Camera - Daylight Evaluation - Dynamic Range

The next set of shots I tried to capture more shots where dynamic range comes into play, hopefully able to showcase the strengths and weaknesses of the phones.

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[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 2 ] - [ Pixel XL ]
[ Mate 20Pro ] - [ Mate 20 ] - [ P20Pro ]
[ P20 ] - [ Mate 10Pro ] - [ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ]
[ Note9 ] - [ S9+ ] - [ S8 ] - [ LG G7 ] - [ LG V30 ]
[ OnePlus 6 ] - [ OPPO FindX ] - [ MIX2S ]

The Pixel 3 here again doesn’t have the best shadows in the dark portion of the scene, however it does extremely well in bringing down the highlights in the front part of the scene, also resulting in stronger contrast than other phones that works very well for this picture.

It’s hard to say here which phone performs the best – but overall the Pixel 3 is among the top phones.

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 2 ] - [ Pixel XL ]
[ Mate 20Pro ] - [ Mate 20 ] - [ P20Pro ]
[ P20 ] - [ Mate 10Pro ] - [ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ]
[ Note9 ] - [ S9+ ] - [ S8 ] - [ LG G7 ] - [ LG V30 ]
[ OnePlus 6 ] - [ OPPO FindX ] - [ MIX2S ]

A big commonality between the Pixel 3 and Pixel phones in general is that they produce slightly darker images than other recent flagship phones. The resulting image is still very realistic and has excellent relative balance between light and dark parts – but results such as that of the iPhone XS were closer to the brightness of the scene.

The Galaxy S9+ and Note9 follow up on this brighter result, however they lose too much contrast in my view, whereas other phones are able to maintain better contrast. Even though we’re almost half a year after its release, LG still didn’t fix the G7’s camera software, and we’re still seeing extremely flat images with very little dynamic range, as well as noise reduction that eats up detail throughout the scene;

In terms of detail, again the Pixel 3 is a top performer, but is outclassed by Samsung’s and Apple’s new sensors which are able to just maintain better sharpness.

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 2 ] - [ Pixel XL ]
[ Mate 20Pro ] - [ Mate 20 ] - [ P20Pro ]
[ P20 ] - [ Mate 10Pro ] - [ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ]
[ Note9 ] - [ S9+ ] - [ S8 ] - [ LG G7 ] - [ LG V30 ]
[ OnePlus 6 ] - [ OPPO FindX ] - [ MIX2S ]

The next scene again is extremely favourable to the Pixel 3 – again compared to its predecessor the only real difference in picture quality is that the new phone produces a slightly colder image, as all other aspect in terms of exposure and detail are very hard to distinguish.

Google again favours in bringing down the sky’s brightness down, resulting in more defined clouds. Also throughout the rest of the scene the shadows are darker, but it works well here as it just increases the contrast of the resulting image and there’s not much that clip to dark too much. The balance is again very similar to the iPhone XS – however I prefer the latter’s result as it’s just a bit brighter and more representative of the scene.

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 2 ] - [ Pixel XL ]
[ Mate 20Pro ] - [ Mate 20 ] - [ P20Pro ]
[ P20 ] - [ Mate 10Pro ] - [ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ]
[ Note9 ] - [ S9+ ] - [ S8 ] - [ LG G7 ] - [ LG V30 ]
[ OnePlus 6 ] - [ OPPO FindX ] - [ MIX2S ]

This was among the Pixel’s most problematic shots as again I think it is too under-exposed, and suffers a lot in the shadows. The iPhone XS does the best in capturing the whole dynamic range.

Maybe I remember it wrongly, but a lot of the phones seemed to have trouble with colour temperature in this shot, all being much too warm. On the Pixel 3, I feel the night mode’s colder result was definitely a closer match to reality.

Detail wise, the Pixel 3 is again top-grade, only losing out to the latest Apple and Samsung phones.

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 2 ] - [ Pixel XL ]
[ Mate 20Pro ] - [ Mate 20 ] - [ P20Pro ]
[ P20 ] - [ Mate 10Pro ] - [ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ]
[ Note9 ] - [ S9+ ] - [ S8 ] - [ LG G7 ] - [ LG V30 ]
[ OnePlus 6 ] - [ OPPO FindX ] - [ MIX2S ]

The next shot is very complex in terms of shadows and highlights. Google does an overall excellent job in doing an exposure that is a close representation of the actual scene. The iPhone XS follows suite with just a tad brighter shadows, with Samsung opting to go even brighter.

The OnePlus 6 looks to have the best dynamic range shot of all phones here maintaining the best contrast in the fallen leaves while not overexposing shadows of bringing down highlights too much. While the Pixel 3 does well in representing the brightness of the scene, it also loses out in detail because of it being darker.

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 2 ] - [ Pixel XL ]
[ Mate 20Pro ] - [ Mate 20 ] - [ P20Pro ]
[ P20 ] - [ Mate 10Pro ] - [ iPhone XS ] - [ iPhone X ]
[ Note9 ] - [ S9+ ] - [ S8 ] - [ LG G7 ] - [ LG V30 ]
[ OnePlus 6 ] - [ OPPO FindX ] - [ MIX2S ]

In the last daylight scene, the Pixel 3 again continues with predictable characteristics: It brings down the exposure until there’s no more a blown out sky – even though here it’s mostly covered by trees. It does very even HDR throughout the scene and results in strong contrast, with again the weakness being is that it loses out detail in the darker shadows.

