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Google Pixel 3, the camera maximised.

Was given a Google Pixel 3 when I attend the launch event for testing. I'm not a mobile phone expert so I'm not going to talk about the mobile experience side of things, rather, I want to touch on the camera of this newly launched phone. Given its predecessor's camera is highly recommend by many, I'm interested to find out how it really perform.

A little first impression about this phone. Pixel 3 is Google branded smartphone running their very own Android system. It's a very well made phone with metal frame and glass back for wireless charging. What I really like about this phone is that users are getting the full Android experience rather than Android systems with skin and software other manufactures likes to include by default.

Coming from the Apple ecosystem, there are some getting use to when I first got it. But just after a few days, I'm actually liking some of the way the Android system works. I also like how the fingerprint sensor is at the back where my index finger naturally is and how I can swipe down from the fingerprint sensor to bring down the notification. Also double pressing the power button to launch the camera app from anywhere is so much faster!


Now let's talk about that camera...

So how does the camera perform given its high expectations even before its launch? In short, I'm quite impressed.

This year have been the year of computational photography for smartphones. Given one can only put that much sensor and optics into a device like a smartphone before it gets ridiculous, using readily available processing power of a smartphone is the only way to go until sensor and optics technology catches up with the expectations of consumers.

To compensate the lack of dynamic range and details due to the limitation of it's sensor, Pixel 3 captures a series of photos when you tap that shutter and combine them to produce an image with high dynamic and details that is not possible with it's sensor and optics. Below are some photos taken right out of the phone. Note that it's not at the best condition for photography as it's a cloudy day but the details from that tiny sensor is excellent!

Click on the photos to see the quality of portrait mode and digital zoom.

Just how much algorithms and computing power is involved in the final output of the JPEG? Here is an animated GIF below to give you a sense how different is the RAW file before the processor gets involved.

As you can see, even the lens distortion is been corrected.

Pushing it with RAW

Speaking of RAW, if you want some control over the photo, it can be achieve with the RAW file that can be enable in the advance settings of the camera app.

With Pixel 3 you get Unlimited photo storage, all photos including Raw files can be sync to your Google Photo in original resolution. Even when you are using a Macbook, just log in to your Google Photo and download, easy!

A good amount of details can be extract from the Raw file. Notice the details in the shadow and the sky that are brought out.

Pushing it more

"How much can I push it as a photography tool?" I am interested to find out. Maximising the tools with the techniques and experience I have is what I always love to try.

To have a benchmark to compare to, I throw in a DSLR that I mostly use for landscapes and architecture photography, Canon 5Ds.

To explain it simply, I bracketed the shots to expose different parts of the scene and merge them in post. By doing this I will have much more details in the dark and light area, less noise and also increase dynamic range, sort of how the software in the Pixel 3 is trying to do but manually.

As there are no bracketing function in the camera app, I will have to get around it by setting it on a tripod and manually adjust the exposure gain or minus in the camera app. To prevent any movement when I capture the scene, I plug in the USB-C earbuds that are included in the box to act as a shutter release by pressing the volume button when I want to capture the scene.

And the results:

This is from my Canon 5Ds

And this is captured using Pixel 3

Needless to say, without pixel peeping, they look quite similar. The photo from Canon definitely gives more details compare to Pixel 3. Even during post process, I notice photos from Pixel 3 gives me less exposure latitude and colour informations compare to Canon. But this comparison is not fair given that one is a full frame sensor and the other is about 30 times smaller!

It's when you zoom in at 100% that you start to realise this is the quality you are actually getting from a sensor that small, pretty impressive.

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