Since the Pixel 4 arrived, Google’s smartphone line has offered an ‘astrophotography‘ feature that leverages machine learning techniques and computational photography to take pictures of the night sky. With the launch of the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G in 2020, the new ultra-wide camera hardware enabled Pixel owners to take wider images of the night sky. However, it appears Google has since removed that capability.
As spotted by 9to5Google, Pixel 5 and 4a 5G owners can no longer access astrophotography when using the ultra-wide camera on their devices. As of the Camera 8.1 update, a small bubble appears on-screen noting users must “Zoom to 1x for astrophotography.”
Despite the change, the ultra-wide camera still works with Night Sight, Google’s software-based low-light photography feature.
Further, Google updated a support document about the feature to note that it “only works on zoom settings equal or greater than 1x” on the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5.
It remains unclear why Google chose to restrict the feature, especially given that it was available and worked before. Perhaps there was some kind of issue with the feature and this is a temporary measure while Google fixes it. However, given the updated support documents, I think this may be more than just a temporary measure.
9to5 also points out that those who want the feature back may have some issues sideloading an older version of Google Camera. However, you can uninstall updates to the app to revert to the version that came pre-installed on the phone. Doing so will take you back to version 7.6, which still has astrophotography for the ultra-wide lens as well as a slightly different UI since Google pushed a new look in version 8.0.