We've had a great year for cameras in Android phones, but a Nexus phone with a great camera is basically unheard of. It's the one major weakness every Nexus phone has had, and this year Google promised a truly stellar mobile photography experience with its new phones. We've all heard this song before though, so it was hard to get excited until we had the Nexus 5X in hand to see what it was really capable of.
After a few days of snapping photos and video, we've got some samples to show for you to judge. All of the photos here are available in their full size form at the bottom of the article.
Full auto on a tripod
The first few samples are what you can expect in perfect conditions. The tripod keeps shaky hands out of the equation, and full auto is what Google thinks the camera should be doing in order to take a photo. No tap to focus or anything. This is all about what Google's new camera app can do on its own.
As you can see, in full daylight the results are fantastic. Colors are great, clarity is amazing especially when you zoom in and look at the detail, and HDR not only happened where it should but looks nice in the process. These are all great photos.
Full auto without a tripod
You aren't likely to wander around with a tripod at all times, and a lack of hardware-based Optical Image Stabilization has left a lot of people curious about photo quality when just pulling the camera out to take a photo. Here's what we captured.
Each of these photos was taken with a single hand holding the phone, and a thumb on the shutter button. You can see a little blurring in the first image as the wind caught the flowers, but it's not bad. The second photo is taken fully zoomed in to capture the Heron on the other side of the lake, and while the photo isn't going to win any awards you can clearly see the bird and the photo looks nice. The final shot was in a dark movie theater, and as you can see there's very little blurring around the lines and not a lot of grain considering the lighting.
There's a time and a place for HDR mode on your camera, and sunrises over water absolutely qualifies. While mounted on a tripod, here's what we captured.
For these photos, a specific point was chosen for focus on each. In the first photo, the focus point was the horizon, right where the sun was rising. In the second photo, the bricks along the harbor in the foreground were chosen. The first photo came out great, but you don't really see a lot of the foreground. The second photo came out much better, and didn't do anything to blow out the background in an attempt to better expose the foreground. Both photos are great, but the way Google Camera handled the second photo is exceptional.
Low Light with a tripod
A big part of what Google says makes these cameras great is the ability to capture more light, which not only makes daytime photos great but should make low light photos noticeably better than most other smartphone cameras.
For the first photo, a single outdoor lightbulb was casting light in the dark from 15 feet away. The camera captured a reasonable mount of detail, but you can see plenty of grain when you zoom in. The second photo was supposed to be with a flash. The flash fired like it was supposed to, but the camera didn't capture the image until the flash had almost entirely stopped producing light. This doesn't happen every time, but it does happen every once in a while. The final show was with the background light turned off, and while it's hard to see there's still enough light to make out the figurines without any strange colored tints or harsh grain to compensate for the lack of light. The purpose here was to show off how well Google handles showing blacks at night, which is something a lot of smartphone cameras struggle with in an attempt to show more than nothing.
The Nexus 5X handles 4K video without a problem, and aside from some tripod-based jerking around in the video the quality is great.
Slow Motion video
Unlike the Nexus 6P, the Nexus 5X is only capable of 120fps slow motion, which means things don't get quite as slow on the 5X as they do on the 6P. Still, as you see in this video it works well and the audio coupled with it isn't bad. You can hear the motor in the Darkside Ollie without issue, and even though the video was captured without a tripod the motion didn't impact the video much.
As you can see, the camera on the Nexus 5X is quite capable. It's not perfect, and we're going to need to see some of these photos against other smartphone cameras to get a good idea of just how good these photos are, but the days of Nexus meaning you had to sacrifice camera quality have clearly passed, and that's good for everyone.
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