The arrival of new Google Pixel phones is always a great point-and-shoot time – and this has been proven again with the launch of the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro.
While the new flagships don’t have quite as big a headline moment as ‘Night Sight”s introduction of the Pixel 3, they do bring a combination of interesting hardware and software updates that could take them to the upper echelons of our ultimate guide to camera phones.
The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro’s basic hardware recipes aren’t radically different from their predecessors. Both have the same 50MP main and 12MP ultra-wide cameras, with the Pixel 7 Pro bringing an extra 48MP telephoto lens with 5x optical zoom powers.
But under the hood, Google’s new Tensor G2 processor powers some fancy computational photography features, including Photo Unblur and a new Cinematic Blur mode that looks suspiciously similar to Apple’s Cinematic Mode.
So what are the most interesting photographic features of the two phones? We’ve ranked the ones we’re most eager to test here – starting with the cheat mode for all our snapping bugs, Photo Unblur…
1. Photo Blur (Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro)
Thankfully, all of our photos are perfectly sharp and never contain errors (okay, that’s a lie), but if your library is dotted with blurry noise, the Google Photo Unblur trick might be a welcome godsend.
Initially only available in the Google Photos app on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro (although we suspect it will come to other phones soon), Photo Unblur is a development of Google’s existing noise reduction and sharpening tools and should complement Face very well. Blurring trick that arrived last year in the Pixel 6 series.
Unlike Face Unblur, Photo Unblur is designed to be used retroactively on existing photos, not at the time of capture. While it can’t work miracles on disastrous shooting incidents, early demos show an impressive ability to rescue photos that have been smeared by slow shutter speeds, focus issues, or slight hand shake. And it will also work on photos taken on any camera.
2. Macro Focus (Pixel 7 Pro)
It’s far from the first phone with a dedicated macro mode, but the addition of autofocus to the Pixel 7 Pro’s updated ultra-wide-angle lens is a big deal for fans of Google’s smartphones.
Our US cellphone editor Philip Berne explained why macro was the feature on the Pixel 7 Pro he was most excited about prior to the phone’s launch. And Google granted its wish with a mode that should match the close-ups possible on rivals like the iPhone 14 Pro.
It’s not yet clear what software tricks Google has brought to this mode, but it promises to let you focus on objects up to 3cm away. Macro focus will also automatically activate when you get closer to a subject, switching from the main camera to the ultra wide-angle.
It’s a mode we’re very much looking forward to taking a ride (beware, spiders). In the meantime, you can check out some sample photos in this Google Photos Gallery. (opens in new tab)
3. Improved super resolution zoom (Pixel 7 Pro)
Zoom promises to be one of the biggest improvements on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. The Pro model now has 5x optical zoom (instead of the Pixel 6 Pro’s 4x zoom), but the most interesting improvement is the software trick available on both models.
Just like the iPhone 14 Pro, both phones can crop at their 50MP resolution for an effective 2x zoom to a 12.5MP resolution, thanks to some additional noise processing. But a more useful improvement will likely be the processing that takes place between the Pixel 7 Pro’s native focal lengths.
Previously, these 3x or 4x optical zoom points were covered by a very rudimentary digital zoom. But Google claims that the Pixel 7 Pro can fill in some extra detail using its 5x telephoto camera, which should create much more consistent results across this zoom range (at least in theory). This is definitely something we’re looking forward to experiencing.
4. Cinematic Blur Mode (Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro)
Apple’s Cinematic mode brought simulated background blur, like the kind you’ll find in portrait mode photos, to video last year on the iPhone 13 Pro. It’s still early days for the technology, but Google has now joined the computational pool party with its take on fake video bokeh.
The problem these modes are trying to solve is that smartphone cameras have too great a depth of field to provide the kind of blur that makes videos shot with dedicated cameras look cinematic.
It’s a tough nut to crack because each frame needs to be processed to look like it was shot with a glossy prime lens – and based on Google’s demo above, the Pixel 7 series hasn’t made huge leaps forward.
Dropping the subject to the background still feels a bit artificial and heavy, but it can certainly be a useful mode for the awkward cut scene. We’ll stick with the best vlogging cameras for a while yet.
5. Improved Night Vision (Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro)
Google’s ‘Night Sight’ mode was a revelation when it arrived on the Pixel 3 in 2018. Instead of using the traditional long exposure method to expose dark scenes, it lets you shoot them by hand thanks to its amazing ability to reassemble. instantly the best bits of a frame blast.
The mode has steadily improved over the years, but its problem has always been the motion blur created if anything in your scene dared to move an inch during the explosion sequence. Well, Google is promising that this problem, if not fixed, at least improved on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro.
This is because its machine learning techniques allow for a reduction in noise, which in turn means that each frame can use a shutter speed half the time before. The result? In theory, much less trouble with motion blur ruining your cityscapes and night portraits.
6. Guided Frame (Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro)
A stunning example of an AI accessibility feature, Guided Frame is designed to help people who are blind or have low vision take selfies more easily on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro.
When you open the front camera and hold it to your face, the feature’s voice will tell you where to position your phone to compose the shot, nudging you in the right direction before letting you know when it has the money photo.
You’ll get prompts like “move your phone a little to the right and up” while a countdown tells you when the photo is about to be taken. I hope it encourages other manufacturers to create equivalent modes.
Google has also improved its Real Tone feature in the new Pixels to ensure that each subject’s skin tone is accurate and well-exposed in their photos. With the feature tested on over 10,000 portraits and refined in collaboration with Diversify Photo, it should now be greatly improved.
7. Improved Selfie Camera (Pixel 7)
Photographers may scoff at the selfie camera, but it is one of the most used lenses on smartphones. The Pixel 7 now has an improved version that should be a decent step up from its predecessor.
The Pixel 7 now has the same 10.8MP sensor (with f/2.2 aperture) that you’ll find on the Pixel 7 Pro and 6 Pro. That means it has an ultra-wide 20mm focal length, which is handy for squeezing multiple people into the frame. You can also use it to record 4K/60p videos.
It still only has fixed focus, but it should be a more useful tool for when you need a social media profile picture or quick video for your YouTube channel.