Skip to main content

The Google Pixel 2 camera already earned the highest scores yet — here’s why

Google Pixel 2 Camera

Its camera was one of the many highlights of the original Google Pixel, but with machine learning and updated hardware, Google is taking its photo game up a notch with a number of firsts in the new Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Announced on October 4 during an event in San Francisco, the Google Pixel 2 camera sports background blur without a second camera, dual optical and electronic image stabilization, automatic HDR and augmented reality stickers inside the native camera mode. Oh, and with a rating of 98, the Pixel 2 also earns the highest rating for any smartphone camera yet from DxOMark.

The updates stem from Google’s focus on mixing machine learning, hardware, and software across its entire line of new products. Machine learning is responsible for a number of the Pixel 2’s new features. First, the Google Pixel 2 includes a portrait mode that, like the last few iPhone Plus phones, simulates background blur that more closely resembles the photos shot from a DSLR, rather than a small sensor smartphone. The difference? Pixel 2 doesn’t need two cameras to do it.

Google / YouTube
Google / YouTube

Instead of creating a 3D depth map by comparing the different views from the two different locations, Pixel 2 uses a dual pixel sensor, comparing the right and left sides of the pixel to determine what objects are close to the camera and what is in the background. Machine learning software then applies the blur effect to the background. According to Google’s Aparna Chennapragada, the system is very accurate, even with busy backgrounds or when photographing an object instead of a person.

Besides the fact that the one-camera requirement means the feature is available without moving to the larger phablet-sized XL, the portrait mode is also available with the front-facing camera in the Pixel 2.

Computational photography is also responsible for the Pixel 2’s boost in photo quality using an automatic HDR. When a photo is shot on the Pixel 2, the camera takes several images at slightly different exposure levels, then aligns them via software on a pixel-for-pixel basis. With the data from multiple files, the resulting image contains more detail in the lightest and darkest areas of the image. Chennapragada says that all of this happens instantly, with no shutter lag between shots as the smartphone processes the files.

Both hardware and computational photography are also responsible for the Pixel 2’s boost in low light stills and video. Dubbed Fused Video Stabilization, the Pixel 2 essentially uses both the optical stabilization, the hardware-type system that doesn’t create a loss in image quality, and electronic stabilization, which measures any remaining shake and crops the footage to steady the shot.

Google / YouTube
Google / YouTube

Besides capturing the real world, the Google Pixel 2 includes built-in augmented reality stickers. While AR stickers are growing in popularity in apps like Snapchat and Facebook Camera, the Pixel 2 is the first mainstream smartphone to our knowledge to include AR inside the native camera mode instead of a third-party app. The AR stickers, which range from emojis to characters from movies including Stranger Things and Star Wars, aren’t just placed in the scene but move around. Place two stickers, and they’ll even interact with each other.

Google says that factors like emotions, physics, and even the lighting in the scene all blend together to make the virtual characters feel like part of the scene. “Now you can be the director of all kinds of stories and share these with friends,”  Chennapragada said. “…The stickers are so easy to use and they look great because the Pixel camera is specially calibrated for AR with pixel tracking and 60 fps. The camera can bridge the physical and digital with AR.”

The Pixel 2 also features a motion photos mode, a shooting style that captures three seconds of video behind the scenes.

The Pixel 2’s camera specs are rounded out with a 12.1-megapixel sensor paired with an f/1.8 lens and an updated, dual pixel autofocus system. The front-facing camera uses an eight-megapixel sensor.

All those features factor into the Pixel 2’s DxO score of 98, the highest score yet from the third-party camera testing company for any smartphone. Last month, DxO Mark updated its testing for smartphones to include factors like the artificial background blur from portrait mode. While the updated guidelines suggest that the Pixel 2 has one of the best cameras for smartphones, the guidelines don’t directly compare it under the rest of DxOMark’s tests, so the Pixel 2’s score of 98 doesn’t compare to the same 98 earned by the full frame Sony a7R II.

The Pixel 2’s camera will also come into play for more than just shooting photos — a preview of Google Lens, an artificially intelligent computer-vision program, is built into the Google Photos and Google Assistant native apps. The feature allows users to snap a photo of a flyer and copy and paste an email address or phone number without retyping, and to discover more about art, movies, books and music by snapping a photo.

All those features suggest users will be taking a lot of photos with the Pixel 2 — but the included Google Photos app also now gives Pixel 2 owners free, unlimited photo storage. The app also uses an automatic tagging system, making all those photos easy to search through.

Pricing for the Google Pixel 2 starts at $649, with the XL starting at $849.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL - Full Announcement

Editors' Recommendations

Hillary K. Grigonis
Hillary never planned on becoming a photographer—and then she was handed a camera at her first writing job and she's been…
2 weeks with the Google Pixel Fold made me glad I didn’t buy it
A person holding the Google Pixel Fold.

Some of what you’re about to read is going to make it sound like I hate the Google Pixel Fold, but this is not the case. I’ve spent about two weeks with the phone, and there are multiple elements I really like (and even love). However, this is an $1,800 smartphone, and when something costs that much, it needs to come close to being exactly right — especially when there is a really fantastic competing product selling for the same price.

By the end of my time with the Pixel Fold, I had reached a surprising, but very happy conclusion.
My most controversial opinion on the Pixel Fold

Read more
Google accidentally leaked the Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel Watch 2
Google Pixel 8 Pro leaked render.

A man speaks on a Google Pixel 8 Pro depicted in a Porcelain shade. Google

Google seems to have accidentally leaked its next flagship phone, the Google Pixel 8 Pro. And not only that, but it did so on its official website. The leak was spotted on the same day that Apple announced the launch date of the iPhone 15 series. Talk about consumer tech serendipity at its opportunistic best. The Pixel 8 Pro marketing render was first spotted on the official Google Store website’s subscriptions page by journalist Mishaal Rahman.

Read more
Google just dropped the date for its Pixel 8 and Pixel Watch 2 announcement
Event invite for Google's Made by Google event happening in October 2023.

Apple sent out press invites for its highly anticipated iPhone 15 event yesterday. Just one day later, Google has now sent out invites for its latest Made by Google event happening this October — where we expect to see the Google Pixel 8.

You can see the invite above, which confirms that Google is holding an in-person event where it's going to "introduce the latest additions to our Pixel portfolio of devices." The event is happening on Wednesday, October 4, 2023, in New York City, and it will (presumably) be livestreamed for folks to watch at home.

Read more