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.

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 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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  • Rmrx8 - Saturday, November 3, 2018 - link

    I actually like the ear buds. I bought them for my pixel 2 and I enjoy them just as much as Apple EarPods. Too bad more time wasn't spent on this on the review. Reviews of these have been mixed with people either loving them or hating them. I do lots of recording and the cut in on the mic is much less aggressive than the apple buds, which is a good thing for me. The higher frequencies on googles buds are attenuated a bit. But otherwise I like them and they don't fall out. Also age matters. I'm 51. Undoubtedly a younger person will have better hearing and maybe find more problems, as you age the differences start to disappear. Reply
  • TidalWaveOne - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    My Pixel 2 will do just fine... hopefully the Pixel 4 will be good enough to justify an upgrade. Reply
  • Genspirit - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    Also did i just miss it or was there no mention of the selfie camera or numerous camera features like top shot? Or live google lens integration. I love the in-depth testing on performance and the camera but I do feel like a lot of what makes the pixel a pixel was left out. Reply
  • BNSFguy - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    " I would easily choose USB-C earbuds from any other primary smartphone vendor."

    That's pretty comical statement seeing that there are very, very, few choices for "USB - C" headphones, and most, if not all, are significantly more expensive than the $30.00 Google USB-C Headphones included for FREE with the phone. I mean, just go shopping for a pair of USB-C headphones. You won't find a single pair at any retail store such as Best Buy, and very few online anywhere.
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Saturday, November 3, 2018 - link

    THat is why most people use bluetooth Reply
  • papoose34328 - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    Hi Andrei,

    Thank you for your very thorough review! Very informative
    Reply
  • cfenton - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    My take away from this review is that it's probably better to try to get a cheap used Pixel 2. Google have lost their edge in daylight photo quality, and the Pixel 2 looks almost as good using Night Shift.

    Also, since Night Shift seems to be mostly a software feature, is there any reason it couldn't be ported to other Android phones? Obviously Google won't do it, but is there any hope that some clever XDA person will. I remember the Pixel camera was ported to other S820 devices, with varying degrees of success.
    Reply
  • arayoflight - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    It's already been ported to many Nokia and Xiaomi devices, and active work is being done to make it work on OnePlus devices as well. Reply
  • bull2760 - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    I made the switch to the PIXEL 3 from Apple iPhones. It's very interesting to see that a hardware testing site has not mentioned any of the cellular signal issues that are plaguing iPhone XS and XS Max users. I had the iPhone 10SX Max for 4 days and returned it due to extremely poor cellular service I was getting. From my research it is due to the 4x4 antennas that are being used. FCC testing shows that the new iPhones have signal issues when not in a strong signal area. I experienced this with the short time I had the phone. 4 dropped calls/call failed within minutes of each other. I'd be sitting next to my wife her on her iPhone 7 me on my MAX and my phone would have no service. I looked at her phone and she is pulling almost 3/4 antenna signal. Why is Tom's not diving into this? Anyway I got tired of Apple's crap and decided it was time to try my first Android phone. I looked at the Galaxy Note, and while I like the phone I'm not a fan of the curved edge screen. Plus the key point for me with buying the Pixel 3 is pure Android no UI installed on top of it so as Google roles out the next version of Android my phone will get the update automatically. So far so good, I'm really liking the Pixel 3. I should mention I am not a heavy gamer, I didn't buy a cell phone to game. I use it primarily for business answering email on the fly and calling customers. Reply
  • pjcamp - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    "In order to combat this low memory, one new hardware/software feature is an application memory management 'lowmmemorykiller' background application/daemon which applies various settings to keep certain software in memory for fast app loading times. Whilst in general I don’t put as much value into this as some other people do, I did however notice that in everyday use the phones did need to reload applications more often. There have been user reports already that the phones are struggling to keep things open and alive in memory. "

    That's because software never compensates for skimping on the hardware. They could include more memory, but Google wants to push you into the cloud for everything. They could include removable storage but Google thinks people who use USB sticks every day will be confused.

    If it weren't for the fact that every other vendor seems to be dumber than a sack of doorknobs, Pixels would be going nowhere fast, but that isn't saying much. Lenovo essentially killed Motorola, Nokia won't sell anything of significance in the US, and everyone else can't resist product positioning by skinning the life out of Android.
    Reply

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