It’s time to admit the truth: I’m in love with Google’s Pixel 2 smartphone camera.
Admittedly, it’s easy to fall in love with. The Pixel 2 camera produces stunning, vibrant, better-than-real-life photos regularly.
The building here, for instance:
In reality, the building was actually darker than in this photo – the Pixel 2’s high-dynamic range (HDR) function pulled a wider range of lighting than my own eye was capable of seeing. It also managed to dim the incredibly bright street light and capture the movement of a car speeding past.
And this was all during sunset, when natural lighting conditions are at their worst.
I’ve been using the Pixel 2 for months now, but spending the last two weeks travelling throughout Israel with Google’s flagship phone highlighted to me just how incredibly impressive the Pixel 2’s camera is. Let’s get into it.
The Pixel 2 camera captures an incredible level of detail.
Looking to see individual strands of ground chickpea in your falafel photos? Look no further than the Pixel 2.
I take a lot of food photos. I have an Instagram account dedicated primarily to food and travel photos.
I cook a lot. I eat a lot. I care deeply about taking pretty photos of food – probably more than I should. And the Pixel 2 makes it incredibly easy to take gorgeous photos of food.
Just look at the shots of falafel from famed Tel Aviv spot Hakosem. I was already freaking out because I was handed free, fresh falafel to eat while standing in line to order – and seeing that my phone camera was able to capture the crispy, dark exterior and the creamy, spice-flecked, bright green interior of said falafel was a tremendous bonus.
That stunning level of detail applies to most lighting conditions.
I shot this photo from within a dark, unlit ruin – Masada, the over 2,000 year old fortress left by King Herod the Great. Outside of the ruin, around 7 in the morning, the desert sun had just begun filling the valley.
Yet, remarkably, this photo captures the stunning detail of the rocks inside as well as the mountains (and Dead Sea) in the distance. I didn’t doctor the brightness settings; this is a completely untouched photo.
If anything, the quality is slightly lower than the original photo – I’m slightly dropping the quality from the originals here to make the files smaller (so this article doesn’t take forever to load). And the photos still look this good!
The range of colours, while still retaining remarkable levels of detail, is incredibly impressive.
I came away from photos like this marveling at the Pixel 2’s ability.
Smartphone cameras aren’t ususally able to capture remarkable views like the one above. What often happens is you see an incredible view, attempt to capture it in a photo, and fail miserably. It crops a section, or the lighting is all wrong, or whatever else – the essence of the gorgeous view is lost in translation from reality to digital.
In the case of the Pixel 2 camera, even without taking a panorama shot (which you can do!), photographs of landscapes like the one above are remarkable. The subtle bokeh effect in the foreground, the depth of lighting in the rocks on the left side, and the hazy beauty of the background – to say nothing of the fuzzy, luminous sun and its reflection on the Dead Sea – was all done automatically.
I pointed, framed the shot, and clicked. The Pixel 2 did the rest.
It’s easy to make photos look professional with the Pixel 2.
I jammed my phone up to the corner of this plate of kanafeh (khan-uh-fay), tapped the screen in the middle, and pushed the photo button to snap the photo. The gorgeous result was the image you see above, which not only showcases the gorgeous top of this delicious Middle Eastern dessert but also the absurdly sweet liquor it’s drenched in.
The lighting was fluorescent, and we were within Jerusalem’s Old City – the original walled city dating back thousands of years, which isn’t big on natural light. That the kanafeh looks stunningly natural is a measure of the Pixel 2’s incredible ability to pull gorgeous photos out of any situation.
It makes good-looking photos look even better!
For some photos, I was lucky enough to have near-perfect lighting and framing by accident. The photo above, taken mid-day with plenty of natural light nearby, would look good on most cameras. There are a range of coloured shapes framed by two contrasting circles, all set against a wood grain backdrop. It’s a setup that could produce a pretty photo on a Polaroid camera, let alone a modern smartphone camera.
Yet, with the Pixel 2, it pops even more – you can see the range of green in the scallions, the various levels of sear and dripping fat oozing from the kebabs on the right, the shiny skin on the collapsed tomato. This quick-and-dirty overhead photo, taken in seconds while my friends hungrily stared me down in frustration, came out infinitely better than it should have.
Going from zero to snapping a photo is blessedly fast.
One of the most amazing functions of smartphones is providing an instant camera. And few things are as frustrating about that amazing functionality as attempting to use that camera quickly and failing. You missed the shot!
Likely, you didn’t miss anything – your phone took too long to load the camera, and now that shot is gone forever.
In the case of the Pixel 2, loading the camera is blessedly fast. Fast enough to photograph a group of African missionaries who stopped walking through Jerusalem’s Old City for just long enough for me to capture them on camera. Given how cramped the area is, and how many people were in their group, I had seconds to pull my phone out, open the camera app, line up a photo, and snap. In instance after instance, the Pixel 2 was up to that exact challenge.
As if I didn’t already love the Pixel 2, using it as a stand-in for my “real” camera on vacation proved that it’s the best smartphone camera I’ve ever used.
I’m no professional photographer, but I’ve definitely got more experience with cameras than the average smartphone user. I own standalone, high-quality camera bodies with swappable lenses, and I use them. I’ve published photos and video to every publication I’ve worked at, from both smartphones and standalone cameras.
Still, when I’m on vacation, I have no interest in lugging around equipment. Considering that vacation this year was a trip to the Middle East (Israel) in July, I was trying to keep my equipment level to a bare minimum.
The Pixel 2 was a more than suitable replacement for my normal camera rig. It automatically handled much of the work I do manually on my personal camera, yet it fits in my pocket. In the past, I’ve made this tradeoff – as many people have – often with major concessions. “Photographs at sunset just won’t look as nice, but I really don’t want to have to bring my camera. The phone will have to do!”
With rare exception did I feel like I was making concessions by swapping my standalone camera for the Pixel 2, and that’s revelatory.
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