Google’s Top Secret Camera Lab Has a Fake Cafe for Testing the Pixel 8 Pro

Google has an elaborate photo set so it can test its Google Pixel camera in situations akin to the real world.

CNET went behind the scenes at Google’s Real World Testing Lab where there is a fake cafe, living room set, and even fake pets (stuffed animals) where all the lighting elements like color temperature and intensity can be controlled. But there were a few secret areas where the Google Pixel 8 and 8 Pro are tested that CNET wasn’t allowed to see

“Real people take pictures in places like living rooms and cafes,” Issac Reynolds, Google’s group product manager for Pixel Camera, tells CNET.

Google showed how it tested the Pixel 8’s new low-light video enhancement called Night Sight which has been a feature on still images for years but it’s harder to bring to video because of the massive increase in file size.

Reynolds explains that everyday scenes such as mood-lit dinners or a typical kitchen are “really challenging for cameras” and getting the picture not to flicker when the scene is being lit by a candle is difficult to engineer.

Computational Photography

CNET notes that processing the 4K Night Sight video at 30 frames per second takes a lot of computational power: a one-minute video is equivalent to processing 1,800 photos which is why the the video boost files are sent to the cloud. The video boost makes changes to the dynamic range, and color, giving it an HDR-look which is known as computational photography.

Rendering images taken at night on small smartphone sensors is tricky as they have difficulty interpreting the data which can lead to bad color on an image taken in low light.

“Human eyes can see an incredible amount of dynamic range; from detail in deep shadows to Sun shining through a window,” says Reynolds. “A camera can see a lot less of that and formats like JPEG which we use to transmit images can see even less.”

This means that the Google team needs methods to compress the dynamic range which they achieve via tone mapping.

“Really good tone mapping can do a lot of compression while still looking natural like your eye would have seen it,” adds Reynolds.

Google’s Real World Testing Lab is a bit like this giant fake town in Canada built exclusively to accommodate film crews producing television series, movies, and commercials.