The Google Pixel 8 event did not bring any big surprises, thanks to the large number of leaks we have seen recently. But as is tradition, Google used its big annual phone launch to reveal a series of new camera tricks that are at once impressive, useful, and downright creepy.
The actual camera hardware of the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro is nothing particularly earth-shattering. The Pixel 8’s rear cameras are largely unchanged from the Pixel 7, while the Pro version gets bigger updates with a new main camera, an improved ultra-wide angle, and a 48MP telephoto lens.
But it’s been a while since sensor size and lens aperture were the main factors influencing smartphone camera performance. These days, it’s all about computational photography (and video) tricks, an art form that Google has pioneered. So what new modes did we get this year?
Quite a few, actually, with Google focusing a lot on video, in the form of Audio Magic Eraser and (at least for the Pixel 8 Pro) the new Video Boost and Night Sight Video features. But thanks to the combined powers of Google’s Tensor G3 chip and some Google Photos algorithms, we also saw some powerful (and potentially controversial) new photography tricks in the form of Best Take and Zoom Enhance.
Here’s a full breakdown of all those new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 camera tricks, starting with the one we’re most conflicted about.
1. Better shot
Let’s start with what is possibly the most controversial new Pixel camera feature because it effectively allows you to change people’s facial expressions in your group shots. Are you saying we’re not photogenic, Google?
The key is that Best Take doesn’t use generative AI to turn a frown into a smile; Instead, it takes a series of photos and then lets you choose the best facial expressions for your final shot.
That makes it much more palatable to those who think AI is ruining photography, since it’s really just doing an automated Photoshop-style blend on a burst of shots. And in our first demos, it’s surprisingly effective, with few signs of the strange gifts we expected. But this is one we’ll want to test to destruction before risking it in our wedding photos.
2. Video enhancement
Google put a special effort into new video features at its Made by Google event, and arguably the biggest one was Video Boost, which is coming to the Pixel 8 Pro in December.
In theory, this is computational video done right: Instead of wasting time trying to introduce fake bokeh like the iPhone’s cinematic mode (which Apple has kept very quiet), the Pixel 8 Pro’s new mode renders every frame of video using your cloud. HDR Plus pipeline based.
This is a huge technological feat and will require a short wait to see the enhanced video. But the results could also be polarizing. Google wanted to showcase Video Boost next to the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s video, highlighting its improved dynamic range and vivid colors.
However, this saturated HDR look is not necessarily to everyone’s taste, so it could be reserved for particular situations (such as high-contrast scenes).
3. Night vision video
Google’s Night Sight has been a hugely influential computational photography trick, and it’s now properly coming to videos on the Pixel 8 Pro, starting in December.
Night Sight Video is effectively a low-light version of Video Boost, using multi-frame processing to improve detail and exposure in dark scenes. Google claims the mode is the “best low-light video on any smartphone,” which it says is based on a third-party evaluation comparing major US smartphone brands.
While Google announced a version of Night Sight for videos earlier at Google IO 2021, this effectively just stitched together photos to create an animation. We don’t yet know what resolution and frame rate Night Sight Video is available for, but we’re looking forward to trying it out in a wintry London.
4. Magic Audio Eraser
Audio quality has long been an afterthought in smartphone video, but Google aims to change that on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro with a new ‘computational audio’ trick called Audio Magic Eraser.
It uses machine learning to recognize and split the audio in your video into separate channels (e.g. voice, crowd, wind, noise, and music). You can then disable the ones you don’t want.
Google’s demonstration of a baby talking without the loud background barking of a dog was impressive, but we’ll be eager to test this in the field to see how much it affects the quality of those individual sound layers.
5. Magic Editor
In May, Google announced that Magic Editor (a new generative AI trick that aims to make bad photos obsolete) was on its way to select Pixel phones later this year. Well, now we know those phones are the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro.
Magic Editor is effectively Magic Eraser on steroids, allowing you to select and move objects in your photos, reposition them, and effectively become a Photoshop genius without having to go anywhere near masking tools and adjustment layers.
It even gives you contextual suggestions for things you can change, like swapping your gray sky for a golden hour sunset. Some will call it the death of photography. Others will see it as a huge help in saving time. Either way, the “experimental” feature will now be available in Google Photos on its latest Pixel phones.
6. Zoom improvement
Google seems to really enjoy making sci-fi concepts a disturbing reality: check out its Call Screen feature, in which an AI robot interviews your caller to see if they’re worthy of being connected to their true self. Another slightly less scary, but equally impressive feature is Zoom Enhance.
If he CSI Miami The ‘Enhance’ meme will get a few more hits today, as the Google Photos feature is the closest we’ve seen to a real-world equivalent, more or less. Because it’s powered by generative AI, Zoom Enhance will invent some extra details when you pinch to zoom in on a photo.
This is not far off from how interpolation works, although we doubt it will hold up in court. Still, it looks like another impressive photography trick to add to the PIxel 8 Pro’s arsenal, and it even gives you an “Enhance” button so you can pretend you’re in a detective drama.
7. Professional controls
Apple’s reluctance to incorporate pro-friendly camera controls into its Pro phones has always been a bit disconcerting, but that’s what Google has done in the Pixel 8 Pro. Its new Pro Controls let you tweak settings like ISO sensitivity , shutter speed and focus.
This promises to be a particularly big advantage for video creators, although Google doesn’t go as far as phones like the Sony Xperia 1 V, which has three separate camera apps (Photo Pro, Video Pro and Cinema Pro). Still, it’s always good to have more control if you don’t want to rely on one of the best camera apps.