Google’s Incredible 8.1 Camera Update


If you have been following my blog you know that not to long ago I got my first Google Pixel. Shortly after writing the post on the Google Pixel 4a, Google came out with two new phones: The Google Pixel 4a 5G and the Google Pixel 5. These phones were being advertised with all of the new camera features which, just a few weeks later, came to the Google Pixel 4a for me to share with you.

For a bit of background into Google Pixel phones, these phones have all use the exact same Sony 12.2 mp sensor for the past four years. This sensor is very old now and is very poor quality but with a lot of Google software magic, these cameras compete with todays best smartphone cameras. I just received the new update on the camera software and it was almost like the camera had been replaced with a brand new camera. I saw changes instantly.


The first big change to the Pixel Camera app was that when doing night time photography, there is less grain before taking the photo. Before this update, shadows were more grainy before taking the photo and it was not until after that you would see a clean grain-free photo.

Another change that I saw instantly was a new design in the app. New shutter animations and photo animations were there. On top of this, night sight was made quicker and didn’t take as much time to capture in my testing.

Another awesome change is improved dynamic range when taking photos with more natural blur to emulate a professional camera. Also worth mentioning is new options for compressing photos to save storage. I personally will not use this but it is definitely something worth mentioning.

Another big change for the photos from the pixel are in portrait mode photography. Now the Pixel’s have night time portrait mode and also an awesome portrait light feature to add artificial lights in after-edits. The night time portrait is certainly not perfect but with no extra sensors like the new Iphone 12 and having it on a phone that is 350 US dollars it is certainly more than any other phone in this price range and simply amazing.

I have a few unedited shots from the phone taken after the update on the phone below. I did not get to use the big update on night sight portrait mode but here are some photos that show off improved dynamic range on the phone:


The third change to the app was improved video. I don’t do much video right now but it is worth mentioning that the Pixel 5’s new cinematic video mode made it to most of the older pixels as well. Also, electronic stabilization was drastically improved with new options for different kinds of stabilization. Certainly the Pixel’s are not nearly as good as video from iphones or other video oriented phones but it has moved forward.

My favorite change in the video was the cinematic video mode which I used to make a small cinematic sequence for the blog! You can watch it using the link below. The footage was shot on the Pixel 4a in 1080p with cinematic video mode turned on. I only did some slight color grading, extra stabilization, and added the transitions and titles. Other than those small changes, this video is almost as it came right out of the phone. Note that this is not 4k resolution so the phone can record in 4k as well.

I do not have a premium wordpress membership so this video is on my Google Drive. I also have a link to the video on pinterest as well. Feel free to download the video from the google drive if you would like, this is just test footage and you just need to provide a link back to the me if you would like to use the footage. 🙂 Hopefully you enjoy my first cinematic sequence uploaded to the blog, please let me know if you want to see more of this on the blog!


This post shows one of the big reasons I picked the Google Pixel 4a. The reason is that you have features from flagship phones brought to a phone that costs half the price. As I said at the beginning of this post, I feel like I have a brand new camera in this update. Google’s camera certainly is incredible and I have absolutely no clue how this can all be done with software updates on old hardware.

I really hope you enjoyed this post, if you have any questions about the 4a, Google Cameras in general, or comments on the post please just put them in the comments and I will be sure to respond!

Thank you so much for reading!

-Digital Wonders & Smiles

Published by Digital Wonders and Smiles

I am a photographer, writing a photography blog here on WordPress. I am based in the USA and take photos in my hometown. I also occasionally travel both domestically and internationally and write photoblog posts and make videos about these trips! On my blog, I cover everything from mobile photography to dslr photography to photography techniques for anyone!

8 thoughts on “Google’s Incredible 8.1 Camera Update

  1. The improved dynamic range is very good! Often phone photos in HDR mode tend to look artificial but these look very natural. Olympus are good with firmware updates on older models too, one of the main reasons I switched to them. I think if the main thing with updates is the image sensor, and Sony’s are great! Unfortunately Sony prefer to release a new camera every year and not update their old ones so much 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for commenting! You are definitely right about smartphones dynamic range often looking artificial. I do find that companies release devices and once the next version is released it seems you no longer get updates. I definitely love that Google gives the Pixels three years of support and new features. I wish the same went for my Canon EOS 250d but I certainly have yet to see how many firmware updates I will receive. I used to work with a budget Samsung phone for mobile photography but it only got one update soon after I got it and after that I was stuck with bugs and a camera that got old pretty fast.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. From my understanding the Google Pixel also gets less company bloatware that you often can’t uninstall, just pure Android. The Samsung premium phones are updated for a while but have gotten worse with bloatware. I can’t see them improving the crap zoom quality on the S20 with an update though, you can only fudge so much out of a tiny sensor, no matter what the pixel count is.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Samsung makes some great hardware, but you are absolutely right about the updates they give. Before coming across the Google Pixels I just thought that it was android giving the bloatware and not Samsung! I almost switched to Apple with their new Iphone SE! I certainly wish that Google could use some nicer, newer, and bigger sensors on the Pixels. Right now the small sensor is still great with software, but I feel like the competition is catching up with Apple using the same software techniques that Google is using to improve older sensors but Apple uses them on bigger and newer sensors. Samsung definitely has to change the way they make and update their phones, or they will continue losing business. 

        Liked by 1 person

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