The Google Pixel Series is one of the most powerful and reliable mobile cameras in the business, and their latest Pixel 5 release is no exception.
In this Google Pixel 5 camera review we’ll go over both tech specs and reality as well as how it compares to previous models and other phones in the same class. Let’s get started!
The Google Pixel Camera
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What’s New: Pixel 5 vs Pixel 3, 3a, 4, 4a, & 4a with 5G
At first glance, it may be tough to see the technical differences between the first Google Pixel and the Pixel 5 but the gap in performance is night and day. Google’s camera phones rely heavily on software, which has improved leaps and bounds since 2016 when the original Pixel was released. So, while the hardware in these Pixel phones has only changed slightly over the years, the results improve constantly. For example, if you’re currently using an original Google Pixel then you’re probably getting better results from its camera today than when you bought it. This is because of the Google camera software updates.
Now, while Google’s camera software is impressive it isn’t controllable – at all. If you watch this video about doing long exposure photography on the Google Pixel 4a with 5G you’ll clearly see that Google’s software produces awesome results. What you should also see is that Google’s software has a mind of its own – I’ve shot the same photo from the same spot at the same time and gotten wildly different results. If you have the patience to hang around and get multiple photos of the same place then the Google Pixel camera may be for you, but if you’re always in a rush then go with more of a point-and-shoot.
Looking at the development of Google’s phones from the Pixel 3 up to today’s Pixel 5, its clear that the change in the camera hardware is minimal, especially when compared to the never-ending tech spec barrage from the industry’s big three: Samsung, Apple, and Huawei.
The Pixel 3, 3a, 4, 4a, and Pixel 5 models all feature the same camera sensor. That being said, the Pixel 3 and 3a use an f/1.8 lens, while the Pixel 4, 4a, and the Pixel 5 are equipped with an f/1.7 lens. Also, the new Pixel 4a 5G shares the same camera system as the Pixel 5.
The Google Pixel 5 comes with dual rear cameras: a 27mm main wide camera and an ultrawide 16.5mm camera. The addition of the ultrawide camera is a major differentiating factor between the Pixel 5 and the Pixel 4 and 4a, both of which house a 50mm Telephoto camera as a secondary option. It’s worth noting that the Pixel 4a with 5G and Pixel 5 both have a 2x option in the native camera app, but this is digital zoom and not optical. The Pixel 4a with 5G and Pixel 5 also come with an additional cinematic stabilization option when shooting video. Stabilization options were originally introduced in the Pixel 4 and 4a.
The wide and ultrawide configuration on the Pixel 5 is evidently an improvement because users tend to use the ultrawide option much more than the zoom one included in the Pixel 4 and 4a.
Surprisingly, the Google Pixel 5 features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, which is a less powerful and slower processor than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 used in Pixel 4. The result is a negligible difference in speed, though I suppose if you’re deciding to purchase the best that Google has to offer then this can be a disappointing realization.
From a photography point of view, the image quality of Google Pixel phones is mostly affected by a heavy reliance on software updates as opposed to hardware improvement. That being said, Google’s photography software is seriously good. I choose my Pixel 4a with 5G for photos over the iPhone 11 Pro every time because the results are just better even if I do have to spend a few extra minutes.
When it comes to daylight photography, the Pixel 5 offers a decent performance that lives up to the general standards and average user’s expectations – at night, though, no one competes with Google’s Astrophotography and Night Sight.
Beyond minor color differences, you may not spot any significant discrepancies between Pixel 3, 3a, 4, 4a, and Pixel 5 at first glance. Google has made an effort to resolve the tendency of over-saturating colors that was an initial issue with the Pixel lineup. There are minor concerns with the color accuracy of Google Pixel smartphones, namely an orange caste when shooting from below a subject with the front-facing camera and a blue and purple color accuracy issue when switching from the ultrawide to the wide lenses.
If you take a closer look at the quality of images, you’ll find some minor differences in noise and details. In general, photos captured by the Google Pixel 5 or 4a with 5G aren’t as noisy as those taken by the Pixel 4, 4a, or Pixel 3. I contribute this to Google introducing the ability to lock and adjust focus and exposure levels in the native camera app in combination with their camera software.
However, the Pixel 4 images seem just a little bit sharper than the Pixel 5. This can be attributed to a difference in the noise-reduction settings, which causes some background blur in the newest model. In other words, the Pixel 5 camera trades a bit of sharpness in exchange for less noise.
