The "Night Sight" feature on the new Google Pixel 3 smartphone brings light and definition to even the darkest restaurant food photographs.
Credit: Google Pixel 3 photo: Getty Images

Besides hauling a full-frame DSLR to dinner, snapping some quickie photos of memorable meals out with family and friends on your smartphone has always been a hit-or-miss affair... until now. For anyone who's been frustrated with dark, blurry restaurant food photos, or has ever asked a friend to help light the table with their iPhone flashlight, consider the new Google Pixel 3 smartphone—because, on top of it housing the best smartphone camera available right now, its just-launched Night Sight feature completely changes the user experience of taking photos in dimly-lit environments.

The pitch: Instead of utilizing the Pixel phones' zero-shutter-lag protocol, Night Sight activates a positive-shutter-lag feature, which allows for longer exposures in dim lighting. Combined with a learning-based auto-white-balancing algorithm and innovations in tone-mapping technologies, Night Sight on the Pixel 3 can render clearly-lit photos in situations where a vignette isn't even clearly visible to the human eye.

"Before you press the shutter button, Night Sight measures your natural hand shake, as well as how much motion is in the scene. If Pixel is stable and the scene is still, Night Sight will spend more time capturing light to minimize noise; if Pixel is moving or there’s significant scene motion, Night Sight will use shorter exposures, capturing less light to minimize motion blur," according to Google's blog. "If your subject moves during the capture, Night Sight can adapt to prevent a modest amount of motion from ruining the shot. Instead of capturing one bright and blurry photo, Night Sight captures an equal amount of light over a burst of many photos that are dark but sharp. By merging this burst, Night Sight prevents motion blur and brightens the photo, giving you a bright and sharp photo."

The Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, I grabbed a last-minute late-night dinner with my friend Sasa at Hanoi House in the East Village—and a drink at Mr. White next door while we waited on our table. It was 8:30 p.m.—way past sunset in NYC late November—and the dark, atmospheric restaurants were the perfect venues to put Night Sight technology to the test. Here's what I snapped—please bear in mind that I'm mostly a words editor and not a photographer by any stretch of the imagination—the photos on the left side of the composite were taken in regular camera mode (still pretty good in the dim light, tbh), and on the right are the Night Sight versions. Both images came straight out of the camera, no filters, no brightening, no touch-ups.

1. My red wine cocktail at Mr. White:

Credit: Google Pixel 3 Night Sight photo test by Danica Lo for Food & Wine

2. Crispy spring rolls at the bar (we were seated at the corner of the bar, near the door, so there was light coming in from street lights):

Credit: Google Pixel 3 Night Sight photo test by Danica Lo for Food & Wine

3. Beef pho at Hanoi House, overhead:

Credit: Google Pixel 3 Night Sight photo test by Danica Lo for Food & Wine

4. Beef pho at Hanoi House, pov:

Credit: Google Pixel 3 Night Sight photo test by Danica Lo for Food & Wine

You can see that the Night Sight photos are brighter and sharper—and probably much more usable on social media platforms right out of the camera—than the non-Night Sight photos.

Side notes, or my main takeaways from playing around with the Pixel 3 for the past week are:

  • Even in the dark, you still need to obey some basic rules of photography when using Night Sight—i.e. it helps if any ambient light, even dim light, is behind the camera instead of in front of the subject.
  • In comparison to my everyday-carry previous-gen iPhone X, the Pixel 3 camera is sharper, with much more pronounced depth of field, by leaps and bounds, in normal camera mode as well as in portrait mode.
  • For anyone who is a prolific in-restaurant-food-photo-sharer, the Night Sight function will be invaluable—there's really nothing else on the market like it and it will spare you lots of frustration and retouching time.

Check out more features of the just-released Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL from Google and tell us what you think if you're a Pixel 3 user.