What is Camera2 API, why you need it, and check if your smartphone supports it?

The abundance of cameras in today’s smartphones is no guarantee of good photos. It’s all about the software, which often manages to provide incredible features even on a low-end, low-end module. This is the reason why Google Camera became so popular, which provided even budget smartphones with full-featured night and portrait modes, as well as improving the overall quality of photos, making them richer, more detailed, and contrasted. But Google Camera is only half the success. The other half is support for the Camera2 API.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Camera2 API more than once. It’s low-level software that is the link between the camera hardware module and the photo or video application. Simply put, it’s the same driver you install on your Windows computer so your printer or monitor can work properly.

What is the Camera2 API?
On the left – a picture taken with a GCam, on the right – with a stock smartphone camera. Do you still have questions about why you need GCAM?

What is the Camera2 API?

But there’s something about the Camera2 API that makes it unique, otherwise, it wouldn’t be talked about so enthusiastically. Wouldn’t it? Yes, in part this is true. The Camera2 API is a proprietary Google development that gives apps extensive access to camera settings like ISO, shutter speed, RAW shooting, etc. Even though it’s so cool, this utility isn’t found on all smartphones.

In general, there are four levels of Camera2 API support. The easiest way to explain their features on the example of Google Camera, for which this driver is largely designed.

  • Legacy – there is only support for the legacy Camera API driver, which was used before the release of the Android 5.0 Lollipop. It provides the ability to install Google Camera, but with the minimum features available, i.e. no portrait mode, no Night Shift, etc.
  • Limited. It is partial support for Camera2 API, which allows you to install Google Camera, but doesn’t let it reach its full potential. The functionality of Google Camera with limited support may vary from device to device.
  • Full – full driver support with no caveats or restrictions, with the ability to install a full version of Google Camera.
  • Level_3 – Full support for Camera2 API with a number of advanced features of semi-professional orientation. These generally relate to shooting in RAW and are aimed at deep tweaking the frame.

Also see:

How to find out if Camera2 API support is available

If you are going to install Google Camera, but do not know whether it will be supported on your smartphone, or have already done it, but do not understand why certain features do not work, the best way for you to check compatibility with Camera2 API. And you can do this by using a dedicated app.

  1. Download the Camera2 API Probe app from Google Play;
  2. Wait for the download to complete and launch the app;
  3. Open the Camera2 API tab at the top of the screen;
How to find out if Camera2 API support is available
Left – view of Camera2 API support, right – restrictions.
  1. Look at the Hardware Support Level line;
  2. The supported Camera2 API level will be coloured green;
  3. To see the limits, scroll down the list of available options and look at the red ones – that’s what they are.

In my case, it’s the Limited support level. In other words, most of the Google Camera features won’t work on my smartphone. However, it’s not that the manufacturer didn’t want to adapt the Google driver for my smartphone, it’s the hardware.

The point is that Huawei and Honor smartphones – and I have one – are equipped with Kirin processors, which are very different from Snapdragon. And it was for them that Google developed its Camera2 API. As a result, it will not be possible to install Google Camera on my device.

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