Google Kills Astrophotography Mode On Pixel 5 And Pixel 4a 5G Ultra-Wide Cameras

google night sight
When you purchase a smartphone these days, you [usually] don't get a device that is stuck in time. The software for smartphones evolves, and over time, new features are often added to make the device even more useful. However, it's rare that a company would remove a prominent feature that was widely advertised prior to release. Such is the case with the astrophotography mode that was first introduced in 2019 for the Pixel 4.

Astrophotography mode has been a popular feature with night sky watchers, hence why it was also brought along for the recently introduced Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G. With this shooting mode, you can put your smartphone on a tripod and capture some wonderful images using a long exposure. However, with the release of Google Camera 8.1, it is no longer possible to capture images using the astrophotography mode with the ultra-wide sensor, which was first reported by Android Police

google astrophotography
Astrophotography mode, wide angle (L) and telephoto (R) -- Click to Enlarge (Source)

Attempting to enable astrophotography with the ultra-wide camera now simply gives you a warning that says "Zoom to 1x for astrophotography." Google didn't telegraph this move at all, and simply ripped the feature out without so much as a notification in its release notes for the Google Camera 8.1 update. It wasn't until users started trying to use that feature that it became apparent that Google had pulled a fast one. Google has since updated its support documentation to read: "On Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5, astrophotography only works on zoom settings equal to or greater than 1x."

But why Google make this move in the first place? The popular consensus seems to be that astrophotography pictures taken with the ultra-wide lens looked subpar; especially compared to the results that are achievable with the telephoto lens (see comparison image above). In addition, ultra-wide lenses aren't exactly known for their low-light performance, so it was never going to be an optimal solution for astrophotography mode anyway.

With that being said, the Google Camera 8.1 update was first pushed out in early November and people are just now noticing over a month and a half later that support for ultra-wide lenses is gone. Perhaps the feature is just not popular enough on this lens in particular to warrant much of a fuss over, and Google didn’t think that many would miss it...