Feature Articles

Google Pixel 3 camera review

By Alvin Soon - 23 Oct 2018

Super Res Zoom

A subject shot without digital zoom (back) and with the maximum Super Res Zoom (front).

Digital zoom has its limits

Google makes up for the lack of a secondary camera with a feature it calls ‘Super Res Zoom.’ It’s a fancier name for digital zoom, which is essentially cropping, enlarging, and interpolating details. Google says the the mode "uses the natural movement when you’re holding your phone in your hand to add additional resolution to zoomed shots."

Google is applying its computational magic onto digital zoom, but digital zoom is digital zoom. The effect still doesn't compare to a shot from an optically zoomed lens, like the telephoto on the iPhone Xs. It’s acceptable up to around the half-way mark, but the further you zoom in the blurrier the noisier the image becomes.

It’s worth noting, however, that phones like the iPhone Xs will apply its own version of digital zoom. When you tap for the 2x zoom in low light, the iPhone Xs will default to the wide-angle lens and digitally crop that shot instead.

To illustrate Super Res Zoom, let’s look at this photo of the White Rabbit.

Google Pixel 3. f/1.8 at 4.44mm, 1/100 sec, ISO 61.

To get a baseline, here’s the 100% crop of the wide-angle, non-zoomed, images from the Pixel 3 (left) and iPhone Xs (right). As noted earlier, the iPhone Xs’ images appear softer compared to the Pixel 3.

This is a digitally zoomed Pixel 3 shot. It’s not the Pixel 3’s maximum zoom but one that best matches the iPhone Xs’ telephoto lens’ zoom.

A 100% crop of the digitally zoomed image from the Pixel 3 (left), and a 100% crop of a shot from the iPhone Xs’ telephoto lens (right). We zoomed in a tad too much with the Pixel 3, but you can see the optically zoomed iPhone Xs photo is more natural.

Here’s the White Rabbit at the Pixel 3’s maximum digital zoom. Not terrible, not great.

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