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Photographers, get excited! Google confirms uncompressed RAW image support for Android

Is RAW support coming soon to an Android device near you? If hints of an upcoming API are accurate, photography could be in the spotlight in the next version of Android, according to Ars Technica (via PetaPixel).

Updated on 11-26-2013 by Jeffrey Van Camp: Google has confirmed to CNet that RAW support is already present inside Android’s HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer), and will be activated in the near future, allowing developers to put it in their apps. “Android’s latest camera HAL (hardware abstraction layer) and framework supports raw and burst-mode photography,” Scigliano said. “We will expose a developer API [application programming interface] in a future release to expose more of the HAL functionality.”

App developer Josh Brown spotted some source code that indicates Google had been working on a new camera API for Android since last December (for non-geeks, that’s the application programming interface, essentially the rules for writing applications that’ll work within an operating system). But it seems the camera API was not ready for prime time, and was put aside prior to the release of KitKat so that developers could concentrate on fixing bugs. (KitKat uses the original camera API.) Had Google been able to push the new camera API, we could have seen support for camera RAW shooting.

What’s special about shooting RAW? Most cameras, smartphones included, currently capture photos in JPEG, which is a compressed file format. For most users, JPEG photos are fine and the smaller file size makes them easier to download and upload. But RAW files, which are much larger, contain more information, making them more flexible to work with when editing in programs like Photoshop. But imagine having a photo-editing app that can enhance the image you just shot, all within the phone. RAW image capture is normally found in advanced cameras, so having RAW support means you’re getting a more pro-like camera feature in a smartphone. Nokia recently announced RAW support in its Lumia 1520 and 1020.

But it’s not just RAW support that’s being offered. The API will support face detection like what you already see in many traditional cameras, but it goes a step further by assigning faces with unique IDs. Burst mode is another feature (something Apple recently added to the iPhone 5S). There’s also support for removable cameras. We don’t know if this alludes to new hardware, but Sony did just come out with some lens cameras that you attach to smartphones. Ars Technica says that, besides these features, the API could address the issue of image quality, something that Android has been inconsistent with.

But RAW support seems to be a priority for Google. Back in September, the company announced improved RAW-to-JPEG conversion for Google+ users. Google+ allows for full-size photo uploads, including RAW images. 

Nine months ago, Google’s Vic Gundotra said, “Just wait and see,” in regards to the camera in the next Nexus. Well, nine months later the Nexus 5 is out, and the camera is mediocre at best, as our own Andy Boxall discovered. Obviously, the Nexus 5’s camera isn’t the one Gundotra teased about, but it could have been. Whenever the new camera API does come out, it’s certainly something that camera makers won’t be thrilled about – another indication that smartphone cameras are getting better. 

Originally published on 11-20-2013.

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