Google wasn't shy during the Pixel event about calling out Apple and how Google got there first with many innovations while introducing the Pixel 7 Pro — even if it didn't mention the iPhone maker by name. We heard about how Google was first with an always-on display, a night mode for the camera and crash detection.
The message was clear. We beat you to the punch, Apple, and then you copied us. Well, you can now add one more feature to the "Google got their first" pile, one that the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max will likely envy. And that's a much more powerful zoom.
The Pixel 7 Pro features a telephoto lens with a 5x optical zoom and up to 30x Super Res Zoom (digital zoom). The iPhone 14 Pro series maxes out at 3x optical and 15x for digital zoom, so Apple's new iPhone is literally far behind Google's new Pixel in this category.
The Pixel 7 Pro also leverages computational photography via the Tensor G2 chip to achieve sharp-looking images at a range of zoom distances. The idea is to combine hardware, software and machine learning to achieve pro-level results.
To be fair, Google borrows a similar technique from the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max to achieve the 2x magnification. Google's Super Res Zoom feature crops a 50MP image down to a 12.5MP photo. Google then "remosiacs" the image to take the noise out of the photo. This particular feature is available on both the Pixel 7 Pro and regular Pixel 7.
If you're in between 2x and 5x, the Pixel 7 Pro takes a photo using both the telephoto camera and main camera, and the Tensor G2 chip aligns and fuses the two images together to create a composite photo. As you keep zooming in, the dedicated telephoto lens takes over at 5x and the Tensor G2 powers a new autofocus algorithm to ensure your pics look sharp. Even at 10x digital zoom Google claims that it can achieve a crisp 12-MP image.
Google recognizes that as you zoom in further that hand motion starts to become a real issue, as it is on the Galaxy S22, Galaxy S22 Plus and Galaxy S22 Ultra. It can be quite hard to lock on your subject with those phones. That's where the Pixel 7 Pro's Zoom Stabilization feature comes in, which keeps your camera steady when going past 15x; it does this by identifying the subject in the viewfinder and stabilizing the camera on it.
From there, a new ML upscaler kicks in to provide more resolution to the image. Samsung's camera phones can lock on a subject but you have to press the subject on the screen, and it doesn't offer this kind of upscaling.
To be fair, Google seems to be copying or at least borrowing a number of camera features from the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max. This includes Cinematic Blur for adding more depth of field to your videos while blurring out the background. (Cough, Apple was there first with Cinematic mode.) And the Active Stabilization feature for smoother action videos sounds an awful lot like Apple's Action mode video that just debuted on the iPhone 14 models.
The Macro Focus mode introduced with the Pixel 7 also sounds similar to the macro mode on the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro, as both Google and Apple utilize the ultra-wide camera for close-ups. But we'll have to see how Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro stack up when we use both cameras side by side.
Google is certainly pushing the envelope further than Apple when it comes to editing photos. With Photo Unblur, for example, the Pixel 7 Pro promises to remove noise and sharpen images after they're taken no matter what camera was used — even the iPhone.
Overall, the Pixel 7 Pro seems like it has a real shot to unseat the iPhone 14 Pro Max as our best camera phone, effectively doubling the maximum zoom range while promising shaper images in the process. And I'm pretty sure Apple's engineers will be paying close attention.