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Google Pixel 6 vs. Pixel 6 Pro camera: Which is the best to buy?

With the launch of the Google Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro smartphones this year, Google is finally adopting new camera hardware similar to other flagships. To tech enthusiasts, this can be a bigger surprise than Apple finally admitting it was wrong about the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar. These camera setups are in line with the modern competitor and can put up a tough fight to the likes of the iPhone 13 and the Galaxy S21 series.

In this article, we look at which model you should buy between the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro.

The new camera hardware

Ever since its first generation, unrivaled camera capabilities have been the hallmark of Google’s Pixel lineup. But despite their focus, the Pixel smartphones received only minor upgrades in terms of their camera hardware until the last generation. This is primarily because Google was content its software experience was more than enough to fill any gaps created by the old  — cough obsolete — 12MP primary camera sensor. However, with the improvements to the Pixel 6 series’ cameras this year, Google has clearly had a massive change of heart.

Both get a 50MP camera sensor

The new Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro feature an all-new 50MP camera sensor on the primary camera. This is a sizeable upgrade from the 12MP primary camera seen on all of the preceding Pixel smartphones. The Pixel 6 series uses the same 50MP Samsung ISOCELL GN1 that was seen previously on Vivo’s flagship device — the Vivo X70 Pro Plus. This 50MP camera sensor is almost as big as Samsung’s ISOCELL HM3 sensor found on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It measures 1/1.31 inches in size and employs pixels measuring 1.2μm in width. Paired with an f/1.85 aperture lens, the camera offers an 82-degree wide field of view.

Google Pixel 6 in sorta seafoad color with focus on camera.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

With Quad Bayer pixel-binning, four adjacent pixels combine to form a single pixel measuring 2.4μm. Google claims this allows the 50MP to capture 2.5 times more light than the Pixel 5’s primary camera.

In addition to the 50MP primary camera, both — the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro — feature a 12MP ultrawide camera. This camera sensor captures 115-degree wide images using an f/2.2 aperture camera lens. Besides capturing wider spans than the primary wide-angle camera, this ultrawide-angle camera is also used for correcting blurred faces using a feature called Face Unblur, which we’ll talk about later in this article.

Pixel 6 Pro gets a 4x periscope camera

A telephoto camera is returning to the Google Pixel series after being removed from the Pixel 5. The 48MP telephoto camera on the Pixel 6 Pro uses a periscope setup — first introduced commercially over two years ago on the Huawei P30 Pro and the Oppo Reno 10X. The periscope allows 4x optical zoom and up to 20x digital zoom.

Pixel 6 Pro being slid into a leather skirt pocket.

The 48MP camera sensor measures a half-inch in size, which is even bigger than the primary camera on the previous Pixel phones. The camera sensor is paired with an f/3.5 aperture lens module.

If we compare this to existing flagships from other brands, the 4x telephoto lags behind the 5x telephoto on the Samsung Note 20 Ultra or the 10x telephoto on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. But, combined with Google’s impeccable computational photography, we can expect some stunning results using this camera. Google says users will be able to zoom up to 20x and still capture blur-free images with its Super Res Zoom feature.

Pixel 6 skips out on telephoto

Unlike the Pro, the Pixel 6 missed out on the telephoto camera from the Pro model. The non-Pro will therefore have to rely on the primary camera for digitally zoomed-in shots. Unlike the Pixel 6 Pro, which goes up to 20x zoom, the Pixel 6 will max out at 7x digital zoom with Google’s proprietary Super Res Zoom feature.

Pixel 6 Pro also gets a better selfie camera

The Pixel 6 Pro, although identical to the Pixel 6 in most regards, exceeds in one area. The Pixel 6 Pro features an 11MP selfie camera, nested inside the hole punch. In contrast, the Pixel 6 features an 8MP selfie camera. Besides the higher resolution, the Pro’s front camera uses a bigger sensor with larger pixels and a slightly wider field of view (94 degrees on the Pro versus 84 degrees on the non-Pro).

Besides better pictures, the Pixel 6 Pro can also capture better videos using its front camera. While the regular model maxes out at 1080p at 30 frames per second (fps), the Pro can record 4K videos at 30 fps using its selfie camera.

New video capabilities

Video has never been Pixel’s strongest suit, but that perception might be up for a change with the new Pixel 6 series. For starters, both the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro feature 4K recording at 60 fps. That is not exactly a new feature –it has been present since last year’s Pixel 5. But thanks to Google’s own silicon, the Pixel 6’s video capabilities get a great boost in terms of features.

