The Google Pixel 8 Pro has plenty of camera features, including a whopping 50-megapixel sensor that allows for raw and manual shooting, but how does it compare to mirrorless cameras, including one with a 50-megapixel medium format sensor?
I’ve been using the Pixel 8 Pro as my main phone for about a month now, and I have to say there’s a lot to love about it. For this review, however, I’m focusing on the camera capabilities, specifically comparing the Pixel 8 Pro raw files to those from my various Fujifilm cameras.
We’ve all been there. You’re going out with the family, or on your way to an event like a concert, and even if you want to bring your camera, you don’t want to drag it around. If you bring it with you, it can be a nuisance, especially if you have small children. If you leave it at home, you will most likely regret not having it because your cell phone simply does not meet your standards for the quality of images you want. And that’s exactly where a mobile phone with a great camera that has robust features can fit perfectly. You don’t have to carry anything else and you don’t have to sacrifice image quality for convenience. The Google Pixel 8 Pro could be the phone that gives us the best of both worlds.
Very manual control
The Pixel 8 Pro has plenty of manual control for photographers, albeit with some limitations. For example, the camera lets you control the shutter speed and ISO, but not the aperture. However, you can set manual white balance, and you can even focus manually if you want, and the phone has a built-in focus mode to help. While I was at the pumpkin patch, I decided to take some pictures in portrait mode, and when I got home I discovered another limitation, which is that you can’t take raw photos in the camera’s built-in portrait mode. So, note this if you prefer to shoot in raw. Overall, the phone gives you a lot of control, but it still lacks the ease of use and the ability to really control everything manually that you get with a mirrorless camera or DSLR. Setting shutter speed and ISO from a touch screen is still a little fiddly, but for the times you might want or need to do so, it’s nice to have this ability built right into your phone.
Low light capability
I brought a Fujifilm X-T5 and Pixel 8 Pro to a gig at one of my favorite venues in New York. I also brought along a Genaray PortaBright Monolight continuous light and an Aputure Lantern Softbox so I could capture some portraits of my musician friends between sets. I took photos outside on the street and used hard light for some of the shots by fitting my light with a bare reflector and then a softer light when the Aputure dome was added. The lighting situation, which had many deep blacks and a lot of contrasts, proved to be a challenge for the Pixel 8 Pro. In this situation, the phone struggled to reproduce the deep blacks while not blowing out the highlights, although it still produced good results.
Finally, I took some photos of my son with the Pixel 8 Pro and a Fujifilm GFX 50S II, a 50-megapixel medium format camera that has one of the highest quality sensors you can get today. I wanted to give the phone a shot in a controlled lighting environment as well as outdoors during the day and night, as I expected there to be a lot of variation in its performance depending on the situation.
The Pixel 8 Pro offers a robust set of AI features. The phone can automatically remove people from the background of your picture and even swap faces, if you take a series of pictures in a row, creating the “perfect” picture. As a professional photographer, however, these features don’t interest me that much because there’s still a long way to go before the technology can do a good job of editing on its own. For example, the masking is rough, so if a person is behind you in an image that’s over your shoulder, the phone will have trouble getting rid of them without cutting into your shoulder as well. Also, depending on how the background elements are placed, the results can be either good or not so good, with the camera leaving weird artifacts where the intrusive person or trash can you removed used to be. Masking is also an issue when using the camera in portrait mode. In this mode, the camera creates fake bokeh to separate the subject from the background, but the edges of the subject, especially if they have a lot of hair with finely detailed edges, are not clean and have a messy look randomly around the hair and body edges.
Mostly excellent results
First of all, I have to say that the images from the Pixel 8 Pro are excellent and show how far phones have come as tools for photography and serious photographers. The camera shoots a raw and JPEG file simultaneously when set to raw, so there’s always a JPEG for when you don’t want to mess with editing raw files. The raw files straight out of the phone are very flat, so you should expect to do a lot of editing if you choose to shoot in raw. I was impressed with the raw files in several ways. First, the Pixel 8 Pro produces very sharp images, which hold up even when compared to a mirrorless camera. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the images have an excellent amount of dynamic range. For example, in the photo of my bandmate Jesse in his Halloween costume, the photo taken by the phone had half his face blown out, with no detail. I was shocked at how much of that detail I was able to get back by lowering the highlights slider in Capture One. The raw files really gave me a lot to work with, although, as I mentioned, I had to do quite a bit of editing.
The biggest criticism I can level at the Pixel 8 Pro is when it comes to colors. When I compared it to Fujifilm cameras, I wasn’t at all surprised that colors were more pleasing and skin tones more accurate from the Fuji cameras. In my night scene, the Pixel 8 Pro tended towards warm tones, although this was a tricky lighting situation as I had a daylight balanced continuous light mixed with the night lights in Queens.
Can you leave the camera at home?
The biggest praise I can give the Pixel 8 Pro as a camera is this. Having used it on a number of occasions side-by-side with some of my favorite mirrorless cameras, I can see myself leaving a bulky digital camera at home and using the phone instead without feeling like it’s a huge compromise. The shooting experience itself, while still not as fun as a mirrorless or DSLR camera, offers a lot to love, and the raw image quality gives us photographers the ability to continue creating great images without dragging the camera around. The Pixel 8 Pro is perfect for those times when I want to enjoy a day with the family, or go to a ball game, or walk around town, but I don’t want to lug around a camera. This is the first mobile phone for which I can say that is true.
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