If you like phones and particularly Android phones, the Google Pixel 6
series is very likely to be one of your most anticipated launches for 2021. I know it is for me. After LG exited the market
, there is a gap in the space and while elsewhere in the world, customers have a bit more choice with phones from Xiaomi
, Oppo, Vivo and others, in the United States, consumers are left with pretty much only two brands to battle it out: Apple and Samsung.
Naturally, hopes are high that the Google Pixel
6 can break that duopoly with an innovative design, a brand new Tensor chip
developed by Google over the past few years, and also the most advanced Pixel camera software
along with a new camera sensor. That's a ton of major innovation coming together in this one new phone, and no wonder it stirs excitement.
But if you are a camera enthusiast like myself and happen to prefer the more compact form factor, you will notice one key component missing from the spec sheet of the Pixel 6. The phone comes with a wide and an ultra-wide camera, but there is no zoom lens whatsoever (keep in mind that the larger Pixel 6 Pro
does have a 4X zoom periscope style lens).
Other high end phones like the iPhone 12 Pro and Galaxy S21 offer a triple camera setup with a zoom lens
This is one shortcut we wish the Pixel 6 did not make and taking a look at that new gigantic camera bar on the back of the phone, it certainly seems like Google could fit some sort of a zoom lens if it wanted to. After all, the Pixel 6 features a 6.4" display and the body to match it, and other companies like Samsung and Apple have been able to fit a zoom camera in phones much smaller. The 6.2" Galaxy S21
has a zoom camera, and so does the 6.1" iPhone 12 Pro
, so it's hard to say that space was the only defining factor that prevented Google from including a zoom lens in the more compact member of the Pixel 6 family.
The lack of a zoom camera was actually one of our bigger complaints for the Pixel 5
. That phone performed poorly whenever you had to zoom in even slightly, and its zoom level maxes out at merely 7X digital zoom.
No telephoto lens means more than just worse zoom photos
There is another problem with the lack of a zoom lens on a high-end phone and that is the compromised quality of portrait mode photos. Portrait Mode is a blessing for pictures of people and I personally rarely take photos of people without it. Of course, your mileage may vary, but considering that Pixels have always been photo-centric devices, compromising one of the key photo features is a disappointment in my book.
Zoom lens: an essential tool for good looking photos of people
"Why is a zoom lens so important for portraits?", you may wonder. After all, you can still use the portrait mode effect that blurs the background with the main camera. That is true, but the problem with that is that the main lens on smartphones is usually a wide one at around 24mm or 26mm. If you've ever played around with a professional camera, you probably know that you very rarely, if ever, would use such a focal length for portraits. It is too wide, it requires you to stand uncomfortably close to your subject and most importantly, it tends to distort the face in a very grotesque way (it makes the nose appear unnaturally large, etc). That is the reason why if you care about portrait shots of people, you would usually want a 2X zoom, or even a 3X zoom lens.
So back to our Pixel 6, we see that it skips the zoom camera and that will inevitably lead to less than ideal zoom photos and compromised portrait mode shots. Google could try and compensate for that with some sort of digital zoom enhancements, and we wouldn't count that option out. After all, its Google that we are talking about, the company that made computational photography trendy.
But as it stands right now, we feel a bit let down, and really wish Google would give us that zoom lens in the future. After all, its rival Samsung and Apple already do, and if it plans on charging a top-tier price for its new phone, it'd better at least match them.