The Google Pixel is a truly significant Android phone. One of its strengths is free and unlimited storage of photos and videos in full resolution.
It turns out that that applies to photos shot in RAW image format, which contains nearly every bit of data that a camera sensor picks up and gives you lots to work with when you’re editing photos. These giant-sized files won’t actually count against your Google storage limit, which applies to Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos. But Google hasn’t talked much about this capability, presumably because the feature isn’t accessible through Google’s native Camera app.
This feature has been available since the Pixel became available in recent weeks, but it’s just now being discovered on Reddit.
If you want to shoot in RAW on the Pixel or Pixel XL, you’ll need a third-party camera app that supports RAW. For example, the free Open Camera app will work. You’ll just need to enable the Camera2 application programming interface (API) option and then enable photo capture in both JPEG and DNG (RAW) formats. The free Camera ZOOM FX app also works after you’ve turned on both the Camera2 API option and the RAW image capture option.
Once you’ve taken a shot in an app that supports RAW and has the right modes enabled, you may need to make sure that the app’s folder is set to back up to Google Photos. While you’ll have to set the folder for Camera ZOOM FX, Open Camera saves new photos to Google Photos by default. Other apps, including premium camera apps like Manual Camera ($2.99) and Camera FV-5 ($3.95), may vary.
In any case, when you open Google Photos to check out a new shot, you should see a shutter icon next to the word “RAW” in the top right corner of the preview. That signals that the image is indeed stored in RAW format. If you hit the “i” icon on Android or the web to bring up metadata for a given image while previewing it, you’ll likely see a large file size. For example, a photo I took through OpenCamera weighs in at 24MB.
If you’re shooting in RAW, you probably want to edit your photos. But in Google Photos on Android, you can’t do that. You’ll need to use a separate app. For example, on Android you can use Snapseed from Google. Or on desktop, you can use tools like Adobe Photoshop or Gimp.
But the important thing here is that you can store these live files in full resolution in Google Photos for free if you take them with the Pixel or Pixel XL.
How can you be sure that this is happening? Open up Google Drive. On Android, find a RAW photo — perhaps using the Recent tab in the app — and tap the three dots next to the .dng (RAW) file name. Hit the “i,” and you’ll see that while the size of the file is likely a certain number of MB, the amount of storage used is listed as 0KB. In other words, the image isn’t counting against your quota. Similarly, on Google Drive on desktop you can verify this by highlighting a .dng file, and the metadata on the right should show that the file takes up 0 bytes of storage.
If you do this on another device, such as Huawei’s new Mate 9, you’ll find that the .DNG file is compressed. For example, a photo I took in .DNG format came out to 23.5MB on device, but in Google Drive it showed up as just 1.7MB.
And therein lies the magic of the Pixel.