Users of Pixel 5 and 4a 5G will no longer use their ultra-wide cameras to take pictures of stars: with the Google Camera 8.1 update, Google seemingly removed the astrophotography capability of the lens. The feature was a Pixel 4 selling point, which was available on regular as well as telephoto cameras. As new wide-angle lenses were announced with the 4a 5G and 5, the feature was also added to those. It’s been taken down now.
The astrophotography feature helps users to catch the night sky by pointing their phone up and holding it steady, either by leaning it on a nearby object or setting it on a tripod. The functionality is still available on other cameras on the phones, but if you go to Night Sight mode and turn to the ultra-wide-angle camera, you will now get an alert saying “Zoom to 1x for astrophotography.” Before the update, it would say “Astrophotography on.”
Google updated its low-light photography support document to add the following caveat:
Important: On Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5, astrophotography only works on zoom settings equal to or greater than 1x.
Taking a look at the Wayback Machine, we can see that some time between November 1st and November 7th this transition took place. Given that the update was not released until a few days later, it’s a little strange timing.
You should check out this post on Google’s Pixel Phone Support forum for a clarification of why the functionality could have been cut. It has examples from two users, compared to what the ultra-wide lens put out, showing the effects of astrophotography mode produced on the standard camera of the Pixel 5.
The forum post, however, is another bit of timing weirdness, it was created days after the update had already begun to carry out the feature removal.