The Pixel 8 is a long ways off, but some snippets of camera app code identified by developer Kuba Wojciechowski are giving us an early glimpse into what Google might be planning. The code in question refers to “staggered HDR,” which isn’t a technique that Google’s Pixel camera currently uses. The company was one of the first to refine mobile HDR and computational photography, taking them mainstream. Now, it appears to be evolving its tech for the next generation in a significant way.
Staggered HDR is a method of capturing short and long exposures of scenes nearly simultaneously. Google currently employs HDR Plus Bracketing, which takes individual photos in rapid succession and uses them to create a final image with a wide dynamic range — meaning there’s detail in both shadows and in highlight areas.
It works well, but it also means that the system has a harder time dealing with moving subjects since it’s using separate frames. With staggered HDR, a short exposure follows right on the heels of a long exposure — before the long exposure has even finished.
This rolling shutter effect scans the sensor from top to bottom and means that there’s no wait for one exposure to finish before starting another one. This means there are fewer motion artifacts to deal with, and less power is consumed in the process — Samsung says it reduces power consumption by 24 percent compared to a method using separate frames.
If Google does plan to add support for staggered HDR, then a new camera sensor is on the way, too. Kuba says that the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro use a Samsung Isocell GN1 for their main camera sensor, which doesn’t support staggered HDR. The Isocell GN2 does support the feature, so it seems to be a likely candidate for the Pixel 8. The GN2 would also provide some autofocus enhancements thanks to a tweaked phase-detection array that’s more sensitive to horizontal movement.
We’re a long way from finding out if any of this is in the cards for the Pixel 8 — Google hasn’t confirmed the device yet, and we expect to launch in the fall of 2023. But it seems likely that Google will keep iterating on the HDR feature it made popularly, and this early hint gives us a glimpse of what that might look like.