Before August 2021, my Google Photos collection was basically a gallery of cat photos. Then a little person debuted in the family and you can clearly mark the moment when my photography priorities changed: one day it was all about cats; another was all about the baby.
This shift is a shared experience of many parents I know. While cats may not be the most cooperative photo subjects, have you ever tried to capture the antics of a toddler? They are utter agents of chaos. This presents a unique dilemma: you need to capture those adorable moments with your child, who happens to be the cutest creature on the planet, but also refuses to sit or stay still for even a split second while you aim the camera.
This dilemma forces you to take even more photos in the hope that at least one will be in focus, and if you’re lucky, your little subject will actually be looking at the camera. That’s how you accumulate gigabytes of baby photos, none of which are suitable for your holiday card. Over the past few years, phone cameras have improved with features that take a series of pictures and select the best one. Low-light image quality has also generally improved. But there is one phone that stands out for its ability to alleviate the problems associated with photographing children: the Google Pixel 8.
When I say Google Pixel 8, I mean either the Pixel 8 or the more expensive Pixel 8 Pro. The 8 Pro includes a 5x telephoto lens not found in the standard model, along with manual camera controls that are really useful but not essential, especially if you’re looking for great shots of your kids doing their daily activities.
It all starts with shutter speed. The Pixel 8 excels at recognizing when you’re shooting a moving subject and automatically increases your shutter speed, greatly increasing your chances of getting a sharp shot. I took the Pixel 8 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max to the playground and used them side by side while my kid raced and did typical kid activities. The Pixel 8 Pro delivered much sharper photos as it allowed a shutter speed of up to 1/400s, while the iPhone limited it to 1/60s.
Another key reason for my success with the Pixel 8 Pro was a useful feature called Face Unblur. Introduced in the Pixel 6, it combines data from the ultra-wide and main cameras to focus on a blurry face. You might not even realize it’s working until you see the icon on the image thumbnail in Google Photos. Sure enough, almost all of my on-field photos taken with the Pixel 8 Pro were at least reasonably sharp, thanks in part to Face Unblur. While I was able to capture some images that I liked with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, my overall success rate was lower than with the Pixel.
AI face swaps are another nifty feature introduced in the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro. Among the various AI-powered editing tools in Google Photos, Best Take stands out. It allows you to change the expressions of people in a series of very similar photos taken within 10 seconds by selecting a face from another photo in the series. The results are impressive, especially in good lighting. However, it can get a little tricky if someone changes their shoulder position or raises their hand between shots, which can lead to weird face swaps. While this feature feels a bit like inventing a moment in time that never actually happened, it’s perfect for creating charming family photos.
Audio Magic Eraser, another AI feature in Google Photos, benefits parents by automatically identifying and separating different audio channels in videos. This means that you can reduce or mute background noise while highlighting speech. As a parent who often records videos of my child for the grandparents, this feature immediately appealed to me. When capturing cute moments, it’s common to have background noise like a washing machine or a radio, and the Audio Magic Eraser feature makes the baby’s voice clearer.
However, there is one notable feature where the Pixel 8 falls behind the competition: portrait mode. This is unfortunate because a significant portion of my child’s photos are taken in portrait, no matter what phone I use. When comparing the Pixel 8 Pro’s portrait mode to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the iPhone’s image is better in several ways, at least in my opinion. I prefer the iPhone’s warmer color presentation and it does better with colors than before. In addition, the iPhone’s portrait mode blurs not only the background but also part of the foreground, which makes it more convincing. Fine details like hair also look better on an iPhone photo, as the Pixel’s portrait photos tend to look a bit pixelated by comparison.
There really is no one-size-fits-all camera for parents or any type of photographer, and there probably never will be. Each individual’s preferences and priorities vary, some prefer the iPhone’s color science or the Samsung Galaxy’s portrait mode. Until we all end up capturing our kids’ moments with Vision Pro headphones, it’s a win for technology and parenting.