Is HDR+ on the Pixel the same as HDR+ on the Nexus? No, it's new and evolved!

So, Google's camera app has had this feature, called HDR+, for years now — it's just like HDR, "but better", or at least that's what the name suggests. With the new Pixels, everyone has been raving about how awesome HDR+ is and how you virtually have no reason to ever turn it off. But, since it's the same branding, does that mean that the HDR+ on the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P is just as good? Are they the same thing? Is the McRib ever coming back for good?

Our answers to those questions would be "The Pixel is better", "yes and no", "probably not, it's a terrible sandwich". Back to the whole HDR+ thing, then!

The "old" HDR+

The HDR+ on the Nexus was touted for being able to consistently produce sharp images with no blurred moving objects. Just like your typical HDR, the phone would take a few stills at when the user presses the shutter button. It would then analyze and pick the "sharpest" / "luckiest" shot out of the bunch in order to use it as a main reference point. The rest of the pictures are used as layers to assist in the compression of a dynamic scene. HDR+ would also actively look for stills where any moving objects within the photo are the least blurred, and would crop them out and superimpose them over the main photo for a crisper result. While the typical HDR technique takes a few images at different exposures, HDR+ takes consistently underexposed stills in order to avoid highlight burns and grainy shadows.

Growing up

On the Pixel, HDR+ is improved in speed and precision thanks to a brand-new ISP (image signal processor), attached to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821. As soon as you fire up the camera app, the phone starts storing 15 to 30 frames per second (depending on light) in its memory (temporarily, of course). When you press the shutter button, you are just telling the phone "This is the framing I want, now just use the photos you made over the last second!".

From then on, it still covers the basics of the Nexus — when you press the shutter button, the Pixel takes 2 to 10 burst photos, depending on lighting conditions and dynamics within the frame — the more challenging a photo is, the more burst shots the phone needs to make. Unlike conventional HDR, which takes a few photos at different exposure settings before stitching them together, the Pixel's camera shoots stills at a constant exposure, which is purposefully set to be lower than usual. This helps for the later stages, by minimizing highlight blowout and graininess in shadows. After this, the phone looks for the sharpest ("luckiest") shot from the burst to use as the "main" image for the photo and the rest of the frames are aligned to it and used as layers to enhance it. In order to minimize the feeling of shutter lag, the Pixel will only pick a reference image from the first 3 shots in the burst.

Also, there is a small difference between HDR shots when you are in HDR+ Auto or HDR+ On. The latter mode is more "dedicated" to taking as many shots as it can, before combining them. It suffers from a slightly longer shutter lag, but comes up with brighter, more balanced shots. HDR+ Auto is like a "lite" mode — of course, it will only engage in dynamic scenarios, and it will be much faster to snap a photo. However, the resulting picture will be a bit less-balanced than one taken with HDR+ On.

The fact that HDR+ is such a huge part of how the Pixel's camera forms its images enables Google to provide improvements to the camera via software updates. For example, the company is aware of the excessive lens flare "bug", which is caused by the way that the hardware of the camera is composed. Google is working on a software fix for the flaring, which will have HDR+ actively seek out and "erase" the light auras by combining the various shots from its memory.

So, there you go. The HDR+ on the Pixel is kind of the same like the one on the Nexus before it, only more evolved... and super-powered.



1. frankg

Posts: 173; Member since: May 14, 2014

Am I glad with having inferior HDR+ (Nexus 6p) WIHTOUT lensflare.

2. cryptonx

Posts: 60; Member since: Jan 05, 2016

yet if someone gave you a pixel for free, you would have said the opposite.

12. Melodyshine unregistered

My Nexus 5x has exactly the same lens flare as the Pixel.

18. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

We need more HDR+ on cameras...its functionality creates some stunning images like no other. Of course if has to be on a flagship, thotgh.

3. Bankz

Posts: 2543; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

Pixel camera is the best smartphone camera of all time. I'm even pretty sure that the pixel will beat 90% of all smartphone cameras in 2017. HDR+ >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> All

8. Tyrion_Lannister unregistered

I would say it's on par with S7 series. Pixel has more detail and dynamic range, S7 is better in low light and has a full fledged manual mode with RAW capture. HDR+ is the best software processing, but the other cameras have bigger, better lens system and OIS.

