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Google Pixel 5’s sissy camera is driving me to iPhone 12

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Google’s Pixel 5 smartphones have ultra-wide-angle and wide-angle cameras, but farther subjects don’t have a telephoto lens.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

For years, I’ve been using the Google Pixel and Apple iPhone for my daily smartphone photography needs. Most shots have relied on Pixels because of Google’s pioneering computational photography software that delivers superior image quality from limited hardware. My current iPhone, the XS Max, has been relegated when I need a telephoto lens.

Two recently launched smartphones (Google’s Pixel 5 and Apple’s iPhone 12 line) changed my mind. The Pixel 5’s mid-range camera hardware, the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s high-end camera array, the gadget’s large image sensor, and new software options are pushing me into Apple’s camp.

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It shouldn’t have been this way. I was impressed with Google’s ability to transform cutting-edge image processing research into photos from great smartphones. Google has outperformed its smartphone rivals and traditional camera makers, demonstrating how computers can modernize their cameras.

Google’s decision to make a midrange phone with just two cameras feels abandoned. There is no way to supplement the multiple cameras used by rivals such as Samsung, Huawei and Apple. Sure, rivals aren’t always consistent with all of Google’s camera software, but Google isn’t close to their hardware.

Telephoto camera and super wide-angle camera

In 2019, Google’s Pixel 4 took a step forward with the addition of a second rear camera, a telephoto option for distant subjects. That same year, Apple added a third camera to its high-end iPhone 11 Pro model. This is an ultra-wide camera next to the main and telephoto cameras.

Here, a double-telephoto Pixel 5 photo taken in Google’s calculated RAW format looks smaller, but has a resolution of only 3 megapixels. On the right, a two-year-old iPhone XS Max 12-megapixel image taken as an HDR Raw photo in Adobe’s Lightroom app offers more detail and editing flexibility. Click to enlarge to see the great details of the iPhone, but it’s scaled down to fit the Pixel 5’s photo.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

This year, Google sought to rival Apple’s prowess by replacing the telephoto camera with the Pixel 5’s ultra-wide-angle camera. However, Apple has made significant camera improvements with the iPhone 12 Pro, including a larger image sensor, longer-range telephoto lens, and improved image stability. 60 frames per second Dolby Vision HDR video and Apple’s more flexible Pro Raw format to counteract volatile hands. It’s clear that Apple is spending a huge amount of resources on better photography.

Google may have made the right call to a wide range of markets. I think ultra-wide cameras are better for mainstream smartphone customers than telephoto lenses. Ultra-wide cameras for group shots, indoor scenes, and video are definitely more convenient than telephoto cameras for portraits and mountains.

But I want both. I enjoy different perspectives. In fact, for several years I usually only had telephoto and ultra-wide-angle lenses for DSLRs.

In response to my concerns, Google has stated that it can improve the Pixel 5’s SuperRes Zoom technology for digital zoom, improve computational photography and AI technology, and scale up to 7x.The idea is

“We studied carefully to determine what really matters to people, and then focused on it-and in the process literally saved hundreds of dollars,” said camera product manager Isaac Reynolds. .. While having a telephoto camera improved image quality, Google’s priority this year was to “manufacture a cell phone that is much cheaper than the top end.

I’m not so sure. When shot at 2x telephoto zoom, both the 2-year-old iPhone XS Max and the 1-year-old Pixel 4 provide far better images than the Pixel 5.

When zoomed in at 2x, the Pixel 5’s SuperRes Zoom technology produces a 12-megapixel image, but it looks artificial in close proximity, like this cropped view.

Stephen Shankland / CNET Pixel 5 Camera so far favorite

To be clear, Google’s new smartphone has its benefits, and I’ve experienced some of these strengths while testing the Pixel 5 camera in the last few days. Here are a handful:

Google Calculator offers photo enthusiasts the best of both worlds when it comes to photo formats. It combines the exposure and color flexibility of unprocessed RAW photo data with the exposure range and noise reduction of multi-shot HDR + processing commonly used to create JPEGs. Double-tap the power button on your phone to quickly launch the camera app. It’s not new to the Pixel 5, but it’s much faster than the iPhone lock screen icon. Night views, especially astrophotography mode, are ideal for shooting in dark places.

Google also pointed out other Pixel 5 benefits, such as a portrait light feature that controls the apparent light source that brightens the subject’s face. Portrait shot that works in night sight mode. 4K video running at 60 frames per second, more advanced high dynamic range processing called HDR +, enhanced by exposure brackets for better shadow details such as backlit faces and better video stabilization I did.

However, there is a problem here. As Google introduces hardware, rivals are improving their software.

Google’s rivals in computational photography are catching up

Apple didn’t comment on the story’s photography plans, but the action speaks for itself.

Pixel 5 offers a useful, if not unique, portrait mode that blurs the background for a smooth “bokeh”.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

Last year, Apple matched most of Google’s HDR + strengths with challenging scenes with bright and dark elements. This year’s Pixel 5 uses bracket technology for multi-shot blending technology to enhance HDR +. However, Apple’s Smart HDR replacement is now an improved version of the third generation. Apple has also improved nighttime photos on the iPhone.

Photo enthusiasts like me prefer unprocessed RAW photo formats so that you can fine-tune color balance, exposure, sharpness, and noise reduction. This is best if the camera does not make the right choice when “baking” raw image data into a more convenient and restricted JPEG image. Google’s formula raw blend HDR processing and raw flexibility, but Apple will release Pro Raw, the answer in an update of the iPhone Pro model.

Few people use Pixel smartphones, but it also affects Google. Adobe, a powerhouse of imaging software, is adjusting Lightroom’s photographic software to fix lens problems and adapt HDR tools to some cameras and lenses. Not surprisingly, Pixel smartphones aren’t on that list. “We tend to provide support based on the popularity of the device with our customers,” Adobe said in a statement.

In contrast, Adobe is “closely partnered with Apple” to take advantage of ProRaw’s capabilities. In addition, Google’s leading photographer, Marc Levoy, has left Google and is now at Adobe, incorporating photography technology into Adobe’s camera app.

Selling mid-range smartphones like the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G makes sense when the COVID-19 pandemic takes millions of jobs and makes the $ 1,099 iPhone Pro Max affordable. There may be. But for people like me who have a photo budget and appreciation for Google’s computational photographic cleverness, it’s tragic that Google lost that lead.

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