The single biggest reason to choose the Pixel 2 over any other handset is the camera. On paper, the 12-megapixel f/1.8 unit sounds fairly pedestrian. In use, however, it captures some wonderfully detailed images that are often much better than those produced by the competition.
A great camera shouldn’t be a surprise; the original Pixel is still one of the best around, after all. However, the range of improvements Google has added take it to another level. These include optically stabilising the camera for less shaky shots, widening the aperture to let more light into the sensor, and improving the processing that goes on after you’ve pressed the shutter button.
Pictures from the Pixel 2 aren’t like those from a Samsung Galaxy S8 or iPhone 8; they’re less saturated with deep colours and look more lifelike. I do love the rich hues of images captured on a Samsung device, but they’re unmistakably from a phone camera. Shots taken with the Pixel 2 transcend this and look all the better for it. Colours are vibrant, but greens don’t have that fluorescent glow and it doesn’t make flowers look artificial.
Where the Pixel 2 really shines is in the level of detail crammed into the picture. Everything from pollen inside a flower to writing on a sign in the distance makes the frame, and you can even crop in on a picture without it turning into a blurry mess.
Clearly, many of these tricks are a result of Google’s excellent software and optimisations. Auto-HDR+ mode is on by default; you’ll need to bury down into the settings to actually turn on an option to disable it. Google is confident its processing tricks are the way forward, and on seeing the results, it’s hard to argue. Shots taken with Auto-HDR+ enabled display some of the best dynamic range I’ve ever seen in an image taken on a phone – meaning you’ll have a lovely contrast between the lightest and darkest parts of the photo. This is particularly noticeable in landscape shots, where you really want that feeling of depth and scale. Auto-HDR+ also levels out exposure, ensuring a bright sky doesn’t blow-out the picture.
Detail is fantastic
Even in low-light the camera is a triumph
There’s so much depth in landscape shots
The Auto-HDR+ mode is great
The wide aperture makes for nice blurry backgrounds
It’s impressive at night too
Most flagship phones in 2017 take excellent photos in sunny conditions, but the Pixel 2 really impresses when lighting isn’t quite so ideal. Low-light photos are bright, have good exposure and still manage to capture subtle colours and shadows. Even portraits taken with the flash enabled are usable.
Even though both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL forego the now common dual-sensor setup, Google continues to include a portrait mode for blurring the background and keeping the subject in sharp focus. This works with both the rear and front-facing 8-megapixel cameras, producing surprisingly good results. The blur effects easily match Huawei’s efforts in the P10 and Mate 10; however, like the iPhone 8 Plus, it struggles with intricate details such as hair.
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Video capture is excellent. The camera now uses both EIS (electronic image stabilisation) and OIS (optical image stabilisation) to help avoid jankiness, resulting in a smoother image. Footage is recorded up to 4K 30fps, but you’ll probably want to stick to 1080p at 60fps if you’re shooting anything with a lot of motion.