Can the Google Pixel and Nexus 6P match a DSLR for night-time photography? (Yes!)


The Google Pixel is widely seen as one of the best camera phones out there and many sources (yours truly included) agree that it has the best camera ever put on a phone. But even the most avid photography enthusiast will tell you something: a smartphone camera, however good it may be, can never take great pictures at night. Furthermore, it can never capture the night sky, the Milky Way and all those beautiful astrophotography pieces of art that we see shot on professional cameras.

Well,  impossible is nothing if you ask the star-reaching folks over at Google Research who have used some clever techniques to capture some truly impressive night time pictures with the Google Pixel and even its older sibling, the Nexus 6P.

Yes, the picture above and all the pictures below are all taken on a smartphone! First, feel free to scroll through the gallery below.


So how is that possible?! Those images should have a lot more noise! At least that's what we got when we tried shooting the night sky with a smartphone.

Well, it is not just a simple long exposure that we are dealing with here. It's actually a whopping 64 long exposures, and that's 4-second exposures for the Nexus 6P and 2-second exposures for the Google Pixel, the longest exposure times that each of these two phones supports. Of course, the phones are mounted on a tripod with the focus set to infinity, and we have two sets of 32 frames, with the second one shot with black adhesive tape over the lens. This is part of the magic: those darker images were used to remove faint grid-like patterns caused by local variations in the sensor's black level. Both sets were then passed over to image editing software and the mean of the first set was computed to remove the noise, and then the mean of the 32 black frames were subtracted. Sure, this is not your average guy photography enthusiasm or skills, but the results are nonetheless very impressive and prove a point.

So yes, it is possible to take such amazingly sharp and detailed, truly DSLR level night time photos with a phone. But it's not easy, it requires a lot of special conditions and a ton of post-processing. 

Related phones

Pixel
  • Display 5.0" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 12.3 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, Quad-core, 2150 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 2770 mAh(26h talk time)
Nexus 6P
  • Display 5.7" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 12.3 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, Octa-core, 2000 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 3450 mAh(23h talk time)

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65 Comments

1. zunaidahmed

Posts: 1185; Member since: Dec 24, 2011

well, even I would say the pixel is the king of smartphone last year, maybe even now, until the S8 gets tested.

22. Bankz

Posts: 2550; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

Curious why DxOmark hasn't yet released ratings for the s8/+, which is a bit unusual as they normally rush to bring out its score immediately after launch. Hmmm!

24. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

lol many comparison between pixel and s8 picture where done. in most case pixel destroy the S8 try again next year maybe..

39. Bankz

Posts: 2550; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

My point is that they're probably ashamed to release it. Imagine the almighty galaxy being destroyed by the pixel and then gets destroyed completely again by that same phone after releasing a brand new galaxy s8.

53. peace247 unregistered

Hey pa u forgot -sponsored by Google. Match a dslr....ha...nice joke.

64. LionStone

Posts: 1048; Member since: Dec 10, 2010

MBKHD just released a video that shows the not much improved S8, which the Pixel out did easily

28. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

Here's one for ya, a test between the S8, G6, and the Pixel. http://www.droid-life.com/2017/04/24/camera-galaxy-s8-pixel-g6/

65. LionStone

Posts: 1048; Member since: Dec 10, 2010

the videos by kellen are horrid, so hard to sit through so I don't watch his videos anymore.

31. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

Do any of y'all got raw images of the s8

2. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

so, what your saying, is that without a bunch of knowledge and parlor tricks, it IS NOT possible to take great night time shots. haha

3. Victor.H

Posts: 1079; Member since: May 27, 2011

Exactly ;)

4. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

Does the Google Pixel's camera really surpasses the S7 edge's camera, Victor?

5. Ninetysix

Posts: 2965; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

8. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

DXOMark scoring doesn't tell the whole story, as it mostly measures camera hardware. The HTC 10 and Sony Xperia X Performance got the same score of 88 like the S7 edge, but in reality they both aren't anywhere near the S7 edge in the camera department. Moot score.

12. sip1995

Posts: 1771; Member since: Feb 07, 2014

btw DXOMark don't test the phones with the latest software available...

33. Hyperreal

Posts: 361; Member since: Oct 08, 2013

There were many tests including here by PA that prove HTC 10 camera is one of the best on the market easily competing with S7 which suffers from oversharpening on oversaturates photos to make them look better. S7 camera while great is just overrated. Even Nexus 6p can produce better photos in some scenarios.

35. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

"There were many tests including here by PA that prove HTC 10 camera is one of the best on the market easily competing with S7" What? HTC easily competes with Samsung in the camera game? Unreal.

55. JC557

Posts: 1919; Member since: Dec 07, 2011

Then read Anandtech's review on the HTC 10 vs iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7. It's cpear that samsung fans don't like hearing about samsung not being the absolute best in everything.

10. mikehunta727 unregistered

It does. It's better than the S7 camera

16. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Yes. Samsung cameras are overrated.

52. NoToFanboys

Posts: 3231; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

They're not the best, but definitely not overrated.

19. Victor.H

Posts: 1079; Member since: May 27, 2011

I have not yet seen another phone to match the image quality of the Google Pixel. But you don't have to take my word for it, you can check out our Galaxy S8 vs Pixel comparison and look at the images yourself:http://www.phonearena.com/reviews/Samsung-Galaxy-S8-vs-Google-Pixel_id4341/page/3

20. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

Can't believe the Google Pixel apparently sort of challenge the mighty Galaxy S8 in camera department. I mean, I've never known Google to be a solid payer in the camera game. Perhaps that's due to the memory of the Nexus 5's camera which was absolute garbage, just like it's battery life was. Has Google really come a long way from the Nexus 5 to now apparently own the camera game? Unreal.

29. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

Pretty much since the Nexus 6p their cameras have been on par or better in some cases to the big boys (Samsung and LG).

38. Xperia14

Posts: 1208; Member since: Sep 01, 2015

From what I've seen, the Pixel's camera is a good step ahead of the S8's. Here's why: -much better dynamic range -a bigger FOV and yet the same or better detail -colors are more realistic But it also uses better camera hardware (1/2,3" sensor) and Google is ahaed with its software.

40. Bankz

Posts: 2550; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

The google pixel is the best camera of all time. End of story!

45. Xperia14

Posts: 1208; Member since: Sep 01, 2015

True. Let's see what the Nokia 9 can do.

47. Awalker

Posts: 1982; Member since: Aug 15, 2013

I liked the camera on the Nexus 5 especially the HDR+ mode. The Nexus 6 had a great camera. The Nexus 6P and 5X had great cameras. The Google Pixel has a great camera. Google has been doing well in the camera department for years now especially with their HDR+ mode.

54. adi90

Posts: 554; Member since: Dec 21, 2015

Were you sleeping for last 6 months?

26. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

All you need is use manual setting and a tripod. Did tons of nice picture like this on my LG G5. with a DSLR you also need a tripod to make many of those picture also.

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