Pixel 7 Pro camera issues prove years-long lead over Apple and Samsung is gone - what went wrong?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Pixel 7 Pro camera issues prove years-long lead over Apple and Samsung is gone - what went wrong?
This is a subjective topic, but if you ask me, I'd say Google's phones have had the best cameras for still photography for years on. In fact, Google's camera dominance started way before the Pixel lineup was created, thanks to the Huawei-made Nexus 6P flagship phone from 2015.

Then, the original Google Pixel, Pixel 2, Pixel 3, Pixel 4, and to an extent, even the Pixel 5 solidified and helped maintain Google's overall lead when it came to still photos. Pixels took excellent daylight images thanks to their unrivaled (at the time) HDR; they were incredible in low-light thanks to Night Sight; and even portrait photography was exceptionally good given that Google relied on software instead of additional cameras to do the trick.

Interestingly, Google's success when it comes to phone cameras was always based on computational photography. Nexus and Pixel phones were the best at it, and it only made sense for the company to double down and make the most out of the mediocre camera hardware that Nexus and Pixel phones used compared to the likes of Huawei, Samsung, and even Apple.

But times have changed! The computational photography-heavy Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 flagships don't exist in a vacuum any longer, and despite Google's shift towards the use of stronger hardware, the competition has caught up quickly. Very quickly.

Speaking of the Pixel 7, let's take a look at how far Google's camera phone has managed to come compared to last year and where it still lacks behind. Spoiler alert - I don't think the Pixel is the camera phone to rule them all anymore.

What went wrong?

Do fix what's broken! Pixel 7 Pro brings meaningful improvements over the Pixel 6 Pro's camera

Before I go on and "shoot Google down", I'd like to give Sundar Pichai & Co some credit for keeping the same $900 price and building on what was already a very compelling camera package.

Pixel 7 Pro's higher zoom ceiling is an improvement over the Pixel 6 Pro

For starters, my Pixel 7 Pro now has a longer zoom range with an improved SuperRes Zoom algorithm. The 2x sensor crop on the main 50MP camera gives you nearly optical quality, and the 5x indeed gives the Pixel 7 Pro a higher ceiling when it comes to long-range magnification, such as 10-20-30x zoom.

Recommended Stories
The Pixel 6 Pro really gave Samsung's zoom-centric Galaxy S22 Ultra a run for its money, and now the Pixel 7 Pro manages to get even closer to Samsung's flagship when it comes to daylight zoom photos and outright beats it in low-light zoom snaps, simply because Samsung's 10x camera sensor is too small to be used in the darkest of scenes.

Unlike the Pixel 6 Pro, the Pixel 7 Pro takes the ultra-wide-angle camera seriously

On the other end of the spectrum, the new ultra-wide-angle camera on the Pixel 7 Pro is easily the biggest improvement over the Pixel 6 Pro.

It wasn't too long ago when I put out a story called "iPhone 13, Galaxy S22, Pixel 6 show Apple, Samsung, Google don't take ultra-wide cameras seriously", but thankfully, Google's now equipped the Pixel 7 Pro with a noticeably wider ultra-wide camera and I really appreciate how it lets me capture more of the scene.

The new wide lens comes with auto-focus, which means it now has Macro Mode. This is indeed a fun feature that you'll use occasionally, perhaps to take photos of tiny bugs, flowers, or your eyeballs?! Interestingly, I've found the Macro Mode on Pixel 7 Pro (and iPhone 14 Pro, for that matter) to be more useful for practical purposes rather than artistic ones.

Pixel 7 Pro gives you more video-taking options now

Video Thumbnail

Another area where my Pixel 6 Pro certainly could do with some improvement was video capture and versatility, and thankfully, the new flagship helps!

For one, the Pixel 7 Pro can now record 4K videos up to 60fps on all cameras, with the ability to use speech enhancement (which isolates the noise around you). That's a brilliant addition to the already existing ability of the Pixel to switch between lenses while recording (believe it or not, not all Android flagships can do that).

Movie Motion Blur or Cinematic Mode as Apple calls it, 10-bit HDR videos for better colors and wider dynamic range in editing, and, of course, the ability to take Macro Mode videos makes the Pixel 7 Pro's video portfolio even richer.

Pixel 7 Pro is still the smartest camera around; unblurs your old blurry photos

And finally, the Pixel 6 Pro already was a super-fun and powerful camera thanks to features like Motion Blur and Magic Eraser, but Google's taken things to the next level with the Pixel 7 Pro.

New features like Photo Unblur - sort of next-level Face Unblur (which is still there but can't be seen in action and Camouflage (which lets you blend distracting objects with the background of a photo instead of removing them with the Magic Eraser) make the Pixel 7 Pro one of the most fun camera to use. They are truly useful too.

Two weeks with the Pixel 7 Pro after ten months with the Pixel 6 Pro bring out old and new camera issues

But the Pixel 7 Pro's camera isn't exactly perfect. In fact, there are quite a few features that are lacking behind, which I simply can't go without mentioning...

Pixel 7 Pro Lens flare issues

I've written about the lens flaring problems on Android phones (and the Pixel 6 Pro in particular) before, but it's now getting to the point where this is harder and harder to ignore.

Bright light sources are still the Pixel's Achilles' heel. Taking photos that have street lights, torches, or the sun in them can seriously puzzle Google's phone and turn out some borderline unusable snaps.

And thanks to the fact that Apple, Samsung, and certainly Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo have now improved this aspect of their cameras, Google's lens flaring issues now look worse than ever.

Pixel 7 Pro Portrait Mode issues

Notice how the Pixel fails to apply blur to the first Portrait Mode photo. My iPhone 14 Pro not only nails the background blur but also applies foreground blur (on the water bottle), which is a trait of DSLRs that Apple added this year. The second sample is more or less the same story - the iPhone 14 Pro's 2x Portrait Mode image looks far more natural.

