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At the time of writing this review in April 2017, DxOMark has labelled the Pixel (and Pixel XL) camera as the most highly rated mobile camera to date.
It hits the top score of 89 – sitting above the Samsung’s S7 Edge and the iPhone 7.
And the feedback from around the web is not dissimilar either.
However, I am ready to share my own and personal (common user) Google Pixel camera review with you today.
I have been using this phone for over a month now. I have taken hundreds of pictures with its camera and in this article, I am going to give you my verdict of its image quality and the overall camera performance. Note that the Pixel and the Pixel XL both share the same camera hence this review applies to both devices.
How good are the results from the Pixel camera on a day to day basis for a common user?
How well does the relatively simplistic but highly practical default camera app perform?
Has Google really nailed the camera in its first all #madebygoogle flagship?
I am going to include 20 sample shots in this article which are taken in different situations to support my verdict. If you are in two minds about the camera quality of the Pixel (or XL), this review will assist you to make that decision.
Let us start with the camera app first.
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Google has been giving us simplistic and to-the-point camera apps for years now.
In both the Nexus 6 and the 6P devices from the past, the default camera app was simple and did not give manual controls to the end user. While on one side this is a good thing for most of the common users who like shooting with default settings (auto mode), at the same time, a few demanded a little more from the app – controls wise. This included me as well.
In Pixel and Pixel XL, the camera app still does not give you a full manual control. What it does is that it gives you a control over two key variables, exposure control (brightness) and the white balance setting. Both of these can be changed easily from the main shooting screen.
Other than that, you have two other changeable controls, Google’s HDR+ (high dynamic range) and the flash settings.
That’s about it.
I like it. Simple yet effective.
The 12.3 MP camera was excellent to automatically pick up the shutter speed and ISO values and produce great results. For the first time, I have felt no need to go for a third party camera app with a Google device.
Google’s built-in camera app is a treat to use – smooth, quick and efficient.
The camera app also offers features like lens blur, panorama, slow motion and photo sphere. I have not used these extensively and hence will not comment on their quality in this article.
Pixel’s camera produced stunning results in bright light conditions.
The pictures came out well focused, well exposed and full of sharp colours (but natural looking). There was a clear punch and vividness in results without exaggeration.
The camera was quick to focus and shoot the picture. Something which a common user like me love – take the phone out, turn the camera on, point and shoot. Done.
Have a look at the following set of 7 pictures, all taken in ample lighting conditions. The lowest possible ISO value (50) was picked up by the camera automatically and the shutter speed was adjusted accordingly.
The real test of a smartphone camera is in its low light performance.
Let’s have a look at the following set of 11 pictures which are taken in the order of decreasing light.
You will notice that the camera picks up the higher ISO values (sensitivity of the lens to light) as the available light decreases. Similarly, the shutter speeds reduce accordingly to allow more light to enter the lens in taking the picture.
You will see that up to the ISO value of 1000, the results were impressive again. The camera picked up accurate colours, focused well and produced results which were well exposed and having excellent colour reproduction and tonal quality.
In extreme low light situations (let’s say where ISO is greater than 1000), the results were acceptable but not stunning. I noticed that the auto HDR+ feature worked relatively well and produced more balanced and well exposed pictures in darker conditions.
HDR (high dynamic range) feature allows the camera to take multiple shots of the same picture with varying levels of exposure (brightness). The software algorithm then manipulates this data and produces the final picture based on the best results available. All of this is done in real time with the end user barely noticing any delay or pause. I must admit that Google Pixel did an excellent job with the HDR+ feature to improve the image quality.
I like taking macros and close-up shots with my mobile phone camera.
I was keen to try the Pixel camera for its ability to shoot closeups with its f/2.0 lens.
I include below a set of 4 pictures which should give you a flavour of how well the Pixel camera performed in closeup shots.
I felt that the focus was not as sharp and defined as I expected it to be. I also noticed that on many occasions, the camera mildly struggled to accurately focus the object from a near distance which I expect to be generally 3 to 4 inches. I had to pull the camera back to around 5 to 6 inches to lock the focus accurately. I believe that pixel could have done better in this department.
However, whenever the camera locked the focus accurately, the results came out crisp, punchy and full of detail. The colours were real-to-life and good range of contrast was available.
“It is not just the sheer quality of the pictures (results) which make Pixel a great camera smartphone, it is the overall camera user experience which made me feel good about this phone.”
It is fast, it is reliable and most importantly, it produces quality images most of the times.
While having and using Pixel as a daily driver, I always felt that I have a smartphone in my pocket which is a brilliant shooter. I don’t need to worry about losing any memorable moments no matter where I am. And it is that feeling which has made me fall in love with this flagship by Google.
If camera performance (stills) and ease of use are your primary considerations for your next smartphone, Pixel is definitely a strong contender.
In fact, a very strong contender for your money.
Yes it is not cheap, but rest assured that you will get a great camera in this device which is super easy to use and mostly produces excellent results.
“It will get my 9 out of 10 for overall camera experience (feels extremely good).”
This is the first time I have given any smartphone camera a whopping 9 out of 10.
Well done Google.