With clever algorithms to do a lot of the heavy lifting, it’s no surprise to see Google stick with its tried-and-tested 12.2MP main sensor for the Pixel 5. The 16MP ultrawide acting as back-up, though? That’s something a bit different.
After last year’s Pixel 4 shipped with a 2x telephoto, this in some way feels like a backwards step. There’s no denying an ultrawide lens squeezes more of a scene into your photos, and the two sensors show remarkable consistency in their exposure and colour temperature, but there’s a step-down in detail once you start zooming into your snaps.
Google’s Super Res Zoom software processing can manage 2x zoom with impressive clarity, but it only goes so far to make up for the lack of a dedicated lens, showing diminishing returns at higher zoom levels and putting the Pixel 5’s photography skills at a rare disadvantage to rivals packing proper hardware.
The main snapper still performs well in virtually all conditions, exposing scenes with varied lighting correctly, delivering punch yet lifelike colours and accurate skin tones. Autofocus always feels rapid, pictures show impressive clarity, and image noise is controlled very well. More expensive rivals may have it beat for outright detail, but not by much.
Night Sight remains a killer tool for low-light shooting, automatically compensating with multiple long exposures that compete with the very best phone cameras. Astrophotography is more niche, but is just as simple to use as the rest of the camera app’s functions – including the new portrait lighting edit tools, which let you illuminate faces rather convincingly.
Perhaps we’re nearing the limits of what Google can do with software alone, as the Pixel 5 doesn’t have quite the same wow factor as previous efforts. It’s still consistently great, but the competition is a lot closer now than it ever was before.
Google Pixel 5 photo gallery