(Part 2) Google Pixel User Review – Camera and Image Quality

OK. Looking like I’ve got a lot more to say than anticipated. So, this review is now a 3-part series. Stay with me.

See Also : (Part 1) Google Pixel User Review – Specs, Hardware

Coming from my Part 1 of this now 3-part Google Pixel review, this is Part 2 where I’m dedicating a whole post just on the biggest selling point of the Pixel – the camera and image quality.

Although I’d be happy to keep admiring the exterior. Hmmm…

12.3 Megapixel Rear Camera

OK, here’s the meat of the review. This is what every review out there on the interwebz is talking about – the Google Pixel camera.

Just Google “Google Pixel camera” and you’ll come across 4.7 million results! They range from tech sites like TechCrunch to professional photography sites like DxOMark where everyone ranked the Pixel as the best smartphone camera. Ever.

The Pixel comes with a 12.3 MP rear camera. As repeated a gazillionth time, when it comes to great picture quality, it’s really not about the megapixel count anymore with smartphones today. Even the (allegedly best smartphone camera today, iPhone 7) comes with only a 12 megapixel shooter.

There are even loads of comparison posts out there – of the Google Pixel camera vs Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge vs iPhone 7. Here are some of my favourites:-

I think Mashable said it best..

Before the mobs come out and put a hex on me, remember that photography and image quality is subjective. What looks better to me might not to you.

While I’m far from being a professional photographer (not even an aspiring one), just a regular average user like you and the guy (girl) next to you. What we look for in a camera is simple – quick launch and snap, good image quality that’s sharp & crisp, works good in low light conditions.

Google Pixel – Camera app

Controls on the Camera app are pretty straight forward. HDR is on auto, as with Flash, so even if you’re not into playing around with the settings, Google’s software makes sure images on default have been optimised.

Pick Your Photo and Video Resolution

Pick your resolution

Images are automatically set to 4:3 ratio at the highest resolution (12.3 megapixel for rear camera and 8 megapixel for the front).

Personally, I much prefer the widescreen 16:9 resolution, so I went and changed this myself. You’d also notice that for video resolution, you can choose to go 1080p (default) or go as high as UHD 4K video. Which undoubtedly will take up way more storage space.

Google Photos is the Default Gallery App

Google Photos is your default Gallery app

By default, there’s no Gallery app per se on the Pixel. Google forces you to use Google Photos app.

By linking it to your Google account, you automatically back up every photo and video you take to your Google Photos cloud storage.

Note : You have a choice of Google’s hi-res resolution (unlimited FREE storage space) or original resolution (limited to only 30 GB free storage, until you purchase more storage space).

If you’re not a fan of backing up to Google Photos online, then you can still view your images in Google Photos app, under Device Folders in the menu. A bit of a hassle as it’s not a true Gallery app. If you really dislike this user experience, you can always download other Gallery apps in Google Play Store.

Reported Issues on the Google Pixel Camera

While the debate on the BEST smartphone camera can be subjective, the Pixel’s camera is not without fault. Not everything is positive about the Pixel camera out there.

There were some reports of issues with the Google Pixel camera out there. Firstly, there was a lens flare issue that was widely reported, like here, here and here.

Basically a lens flare is that halo light effect you get on your camera that’s resulted in your captured image. Apparently, the Pixel’s camera most often exhibits a faint white/pink/purple ring near the edges of the frame.

In a Google Forum, they promised a fix in upcoming software patches. That was back in October, so for all you know, in that recent update I installed, it was fixed. Coz, I really didn’t experience it. Luckily.

Another issue highlighted in the Google Forum here is the purple and pink lines showing up on the Camera app.

*Image Source : DPReview

Google is also aware of this issue, and is working on a fix.

Luckily again for me, I didn’t experience any of these reported issues. *phew*

Good news is that Google have been fairly responsive with the fixes and updates on these complains. For the price that you’ve paid for this high-end, premium Google branded phone, you can be assured that Google’s support seems to be quite on-the-ball.

Sample Rear Camera Picture Quality

The Pixel comes with one handy gesture – double press on the Power On/Off button from any screen, including Standby mode to launch the Camera app. I have used that a lot especially when I need to launch the camera quickly to take sudden moments of cuteness of my boy.

Anyways, I looked through some of the pictures (and video) I have been taking with the phone lately. Discovered they’re mostly the baby and food. Ugh – my life in pictures can be really boring!

Nevertheless, here are some sample images for your preview. They’re resized, but unedited, so click to view enlarged image.

Images are nice and crisp. I recently recommended the camera of the Pixel to a friend, and I mentioned that the Google Pixel has the BEST smartphone camera ever. Verbatim.

Another friend pointed out that I’ve said that about a few other phones in the past that I have reviewed. Like the Honor 6 Plus and Huawei P9. And they’re both great camera phones, no doubt.

But after using the Pixel, the standard have increased. Truly, I am in love with the picture quality of the Google Pixel. The pictures are so clear, the colours are vibrant but not overly high contrast or over saturated.

Low light pictures is a subjective area. There were reports, like this one, that complained about the low light photography on the Pixel, stating it’s basically no good compared to the iPhone 7 Plus. Then, there’s this post here by The Verge stating that the low light pictures on Pixel is actually good, provided you turn the Auto HDR on.

