How I Got Involved with the Google Camera Port



It all started with one of the worst phones I ever owned: the OnePlus 2. OxygenOS performance wasn’t good for the first 6 months and the phone used the infamous Snapdragon 810… even in winter it felt hot. Custom ROMs improved things a lot, but the guys over at OnePlus where too full of themselves after the OnePlus One success and the result was ROMs with many broken features (autofocus, fingerprint, etc). After months of pain, I decided to “downgrade” to a Nexus 5X, a phone that was slower on paper, but better in real life. It also had the best camera I’ve ever used on a phone.

Some time later I made the decision to buy the OnePlus 3 and Google Camera was one of the things I missed right away. OnePlus kept releasing new updates with “camera improvements”, but no one was seeing any improvements. I couldn’t use many of the advanced apps on the Play Store because of OnePlus’ buggy camera implementation. Since the camera was bad anyway, I moved to custom ROMs. SultanXDA’s LineageOS builds were good because he had fixed some camera bugs, but then Paranoid Android was released and photos looked better. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the rest, so that’s what I used.

In July 2017 I spend two weeks in Portugal and took some holiday photos. Only a small number looked good. The rest had bad dynamic range, lacked details, and low light performance was terrible… I went back to the stock ROM, but it was more or less the same. I wasn’t happy.

When I returned, I read a post on XDA about a Google Camera with HDR+ from a guy called “B-S-G”. I tested it and while I couldn’t use HDR+, video recording was working (or so I though) if used with a camera related magisk module. “60FPS on custom ROMs? Let me share it with other people!”. It turns out it didn’t worked that well, so I asked the moderators to close the thread… but they didn’t. SynisterWolf replied:

going to leave this thread open to see if we can spark some interest in helping you get this mod off the ground. if you really want me to close it, please reply to this pm and say so but it looks like you are off to a good start.

It seems that he thought this was my mod? It wasn’t, but he was right. This happened on August 18th, four days later Ivanich shared versions from B-S-G modified by him that worked on our phone. At the same time, me and other users started testing different configurations to find what was better for the OnePlus 3 and 3T. A month later, Arnova8G2 shared his first apk on our thread. On September 8th, I did a quick recap of what had improved:

We went from a Google Camera app barely working to a point were almost everything works in just a month. Not bad!

I also hosted apk files from B-S-G for the first time. This helped people a lot because B-S-G posted everything on 4PDA. Not only most users (me included) didn’t speak Russian, but 4PDA also requires an account to download… and they use Cyrillic captchas, making it almost impossible (but not completely) for people like me to create an account.

After this, things took off quickly. The OnePlus 3 and 3T were popular devices with bad cameras, so many wanted to test this mod. On my thread you could find good versions from Ivanich and Arnova8G2. We had stable settings and you could also download apks from B-S-G. All this made that thread the place to go if you wanted to try the port… more people means more posts, more posts means more off-topic. Arnova8G2 also released his GCam5 mod, which was very popular because it worked on many phones not supported by B-S-G.

To have an idea why this port become so popular, look at these two photos. The one on the right was taken with Lineage’s stock camera app. The one on the right was taken with Google Camera:

Side By Side

Using the Google Camera port with stable settings meant better photos with better dynamic range and details.

This site was also created around this time. Links to 4PDA are not allowed on XDA, Android File Host was slow, Google Drive had a bug that corrupted apk files, and I wanted to move non-3/3T users from the thread to reduce off-topic. The wayback machine allows us to go back and see how it looked like back in November 2017. A simple page with some apks from B-S-G, Ivanich, and Arnova8G2:

September 2017 Website

2018 was a big year for Google Camera mods. defcomg released a fix for the 3/3t front camera which allowed advanced features like HDR and lens blur to be used and later on Arnova8G2 managed to make his versions work on some OnePlus phones without any kind of fix. Tolyan009 released his first versions compatible with the OP3/3T and other modders where working on their phones. Some introduced new controls, like miniuser123 and his denoise menu while modders like cstark supported phones from less popular brands. I even had a Russian guy (Oleg) making translations from Russian to English!

In mid-2018 users started moving from the 3/3T to other phones, resulting in less testing and more issues, but Arnova8G2 and Tolyan009 where able to release good versions. Since this is only going to get worse, in December we send Arnova8G2 a 3T so he could fix problems quicker.

My site also grew a lot and now hosts more than 1000 files from more than 30 modders. It hosts over 70GB of space and serves more than 200TB of data each month (this includes other Android stuff). Apk sizes went from ~20MB to over 150MB in some cases and features now include portrait mode and time lapse. My useful links page has links about more devices and the FAQ/troubleshooting page has been improved after a rant on XDA.

I've noticed a shift from OnePlus to Xiaomi since 2017. Back then almost every visitor had a OnePlus phone, but now Xiaomi leads the top 5. I think the price increases and camera related bugs are moving people that like to tinker with their phones away from OnePlus products. For regular users, maybe image quality has improved enough for their needs.

And this is how I got involved with the Google Camera port. I really enjoyed being part of that group of users that tested, reported bugs, and tried to improve Google Camera. This, and working closely with some of the devs, is why we managed to have a good port while other communities struggled a lot.

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