Google Pixel 4 adds telephoto lens, improved portrait mode and HDR in live view

15 Oct

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Google officially unveiled the Pixel 4 today, with the addition of a telephoto camera headlining the camera updates. Other improvements include an enhanced live view experience showing the approximated effects of HDR in real time, added controls for adjusting exposure and tone mapping prior to image capture, and an updated portrait mode with better depth mapping thanks to the additional rear camera.

The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL offer 5.7″ and 6.3″ OLED displays respectively, each with a 90Hz variable refresh rate that Google calls ‘Smooth Display.’ Gone is the fingerprint sensor on the rear of the device, replaced by face unlock. Also new is a technology called Soli, comprising a radar chip that detects hand motions. Called Motion Sense, this feature makes it possible to skip songs and silence calls with a wave of your hand.

As is the case with high-profile phone launches, along with the main specifications the camera updates are also the center of attention (in fact, Annie Leibovitz made an appearance). In addition to the new F2.4, optically stabilized telephoto camera (about 48mm equiv.), Google has introduced improved Super Resolution Zoom for up to 8x digital zoom. In fact, the telephoto camera uses a hybrid of optical and digital zoom at its default zoom setting to achieve approximately 2x zoom.

The process of taking photos has been improved on the Pixel 4 as well. On previous models, the results of Google’s impressive HDR rendering could only be seen after capture – now, machine learning is used to approximate the effect in real-time for a much more ‘what you see is what you get’ experience.

Google Pixel 4 official sample images

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Additional exposure controls are also available during image capture. Two new sliders give users direct control of overall scene brightness and rendering of shadows, as compared to the single exposure slider offered by the Pixel 3. Google also says the Pixel 4’s camera is more responsive and stable compared to the Pixel 3, thanks to 6GB of RAM at its disposal.

Portrait mode should see significant improvements as well. The mode now uses information from the telephoto camera as well as split pixels to judge subject distance, creating a better depth map than was previously possible only using split pixels. Portrait mode’s range has also been extended, making it possible to capture large objects as well as human subjects from farther back than was possible on the Pixel 3.

While the telephoto camera lends depth information, the standard camera with a 1.5x digital zoom is used for the image itself. Background blur is now applied to the Raw image before tone mapping, with the aim of creating more SLR-like bokeh. The updated Portrait mode should also handle human hair and dog fur better, and Google says that its face detection has been improved and should handle backlit subjects better.

All camera modes will benefit from improved, learning-based white balance – previously used only in Night Sight

An astrophotography mode is added to Night Sight, using longer shutter speeds to capture night skies. Additionally, all camera modes will benefit from improved, learning-based white balance – previously used only in Night Sight. Google has also done some white balance tuning for certain light sources.

Google has reduced the number of front-facing cameras from two back down to one. Citing the popularity of the ultra-wide selfie camera, the Pixel 4’s single front-facing camera offers a focal length that’s a happy medium between the standard and ultra-wide options on the Pixel 3.

Google Pixel 4 pre-orders start today; Pixel 4 starts at $ 799 and Pixel 4 XL starts at $ 899. Both will ship on October 24th. It will be available for all major US carriers for the first time, including AT&T.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (

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