Now for the quantum leap. All good smartphone cameras take good photos. As Google’s new Pixel 3 and 3 XL hit the streets, the camera shootouts are everywhere because everybody likes to know the head-to-head winner. Sorry. The only winners are photographers.
My photographic experience dates back to the Kodak Brownie years, early SLRs, DSLRs, and now iPhone Xs Max. I loves me some Kodachrome, but any decent smartphone these days takes decent photos with little effort. Point. Click. Repeat. Computational photography continues to move the bar but we are reaching a point of diminishing returns.
Caitlin McGarry did one of the Pixel 3 vs. iPhone Xs shootouts and declared Google the winner. Which photo below came from Pixel 3?
The problem with this particular shootout isn’t the photo selection. It’s not the nice slider bar in the middle so you can view the entire photo shot from either Pixel or iPhone. The problem is putting the smartphone camera’s name right on top.
How about just let the photo speak for itself and then have a simple questionnaire at the bottom so you can select which photo you think came from which camera and see the results when completed?
None of the details as to how Google or Apple arrived at their particular camera setup matter much. Photos matter. In just the past week I’ve seen half a dozen similar photo shootouts, most of which declare Pixel 3 the winner, thanks to Google’s advanced computational photography skills. As a somewhat experienced– 45 years of photography dating back to high school photo labs and my own Kodachrome lab in a garage– I can tell you there is little difference between these cameras, and while they will not compete against mid-range DLSR’s in the hands of a good photographer, they’re damned good photos.
So good that the average smartphone camera user would never be able to tell which photo came from which camera.
In McGarry’s shootout, the photos were Zoom, Low Light, Portrait (tie), Selfie Portrait, Flowers, and Street Scene. Pixel won, 4-3. I would have it the other way as I preferred the iPhone’s street scene over Pixel.
See the problem?
One thing seldom discussed in such shootouts is how many such photos are actually a better representation of reality than reality. In other words, the photos are better than the scene. That’s what computational photography does but tell me how that is different than the crisp, vibrant, almost cinematic colors that came from Kodachrome back in the day?
Yes, photos look great from iPhone Xs, Google Pixel 3, Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and half a dozen others that keep the premium smartphone flames burning. Who cares which one is best? They’re all damned good and most of us are not qualified to determine which one is best anyway.
When some tech writer somewhere declares a new smartphone camera winner, pay not attention; move along, nothing to see here, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.