Ultra HDR image capture could soon come to third-party Android apps

Summary

  • Google is working to add Ultra HDR image capture support to the CameraX API, allowing third-party apps to take Ultra HDR pictures on Android 14 devices.
  • The new JPEG_R format will be used for Ultra HDR images, rendering them differently depending on the device’s screen capabilities.
  • The fragmented Android smartphone market makes it difficult for camera app developers to ensure compatibility across all brands, hindering progress in utilizing the full potential of the latest camera APIs.


The plight of any Gen Z-er or millennial that grew up with an Android smartphone is the annoyance of how awful photos and videos look when captured using Snapchat. Heck, this author even remembers the theories other kids had to explain how horrible the quality of some Snaps were. Some of those theories turned out to be true, such as people saying it took a screenshot of the camera’s viewfinder. A trip down memory lane notwithstanding, the Android camera API situation is a mess. Third-party camera apps have had varying levels of difficulty enabling certain features across the spectrum of cameras on Android devices due to lacking API versions and compatibility problems. Android 14 added Ultra HDR support to pictures taken in the default camera app, but it hasn’t been usable by other apps beyond Google Photos. That seems to be changing.

According to Mishaal Rahman, Google is preparing to add Ultra HDR image capture support to the CameraX API. That means that for any third-party apps — like Snapchat — that use the latest API for image capture — unlike Snapchat — they will be able to take Ultra HDR pictures. Those images will be saved not in the widely-used JPEG format, but in JPEG_R. This new format renders images differently depending on if the screen is capable of UltraHDR or SDR. It’s quite brilliant, and when third-party apps get their hands on the capability, it will (hopefully) be awesome. Most likely, apps that market their advanced camera features will take advantage of this rather than social media apps.

There’s a reason that so many people prefer iPhones for any type of photography, and it’s part of the double-edged sword that makes so many people love Android in the first place. The Android smartphone market is filled with so many different manufacturers, and there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution for app compatibility. This makes it difficult for many camera app developers to stomach spending resources on the swath of phone brands running Android. It’s just simpler to deal with only Apple. Also, many third-party apps rely on older camera APIs, such as Camera1 or Camera2, because older Android phones only support those APIs. To reach the highest number of people, apps need to fall back on the lower common denominator, which hurts progress in this regard.

Until apps and Android smartphone brands are forced to utilize a universal camera API, some of us find it hard to care too much about how incredible the hardware can be. Cameras are better than ever, but if the software isn’t properly set up to utilize them across the spectrum of camera-related products, then we’re bottlenecked. Nowadays, smartphone camera arrays come with at least two lenses, while three lenses are the norm on high-end phones. We asked last May what rear camera lens is most important to our readers, and an overwhelming percentage said they required a dedicated macro camera on their next smartphone purchase. If you’re part of the minority that likes ultrawide photography, however, there are a bunch of phones that might be up your alley.


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