Back in October, many Android enthusiasts spent days stalking their parcel carrier as they awaited delivery of the highly touted Pixel smartphone. The "Phone by Google" was poised to be the phone to take on the iPhone's popularity with its simple design, slick OS, and camera unlike any other smartphone camera. The camera was my primary reason for preordering the Pixel, but I opted for the larger XL model. The camera is truly great, but it's not going to take the place of my DSLR.
The Pixel camera received a glowing endorsement from the folks at DxO. What made DxO say the Pixel camera is the highest rated smartphone camera it has tested? The megapixel rating isn't the highest number seen on a smartphone at 12.3Mpx. Nor does it have optical image stabilization (OIS). But it does have a nice aperture at f/2.0 and impressive image processing ability. The photos I've snapped on my Pixel XL have amazed me and my Instagram followers. The average snapshot is a head-turner when snapped on the Pixel XL. The amount of detail captured from this phone's tiny camera blew me away, even if my dog doesn't look enthused about it.
I can gush over the image quality as well as the 4K video capability, but I still can't say the Pixel XL will be my "go-to camera." Granted, the Pixel tries to offer as many options as a DSLR. Unfortunately, hardware restrictions will limit the device.
Image sensor size
The image sensor is the gateway to producing an awesome photograph. It captures and processes the photons as they're brought in through the camera lens and shutter. The Pixel image sensor measures at 1.55um. That's uber tiny! The cropped sensor on my Canon T5i is much larger, at 22.3mm x 14.9mm. Larger image sensors allow for more light to pass through for image processing. The Pixel XL and most smartphones of today boast great low-light photography capabilities. Sure, the image quality is better than what the smartphones of the previous two years could produce. But we're still getting poor-quality selfies at the nightclub or bar. The larger DSLR sensor isn't perfect in low light, but it's much better than what the tiny smartphone image sensors can offer.
Sometimes I want manipulate the exposure or ISO while composing a shot. There are mobile apps available to aid in manual controls on your smartphone, such as Camera FV-5. However, the apps are not always the answer. In some instances I want to control the aperture of my lens so I can make illuminated street lights look like stars. The Pixel, as well as other smartphones, has a fixed aperture so there's no adjustment from f/2.0 to f/22. I can get the better-looking bokeh effect on a DSLR due to the aperture control and more accurate focus points. Oh, and I can't forget shutter controls, which allow me to slow the shutter speed for awesome long exposure photography.
I don't understand why the Pixel XL doesn't have optical image stabilization as part of the design. As expensive as the Pixel is, that shouldn't have been omitted. OIS is found in most of the flagship smartphones today, allowing users to snap sharper images. It's pretty common to have stabilization built into the lenses of a DSLR. Even the inexpensive kit lenses offer image stabilization.
I know I may sound like I'm bashing my Pixel XL's photography capabilities. I promise you, I am not. I absolutely love this device's camera. I hold smartphone photography close to my heart because I believe great photos can come from a smartphone. But I also understand that limited hardware can affect the way photography is composed. Yes, the best camera on the market is the one you have with you. Personally, I'm going to carry more than one just to be safe. If my Pixel XL can't capture the composition I visualized, more than likely my DSLR can.
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Have you been frustrated with the limitations of smartphone cameras—or are they adequate for most of your needs? Share your thoughts with fellow TechRepublic members.
Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.