Similar to the last scenario, I would suggest that the OnePlus 6 had the best overall shot here in terms of exposure and HDR balance, with the Pixel 3 following closely. The iPhone XS also has an excellent shot. The Note9 loses out too much contrast by raising the shadows, and the S9+ has a blown out sky.

Detail is again a repeat – the Pixel 3 does well, but can’t keep up in terms of detail with Samsung and Apple.

Daylight Conclusion

Overall in the daylight pictures, there’s one thing that seems to very evident throughout all the samples: the Pixel 3 struggles to really differentiate itself from the Pixel 2. Google chose to keep a similar sensor on the new phone, and everything else from optics down to software processing seems to also be nigh identical. The biggest difference I’ve managed to take away from the Pixel 3 camera comparison is that it’s producing slightly colder images than the Pixel 2 – that’s about all that can be said about this year’s new camera in terms of picture quality.

Google produces images that are consistently exposed for the brightest object in the scene, always avoiding blown out highlights or overexposed shots. The weakness in this approach it seems to be that the phones are dedicating a lot of the sensor’s dynamic range in capturing these highlights correctly, and in turn this makes the pictures suffer in the darker areas of scenes, visibly struggling with shadows and shadow detail, sometimes just clipping objects into near black. The processing also seems to be purposefully darkening shadows in order to achieve more contrast. In many shots this does result in a quite pleasing image with strong contrast, but I would have wished the phone would by default aim for a slightly higher exposure.

Detail-wise, the Pixel 3 performs very well and is among the top phones, but the new hardware sensors from Samsung and Apple this year just seem clearly superior in terms of retaining better textures – here it seems the Pixel 3 has a disadvantage of the weaker DTI of the sensor, and this can’t be overcome by software. The optics of the Pixel 3 are excellent, showcasing no sign of distortions of chromatic aberrations even on the corners and edges of the frame.

Lastly, Super Res Zoom is an innovative new imaging technique that promises to achieve better digital zoom without the need for a secondary camera module. It works, but seemingly the maximum spatial resolution increase we can expect here is around 50%, or a zoom factor of 1.5x. Beyond this, the competition’s optical modules are still clearly superior. Overall, this is a nice feature to have, but definitely doesn’t compensate or is a viable alternative to a dedicated telephoto module.

Camera - Daylight Evaluation - Superzoom and Scenic Camera - Low Light Evaluation - Night Sight
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  • Impulses - Saturday, November 3, 2018 - link

    They're not using bad sensors, I mean, they often manufacture everyone else's, the post processing is often horrid for Sony tho. You think they could get someone from their dedicated camera division to better tune that (they don't have the greatest JPEG engine either but it's gotten better every year). Reply
  • Edwardmcardle - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    Awesome review as always. Will there be a mate 20 pro review? Have one and am considering returning because of odd screen issue. Also the new performance mode seems to suck battery, but animations seem laggy when not engaged...would be great to have a professional insight! Reply
  • luikiedook - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    Excellent review, and comparison photos galore! I think a lot of the day light photos is a matter of opinion. Personally I find the iPhone Xs and Samsung photos over exposed and less pleasing than the pixel photos. The outdoor seating area for example, the black table tops look reflective and almost white in the iphone Xs and Samsung photos.

    Most of the time the Pixel photos are darker, but I'm not convinced there is less detail, most of the time.

    The p20 pro seems to crush everything in 5x zoom.
    Reply
  • melgross - Sunday, November 4, 2018 - link

    The shadows on the Pixel are all blocked up. It’s pretty obvious. Some people mistakenly equate black shadows with better contrast, as Google apparently does, but that’s wrong. You can always darken the shadows later in a quick edit. But if the detail is killed on the photo, you can never retrieve it. Reply
  • Dr. Swag - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    Hey Andrei, you got the displays mixed up. The 3XL uses a Samsung amoled panel whereas the 3 uses a p-oled from LG. The table on the first page says the opposite. Reply
  • warrenk81 - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    haven't even read the article yet, just want to say i'm so happy to see smartphones review return to Anandtech!! Reply
  • spooh - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    Pixel XL used in the review has optics issue affecting corner sharpness, and light fallof. I think it's also slightly less sharp than good unit.
    I've had one with the same issue, but returned it.
    Reply
  • id4andrei - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    The Verge reviewer Vlad Savov is a big fan of Google's computational photography. He makes it seem like the Pixel is clearly above the latest flagships. Your expansive review paints a different picture, that of a phone that tries to keep up with a single camera module.

    On a personal level I have a dilemma. Isn't computational photography basically post-processing? Even if it produces a subjectively better outcome out of stitching several shots, isn't it "fake" somehow as it is not an accurate representation of a frame?
    Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    > Even if it produces a subjectively better outcome out of stitching several shots, isn't it "fake" somehow as it is not an accurate representation of a frame?

    Not really. If a sensor fails to have sufficient dynamic range by itself, then even with no processing that's also going to lead no an "inaccurate representation".
    Reply
  • Impulses - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    It's a little fancier than the post processing you could (easily) manage yourself, mostly cause of the way they chop up frames in tiles to then stack them intelligently... You could say it's "fake" in instances where their algorithm just decided to drop a tile to avoid artefacts or movement etc., but wouldn't you just clone those out yourself if you were anal about the overall end result?

    It's an interesting question without a straightforward answer IMO. It's just gonna vary by shot and usage case, if you're getting consistently better DR then you're consistently closer to "what you see", but all photography is ultimately an interpretation.
    Reply

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