Skip to main content

Google Pixel lens flare: What it is, and how to avoid it

One thing is clear: when you're taking pictures with your Pixel of scenes that have one main source of bright light, you can often see what's known as "lens flare." It is definitely A Thing, but how widely this is happening and how unusual it is compared to other cameras (phone or not) is rather overblown.

To better understand what lens flare is, how it happens and how to help avoid it when shooting with your Pixel, we have a comprehensive explanation for you. Read on.

What is lens flare?

Lens flare is a well-known characteristic of cameras by which light enters the lens and when passing through multiple lens elements refracts and produces harsh light artifacting on the resulting image. Lens flare is most pronounced on larger, longer lenses, like zoom lenses on DSLRs. But it's important to note that camera phones aren't impervious to flare just because their lenses are small — these small cameras still have several lens elements that trap light and sometimes create interesting light artifacts.

Each camera sensor and lens handles flare in a different way — the Pixel's camera most often exhibits a faint white/pink/purple ring near the edges of the frame. Some cameras show it as more of a tight circle in the frame or a series of circles cascading across the image. The Pixel's lens flare is most pronounced in situations when most cameras produces lens flare, such as looking directly at the sun or in scenes where an image is dominated by a single strong source of light from the side.

How to avoid lens flare on the Pixel

Google Pixel XL

Now that you know just what lens flare is, how do you "fix" lens flare on your Pixel? Well, there are several parts to this — and unfortunately there isn't a silver bullet to fix it entirely. It's important to note right off the top that having your Pixel replaced is not a potential fix, as all Pixels have the same lens flare characteristics.

Lens flare will never disappear entirely, but you can do a few things to avoid it.

When it comes to lens flare, your only real hope is to recognize when it could happen and hope to avoid situations that most often produce the types of lens flare that the Pixel is susceptible to. As noted above, the big scenes that create lens flare are those in which you're looking directly at the bright sun or are indoors with a strong source of light on the edge of your screen.

Beyond simply not shooting these sorts of scenes (which may not be an option), you can work to minimize the effect of the lens flare. When shooting toward the bright sun, it will help to put the sun off-axis or in the corner of the frame. If you're shooting indoors with a bright source of light, let the light come from behind the camera rather than directly off to the side. Not only will these two methods help better balance the lighting and color of the entire shot, it will also reduce or eliminate the lens flare.

If you're still finding that your Pixel is exhibiting far too much lens flare for your liking, an additional fix is on the way in the form of a software update, actually. Google has acknowledged that many Pixel owners are unhappy with the lens flare, and is working to have the camera software identify and synthetically remove egregious lens flare when you shoot in HDR+ (as the Pixel is set to by default). The software update should be arriving in the coming weeks.

Between the forthcoming software update and some extra thought while shooting, you'll be able to reduce the occurrences of lens flare in your photos from the Pixel. Now and then you're still likely to take a shot that has it, but that's going to happen on any camera at some point — work to remove it when possible, and embrace it and keep the photos even when it happens!

