After five years, Google is finally starting to take video seriously on the Pixel.
Since the original Pixel, Google has really touted how good its camera was, for stills. But when it came to video, it was a completely different story.
Video has never been the strong suite of any of the Pixel phones. In fact, most YouTubers would commonly say that the Pixel is great for stills, but for video, buy an iPhone. However that might be beginning to change, starting with the Pixel 5.
This path change happened after Google's head of photography left
What's interesting here is that this change of heart happened after Google's head of computational photography, Marc Levoy left the company. Levoy left the company earlier this year, after it was clear that Google's head of hardware Rick Osterloh was not to happy with how the Pixel 4 turned out – once reviewers and customers got their hands on it.
Levoy was all about data. And when asked in a recently interview about why Google didn't focus on the video capabilities of the Pixel camera as much as the stills, Levoy noted that the phone doesn't have the computational power to crunch those numbers yet. You see, with the Pixel, everything is software. Google has been using the same image sensor since at least 2017, so the majority of these changes come from software.
Google is big on computational photography, which is what has made the Pixel so good, for so long, at taking almost every shot. Now to do computational videography, would mean a whole lot more data needs to be processed, and the processors in our smartphones just aren't capable of that yet.
But Google found a way to improve video on the Pixel 5, and even add a new camera mode that creators are going to love. While it may not be ready for computational videography yet, Google hasn't forgotten about it.
Cinematic Pans shows that Google is serious about the Pixel video capabilities
One of the new features that Google added to the Pixel 5, is Cinematic Pans. And it's exactly what it sounds like. It's going to give the user the ability to do cinematic pans with just their smartphone. Meaning they won't need to get a gimbal like the DJI OM4. As they can film with their hands holding the Pixel 5.
The way that this works, is with OIS. It's going to use OIS to help keep your hands steady, and pan it around smoothly. It'll slow down the shots up to 2x, which allows the pan to be smooth and not jumpy. So even if you have no experience in making pans, you'll be able to do it easily with the Pixel 5.
This is yet another feature that Google is adding, and trying to distill that myth that these features aren't possible on a smartphone. Like Night Sight and Portrait mode.
But this also makes the Pixel 5 a lot more attractive to creators, instead of needing to lug around a big heavy camera, they can use their smartphone – specifically the Pixel 5.
Google is also adding 4K60, after plenty of complaints
Reviewers and content creators complained about a lot of things when the Pixel 4 came out. But the biggest complaint was over 4K60.
Google only offered up 4K30 on the camera for the Pixel 4 series, and it was quite odd. Since we knew that the camera was capable of 4K60, but for some reason, Google did not make it available. We had even seen third-party camera apps add this functionality on the Pixel 4 series. Google claimed, repeatedly, that it took up to much space, and the advantages over 4K30 were pretty minor.
Well it looks like Google decided to eat those words, as 4K60 is available on the Pixel 5. And Google also gave us more storage – 128GB instead of 64GB – so storage is no longer an issue either.
With 4K60, creators are able to get smoother video, at a higher-resolution. That is also going to help out with those new cinematic pans that you can make with the Pixel 5. It's a really good mode to use for something that's moving. Like say your kids or pets playing, or even a game.
Pixel 5's video capabilities won't be the best, but it's no longer the worst
These changes to the Pixel 5 aren't going to make it the best video camera smartphone on the market, but it is a step in the right direction. I can't remember the last time that Google announced new camera features that were specifically for video. But for the Pixel 5, most of the camera features were for video. Except for Night Sight Portrait Mode.
This should mean that Google is going to be continuing to work on the video capabilities of its smartphones, and the Pixel 6 and even Pixel 7 are going to be phenomenal video smartphones.
We know that Google can make a camera that takes some incredible stills, now it's time that it shows everyone it can take some incredible videos. After all, the best camera is the one in your pocket. And for the majority of us, that is almost always our smartphone, and not an actual camera.