As you see from the pasta image in low light form my sample above, it was not that bad, really. I was quite impressed that it turned out rather well, unlike the complains online.

However, I did test it in EXTREME low light conditions. Images are resized, but unedited – so click to view enlarged image.

Truth be told, before I tap on screen to autofocus on the subject, the screen on my phone was pitch black. That’s how dark the room was. So, to be able to see the Winnie the Pooh doll at all when I focused and snapped the picture was a miracle! Although, you can tell the detail of the images can get a bit noisy with grainy detail. But come on – it was almost pitch black in there.

Flash wasn’t overly harsh, too. Which is a positive point.

Other Modes Sample Images

Google Pixel camera – Lens Blur function

The Pixel comes with several modes that you can use on the camera. One of it is Lens Blur. What this does is blur the background in your images, to make your subject in the forefront pop and stand out.

If you read my other dual lens camera phone review like Huawei P9 (my review here) and Honor 8 (review here), you’d know that dual lens camera setup allows you to toggle and take images with aperture control and depth of field, making subjects in focus while backgrounds blurred.

See Also : Honor 8 User Review

With only a single lens setup, you’d wonder if the Lens Blur function playing around with blurred background is as good as those dual-lens camera phones. In short, no. However, Google does this with a software feature instead, as seen in the screenshot above.

Here are some sample images taken with Lens Blur mode. Images are resized, but unedited – so click to view enlarged image.

It reads the subject that you want to focus on, and attempt to use its tech feature to blur the background, ie not the subject. It’s not perfect, but it does the job. There were a couple of failed attempt as well, as I wasn’t raising the phone right, and the focus was off. Oh well.

But if you look at the 3rd picture above, it’s actually taken without Lens Blur mode, and the background is already semi-blurry. Which means, you technically don’t need the Lens Blur function, it will automatically give you that same feel, albeit less intense.

Google Pixel camera – Photo Sphere and Panorama function

The Panoramic function is quite standard in a lot of smartphones these days. Here’s one sample of my study.

Google Pixel-Sample Pic_Panorama

Then, Google took it a little further with Photo Sphere, which basically allows you to take 360 degrees photo of yoru surrounding. Think taking a 360 picture when you’re at the peak of a mountain, in a serene beach. You get the drift.

Here’s my sample of the study again.

Google Pixel-Sample Pic_Photo Sphere

Don’t look like much here, but here’s the killer feature. The beauty of it is that you can look at the picture you snapped in 360 mode, panning your phone around like you would with 360 pictures on Facebook. Cool, huh?

Imagine if you have the Daydream VR headset, that would be even cooler.

Sample Rear Camera Video Quality

You can choose to record 4K videos with the Pixel. But on default, videos are 1080p and you can choose to record on 30 fps or 60 fps.

Technical sounding, right? But seriously, the default setting is fine. Here’s a sample video of toddlers playing.

Seriously, video quality is good. Really good. It might not look it in the rendered quality above, but if you can see it on my phone, in its original resolution, you can see clearly how good the quality is.

The selling point in Google Pixel’s video is the Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) function. You see, most phones comes with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). Instead of physical image stabilization, Google is using the gyroscope on your phone to detect movement and electronically stabilize the video.

Google showcased this in a video at the launch.

I was intending to go for a run to take a video to test this out. But come on, who are we kidding? Me, running? LOL.

No, honestly though, it has been raining lately and I really couldn’t find the time to truly test the shake. But I did have a video of my son moving around where I was moving after him, capturing his actions.

Might not be the best EIS test, but I feel the video stabilization is quite good and the panning seems rather smooth.

In fact, even during my upload, YouTube detected a bit of a shake and asked if I’d like to stabilize it. Which I didn’t, just to show you that while it’s not completely shake-free, I feel the Pixel’s EIS did a fairly decent job at stabilizing the video, in my opinion.

Sample Front Camera Picture Quality

The front facing camera is an 8 megapixel shooter.

Coming from a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge before this, I got quite annoyed with their “Beauty Mode” filter that completely smooths my complexion to the point that it was way too fake. So, it was refreshing to have it back to natural me again. Hahah.

OK, here are some sample images taken with the front camera. Images are resized, but unedited – so click to view enlarged image.

See, the front camera actually takes great pictures. It’s still as clean and sharp as a rear camera picture, to be honest. I am super impressed. Plus, the biggest selling point for me, is that I’m finally rid of that fake Beauty Mode that’s overly “beautified” for my liking.

Camera Conclusion

I am lucky (?) that I have not faced any issues with the Pixel’s camera at all. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of these issues until I was researching for this review.

Therefore, my experience with the camera on the Pixel is largely positive. In fact, so good, that I really have to agree with majority of the reviews out there.

It is indeed, in my review, the best smartphone camera ever.

I can safely say that it has so far, outranked my current No 1, the Huawei P9.

If you’re in the market for an Android phone that takes ah-mazing pictures, and want to go premium with a bigget budget to spend (the phone is priced over RM 3,000 onwards), then go buy the Google Pixel now. Don’t even need to read the final part of this review.

So, we talked about the Specs, Hardware and Pricing; and now we covered (extensively, I hope) the Camera. Next, we go into the other features and battery life of the Google Pixel.

For more info, check out the official Google Pixel website at https://madeby.google.com/phone/

[Update 14 Dec 16] See Also : (Part 3) Google Pixel User Review – Killer Features And Conclusion

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