It’s 2022, and smartphone cameras are better than ever. While they still might not exactly match up to a DSLR, many Android phones and iPhones are more than capable point-and-shoot cameras that can often get you an incredible image with minimal effort. Google’s Pixel lineup has always excelled at this. Even though Pixels haven't always featured the latest hardware, Google’s software has helped the Pixel camera produce excellent daytime and nighttime shots.
However, none of that has ever really interested me, and until recently, I have stuck primarily to LG smartphones. Why? Because LG gave me manual controls that allowed me to tweak my images as I saw fit. I consider myself something of an amateur videographer, and smartphones have always been my primary tool for creating videos.
I remember LG making such a big deal out of its video features when it launched the V30. You could download and apply various LUTs, and the V30 could capture video in LOG in case you wanted to handle the color correction and grading yourself. The V30 also had separate manual video and camera modes to give you more control over what you captured. I remember watching the V30 launch and thinking to myself, “LG made this phone for me!”
Fast-forward to 2022, and LG is no longer in the smartphone picture. After finally letting go of my LG G8 and LG Wing, I decided to switch to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra because it also offered manual image and video “Pro” modes.
While Samsung phones provided a nice off-ramp from LG for me, I never really considered purchasing a Pixel. Not only had I always heard that Pixels didn't handle video as well as they did images, but they also didn't have a manual mode to correct those video errors. However, the Pixel 6 series has switched things up with more powerful camera hardware for better images, and it seems like Google has improved its video capture as well thanks to the Tensor chip and AI processing.
Even so, Rita El Khoury of Android Authority laments the fact that the Pixel camera still lacks manual photography despite those hardware upgrades. We’re essentially at the mercy of whatever the Pixel thinks we want in a photo, but that might not always match up with what we want in a picture. Fortunately, there’s the option to capture RAW images to edit later in post, but there’s no such option for video, which is my main concern.
Don’t get me wrong; I fully understand that this level of control isn’t what a Pixel is for. Google wants you to be able to capture the best possible image or video with minimal effort, thanks to the wonderful AI algorithms embedded into its camera system. Heck, when I want a quick and easy picture, I now find myself reaching for my (work-provided) Pixel 6 Pro because I know I’ll probably get the best image almost every time. The Pixel camera is absolutely fantastic. But, c’mon, Google, where’s the harm in throwing in an extra mode or two to give people like me the option to have manual control? Not to mention, I feel like a deeper level of adjustment would really test Google's Pixel camera capabilities.
I'm not asking for Sony Xperia Pro-1 levels of control (although that would be nice), but just more than what we get now, which is really nothing. Alas, it may never come, and I'm kind of okay with that. As my colleague Jerry Hildenbrand points out, most people just want to focus on the essentials, and that's good image quality. But I'm in the minority that doesn't really care about that. The Pixel just isn't the phone for me, for more than one reason, and I'm happy with my Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, although I'm increasingly drawn to Sony's Xperia lineup, which really leans on the "Pro" camera modes and is thus on the complete opposite spectrum of the Pixel.
Like I said before, smartphone cameras are at a great place right now in terms of quality and capability, and the Pixel camera can outpace many, if not most, of the best Android phones. However, I think there's still a way to go before it can catch up to DSLR quality image and video. Sensor size notwithstanding, smartphones can help make up the difference by adding these options in a manual mode for amateur photographers/videographers like myself who may not have thousands to spend on fancier, dedicated camera equipment.
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Derrek is a long-time Nokia and LG fanboy who loves astronomy, videography, and sci-fi movies. When he's not working, he's most likely working out or smoldering at the camera.