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

55 Comments
  • Got my pixel xl yesterday and plan to test out the camera today. This article is timely and helpful. Gonna test it out for 15 days and if it is an issue, will return the phone. I doubt a software solution will help much. So far, very happy with the phone.
  • Given what Google has been able to achieve with software so far I think they will be able to bring down the flare some. This is easily the best phone camera I have ever used.
  • Assuming that you like the rest of the phone, there's nothing here that should make you want to return the phone. There's camera lens flare in some situations ... that's not a critical flaw.
  • Yes, but I have two other androids and an iPhone 7+, so keeping a $1000 phone that I am not crazy about is hard to justify. I am pretty OCD about my stuff working properly. I remember my pentium processor having a slight flaw that would most likely never manifest itself in my work, but when given the chance to get a new processor, you can bet I got me one. Again if this is an issue over the weekend in my normal usage, I would return the phone and wait till next year. I have not seen any issues in my iPhone, S7 Active or S7 Edge. I really like the pixel xl though. 7.1 is pretty sweet.
  • There's a difference between CPU errata and lens aberrations tho, there's no perfect lens... Even $5,000 Leica lenses have their own set of defects and unique quirks. The internet just chose to focus on this one thing for whatever reason, but there's phones with other really obvious issues like lenses that are extremely soft off center or don't focus real well up close, etc etc. Testing it for yourself is definitely a good approach if you can afford it tho. Copy to copy variation is also a pretty big deal with lenses (high end pro lenses or otherwise), not necessarily as far as flare goes (which is more of an inherent characteristic of the design and coatings), but definitely as far as general sharpness etc.
  • Making sure the lens is clean will help reduce artifacts, particularly shooting into the light.
  • Probably won't do much for that large edge of frame flare discussed tho, but slight framing adjustments and/or shading it with your other hand will go a long way.
  • Keep the lens-flare in the shot! Embrace your inner Andy Warhol!
  • or JJ Abrams
  • This
  • You beat me to the JJ Abrams' comment.
  • People just love to complain, lol! You can get lens flare from pretty much any camera on a phone.
  • Not as much as this one, apparently. Some phones have more flaring and aberrations than others, but the flare on the Pixel is very noticeable.
  • Please, don't. This is a known issue that has been addressed by Google. The phone is fantastic but pretending that this isn't an issue is ridiculous.
  • Depends what you consider the threshold to be for it being an "issue" — I really don't see this as a problem. It's a characteristic of the camera, and you can deal with it.
  • I mean, again we are getting into this whole thing. I think it is clearly an issue since Google is attempting to address it with a software fix, this to me signifies an issue. That being said, in my experience it has not been an issue at all. It is easy to work with and while I look forward to a fix it hasn't really bothered me. I don't see the point in playing semantics games when there is clearly something going on, especially given Google's reaction and attempted fix. This to me is different than the One Plus 3 not using all 6 gigs of RAM since that was by design. This is not something Google designed the phone to do, they are attempting to mitigate the lens flare in pictures, thus an issue. I don't see the point in downplaying it or not being honest about the fact that it exists. Please note this is all coming from an Pixel XL owner that loves this phone and has on multiple occasions said it is the best camera I have ever used on a phone.
  • Another shortcoming of the Pixel camera is the lens is too close to the edge of the phone causing many more incidents of one's finger accidentally showing in the edge of the picture. Comparatively, the $150 less expensive yet superior HTC 10 camera has the OIS f/1.8 lens positioned far from the edges where one's fingers are far less likely to encroach into the photo. Odd that AC essentially ignores the superior HTC 10 yet vigorously praises the Pixel which is an excellent phone with no headphone jack and screen space wasting navigation buttons. Odd indeed. Plus guess what..... the HTC 10 has significantly less lens flair. 'Sometimes' only a soft halo surrounding bright lights in a dark scene. Perhaps with the more expensive OIS in the HTC 10 lens configuration a byproduct may have resulted in a significant reduction of lens flair. If you can, compare the Pixel to the HTC 10, like I have and see for yourself. Don't expect AC to do it - guaranteed.
