Google Pixel 6 Pro telephoto camera could take on all comers

Google Pixel 6 Pro
(Image credit: OnLeaks)

The larger of the two Google Pixel 6 models coming this fall is going to have a telephoto lens. Leaked specs surrounding the Pixel 6 Pro (or Pixel 6 XL, if Google calls it that) have hinted as much. But we're now beginning to find out just how powerful a telephoto lens Google is planning.

With the latest Android 12 beta now out, advanced users are digging around the software looking for clues about Google's plans. And XDA Developers reports that one of its senior members found some valuable treasure — code within the camera app that suggests the Pixel 6 Pro's telephoto lens will support a 5x optical zoom.

According to XDA, the clue is found in an id called “zoom_toggle_ultratele” and the text that reads "5x." That would seeming suggest that the camera phone's viewfinder will display a 5x zoom option.

If true, that would immediately vault the Pixel 6 Pro into prime territory among the best camera phones. The iPhone 12 Pro Max's optical zoom tops out at 2.5x, while the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus offer a 3x hybrid zoom. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the current king of zooming, with two telephoto lenses — one with a 3x zoom and the other with a 10x zoom.

Google offered a telephoto lens as one of the rear cameras on the Pixel 4, but reverted to a main/ultrawide camera setup with the Pixel 5. Recently leaked Pixel 6 specs have suggested the main Pixel 6 will retain that two-camera setup but that the larger Pixel 6 Pro would offer a triple camera array — a 50MP main sensor, 12MP ultrawide camera and 48MP telephoto lens. And now, with this latest leak, we have an idea of what that telephoto lens will be able to do.

It's quite a change in philosophy for Google, which used to equip its phones with modest camera hardware, while setting the standard for software-powered computational photography. That approach routine placed Google's flagship phones among the top-ranked camera phones available. Clearly, it will be interesting to see what happens with a hardware upgrade and all those post-processing features.

The Android 12 update contains some other camera details, according to 9to5Google's report. Specifically, the camera app confirms the Pixel 6 Pro's ability to record 4k selfie videos using the phone's front camera. There's hints of a built-in flash for the front camera, and support for 7x zoom when capturing video.

9to5Google also used the placement of the front camera lens — it will be in a center cutout for both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro — to calculate the resolution of both phones' displays. Expect a 1080p resolution for the standard Pixel 6 while the Pro model will offer 1440p resolution.

We're not expecting to see the Pixel 6 until early October, as Google's likely to concentrate on shipping the Pixel 5a first. That lower-cost phone is expected to arrive next month.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.