I have been using Google Pixels and Apple iPhone for my everyday smartphone photography for many years. I mainly rely on Pixels for Google’s pioneering computational photography software, which delivers superior image quality compared to limited hardware. My current iPhone, the XS Max, has been downgraded in cases where I needed a telephoto lens. But two recent smartphone launches – Google’s Pixel 5 andline – has changed my mind. Mid-range camera hardware on Pixel 5 and , along with the device’s large image sensor and new software options, are pushing me to camp Apple.
It is not supposed to be this way. I was impressed by Google’s ability to transform advanced image processing studies into smartphone-superior images. Google has demonstrated how profoundly a computer can modernize cameras, as it outpaces smartphone rivals and traditional camera makers.
Google’s decision to build a mid-range phone with only two cameras seemed like a ditch. There is no way to compensate for the many cameras that competitors like Samsung, Huawei and Apple use. Sure, the competition doesn’t have to be a match for all of Google’s camera software, but Google isn’t close to their hardware.
To be clear, the Pixel’s camera is very good, as my colleague Lynn La has made it clear about her. However, from my perspective as a serious photographer, I am looking for more than that.
Telephoto vs super wide cameras
In 2019, Google’s Pixel 4 went a step further by adding a second camera on the back, a telephoto option for distant subjects. That was also the year Apple added a third camera to its higher-end iPhone 11 Pro models, an ultra-wide camera that sits alongside the main and telephoto cameras.
Google tried to match Apple’s strength this year by replacing the telephoto camera with the ultra-wide one in the Pixel 5. But Apple has made huge camera improvements with the iPhone 12 Pro, including the image sensor. larger, longer telephoto lens, improved image stabilization to prevent hand shake, Dolby Vision HDR video at 60 fps, and Apple’s more flexible ProRaw format. It is clear that Apple is devoting enormous resources to better photography.
Google may have made the right appeal for the broad market. I suspect the super wide camera is better for the entry-level smartphone client than the telephoto camera. The ultra-wide camera for group shots, indoor scenes, and video is arguably more useful than a telephoto camera for portraits and mountains.
But I want both. I like different perspectives. Indeed, for a few years, I used to carry only the telephoto and ultra-wide lenses for my DSLR camera.
In response to my concerns, Google said it has improved the Super Res Zoom technique to digital zoom on the Pixel 5 with better computational photography andTechniques can now be magnified up to a factor of 7X.
Camera product manager Isaac Reynolds said: “We did our careful research to determine what really matters to people, and then we focused on that – and cut hundreds of dollars. yell in the process ”. Having a telephoto camera helps with better image quality, but Google’s priority this year “is to make a phone that’s good compared to the top end but at a much lower price point – and We have done it. “
I’m not too convinced. When shooting even at 2X telephoto zoom, my 2-year-old iPhone XS Max and 1-year-old Pixel 4 both delivered much superior images than the Pixel 5.
What I like so far about the Pixel 5 camera
I want to be clear: Google’s new phone has its merits, and I have experienced some of its strengths while testing the Pixel 5 camera for the past few days. Here are a few:
- Google’s raw computation gives photo enthusiasts the best of both worlds when it comes to photo formats. It combines the exposure and color flexibility of the raw image data unprocessed with the exposure range and noise reduction of the HDR + multi-image processing commonly used to create JPEG images.
- The ultra-wide camera is really fun. It also dramatically improves video options, especially indoors.
- Based on previous Pixel phones, I share my colleague Lynn La’s concern that Google’s video stabilization might be “like a drone”, but my early tests of video I turned while walking looked more natural.
- Double pressing your phone’s power button will quickly launch the camera app. It’s not new to the Pixel 5, but it’s much faster than the iPhone’s lock screen icon.
- The Night Sight mode, especially the astrophotography mode, is still great for low-light shots.
Google also pointed out other Pixel 5 perks, including portrait lighting ability to control the light source to clearly brighten a subject’s face; portrait photos work in Night Sight mode; 4K video now works at fast 60fps, more advanced high dynamic range processing known as HDR + is now enhanced by enhancing exposure for finer shadow details such as backlit faces and better video stabilization.
Here’s a change, though: As Google slumps in hardware, competitors are improving their software.
Google’s competitors in the computational photography space are catching up
Apple did not comment on its photography plans for this story, but it took more than 11 minutes to showcase the iPhone Pro’s photo and video recording capabilities, and its actions speak for a lot.
Last year, Apple combined most of the best of Google’s HDR + for challenge scenes with light and dark elements. This year’s Pixel 5 enhances HDR + with its marketing-into-technique that combines multiple photos. However, Apple’s Smart HDR alternative is currently in its third generation. Apple is also working on improving iPhone night shots. And using the special purpose processing engine on the A14 chip, Apple’s Deep Fusion technology for detail preservation in low light will work on all four cameras of the iPhone Pro.
Photo enthusiasts like me like raw, untreated image formats so we can fine-tune color balance, exposure, sharpness, and noise reduction. That’s great when the camera doesn’t come up with the right choice when “baking” the raw image data into a JPEG that is more convenient but limited. Google’s computation combines raw HDR processing with raw flexibility, but now Apple plans to come up with its answer, ProRaw, in an update later this year for iPhone Pro models.
“We want to give our professionals more control over the images they capture,” said Alok Deshpande, Apple’s senior manager of camera software engineering, at the Apple launch event.
Relatively few people use Pixel phones, and that has hit Google heavily as well. Image software maker Adobe calibrates its Lightroom photo software to fix lens issues and adapts the HDR engine for some cameras and lenses. It’s no surprise that the Pixel phone wasn’t on that list. “We tend to provide support based on how popular the device is with our customers,” Adobe said in a statement.
In contrast, Adobe is “working closely with Apple” to exploit ProRaw’s capabilities. And a Google computational photography expert, Marc Levoy, has left Google and is now at Adobe, where he is building photo technology into Adobe’s camera app.
Selling a mid-range smartphone like the Pixel 5 or Pixel 4a 5G could also make sense as the COVID-19 pandemic has cost millions of jobs and left a $ 1,099 iPhone Pro Max out of stock floating. But for people like me with a photography budget and appreciation for Google’s smart photography, it’s tragic that Google has lost its lead.