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Google Pixel 4, it's all about low light.

Google Pixel 4, replacement of Pixel 3 that I reviewed last year. As before, I will mainly touch on the camera aspect of this phone. The unit I have is the bigger version of the two (Google Pixel 4 XL), but other than the difference in screen size and battery capacity, they are essentially the same.

Face unlock with radar

Before I touch on the camera, there's one single feature that I consider a big upgrade from it's predecessor, that is face unlock. Instead of using fingerprint as biometric security, Pixel 4 use your face to unlock your phone. Although this feature is available on other manufactures for quite awhile, Pixel 4 does it better with implementation of project Soli that Google announced few years back.

It is a radar sensor on the top of the phone that works hand in hand with many functions of the phone. The radar is an invisible area outside of your phone that detects movements or presences for face unlock.

The technology Pixel 4 uses to read your face is quite the same as iPhone 11. But with implementation of a radar sensor, Pixel 4 is able to detect when you are near the phone or when you are reaching to pick up your phone, firing up the multiple sensors that are require to read your face. The result is very fast unlock, in an instance, you are at your home screen before you touch the screen. I can't wait what Google can do with project Soli as the potential of this technology is very interesting. To get a sense of what it can do, I recommend to watch this video by Google.

The Camera

Being a photographer, the camera is what I'm mostly interested in. This year Google introduce a second 2X telephoto lens. Google claim that the telephoto lens helps in better depth separation for portrait mode when compare to Pixel 3.

Recently during a halloween party at home, I took plenty of photos with my Pixel 4 and as far as portrait mode goes, I can't see much different. Maybe Pixel 3 have already been pretty outstanding with it's single lens setup. What I do notice is a big difference in image quality under low light conditions when I compare to photos taken with competitors phones.

Night Walk

Interested how it will perform in low light conditions, I took it out for a photowalk at the Marina Bay Area. All photos below are taken with Pixel 4 XL in Night Sight mode and post process by me.

I took the photos in RAW mode where the phone will capture the scene in both JPEG and RAW files. And this gets interesting when I am selecting the photos on my computer.

Although I know Pixel 4 uses computational photography to enhance photos like Pixel 3. The photos taken on this photowalk really show the difference between what the camera capture and what the software have done to enhance them. Below I'll show two examples, all taken straight out of the phone. One is from RAW another is in JPEG, JPEG is the one that is enhanced by software, see if you can spot the different. Click on the photos to enlarge.

The one on the left is the original and the right is the one process by the phone. As you can see, there are so much more details and sharpness.

Same as above, left is original and right is processed by phone. This one is more subtle, you really need to put them side by side. But take note of the wooden floor lighted by lights at the bottom of the photo. the details of the wood is washed out in the original photos while details is brought out in the one process by the phone.

In my opinion, what the phone have done is capture a series of photos with variable shutter speed, sharpen, reduce colour noises, bring out details in highlights and shadows and also colour correction on objects it recognised. it's like post process with softwares but all happened in an instant and in a single device.

Final thought

Google have proof once again what computational photography can do for the consumer market. Things that were once limited by physics of sensor and lens are overcome through software and a powerful processor in a single device. Another new feature that debut on Pixel 4 is astrography mode. I will update this blog once I get the chance to test that out in future.

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