Google Pixel 3 – Camera
If your smartphone is your main way to take photos, you’re going to seriously want to consider the Google Pixel 3. Even after taking hundreds of pictures with this phone I’m constantly astounded by the quality, the dynamic range and the way taking stunning shots is completely effortless.
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If you’ve used a Pixel phone before, none of this should come as a surprise.
The majority of what makes this camera so special is Google’s software – its computational knowledge, the auto-HDR features and the Pixel’s Visual Core. If you just look at the specs you’re missing the point.
On the back of the Google Pixel 3 is a 12.2-megapixel sensor, with an f/1.8 aperture. There’s no secondary sensor here at all, with all the portrait mode stuff taken care of by the main camera. On the front there are two cameras, both 8-megapixel sensors, with one acting as a wide-angle camera.
The pictures I have captured with this phone are, simply put, stunning. Shots of food are so packed with detail you can see flecks of salt; pictures of people’s faces showing intricate detailing in hair and skin that is sometimes beyond what my eyes can see.
Even though detail is packed into these photos, nothing looks artificial or oversharpened and colours have a natural finish. Where the Samsung Galaxy S9 or even iPhone XS boost reds and greens to almost neon levels, the Pixel 3 manages to ensure colours look appealing without being over-saturated.
Dynamic range (the range between the light and dark colours) has been a strength of previous Pixel phones and once again it thoroughly impresses here. This gives photos a real depth and professional finish, ensuring nothing looks flat.
Introduced with the Pixel 2, Portrait Mode makes a return here. Most cameras that do this well require two sensors, but the Pixel 3 manages it with just one. This is the best and most reliable portrait mode I have ever used: silkily blurring the background and keeping the subject in sharp focus. It does struggle with glasses and hats, but it does an excellent job at perfectly cutting around hair. You can also alter the intensity the blur after the photo has been taken.
With Pixel 3, Google is introducing a couple of new camera software features. One is Night Sight, a dedicated low-light mode that heavily boosts brightness similarly to the Huawei P20 Pro. Night Sights takes multiple shots and requires you hold the phone steady for a couple of seconds.
Even with the Night Sight mode turned off the phone still takes very good low-light photos. Unlike other phones – notably the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS Max – it doesn’t boost the brightness in the sky to artificial lengths. Instead, you get inky black skies and strong details. Lights aren’t overexposed and there’s almost no noise. It truly is very impressive.
Turn Night Sight on however and things become even more amazing. Night Sight works best when there is complete darkness; in situations where there’s literally no light at all it can produce shots better than what your eye can see. And these shots look great too.
Add in a little of light and Night Sight impresses too. This is the mode that’ll revolutionise low-light photography on phones.
Super Res Zoom is another new feature and one that looks to offset the lack of a secondary, slightly zoomed-in sensor. In the camera app you’ll notice four distinct zoom points that you can quickly jump to, and Google is combining multiple shots together to try and improve the notoriously bad digital zoom. I do have to say the results are better than other iterations of digital zoom, but for me it still doesn’t match a dedicated zoom lens. See below for an example of the different levels of zoom.
Top Shot is another new feature and it aims to ensure a photo isn’t ruined by a rogue head or someone accidentally blinking. Every time you take one photo, the camera is capturing multiple shots and by swiping up on particular picture you can scroll through them all. This works exceptionally well and is truly useful when you don’t have much time to properly set up a shot.
It’s not only the rear camera that takes stunning photos. Two front-facing 8-megapixel sensors take some of the best selfies I have ever seen, with lovely realistic skin tones and none of the putrid beautifying effects that blighted the iPhone XS. In fact, some of the selfies I took were so detailed it picked up colours in facial hair that I couldn’t see with my own eyes.
Drag the zoom bar down in selfie mode and you’ll switch to the ultrawide secondary f/2.2 camera. This lacks the auto-focus, but lets you cram a lot more into your shot. I love the ability to either focus up close on a subject or zoom out and get more faces in.
Video capture is impressive too, even though the lack of 4K at 60fps remains a missing feature. The stabilisation at play on the Pixel 3 is excellent and gives footage a very shake-free look.