Posted on Sept 19th, 2019
This review of the Google Pixel 3 / 3a come a bit later than I was expected. But as I was reporting from my previous post, this year has been a bit difficult/different one from the previous with some changes and transitions. It’s part of life to have some period in which you look around yourself and you questioning what you want to change in your life and in your business.
So here are my thoughts and consideration after I’ve tested the Google Pixel 3 smartphone. There’s to say that this review fits perfectly with the Google Pixel 3a smartphone since the camera hardware and the algorithms are exactly the same. I think the Google Pixel 3a smartphone is a very good selection for all the users that wants a very good camera without spending too much.
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Just one Single lens on the Google Pixel 3 / 3a. Is it enough?
With an approach totally against the trend compared to the competition, Google proposes a smartphone with a single lens. Google is sure to guarantee the same quality as other smartphones using only one optical system. How do they do it? Computationally. In practice, the second lens that for many manufacturers is used or to create the depth map for the portrait effect or as a telephoto lens in the Pixel 3 is absent.
Google then uses an algorithmic calculation by using the micro distance between the pixels on the autofocus system to create the depth map for the portrait effect and thus recreate the blur (I’ve analyzed how the Portrait Mode works on the smartphone here), while using an intelligent interpolation system to simulate the effect of a long lens with the mode that calls Super Res Zoom.
Let’s say straight away that although Google’s algorithms are really good, there is still no way to surpass the quality given by a true optical focal length. On this point, the new smartphones with true telephoto focal length have real advantages compared to Google.
Google Pixel 3 / 3a portrait mode. Still the best in the class?
The portrait mode has been improved compared to the Google Pixel 2 which presented several problems in creating the right mask around the contour of the person. It must be said that problems persist on some photos in the definition of the detachment zone between the sharp part and the blur.
How does the portrait mode work? The camera takes a photo and applies a mask through an algorithmic calculation that allows you to blur around the subject of the photo. It should be noted that the default camera app saves the photo with the blur but also the one without.
Moreover, with the Google Photos App, you can subsequently change the intensity of the blur as well as being able to change the point of focus: welcome to the era of computational photography!
Night Sight on the Google Pixel 3 /3a: Is the quality good?
One of the perhaps most envied features from those without a Google Pixel 3 is this new night mode called “Night Sight”. Also, in this case, Google uses its algorithms to take a series of photos in sequence, assembles them together and brings out a truly remarkable result. The resulting photos, in fact, have an excellent color balance (which in night situations is always difficult) and brightness. In the examples below, the first photo is taken without the “Night Sight” mode, the second with the Night Sight mode ON, so you can see the differences. My complaint about Google’s night sight is that in a lot of scene and situations, the resulting image looks a bit too much bright for my personal taste of a night scene.
Super Res Zoom on the Google Pixel 3 / 3a
Super Res Zoom mode uses Google’s intelligent algorithms to get a “simulation” of a long focal length lens. To do this, it uses the micro-movements of the hand as we shoot to add information to the final photograph. Does it work? Let’s say that as long as we use the first zoom step (unfortunately there is no other way to “quantify” these steps) the results are good. Going further, as you can see from the examples below, the detail becomes totally artificial until you have a photographic representation that is more like an oil painting than a photograph! ? It should be noted that this intelligent interpolation zoom mode also works in portrait mode. You will then be able to get photos with a focal (virtual) that is more suited to the portrait than the basic wide-angle one. The Super Res Zoom mode also works when the raw recording is activated: in this case, however, your raw file will be a “cropped” file with a much lower resolution.
Higher quality from the raw files of the Google Pixel 3 /3a
There is an aspect that perhaps not everyone has grasped but that can be heard following the Google team interview: in practice the Google Pixel 3 when it saves the raw, it saves a file that is the raw version of the result of the multiple exposures taken with smartphone algorithms. What does this mean? That we will have a raw file with a lot of information in lights and shadows, a file that can be further worked and post-processed in Lightroom having much more data to work with. This is a truly unique aspect. In fact most of the time, when you use the raw mode on different smartphones (I personally tried all the latest OnePlus, Samsung Galaxy, Huawei P series, etc.) you get a raw file that unfortunately has less information. This is because the resulting shot is the exact raw data of the sensor without any of the additional calculations of the algorithms implemented by the manufacturer (which act only on the jpg file). Looking at specific Apps, Lightroom for example with its App on iOS and Android has an HDR mode with it’s internal custom camera that allows you to save a raw file with multi-exposures blend. Try it and you will see that the processing time between the photos will be really long. On the Google Pixel 3/3a this process is instant and super quick.
My personal opinion about the Google Pixel 3/3a
With the Google Pixel 3 /3a we are certainly facing one of the best cameras for smartphones.
Shooting algorithms that combine multiple exposures now achieve remarkable results and allow us to have perfectly exposed photographs during the day and also excellent night photographs.
On the Google Pixel 3 /3a I think that at the moment the weak point is the portrait mode. As the algorithms can be evolved, many times the blur map turns out to be inaccurate.
For me, one of the most remarkable aspect as a professional photographer about the Google Pixel 3/ 3a, is the quality of the saved raw files; the final raw file has super-rich in information and above all with a quick acquisition time that is the same as for the jpg files.
A point on which we will surely be able to debate, perhaps with whom photography has been practicing for years, is that the aesthetics of smartphone photographs is different from the one we achieve with a photo cameras: the multi-exposure in fact tends to obtain heavily exposed skies with a blue that I find so often too intense. Even in the photos with the sun entering the frame directly, the HDR algorithms do their job but make the solar disk a ball with a sharp detachment with respect to the sky area. The same happens in some portrait shots where the recovering algorithms could get out some irrealistic skin color tone.
I would be happy to hear your opinion about these photos and if there’s someone else that is using the Google Pixel 3 /3a!