which works out to $43.70 a month when you add to any month-to-month mobile plan and stay connected for 24 months or $29.13 a month when you add to any month-to-month mobile plan and stay connected for 36 months, plus your chosen plan costs.
The Google Pixel 4 XL (64GB) will be available from an RRP of $1,279, which will be $53.29 a month when you add to any month-to-month mobile plan and stay connected for 24 months or $35.52 a month when you add to any month-to-month mobile plan and stay connected for 36 months, plus your chosen plan costs.
For a full list of plans please visit our Google Pixel 4 store page.
 Requires a Telstra mobile service with credit on a smartphone, a powered Google Home/Nest speaker or display* connected to an active Wi-Fi network and activated through iOS/Android Google Home app. Data charges may apply. Call charges will be in accordance with your Telstra mobile plan. To call E000, say “Hey Google, call Triple Zero. *Currently not available on Google Nest Hub Max – coming soon.