Marc Levoy, who was a “Distinguished Engineer” working at Google until he abruptly left the company earlier this year and is now working at Adobe, has overnight sat down for an interview with The Verge talking about his career and what’s next in photography. The hour-long podcast offered some interesting points and insights into Google Pixel devices.
From what we have been able to gather via various leaks and rumours, the Pixel 5 will use the same Sony IMX363 image sensor for the primary camera that the Pixel 3, 4, and 4a use. When asked about this by The Verge’s Nilay Patel, Levoy explained that:
The mobile sensor industry is fairly mature. It does improve, but the improvements are coming with some diminishing returns over the years. One variable that’s a particular interest is the read noise. As the read noise decreases, you can take pictures in lower and lower light. And so, if Sony or someone else comes up with a sensor that has lower read noise, a lot of people will grab onto it. There are improvements being made in the sensors, but I’m not sure that they’re pivotal. They’re incremental.
Levoy was also asked why he left Google earlier this year. He stated that he had become “intellectually restless,” which seems to fit his long career within various fields. He explains that:
I think it was time to declare victory and move on. There were diminishing returns among these table stakes of high dynamic range imaging and low light imaging, and it was time to look for a new frontier.
When also asked about the usefulness of smartphone makers adding more lenses and sensors to their devices, he said that:
Potentially yes, potentially no. The Pixel 4 last year did add a telephoto lens and that did help. Google shipped a telephoto lens plus the Super Res Zoom technology that came out of my team, and the two of them worked together very well. So there’s definitely something to be said for more hardware. A depth sensor could help with a variety of tasks. I think hardware is important but I think what I’ve shown over the last 10 years is it software is very important. So, I think the two work hand in hand.
Levoy also explained video photography and the difficulties surrounding video and the pixel sensors:
So, video is an entirely different ballgame. The computational photography that we did at Google on the Pixel was largely in the still photography area. There were some other teams that Google working on video, but there was less that they could do because they had to do it in real-time.
When asked whether Google had asked for his advice and expertise on the camera hardware for the current and future Pixel line up, he stated that “I gave them advice. Whether they listened to it or not would be another question.”
If you would like to listen to the Podcast, you can click here to listen to the hour long interview which is well worth the time. It may also whet your whistle in a prelude to the upcoming Pixel 5.