Here’s a preview of the B&W Colorize feature in Google Photos
Google loves to tease users with new features that take weeks or months to roll out. In the case of one highly hyped Google Photos feature, it’s taken over a year for us to see any hints of a release. Back in May of 2018 during Google I/O, Google showed off a new “Colorize” mode in the Photos app that adds color to black and white photos. At the time, Google said they were working on the feature, but they didn’t offer a concrete timeline for when it would be made available. During Google I/O 2019, however, David Lieb, Product Lead for Google Photos, announced that the colorize feature is still in development and could land as a beta soon. That was 5 months ago, but today, Google rolled out version 4.26 of the Photos app, and we managed to activate a fully working version of the feature.
Colorize Mode (Beta)
When enabled, a new “Colorize” option will appear when you’re selecting a filter to apply in the photo editor view. This option only appears when you’re viewing a black and white photo. The option has a “BETA” tag, and tapping on it for the first time will show a dialog informing you that Google is “actively collecting feedback on this feature to improve results.” After you select the Colorize filter, Google Photos will analyze the picture and apply color as it sees fit. Once done, you can save a copy of the newly colorized photo to your library.
9to5Google first showed off the feature earlier today, but I also tested the new Colorize mode myself. I first used photos that I only have in black and white to see how well it works without bias. The first image to the left is a photo of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, while the adjacent image is a colorized version of the President. The skin tone in the colorized version may not be that accurate, but I like the old-timey feel that it gives off. The second set of images to the right show Zachary Wander’s cat. The color leaves a lot to be desired, so it seems that the feature is more intended for human subjects for now.
The bottom set of photos shows the strength of Colorize in Google Photos. The first set of images on the left show my father as an infant, while the second set of images on the right show my mother as a toddler. When I showed my parents the before and after, they were thrilled by the results. Colorize can definitely bring life to old photos even if it isn’t that accurate yet. That being said, this feature is essentially creating colors out of thin air based on a dataset Google trained using real photos, so it’s unfair to criticize it too harshly in its current state.
Now, here are some side-by-side photos comparing a black and white photo created in Google Photos, the black and white photo colorized in Photos, and the original photo in full color. The first and third row of images was taken by XDA Managing Editor Joe Fedewa, while the second row of images was taken by Zachary Wander. Colorize doesn’t do a great job at adding color to black and white photos of nature, but I think it does a pretty good job with photos showing outdoor scenes. I particularly like the colorized image of the athletic field; it looks like a still from an old VHS tape.
Manage your library
Besides the new Colorize feature, the Google Photos app may also add a new “manage your library” settings page. This page will help you organize your Photos collection by showing recommendations on how to group photos.
You can download Google Photos 4.26 from the Google Play Store, but Colorize likely won’t be available for you just yet. Since we were able to activate the feature, though, it seems like it’s close to a public launch. We’ll let you know when it starts rolling out.