  • "Odd that AC essentially ignores the superior HTC 10 yet vigorously praises the Pixel which is an excellent phone with no headphone jack and screen space wasting navigation buttons. Odd indeed." I'm looking at the exact Pixel you wrote about a year ago and it HAS A HEADPHONE JACK. Also, the opinion that the HTC 10 camera is superior is one with merit to you I am sure, but I haven't found a single camera reviewer or expert who says that the HTC 10 camera is even in the same league as the Pixel of 2016.
  • It's not an issue cause they love the Pixel so much.
  • I'm going to complain about your comment..lol This article minimizes the issue imo.. I've had way too many pics altered with several different light sources. Taking a picture of the moon created lens flare! It pops up more often in video because it's apparent you're moving your phone in several directions. I've never had a phone even come close with the severity of this and I've had many. Camera sucks if you need to be concerned with lighting all the time!! Highest rated phone by who? They gave it an 89?!?! Guess they also overlooked the issue as their hands were padded with green paper. Mine's in route back to Texas for a return along with the wonderful daydream VR headset.
  • People do love to complain. The lens flare is an issue but at least for me not that much of an issue. I just use it as an artistic touch. I mean even Photoshop has a lens flare filter. While I can see in certain instances it could be annoying but overall the Pixel has a great camera which is a joy to use on top of how smooth 7.1 is.
  • I've been using my free hand to create a sudo-type visor cupped partially around the lens while taking shots like that. It helps a bit actually- you just need to make sure your fingers are not in the actual shot.
  • I honestly thought there'd be more of a comparison with other phones to see how out of the ordinary this is. Based on the opening paragraph, i thought we'd be addressing how unusual it is compared to other phones. It'd also be interesting to see how well some of these methods work. Like take a shot that has lens flare and then apply the concepts above (or maybe even others to see what works best, like @wilmah and the idea of cupping your hand around the lens) and see what kind of improvement you can see. Also, take some artificial light shots that can be reproduced later so you can compare before and after on the software fix.
  • Would definitely need to go with artificial light in order to achieve any sort of repeatable test... Out in the world by the time you swap phones and frame a shot in *exactly* the same way at precisely the same angle the sun may have very well moved or cloud cover could have shifted. It's not that easy of a thing to test tbh...
  • Am i the only one thinking that this article has too much text to say too little ? :P
  • It appears to me that the pixalXL is very expensive. The new releases have not been that exciting this fall. Now a camera problem, what's next. The note 7 fiasco, soft camera lens on the V20 and now this. Apple, very poor charging times, 0 to 100 over 2 & a half hours. No micro s/d expansion, no headphone jack or wireless. I really don't think these offerings are anything to get excited about! It seems that the premium flagships are having a tough go at it!
  • IKR
  • Oh you can shade your camera with your hand. Isn't a cure all but saved many shots for me.
  • I'm curious. If you buy a case that covers most of the back and only has a small opening for the camera module, would the effect be reduced?
  • Unless the case is extremely thick, it wouldn't have any effect.
  • Good question.
    I am also curious if the glass back is continuous over the camera and if that has any effect. It looks like one piece of glass in any photo I have seen and doesn't seem like a good thing for a camera to have due to light within that entire panel.
  • And if so is there any difference between device colors?
  • It's easier to use your other hand to shade against exactly the point of light causing the flaring than it'd be to recreate a micro hood IMO... If you're shooting right into the sun just forget it, most lenses will flare in that scenario, just in different ways. The large edge of frame flare on the Pixel is a little unusual but not unheard of. The actual flare effect is probably not hard to mitigate in software given how consistently it manifests, the overall loss of contrast to the scene is tougher but people are less likely to freak at that.
  • The very fact that you have to write an article to explain that lense flare is "normal" and the Pixel has "normal" behavior shows that there actually is an issue with the Pixel's camera.
    It is even worse when you consider that Google is currently developing a kind of fix for this issue.
