The Pixel doesn’t have a telephoto lens, and Google attempts to get around this with software
you’re shooting with that Ultra Pixel camera. The 2X zoom camera lets you get closer to your subject with more detail, but you lose out on that great dynamic range and colour accuracy. Annoyingly, the only way to adjust white balance is to select the Pro mode, something that you’re just not going to want to do whenever you use the zoom.
In dim light, the U12+ manages to continue the theme of accurate colours but it certainly struggles more than many rivals. Photos are darker and are very noisy: there’s no night mode and no clever tricks that you’ll find on phones such as the P20 Pro.
Thanks to dual 8Mp cameras on the front, there’s a ‘proper’ portrait mode available whether you’re taking selfies of photos of others. The bad news is that it doesn’t always get it right, so there’s a good chance your subject won’t be realistically isolated from the background. When the system works, it works well, though, and there’s an option to automatically enable portrait mode when a person is detected.
Video is more impressive (see fave.co/2OEcAna). In fact, the U12+ is one of the best choices for video. It won’t shoot ultra slo-mo, but its 240fps at 1080p
is very good and lets you choose which part to play in slo-mo after the fact.
The best part is the 4K60 mode. A few phones can now record in UHD at 60 frames per second, but few offer any stabilization. The U12+’s stabilization isn’t rock steady, but it’s effective and makes the mode actually usable. Dynamic range in video isn’t as good as in photos, but colour accuracy and detail is excellent.
Audio is another key factor, and sound recording is good thanks to four mics placed around the phone. Better still, you can tap on the viewfinder to choose what you want the mics to focus on, and this noticeably improves clarity when people are speaking – especially if you zoom in.
Sadly, the telephoto lens can’t be used when shooting video, so the 2x zoom is merely digital zoom.
We’re fans of HTC’s camera interface which makes all modes available regardless of whether you’re using the front or rear cameras. You can access these by swiping down almost anywhere on the screen. There are no other gestures, so you won’t accidentally switch between cameras or modes as is possible on rivals. One thing we’re not a fan of is the separate photo and video buttons at the bottom, mainly because it takes a couple of seconds to switch between these modes, and the app remembers the last setting you used rather than reverting back to photo mode each time.
4. Google Pixel 2 XL Price: £799/£899 (64/128GB) from fave.co/2AzDjOI
The original Pixel had amazing cameras, and the Pixel 2 XL’s are even better. Don’t dismiss it just because it
lacks dual cameras, as this phone is capable of very impressive photos and videos.
It’s even capable of blurring the background of portrait photos without the assistance of a second camera for depth sensing, and this works on the front camera too. Since the cameras are the same on the smaller Pixel 2, this review applies to both phones.
Software has always been Google’s strength and so although the hardware – the camera sensors and lenses – is nothing out of the ordinary, the Pixel 2’s photos are extraordinary. The main reason for this is the HDR+ mode which is enabled by default on the Pixel 2.
Most phones take three photos and blend them together. Not the Pixel 2. It takes 10 images, chops them up and layers pieces on top of each other to create photos with great dynamic range: lots of detail in both shadows and highlights.
What this means is that just about every photo you take on the Pixel 2 – or XL – looks stunning with lots of sharp detail, great colours and hardly any noise. Amazingly, this phone offers close to the dynamic range of a DSLR.
Google didn’t shout about its custom designed Visual Core processor at the phone’s launch, and only turned it on earlier this year (in February 2018). It means you now get HDR+ when you take photos in other apps such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp, not just in the default camera app.
Strangely enough, the stock camera app doesn’t actually use the processor as Google says it isn’t needed. And the results back this up: there’s no delay when you take back to back photos on the phone, unlike the original Pixel.
The problem with the Pixel is that it doesn’t have a telephoto lens. Again, Google attempts to get around this with software. Its RAISR system detects patterns and uses this to intelligently create new pixels to make the image larger (and therefore simulate a zoom lens).
It works well in some photos – of people, mainly – but it gets confused with some textures such as leaves on trees or bushes in the background. And, as you’d expect, results aren’t as good as you’ll get from the P20 Pro with its 3x zoom camera.
Photos taken in low light are very good, but again, the P20 Pro outclasses it with its handheld night mode and ability to get great results when there’s almost no light at all. Video is just as impressive as still images (see fave.co/2AB0W9E). Optical stabilization is used with
software to deliver really smooth footage, and it looks great. You’re limited to 30 frames per second at 4K, but this won’t be problem for many people. The main let-down here is audio: it’s mono and simply not as good quality as you get from the Galaxy S9+ or iPhone X.
Slo-mo is a bit behind the times, with options of 120fps at 1080p or 240fps in 720p.
The Pixel 2 XL takes great portraits, and can blur the background despite having just one rear camera. And selfies are also impressive.
Another feature added after the Pixel 2’s launch was AR stickers. You might consider them a gimmick, but being able to add 3D characters or text into a photo or video is a unique ability that really works well.
Better still, Google gives Pixel 2 owners unlimited cloud storage for as many original-quality photos and videos as they like until January 2021.
The experience of taking photos and videos on the Pixel 2 is good. We’ve already mentioned how fast it is, but the camera app’s layout is clean and uncluttered.
A few key controls are placed along the top, though it’s a shame that Portrait mode is hidden in the main menu. There’s no ‘pro’ mode with options such as shutter speed and white balance, but on the whole you don’t need them as the Pixel 2’s automatic modes do a fantastic job.
We’re still fans of the Pixel 2’s cameras and if you’re not too bothered about having a telephoto lens, super slo-mo or taking photos in near-darkness, then you’ll be very happy with them, too.
In dim light, the U12+ struggles more than its rivals
The 2X zoom camera lets you get closer to your subject with more detail
Google Pixel 2 XL
Just about every photo you take looks stunning with lots of sharp detail, great colours and hardly any noise
Photos taken in low light are very good