With the Google Tensor SoC, the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro get the ability to capture much better videos. The onboard A.I. processing allows the Pixel 6 smartphones to capture detailed information about the exposure and colors in each frame. This ensures the phones have more efficient tone mapping and results in more natural colors.

Google is also using a machine learning algorithm called HDRNet for videos on the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro. HDRNet has been trained extensively with thousands of photos to predict the most optimal colors per pixel on the video. With Tensor’s processing capabilities, these computations can happen in real-time on the Pixel 6, and leading to more vivid and closer to natural colors in videos. While the exact video output is yet to be tested, the HDRNet might offer some tough competition to the cinematic videos on the iPhone 13.

Unlike most other flagship Android smartphones with Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro lack support for 8K video recording. This may not be a turn-off for most of the buyers, especially since 8K video has yet to be widely adopted. But, if you are planning to pre-order the Pixel 6 or the Pixel 6 Pro, this may rob you of some bragging rights.

Exceptional A.I. features

Google is billing A.I. and ML capabilities to be the core virtue of the new Pixel 6 phones. Naturally, when on-device A.I. meets the Pixel series’ exceptional camera capabilities, we can expect some magic to happen.

The following are some of the most compelling camera features from the Pixel 6 that utilize the Google Tensor SoC:

Magic Eraser

As apparent from its name, the Magic Eraser feature on the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro will allow users to remove strangers or unwanted objects photobombing their perfect moments. Based on its own analysis, the Pixel 6 will automatically make suggestions for you to erase distractions from the images when you view them in the Google Photos app. Other than these suggestions, you can also do this manually, simply by selecting the Magic Eraser option in the Photos editor and circling the object.

Google Pixel 6 Magic Eraser
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Google also says that this feature will be available for all of your previous photos clicked with older Pixel phones — whether they are clicked with the Pixel 6 or not.

Face Unblur

Two comparison photos of a a girl on a mini trampoline showcasing Google Pixel 6 Face Unblur.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Pixel 6 will also be able to fix blurred faces in images using A.I. When the Pixel 6 detects a face in the viewfinder, it will deploy two cameras at once; the primary wide-angle camera will take images at the normal exposure whereas the secondary ultrawide-angle camera will take images with a faster exposure to capture faces more accurate. Then, the faces from the latter will be imposed on the image from the former to fix any blurred faces in the camera.

Pixel 6 is supposedly the fastest phone to Snap

Google is partnering with Snap Inc. to offer Snapchat lenses directly from within the Google Camera app on the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro. The “Quick Tap to Snap” feature will allow users to open the Snapchat camera directly from the home screen with two quick successive taps on the back of the smartphone. The photos will be saved on users’ camera roll and can be accessed after unlocking the phone. Even better is the fact that these features will also arrive on older Pixel phones including the Pixel 5, Pixel 4a 5G, and the Pixel 5a later.

Google pixel 6 snap chat feature.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Other than Snapchat lenses, the Google Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro also get some exclusive augmented reality features created by Snap Inc. This includes a live translation feature within the Snapchat app’s chat with support for up to 10 languages initially. The feature may not be available at the time of the launch and will arrive in a few months. Notably, it is highly unlikely for older Pixel phones to get these exclusive Snap filters.

Lastly, Google did not leave the opportunity to boast that the Pixel 6 will one of the fastest phones to send snaps and use Snapchat.

Real Tone alleviates racial bias in photography

Collage of images showcasing Google pixel 6 pro real tone.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Another crucial feature introduced by Google at the Pixel 6 event is Real Tone, which will utilize Tensor’s A.I. capabilities to improve the representation of the skin tone of all people — and especially, people of color. Google has worked with photographers, cinematographers, colorists, and other experts to develop a feature that compensates for any discrepancies in white balance, contrast, and exposure to ensure that every face is captured as close to natural as possible.

There really isn’t much difference between the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro

If you are aiming to buy the Google Pixel 6 or the Pixel 6 Pro primarily for their cameras, there are just two difference that sets these two models apart. The first and biggest one is the telephoto camera, which is absent from the non-Pro variant. The second difference between the two models can be seen when comparing the selfie cameras, as seen in the previous section. The Pixel 6 Pro should be your preferred choice if you wish to enjoy better selfies as well as selfie videos — or get the most out of those exclusive Snap features.

Other than that, both the models get identical cameras on the back with an evenhanded distribution of features so either way, you won’t go wrong no matter which you choose.

Tushar Mehta
Tushar has a passion for consumer tech and likes to tinker with smartphones, laptops, wearables, smart home devices, and…
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