The Nintendo Switch Camera: Where It Is and How Does It Work?

Some games need a camera - and you've got one you probably didn't know about

Switch logo

Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty

While you won’t notice a camera lens on the front or back of the actual Nintendo Switch console, there is one — or two! — lurking on the Joycon controllers.

Each motion-sensing controller includes an infrared (IR) camera at the bottom. It doesn’t look like a camera, again it's not a traditional lens, but you’ll notice it from the black spots located at the bottom. 

These cameras were infrequently used when the Switch was first released, but with Nintendo’s cardboard Labo kits, the camera and its capabilities have become more clear.

What Can the Motion IR Camera Do Exactly?

The way an infrared sensor or camera works is by shooting out invisible dots that are then mapped on what it hits. It’s not far off from the way sonar works. This allows the Joycon controllers to “see” objects and motion and use it as an input method.

The Nintendo game 1-2-Switch uses this camera to detect motion in one of the eating mini-games.

The image detection is probably a lot better than you’d expect. It’s not high quality or a very good camera, however. You also can’t currently access the camera portion of the IR camera without a Labo kit, and even then it doesn’t function as a traditional camera.

While Nintendo has shown off a cardboard-style camera, this isn’t available for purchase. It may come in the future.

Gamespot YouTube video

You can’t point your Joycon remote at something and snap a picture just yet. Nintendo did detail more of the Joycon’s technical skills when Labo was first released and showed what the camera could see. The IR sensor can also detect a heat map.

Nintendo has detailed some more specific details around the motion IR camera on its website, though this interview is aimed at developers.

How to Take Screenshots on the Switch

It may not be a camera in the traditional sense, but the Switch can take screenshots of anything happening on screen, both during a game or within the menu system.

To take a screenshot, tap the camera button on the left Joycon controller. This will instantly save a capture of what’s shown on screen.

The button is indicated by a square with a circle inside it, located under the D-pad.

Viewing Your Own Photos on Nintendo Switch

To see the screenshots you’ve taken head to the system menu.

  1. On the main menu screen, with the horizontal view of games, navigate down to circle icons in the bottom row.

  2. The photo album icon is a blue rectangle with the outline of a tree indicating a picture.

  3. Clicking on that icon will display your photo album.

  4. You can then view, delete, or filter your screenshots.

You can also view your own photos on the Switch, if you’re adventurous.

On the back of the Switch console under the kickstand is a MicroSD card slot. By default the Switch will not show any pictures or videos that aren’t screenshots from the Switch itself.

MicroSD cards can be used on the Switch for storing downloaded games or offloading screenshots you’ve taken on the console. It’s not exactly clear why this functionality is so limited, but it is nailed down.

Even if you were to rename a .JPG image to Nintendo’s custom format for screenshots, it won’t fool the system.

There is a software tool that enthusiast have come up with to tweak your images to be read by the Switch.

All the hardware is in place for the Nintendo Switch to be a photo taking and viewing machine, but until the chains come off, it’s mostly just a video game playing system.