The Pixel 5 is the latest showcase of Google’s mobile photography skills, boasting state-of-the-art HDR and low light capabilities. However, the phone also made major camera hardware changes this year. The 2x16MP telephoto function has been abolished from Google Pixel 4 and a 16MP wide-angle lens has been adopted. While many will appreciate the flexibility of wide-angle lenses, the lack of telephoto zoom is a clear omission in a market full of triple and quad camera setups.
To avoid absenteeism, Google looks back at Software Chicanny. Super Res Zoom uses multi-frame capture technology to extract extra detail from the image, enabling digital cropping without the usual degradation. This is not a new mobile photography technology. Huawei, Oppo and others have been using it for years. Google itself used this idea as far back as the Pixel 3.
The super-resolution results aren’t as perfect as a true optical zoom, but can you notice the difference at normal zoom distances? Is the Pixel 5s Super Res Zoom good enough for most use cases? I rotated the camera to look it up.
Details: Camera Zoom Description: How Optical, Digital and Hybrid Zoom Works
Super resolution zoom and optical zoom
First, let’s highlight some of the differences between optical zoom and super resolution zoom. A quick comparison with last year’s Pixel 4 seems like a logical starting point. Click here for a full resolution sample.
Pixel 4-2x 100% Trimming Pixel 5-2x 100% Trimming Pixel 4-2x 100% Trimming Pixel 5-2x 100% Trimming
At 2x full frame, there is little difference between Pixel 4s telephoto lenses. The colors on the Pixel 4 are a bit vibrant, but the exposures are very similar, if not the same. However, trimming to 100% makes a big difference in the details. Due to the multi-frame nature of technology, you may notice strange halo artifacts (see Petals). As you can imagine, the Pixel 4 is definitely clean, but in reality it’s not that much.
Since the Pixel 4 doesn’t have 3x and 5x optical zoom sensors, we compared Google smartphones with Sony Xperia 5 IIs 3x and Huawei P40 Pros 5x periscope lenses for longer zoom range.
Again, the Pixel 5 looks decent at 3x full frame, especially on small phone displays. Yes, it works, but it doesn’t preserve the details when trimming. The color and exposure are good, but the phone’s small 12MP main sensor can’t extract details in this range. Impressively, the Pixel 4 is 3x and looks as good as the Xperia 5 II, demonstrating that the Super Res Zoom is great for small zoom extensions.
3x is the limit of Pixel 5’s SuperRes Zoom.
Press zoom 5x to widen the quality difference. Neither Google smartphone produces great results at this distance, but the Pixel 5 is really struggling. Due to the lack of pixel information at this zoom level, in addition to lack of detail and increased noise, color and dynamic range are also affected. The Pixel 4 is fine for 5x full frame shots to some extent, but the Pixel 5 is fine in virtually all situations.
In summary, the 100% crop above doesn’t really do the justice of the Pixel 5s Super Res Zoom. The handset performs as well as a 2x optical zoom. It even gets 3x and decent performance for quick snaps. On the condition that you don’t pay much attention to the details and don’t trim or edit much. If you zoom in further, the results will worsen, as expected. The limit is actually tripled before Super Res Zoom displays noticeable artifacts even at full frame. The Pixel 5 is much harder at over 4x, especially when compared to optical zoom.
Real world blind shot
Trimmed comparisons are good for reference, but when trying to take quick shots in the real world, you rarely worry about the exact zoom factor and 100% details. To get a little spice, I took a picture of the second batch in a slightly different way.
I framed each shot as I wanted without looking at the zoom factor in advance, and took a comparative shot with a rival mobile phone. These images were taken with all sorts of weird zoom magnifications, including 1.8x and 3.2x. This is a great reflection of the actual shooting scenario and is not suitable for the optical zoom sweet spot found on some phones.
The photos on the Pixel 5s look pretty good, and there are no 7x examples. The old general rules apply. The longer the zoom, the more noticeable the quality gap between the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4 and other optical zooms. Details aren’t maintained above 3x, but the Pixel 5 produces a more processed look result, even at smaller zooms, as in the 1.8x example.
Related: The best Android camera phone you can get
On the plus side, Google’s zoom technology has a consistent roll-off in quality. Unlike the Sonys Xperia 5II and Huawei P40 Pro, the quality is restored when the optical lens is activated. Optical zoom less than 5x At these intermittent zoom levels away from the sweet spot, the quality difference is clear. Google’s software zoom is one of the best, but it can’t make up for the lack of a suitable zoom lens over long distances.
The Super Res Zoom is impressive, but it’s clear that the telephoto camera looks better.
Even at small zoom distances, the details are a bit sharper and the black can be too dark, resulting in a slightly artificial look compared to other phones. Similarly, longer zooms have different sensors, which can cause slight changes in color and white balance compared to the Pixel 4. Nevertheless, to be aware of these issues, you need to know what you are looking for. When not compared side-by-side, the Pixel 5 produces up to three times as good-looking images. But it’s clear that the Pixel 4 and other telephoto cameras look great.
Super Resolution Zoom and Super Wide: Was the Pixel 5 Camera Replacement Worth It?
The overall impression of the Pixel 5 and SuperRes Zoom is that the average snap is fine, but it disappoints the more demanding photographers. The quality difference from last year’s Pixel 4 is subtle when zoomed 3x, but the Pixel 5s results are still heavier. Beyond 3x, the Pixel 4 actually moves forward, maintaining acceptable details up to about 5x.
Our Verdict: Google Pixel 5 Review Best Premium Pixel
Whether the Pixel 5 is a good phone for taking pictures depends on whether this reduction in zoom quality deserves the additional flexibility of a new wide-angle lens. I have also experimented with that lens, but my feelings are mixed.
Google Pixel 4-1x Google Pixel 5-Wide Angle Google Pixel 4-1x Google Pixel 5-Wide Angle
It is difficult to make a wide-angle lens that has no distortion and is in focus. The Google Pixel 5s implementation has some common flaws. Due to the fixed focal length, it lacks details, has a poor dynamic range, and looks whitish compared to the main sensor. It’s not a particularly wide lens, but the extra width may be nice. Overall, Pixel 5s wide-angle images reach Google’s normal quality.
I’ve always been a fan of zoom features, so the Pixel 5 doesn’t meet my photography needs. I’m not sure that the new wide-angle camera will provide enough quality or flexibility to justify the transition from telephoto. The Super Res Zoom is fine, but the Pixel 4s telephoto zoom was better.
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