Android cameras could get much better with new API featuring RAW image support

Compared to pretty much any iPhone(s aapl) or recent Lumia(s nok) device, Android(s goog) phones seem to lag behind the competition in one key area: camera performance. Sure, there are plenty of great smartphone cameras out there, but I can’t think of one in particular that has met with as much acclaim as devices from Apple or Nokia. That might change, as it looks like Google is working a new camera API with loads of new features, including RAW image support.

Ars Techninca points out that app developer Josh Brown recently spotted code that reveals Google’s work on a new camera API. Ars took a close look at the code, which reveals that Google might have a number of new features in store. Among those new features are face detection and burst mode, which don’t come standard on Android; it’s easy to overlook this since many OEMs have added these features on their own.

Also included is support for “removable” cameras. It isn’t clear what this refers to, but it could mean a device like the independent QX10 or QX100 lens cameras from Sony(s sne).

Most exciting, though, is support for shooting RAW images. This would allow phones to capture actual image sensor data alongside the traditional compressed JPEG image files. And unlike JPEG, RAW files use very little processing or compression, so you get an image that you can do much more with after the fact, using a program like Photoshop(s adbe).

According to the code, the new API should be backwards compatible with older devices, so hopefully these new features will become available on older Android phones capable of supporting them. It isn’t clear when Google plans to introduce the new API, but I’m curious to see if it will allow Android phones to finally push ahead in the camera race.