13. Bankz

Posts: 2543; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

yeah +1 for you. I don't know why Google aren't including it in the camera software tbh. btw, when it comes to manual modes LG >>>>>>> All

14. krystian

Posts: 423; Member since: Mar 16, 2016

This guy is a camera pro. His tests showed the Lumia 950 beating pixel in most cases. Yet, the s7 comparison showed the s7 winning in a lot of cases against the Lumia 950.

15. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

probably because is WP fansite and, somehow pixel 's image that they take is abnormaly blurry

20. krystian

Posts: 423; Member since: Mar 16, 2016

They take it in the same manner. Again it's a windows fansite but the s7 got the praise it deserved.

16. Tyrion_Lannister unregistered

Look at the site name. I wouldn't be surprised if they show lumia 520 beating 5d mark IV.

4. Melodyshine unregistered

That's wrong phonearena. Where's your source? The Nexus HDR+ works in the same way, namely multiple brief exposures. Very bad journalism!​high-dynamic-range.html?m=1 The Pixel is just faster. The previous HDR+ algorithm is even better. Many Nexus users complain that the new HDR+ algorithm leads to more noise in low light.

6. Bankz

Posts: 2543; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

lol, are u serious? let's forget PA's journalism for a minute, but don't you have eyes? so you actually really believe that the HDR+ on the older Nexus is better than that of the pixel? lmao!!!! yes they may work in the same way but they're definitely improved and better as a result. There's a reason the Pixels camera is the best on the planet currently and the HDR+ is part of that reason. Something you couldn't say for the older Nexus devices. So PA's article isn't entirely wrong.

7. Melodyshine unregistered

I gave you +1 by accident. The Pixel is better because it can focus faster and because it has a HDR+ lite mode. But the image quality is not better. In low light the new HDR+ algorithm is worse than the previous one. I am not the only one who observed this. Moreover the Nexus got the new HDR+ algorithm via the Android 7.1 update.

9. Tyrion_Lannister unregistered

The new mode works on hardware acceleration compared to the older one which worked on the CPU. Hence the newer mode is instantaneous compared to the old one which took a while. However, the old one had more processing. The tasks that can't be done on the ISP have been removed and hence the new mode is not as full featured as the old one.

11. Melodyshine unregistered

Here you can see that the Pixel does not offer better image quality: The reason why many people didn't understand last year that the Nexus has the best camera is because many people(including reviewers) did not understand that HDR+ should be always ON (not Auto), they ignored that Google always said that it should be always turned on. Even when the Pixel was released The Verge ignored HDR+ at the beginning!​ra-auto-hdr-low-light-feature Moreover Google paid much for marketing and they also gave dxomark the Pixel before the release(what they did not do with the Nexus), that's why it got much more attention.

19. sissy246

Posts: 7111; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

It takes great photos, but I wouldn't say best on planet.

21. chenski

Posts: 768; Member since: Mar 22, 2015

Pixel takes much faster pics but quality wise the improvement isn't all that big

5. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3106; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

Is there a way to install hdr+ plus on other phones?

10. Tyrion_Lannister unregistered

It is particularly coded to work on the specific hardware. So I would say no. It might be possible to port it over to a camera with similar hardware( ISP and processor both) but that would require coding on Google's part which I really doubt will happen. You can expect similar modes from other manufacturers soon enough though. Everyone uses clever algorighms nowadays. Apple uses the telephoto lens to increase detail in centre of the frame of normal photos, huawei uses monochrome high res sensor to increase detail and similarly. I am most interested in what Samsung will do with S8 though. They are usually ahead of the others and would expect them to with the S8.

17. nebula

Posts: 1009; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

So far it's best point and shoot smartphone camera.

22. jimjam unregistered

An actual comparison of pictures taken between the nexus and pixel would have been useful nay the whole point if this article...

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