Lastly, comparing cameras in soft-lighting night scenes, the differences in light sensitivity is rather clear. Despite small improvements in colors, noise, and details, the Google Pixel 5 camera delivers pretty much the same generational level of performance as the Google Pixel 4, 3, or 4a with 5G in Astrophotography and Night Sight modes. Seriously, I can’t really tell a difference between the astrophotos from my Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a with 5G.
Google Pixel 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Instead of making huge changes to the camera hardware, the Pixel 5 prefers to make advances through image processing algorithms. As such, the Pixel 5 stuck with the same 12 MP Sony Exmor IMX363, but it did add a second camera in the form of a dedicated 16MP 107-degree ultrawide lens.
The Pixel 5 built-in image editing software is among the best in the industry, however, the superiority of Samsung’s camera hardware allows it to perform much better. The Galaxy S20 houses a triple camera configuration consisting of a 12 MP wide camera, a 64 MP telephoto camera, and a 12 MP ultra-wide camera.
Not only does the high-megapixel telephoto camera deliver lossless 3x zoomed shots, but the main sensor is also much larger than the Pixel 5’s, capturing more light and consuming less power to process image data.
Additionally, the Galaxy S20 can capture 8K videos, whereas the Pixel 5 is limited to 4K. All that being said, Google’s software blows Samsung’s out of the water. While the results from he Samsung Galaxy S20 camera are impressive, they aren’t $500 worth of impressive which is the difference in price between these two phones. Not only that, but the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE specifically doesn’t have a dedicated Moment M-Series Case while there is one for the Pixel 5.
So yes, technically the Samsung S20 camera is better, but is it really more usable?
Google Pixel 5 vs iPhone 11
Both phones feature dual-lens rear cameras – the iPhone 11 packs both a 12MP ultrawide and a 12MP wide-angle camera while the Pixel 5 has a 12MP wide and a16MP ultrawide option.
The iPhone 11’s camera includes several improvements compared to previous models, with features such as Smart HDR, faster autofocus, and semantic rendering.
On the other hand, the Pixel 5 harnesses Google’s A.I. and machine-learning prowess to compete with Apple’s innovative advances, producing beautiful shots in any light condition. Not to mention, the addition of a 16MP ultrawide lens offers users a similar setup to the iPhone.
What’s more, the Pixel 5 features Cinematic Video and enables Night Sight while in Portrait Mode – things you won’t get in the iPhone 11. As for videos, the Pixel 5 and the iPhone 11 can capture 4K video at 60 fps though the iPhone videos are much better in low light. Low light videos from the Pixel 5 are very noisy and without adequate manual control there is nothing the user can do other than try to improve lighting. Learn about mobile filmmaking apps that can provide that manual control.
Google Pixel 5 Camera: Technical Specs
Rear Cameras in the Google Pixel 5
- Number of cameras: Double rear camera
- Type: Wide
- Resolution: 12MP
- Sensor: Sony IMX363 Exmor RS
- Aperture: ƒ/ 1.7
- Pixel size: 1.40 µm
- Sensor size: 1/2.55
- Type: Ultrawide
- Resolution: 16MP
- Sensor: Unknown
- Aperture: ƒ/ 2.2
- Pixel size: 1.00 µm
- LED Flash
- Slow Motion Video: 120/240 fps
- 4k/1080p Video at 30/60fps
- Digital zoom
- Ultra stable video (Multiple settings)
- Optical Stabilization (OIS)
- Digital image stabilization
- Phase detection autofocus (PDAF)
- Continuous autofocus
- Touch focus
- ISO settings
- White balance settings
- Face detection
- Night Mode (Astrophotography + Night Sight)
- Google Lens
- Resolution: 8 MP
- Aperture: ƒ/ 2.0
- Pixel size: 1.12 µm
Google Pixel 5 Camera: Bottom Line
There you have it, an in-depth look at the Google Pixel 5 camera in comparison to the other Google Pixel smartphones. Although it offers impressive image quality in still photos, Google doesn’t provide the same comprehensive camera as the competition. In using the Google Pixel 5 camera you’ll note a lack of camera control, disappointment in not having a real tele lens, and poor video performance compared directly with the competition.
If you’re considering the Google Pixel 5 for its camera, then consider the Google Pixel 4a with 5G as it has the Pixel 5 camera in a less expensive body. Other impressive smartphone cameras at the price point worth checking out if you’re interested in the Google Pixel 5 include the OnePlus 8 Pro, the Motorola Edge+, and the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro.