Although ultrawide star-snapping was billed as a major feature at launch, the Google Camera 8.1 update actually removed the feature in November, and users have only recently noticed. Google itself kept quiet about the change, save for updating a single support page.
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Even then, this page doesn’t explicitly spell out that the capability was removed, only that “On Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5, astrophotography only works on zoom settings equal to or greater than 1x." Previously, you could select 0.6x zoom to switch from the main sensor to the ultrawide lens when using astrophotography mode.
In other words, you can still use astrophotography on your Pixel 5 or Pixel 4a 5G, and you can still use the ultrawide lens – just not together. It’s a surprising move considering Google hyped up the addition of ultrawide lenses when the two phones were revealed, including their application for astrophotography.
That said, some users had complained – including on Google’s support forums – of an ugly green tint appearing when shooting the stars with the ultrawide lens. It’s possible that Google simply disabled the combination due to this lack of quality, either temporarily until a fix can be found or permanently, should the fault be intrinsic to the hardware.
Either way it’s a shame, not just because the Google Camera 8.1 update also brought a lot of useful features to older Pixel phones but because Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a owners now have a less capable smartphone than the one they originally bought.
Still, if the removal only became widely known more than a month after it happened, it’s probably one of lesser-used features on these two handsets – so Google could have seen ultrawide astrophotography as an acceptable loss.