Camera - Low Light Evaluation - Night Sight

Of course one of the new exciting features about the new Pixel 3 is the promise of its Night Sight mode. As mentioned a few pages back, in order to enable this facility we’re using a modified camera application in order to get the mode working for this review, as otherwise it would have made for a pretty boring low-light comparison.

I’m also showcasing the camera differences on the original Pixel as well as Pixel 2, so that users can see what kind of improvements they can expect on their existing devices. Both of these devices also have the Night Sight enabled option for the software.

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 first construction scene, the difference between the auto shot and the Night shot are, pardon the pun, night and day. Here the differences in processing are quite astounding and make for a major improvement in the Pixel’s low-light capture ability.

The resulting image is significantly brighter than what how the scene looked in reality. I’d even go as far that the Pixel is so aggressive with the exposure here that it even goes a bit too far, as the Mate 20 Pro’s auto mode and Mate 20’s night mode seem a lot more realistic. It’s to be noted that the Mate 20 Pro’s result is achieved with no software tricks – just relying on the ISO25600 mode of its sensor.

The Pixel 2, with the Night Sight enabled software, manages to get a near identical result to the Pixel 3, and even the original Pixel doesn’t seem too far off.

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 ]

Night Sight doesn’t seem to need to be used in very dark scenes to show a benefit, as even with artificially lit objects such as the tree here we can see benefits to the scene. The result puts the Pixel phones far ahead of conventional shooters from Samsung and Apple, with only Huawei’s being able to keep up and battle Google’s new algorithm.

One characteristic of Night Sight is that it doesn’t seem to be able to actually bring down highlights – Huawei’s implementation on the other hand will do this, and that’s why the tree in Huawei’s mode is far less blown-out compared to Google’s camera.

Where Google does shine is in terms of detail retention – the Pixels are able to retain significantly more details than Huawei, and for that matter, the Pixels retain more details than all of the other phones.

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

The main benefits of Night Sight in scenarios where there is sufficient light is that it allows for better detail retention and less noise. Google competition here is again Huawei – however the Pixels are able to edge out the P20’s and Mate 20’s in terms of detail retention and less noise.

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 ]

When going into lower light scenes, again, the Pixels are able to produce images that are much brighter than how the scene was originally.

Again, the only phones able to compete in terms of light capture are Huawei’s – but again, the Pixels are able to produce a better image thanks to better detail retention. Huawei’s phones here most likely are suffering from the lack of OIS on their main cameras.

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 ]

Although this is meant to be a comparison between 18 phones, the real fight here is just between the Pixel 3 and Huawei’s devices. Again the Pixels here significantly win because of the vast advantages in terms of detail retention and sharpness – far ahead of any other phone.

Extreme low-light

Extreme low light scenarios is something as early as last year we wouldn’t have expected phones to be viable in. Again I started shooting such scenes earlier in the year when Huawei made its Night mode usable without a tripod – along with vendors like LG introducing pixel binning modes that quadruple the light capture of the sensors.

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 shot is very similar to the first one in that the Pixels are able to generate such bright pictures that I’d say they’re overexposed. Again, only Huawei’s phones and as well as the LG G7’s LLS mode are able to achieve similar light capture. The latter suffers from a stark lack of details, leaving only Huawei’s phones in the competition.

What is very interesting is to see just how much colour accuracy Google is able to achieve even with such low brightness levels.

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

The last shot I wanted to take the phones to their limits – the vast majority of phones here won’t be able to discern nearly anything and many will just produce a black picture. The scene was solely illuminated by moonlight of a full moon as well as some far as way industrial spotlights.

Even here, the Pixel’s Night Sight is able to deliver, producing a semi visible result of the object. Only the Mate 20 Pro’s ISO102400 shot was able to come near the exposure levels, but with significantly more noise.

Low-light conclusion

This conclusion of the Pixel 3 in low light would have sounded extremely differently if I had just used Google’s official camera application and not tested Night Sight. I’ve never really understood why people claimed the Pixel 2 camera to be good in low-light, because in my experience as well as visible in these sample shots, the Pixels were never really competitive and are outclassed by the better sensors from Samsung and Apple, when capturing in traditional modes.

Night Sight is very much a game-changer to this situation, and Google is able to showcase an outstanding example of computational photography that vastly beats even the wildest expectation of what a smartphone camera is able to achieve in low-light scenarios.

In a swoop, Google’s Pixels significantly climb up the ladder in terms of low-light photography ranking, even putting themselves at a comfortable distance ahead of the previous low-light champions, Huawei’s 40MP sensor phones as well as their own night mode.

Camera - Daylight Evaluation - Dynamic Range Camera Video Recording & Speaker Evaluation
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  • saleri6251 - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    Hello Andrei,

    Thanks for the review as always. Just curious do you have any thoughts on the Titan M Security Chip?
    Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    I didn't have much time to get into it, we covered Google Hot Chips presentation: https://www.anandtech.com/show/13248/hot-chips-201... Reply
  • cha0z_ - Monday, November 5, 2018 - link

    Hey, as we speak about chips - can you include/test the note 9 exynos? It's bigger body compared to the s9 and also has a lot better coolling. We all read your articles about the exynos 9810 + a lot about in @ xda, but it will be really nice to see where the more popular note 9 exynos stands with it's bigger coolling and body compared to the competition and s9/s9+.

    If you have the time and the desire, otherwise it's also cool - you do a lot of great reviews about phones/mobile SOCs. Keep it up and cheers!
    Reply
  • cha0z_ - Monday, November 5, 2018 - link

    No edit here: I am aiming primary at the sustained performance of the system/GPU tests. I am sure you already guessed it, but for the other members of the community. Reply
  • jordanclock - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    As a P3XL owner, I can say this review completely matches my experiences.

    Also, that camera comparison is insane and Andrei is a mad-man for taking that many pictures AND THEN REVIEWING THEM ALL.
    Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    Thanks! The camera was a lot of work.

    This should also serve as a good comparison between all important phones over the last year or two. It's something I hope I won't have to do again till the S10.
    Reply
  • jordanclock - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    That last night shot is pretty similar to a comparison I showed my friends when they thought that it was just a gimmick.

    Have you also found that using the night shot for every shot seems to be a good default? I found that in general the night shot results are "good enough" compared to HDR+, but obviously has the benefit of better low-light results.
    Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    I've posted night mode pictures in daylight scenes as well, just to answer this question.

    There's no obvious difference and you can stay in night mode all the time, the only negative is that it'll be slower in terms of capture.
    Reply
  • melgross - Sunday, November 4, 2018 - link

    I’ve read that night mode is done after capture, not during, as Google, and other manufactures do their auto modes. So likely that’s why it’s slower. Reply
  • s.yu - Sunday, November 11, 2018 - link

    Thank you for again the best set of samples on the net!
    This night mode just doesn't cease to amaze me, it preserves DR and enough(I'd say over 80%) resolution while accurately suppressing noise that it surpasses auto often enough even in daytime!
    This is two notches above Huawei's night mode implementation, while Pixel's auto was better in the first place.
    Reply

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