Google Pixel 4 may support wide-color photo captures via Google Camera

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Smartphone cameras are getting better and better every year, and Android is seemingly at the forefront of image quality for our portable everyday-carry handsets. However, all Android-powered smartphone cameras are lacking one important aspect, and that is their images’ color range. While many argue that the cameras on the latest Android flagships capture more visually-pleasing shots than the latest iPhones’, one advantage that Apple has is their ability to capture a wider range of colors than any Android phone. The Google Pixel 4 could change that.

sRGB gamut vs. P3 wide-color gamut

iPhones capture images in the P3 gamut, which is a range of colors that is 25% larger than the sRGB color space used in Android phones. Apple has supported this in all their devices since the release of the iPhone 7 back in 2016, and Google has only now begun to announce its future support, three years later. Right now, when viewing an image captured by an iPhone (7 and later) on an Android device, if the iPhone-camera image captured colors that are outside of the sRGB color range, the Android display will not properly show those more-vivid colors, instead clipping them to the closest in-range color in the sRGB color space. This is actually due to Android’s lack of color management in its apps, but this goes hand-in-hand with wide-color photo capture since color management is necessary to view wide-color photos in the first place. As Android currently stands, there’s a range of colors that are not being properly utilized in the Android ecosystem that its direct competitor, Apple, has normalized throughout its entire platform, including social media, for three years now.

Last month Google announced that wide color photos were coming to Android, but did not give any sort of time frame for when this would happen. Last year, however, we found that the photo samples from the leaked Pixel 3 contained a Display P3 embedded color profile, which is the same wide-color gamut that Apple devices use to capture images. This made us hopeful that the Google Pixel 3 would support wide-color capture, but when it released Google seemingly reverted the feature and continued to capture images in the archaic sRGB color space. This is not because the sensor doesn’t support it — nearly all mobile sensors are capable of capturing color outside the sRGB color gamut — the apps just have to properly support it (which Google hasn’t made easy, but that’s another topic). In my Pixel 3 XL display review, I speculated that the upcoming Google Pixel 4 will support capturing wide color photos, and there’s now some evidence that Google is indeed working on support for this.

Recently, XDA Senior member cstark27 found code in the Google Camera app that allowed for wide-gamut P3 color capture, and he graciously compiled us a build that could toggle the feature to test it out.

The images came out just as expected, properly capturing colors outside the sRGB color space, and properly applying the Display P3 embedded color profile that we saw in the leaked photo samples. Below is a quick loop that cuts back and forth between an sRGB capture and the new P3 wide-color capture:

*GIF working space is sRGB, with the sRGB image converted to P3 and assigned back into sRGB to showcase the color difference on non-wide-color displays. Link to stills with proper profiles (must view on monitor with wide-color gamut support on properly color-managed application)

The difference is quite subtle in the comparison, but the flowers captured in P3 appear more true-to-life with higher color contrast between the petals and its shadows. The difference is more apparent the more colorful the scene is — a verdant garden, one much more flourishing than mine, will appear more radiant. The next step is for Android to adopt prolific support for showing these wide-color images with color management support. Right now, Samsung’s Gallery app is the only relevant Android app that color manages photos; no social media platforms on Android can properly display any of the wide-color photos shared by Apple users. Google Photos is also set on implementing color management, containing support for it for the past year, but Google has been rolling it in and out sporadically to a select few users.

With cstark27’s finding and Google’s announcement of wide color photography, we presume that Google is finally beginning to ramp up support for wide color and that they will most likely make a big deal about it when presenting the radical new cameras on the Google Pixel 4 later this year.

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