  • The bigger issue is the vastly under-reported Bluetooth problems with the Pixel phone: http://forums.androidcentral.com/google-pixel-pixel-xl/737335-pixel-blue... https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/phone-by-google/SZrziPyWiHw It is an awful problem. I made a choice at the office to just narrow down to iPhones and Pixel phones to make support (I am SOLO IT guy) and I've got salespeople screaming at me over the BlueTooth issues on the Pixel. And I can confirm, it is a problem...mine will connect in my car but often freeze and lock up my entire UCONNECT system in my Jeep.
  • Much better than having battery flare!
  • I returned my pixel xl and one of the main reasons was because of the lens glare was really annoying. If I took any pictures with any type of light towards the lens I would get lens glare. What really got me is when I compared pictures in the same situation with my nexus 6p I didnt get any lens glare on the 6p. The fact that i paid almost 900$ for the pixel xl and to see my yr old nexus 6p can take just as good if not better pictures than the pixel xl just didn't impress me for the money so I ended up sending mine back and figured i would give the v20 chance and I've been very impressed by the v20. Also my problem is if Google couldn't fix the lag on the 6p (which is the only problem with the 6p camera then how are they gonna fix the lens glare with a software patch
  • That sucks. Oh well, Google is working on a fix, so it should be patched pretty quickly, I think. (The 800$, 1000$ + prices are worth it. The 800$, 1000$ + prices are worth it, the 800$, 1000$+ prices are worth it.........)
  • I have never had this issue with my S4, nor my very old Xperia Arc.... Guess this is only on Pixels
  • Probably. Before the Pixel phones there was never a lens flare article on any particular phone. Not one.
  • Returned my pixel xl after a few days due to lens flare. Picked up a Samsung Note 5 and I must say i am loving it. The build quality in the note 5 is fantastic.
    The lens flare issue was just to noticeable in family photographs in the evening. Had to make a quick decision and I am happy I did.
  • It has to do with the coating that HTC used on the lens - I have the same problem with my HTC 10. I get flare even when there is no direct light source hitting the lens..
  • I essentially don't have lens flair with my HTC 10. I hope you wipe your lens cover clean with a microfiber cloth. One touch with a naturally oily fingertip over a smartphone lens cover and you will get lens flair. What's happening with the Pixel is above and beyond.
  • I've taken thousands of pictures on many phones and never had this issue appear. Not even once on my V10.
  • I take pictures with my Pixel XL every day. I gotta say, either mine is magical, or I don't frame pictures in the precise way. Because I haven't produced any noticeable halos or flares.
  • J. J. Abrams approves of this phone. XD
  • U r a genius
  • The exact same thing happens with the iPhones, even on the iPhone 7 Plus. I've seen the problem going back years. It's inherent in the optics of a very thin smartphone lens. There is a great iOS App (maybe there is an Android version too) called TouchRetouch that lets you easily get rid of such flare dots.
  • I think the iPhone 5 had a serious case of purple flare similar to the leica m8. Maybe can take reference from there to correct this problem.
  • It's inherent in any optic pointed straight at the sun heh, wider lenses (i.e. every smartphone lens) suffer more because it's easier to point them at the sun, and it's generally harder to design around aberrations on wider lenses than longer teles. DSLR and ILC lens makers invest a lot in coatings to try and mitigate it... Still there to some degree tho. That being said, there's different kinds of flares and the large one all around the frame's border produced by the Pixel is particularly distracting, might also make it easier to correct at times but the loss of contrast will ultimately be the bigger concern even on a photo that has had that actual flare cloned out automatically.
  • mobiles6.com is the best website for new phones reviews and factory reset all phones. Google Pixel Reviews http://www.mobiles6.com/google-pixel.html How to Reset google pixel http://www.mobiles6.com/how-to-reset-google-pixel.html How to Reset google pixel XL http://www.mobiles6.com/how-to-reset-google-pixel-xl.html
  • mobiles6.com the best website for new phones reviews and factory reset all phones. Google Pixel Reviews http://www.mobiles6.com/google-pixel.html How to Reset google pixel http://www.mobiles6.com/how-to-reset-google-pixel.html How to Reset google pixel XL http://www.mobiles6.com/how-to-reset-google-pixel-xl.html
  • Tried to take a photo in the dark using flash - and it was impossible. The flash light caused a massive circular flare which ruined it. Had to disable flash and take picture from a distance. Hope this is sorted soon as I think it's a bigger problem that Google is admitting to.
  • Of course, you've been holding it wrong all this time
  • If I hold it the right way to avoid lens flare I get bad signal..and vice versa.