I can refer you to our detailed Pixel 7 Pro camera comparison with the Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro, but if I had to describe the problem myself, I'd say that Google broke what wasn't broken.

The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro simply don't take good Portrait Mode photos, and that's because Google changed absolutely nothing compared to the Pixel 6 series, which (you guessed it) also didn't take good portraits. Oversharpening, bad edge detection, and sometimes a lack of blur make the Pixel 7 Pro's portraits some of the worst (if not the worst) in its price category.

For the record, 1x portraits (which, for some reason, are zoomed in to almost 2x) look better than 2x portraits (which are zoomed in to 3x), but that doesn't really make things better since 2x is the preferred focal length for portraits.

Pixel 7 Pro zoom issues - focus and quality

I suppose this one's quite unexpected, but I've discovered that the new 5x zoom camera on the Pixel 7 Pro has obvious focus-hunting issues. If you (like me) have watched a ton of Pixel 7 Pro camera comparisons, you'd know that the Pixel's zoom photos can sometimes look quite stunning and sharp but at other times look like they aren't focused properly, and that's because they aren't.

On top of that, the new 5x zoom lens simply doesn't seem to put out photos of the same high quality as the Pixel 6 Pro's 4x zoom camera, which might be attributed to the fact that Google's opted for a Samsung-made 5x zoom camera, replacing the Sony-made sensor from the 6 Pro. It has a green tint to it and its photos don’t look as clean as the 4x zoom shots from last year’s 6 Pro.

As I've shared with you, Portrait Mode on the last two Pixel generations has been bad, so what I did with my Pixel 6 Pro was to take portraits with the 4x camera (which was already pretty long for the purpose). But the thing with the new 5x camera is that this one's now super long.

Although the 2x sensor crop on the Pixel 7 is pretty good, I can't help but notice it isn't as sharp as 2x photos from the iPhone 14 Pro, which is ironic because Google's been the leader in zoom wizardly with Super-Res zoom for ages. We'll talk about that in a future story.

Pixel 7 Pro noisy videos and disappointing Cinematic Mode

Video Thumbnail

Although you now have more versatility when it comes to taking videos on Pixel, it seems like Google hasn't worked too hard to clear up the noise in videos taken in challenging lighting conditions.

Just like on the Pixel 6, Pixel 7 videos show a ton of noise not just in low light (where the issue is most noticeable) but also in high-contrast daylight scenes, which is really disappointing.

To add to that, the new Movie Motion Blur or Cinematic Mode just looks like it's in beta version - it hunts for focus, loses the blur effect, and even when it does get it right, it looks super artificial compared to the Galaxy S22 Ultra and especially the iPhone 14 Pro which is the industry standard.

Pixel 7 Pro and Tensor G2 still can't handle continuous 4K video recording (overheats)

Video Thumbnail

Wrapping up my long list of "complaints", unfortunately, it looks like the Tensor G2 still can't handle continuous 4K video recording…

I haven't tested this myself, but a few very reliable sources have reported and demonstrated that the Pixel 7 Pro would stop recording 4K video in 10-12 minutes, showing an overheating warning, even when the camera was used in perfect weather conditions.

Editing photos and videos also isn't as smooth as on iPhone, for example, but I'm willing to let Google off since their phones are considerably more affordable.

Despite some shortcomings, at $600 and $900, the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are (probably) the best camera phones this much money can buy

I'd like to make it clear that the second section of this story isn't meant to be a "rant" but rather a to-do/to-fix list for Google with features that… need fixing. Perhaps when making the upcoming Pixel 8 or, even better, when thinking of Pixel 7 features to improve with software updates.

With that aside, I have to point out that compared to phones like the Pixel 2 or Pixel 5, it now seems to me that instead of improving on camera features that the company was already good at (such as portrait mode and zoom), Google's somehow managed to take a few steps… back. But this slight decline is and isn't entirely the company's fault.

Sure, Google really managed to screw up some aspects of the Pixel 7 Pro camera, but it's also true that the competition is now putting up a fight with not just class-leading hardware but also expert software trickery, which for phone nerds like me means that I'll always compare Google's camera execution to those of Samsung, Apple, and Xiaomi, and unfortunately for Google, the Pixel won’t always win.

The truth of the matter is that a lot "has gone right" for Apple and Samsung in the past few years that helped iPhone and Galaxy catch up to Google's camera game and even surpass it in key photography and videography areas such as Portrait Mode, zoom, HDR, selfies, and even Night Mode photography (depending on the camera you're using).

Is the Pixel 7 Pro the best camera phone out there?

I have my reasons to doubt that, and they're all laid out in this story...

Unfortunately, I haven't had the luck of getting to play with this device, but the hours of secondary research lead me to believe that the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is a better camera phone overall and respectively the best one out there. The 12S Ultra comes with more futuristic hardware - photos from it look like they're coming from "a real camera" too, thanks to the 1-inch Sony sensor with authentic Leica tuning, and videos are incredibly sharp and balanced even in the toughest lighting conditions, giving the iPhone 14 Pro a serious run for its money.

The Pixel 7 Pro, on the other hand, still has a super fun camera system with features like Motion Blur, Camouflage, Magic Eraser, and now Macro Mode. I'd be perfectly happy to take this camera on vacation, but with problems such as the hunting autofocus on the 5x zoom camera, lens flare, and lackluster Portrait Mode photos… I can't say it's the most reliable or most capable phone camera out there.

But guess what! The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are just $600 and $900, and for this price, they could very well be the best camera phones this much money can buy! And the best value options too. So, I recommend giving them a try!

Recommended Stories

Loading Comments...
FCC OKs Cingular\'s purchase of AT&T Wireless