What are the reasons behind the subpar video quality of Google Pixel phones?

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When you dive into the realm of photography, the camera prowess built into the Google Pixel 7 proves to be a formidable opponent that is hard to beat. It boasts the ability to capture images of almost equivalent quality to those produced by a conventional standalone camera. Its competence is such that it can be effortlessly used as your only photography device. Notably, the numerous product images featured on platforms like Android Central owe their visual subtlety to the dexterity of the Pixel phones.

However, as the narrative turns towards the videography, a distinct story unfolds. The Pixel’s potential to deliver remarkable videos depends on the prevailing circumstances. While optimal conditions can produce impressive video content, prolific video capture will often reveal a propensity for shaky or blurry footage that craves better clarity. This is not a criticism, but an acknowledgment of reality. The Pixel, while exceptional in photography, falls short of peers like the Galaxy S series and the iPhone when it comes to video prowess.

The question naturally arises: Why this stark contrast in quality when the origin remains the same – the back hole of your phone?

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This dichotomy is justified and focuses on the interplay between hardware and software components.

Perhaps unbeknownst to many, credit for the Pixel’s stills-capturing prowess lies primarily in the area of ​​Google-backed software innovation. Contrary to assumption, it is the software, not the physical hardware of the camera, that has the decisive influence. This phenomenon explains why outdated models like the Pixel 4 or even the budget-friendly Google Pixel 7a can deliver images that rival or surpass offerings like the Samsung Galaxy S23.

A perceptive observation would reveal that Google occasionally uses hardware that could be considered less than ideal, to put it mildly, when building its phone cameras. Sensors and lenses often exhibit a time lag of two or more years. This in itself is not a criticism as this advanced hardware still boasts commendable functionality. But the problem arises when these devices find themselves competing with counterparts from alternative manufacturers that feature the latest image sensors and cutting-edge lens innovations. Some devices include actual aperture adjustments that are beyond the realm of software manipulation.

Such an approach translates into financial benefits for Google, given that pioneering components rarely come at a low price. While saving a few dollars per phone may seem insignificant, the cumulative effect when it adds up is profound. This frugality is reflected in the pricing strategy, which makes the Pixel a value-for-money alternative compared to its counterparts from alternative phone makers.

Google’s triumph in this arena can be attributed to its deft use of machine learning for image refinement. While competitors like Apple and Samsung also use machine learning algorithms to improve their photography results, Google’s finesse in this area is unparalleled.

The Pixel device takes the raw image data collected by its affordable and advanced sensors and performs complex adjustments. This includes a range of parameters including color balance, sharpness, focus accuracy, aperture settings, exposure levels, and more. It is noteworthy that this calibration occurs after the capture button is activated.

The resulting output is carefully tuned to create audience appeal. It is necessary to note that the goal here is not an absolute replication of human visual perception. Google uses its vast reservoir of user data to decipher patterns—differentiating which images tend to be kept versus those destined to be deleted or retaken. This gives them insight into creating visually pleasing renderings. After all, the goal is not to display an accurate reflection of reality.

This endeavor is far from easy. If it was easy, industry giants like Samsung would have no problem replicating it. Samsung, a prime example, leans more decidedly toward high-end hardware. The balance between camera hardware and software thus emerges as a delicate ballet with many paths to exceptional results.

The above paradigm is equally applicable to the field of video capture. Samsung, for example, achieves remarkable video quality by combining cutting-edge hardware and proprietary software innovations. Apple continues to raise the bar for some models. These manufacturers have converged on the harmony between hardware excellence and software excellence.

In contrast, Google continues to pursue this synergy. A step up from its predecessors, the Pixel 7 Pro boasts excellent video quality, especially in scenarios characterized by imperfect conditions. However, the issue of stabilizing camera movements is still ongoing for Google.

The prospect of Google changing its strategy to mirror Samsung’s camera hardware seems unlikely, given Google’s identity as a software powerhouse. The core of their success, both in still photography and potentially video, lies in the effective deployment of AI. Google’s trajectory reflects its expertise in using artificial intelligence to revolutionize static imaging, and a similar transformation may materialize in videography. The journey may be challenging, but the trajectory is toward ultimate success. At the same time, competitors like Samsung continue to improve their software algorithms, creating a landscape where both photo and video quality are steadily rising. This momentum becomes a benefit to consumers and sets the stage for continued innovation.

While the Pixel remains fully capable of capturing commendable video content, it may not claim the crown as the ultimate videography tool. Individuals who are heavily dependent on their smartphones for video creation may find better alternatives in products like the Galaxy S23 Ultra. As the future unfolds, the prospect of Google unveiling the intricacies of video enhancements looms large, promising a future where the Pixel series achieves parity in both image realms.