Pixel 6: Google's flagship challenges iPhone 13 with 5-year-old camera hardware

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Pixel 6: Google's flagship challenges iPhone 13 with 5-year-old camera hardware
It's been a while, but here we go again! Google Pixel 6 - perhaps Google's last chance to challenge Apple and the rest of the big dogs. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro launch is fast approaching.

According to reports, we are about four weeks away from the official Google Pixel 6 announcement - the second one, if you count the bizarre pre-announcement. More precisely, the tipped date is October 19.

We already have a list of new features which Google's expected to bring with the Pixel 6. Some of them sound familiar, like "magic eraser", which is meant to remove a passer-by from your photo. We saw this on a few of Huawei's flagships, including the P50 Pro.

Others, like "timer light", which is said to make the flash blink as a sign of a countdown (when someone is taking a photo of you), are new and interesting. You can read more about the leaked features here

  • Wide-angle front camera
  • Manual white balance
  • Magic eraser
  • Face deblur
  • Scene Lock
  • Front torch
  • Timer light
  • Bluetooth microphone support
  • Motion Blur
  • "Nima aesthetic"
  • Baby mode
  • Frequent faces
  • Portrait spotlight

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro: Samsung's GN1 camera sensor is old, but very good

The Pixel 6 will bring the first-ever custom Google chipset - Tensor, made in collaboration with Samsung. Another thing to anticipate is the rumored five years of software updates for the Pixel 6, which for lack of a better word, will be monumental. No Android phone has managed to achieve this level of support before. They usually get 2-3 years of software updates at best.

But! As with every Google phone, the main dish (for many) will be the camera system on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Similar to the iPhone 13 Pro series, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are said to get a few new camera sensors.

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Here's a breakdown of the Pixel 6 camera specs, according to the latest leaks and rumors:

Google Pixel 6

  • Main camera: Samsung's 50MP GN1
  • Ultra-wide-angle camera: Sony's 12MP IMX386
  • Front-facing camera: 8MP

Google Pixel 6 Pro

  • Main camera: Samsung's 50MP GN1
  • Telephoto/zoom camera: Sony's 48MP IMX586
  • Ultra-wide-angle camera: Sony's 12MP IMX386
  • Front-facing camera: Sony's 12 MP IMX663

At first glance, the new camera sensors are more than capable. Particularly Samsung's GN1 sensor, which will be used for the primary camera of both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. It's a 1/31-inch sensor. For reference, this is where the GN1 ranks amongst the top flagships, at least when it comes to size (remember, lower = bigger):

  1. Sharp Aquos R6: 1-inch camera sensor, manufacturer - unknown
  2. Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra: 1/1.12-inch camera sensor, made by Samsung
  3. Huawei Mate 40 Pro+: 1/1.28-inch camera sensor, made by Sony
  4. Google Pixel 6: 1/1.31-inch camera sensor, made by Samsung
  5. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: 1/1.33-inch camera sensor, made by Samsung

That's not a full list of all phones that use these camera sensors. It's safe to say the Pixel 6 will fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to the top 10 phones with the biggest camera sensors.

It's more interesting to see how the Pixel 6 stacks up against the Pixel 5, which uses a 1/2.55-inch sensor. The Pixel 6's GN1 sensor will be much larger than the one in the Pixel 5, which hints at incredible improvements across the board, especially in low light and bokeh.

While the primary camera sensor on the Pixel 6 is more than good enough, especially when it'll be paired with Google's awesome image processing and Tensor, this sensor is also relatively old.

Having come out in May 2020, Samsung's GN1 has been succeeded by a number of newer and more capable Samsung sensors like the GN2 and ISOCELL HP1 - the first 200-megapixel camera sensor that's expected to debut in the Xiaomi 12.

Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro: Is the dated ultra-wide-angle camera a problem?

Samsung's GN1 aside, just wait until you hear how old the rest of the sensors on the Pixel 6 are. Let's go back to the bullets (literally and figuratively):

Google Pixel 6 Pro - rear camera sensors

  • Main camera: Samsung's 50MP GN1 (Released in May 2020)
  • Telephoto/zoom camera: Sony's 48MP IMX586 (Released in September 2018)
  • Ultra-wide-angle camera: Sony's 12MP IMX386 (Released in July 2016)

As you can see, these aren't the newest sensors on the market. Still, I definitely wouldn't write the Google Pixel off just because of that. As a matter of fact, the age of a camera sensor doesn't always matter. As long as this is what Google needs to make the "magic" happen.

The one sensor that does make me particularly cautious - not worried, but cautious, is the 12MP Sony IMX386, which is expected to power the ultra-wide-angle camera of the Pixel 6.

That's a different sensor from the one used in the Pixel 5. The IMX 386 is a 12 MP, 1/2.9-inch sensor. What's interesting is that while the Sony IMX386 was used years ago to power some flagships (mainly for their primary cameras), but it was also used in budget devices - before, and relatively recently:

  • Honor 6X (2016)
  • Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 (2017)
  • Xiaomi Mi Note 3 (2017)
  • Xiaomi Mi6 (2017)
  • BQ Aquaris VS (2018)
  • HiSense H10 (2018)
  • Smartisan Nut Pro 2 (2018)
  • Motorola Moto Z (2018)
  • Realme 5i (2020)

For reference, the Galaxy S21 Ultra uses the IMX563 for its ultra-wide camera. This is a 1/2.55 camera sensor - not much bigger than the one in the Pixel 6.

And I know - you haven't heard of half of these phones, and that's OK. Even if some of them are bad when it comes to camera quality, it's still not a reason to worry. Google has proven that it can do pretty well with the ancient camera hardware in the Pixel 5.

Furthermore, according to reports, the latest iPhone 13 Pro Max, although with upgraded cameras, uses a 1/3.4-inch ultra-wide-camera sensor, which is even smaller than the Pixel 6's IMX368. Apple doesn't disclose the manufacturer of their cameras, which are said to be custom-built for the iPhone.

In the end

No, you shouldn't worry about the old camera hardware on the Pixel 6. Although its average age is about 3.33 years (I know, I went too far with the numbers), Google's software processing and powerful Tensor chip, which was meant to power the 2020 Pixel 5, will come through. They better come through!

With that being said, the iPhone 13 Pro is a big upgrade over the iPhone 12 series, but frankly - its hardware isn't exciting or groundbreaking. For example, it took Apple over three years to bring a 3x telephoto camera to the iPhone, compared to Android, while Google gives the Pixel 6 Pro a 4x periscope zoom lens!

But the software tricks on the iPhone 13 are exciting - especially cinematic video. Therefore, we are willing to believe software can compensate for somewhat dated hardware. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro have a big shot at being the best camera phones of 2021, and we are looking forward to seeing them ASAP!

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