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Google Pixel 6 Review – The best camera for under £600?

January 11, 2022

Overall Rating:

4.5

Google Pixel 6


Pros:

  • + Motion capture is incredibly impressive
  • + Subject removal works well
  • + Great wide and ultra-wide photos
  • + Great value for money

Cons:

  • - Some may not like the overly HDR look of images
  • - Lacks full manual mode
  • - Macro focus lacking

Manufacturer:

Manufacturer:

Price as Reviewed:

£599.00

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The Google Pixel 6 may be the bargain of the year when it comes to smartphones. It offers almost all the same features as the Pixel 6 Pro, minus the 4x telephoto camera, but is £250 cheaper, making this £600 premium smartphone seriously good value for money. But there’s more to it than value for money, as we look at what makes the Pixel 6 (and Pro) unique, thanks to some impressive computational photography features.

Google Pixel 6

Google Pixel 6 in grey/black, aka “Stormy black”

Pixel 6 At a Glance

  • £599, 12GB/128GB model
  • 50MP Octa PDAF Quad Bayer wide camera, 1/1.31-inch sensor, f/1.85 aperture, OIS
  • 12MP ultrawide camera, 1/2.9-inch sensor, f/2.2 aperture
  • 8MP f/2.0 fixed focus selfie camera, 84° field of view
  • 6.4-inch display, 20:9 aspect ratio, FullHD+ (1080 x 2400) OLED at 441ppi, upto 90Hz
  • Operating System – Android 12
  • Processor – Google Tensor, 12GB RAM/128

Google Pixel 6 Hardware, Design and Features

Google has developed their own smartphone processor, the Google Tensor, and Google say that with this new, high performance, machine learning processor, they’re able to bring amazing new photo features, including Motion Mode, Face Unblur, as well as Speech enhancement and HDRnet for video. Other impressive photo features include a Magic Eraser that makes removing unwanted objects from images incredibly easy and quick.

Google Pixel 6 Homescreen

Google Pixel 6 Homescreen

Google like to give their phones a unique look, not only in the colours available, and the Pixel 6 is no different, with a grey/black model (Stormy Black) available as well as “Sorta seaform” (Green-ish), and “Kinda Coral” (cream / pinkish). There’s also a unique camera bar along the back that gives them a different look to all other smartphones. In this bar you’ll find the ultra-wide angle camera, as well as the wide-angle (standard) camera. However, it is lacking the 4x telephoto camera that the 6 Pro features.

The main camera on the rear is said to be able to capture 2.5x as much light as the Pixel 5, thanks to the camera using a larger 50MP 1/1.31inch sensor, and an f/1.85 aperture, with OIS, and Laser AF. The main camera and the ultra-wide cameras both output 12MP images, even though the main camera has a 50MP sensor. The front, selfie camera is an 8MP f/2.0 fixed focus selfie camera, with an 84° field of view.

Google Pixel 6 camera bar

Google Pixel 6 camera bar

The camera bar gives a good area to grip on to when holding the phone, but the rear, sides and screen are all particularly slippery, so a rubberised case is highly recommended if you want the device to stay on desks and other surfaces you put it on, otherwise it’ll be quite happy to slip off.

You’ll also find 128GB storage, and 12GB RAM. With the 6 Pro you get the option to have more storage, but on the 6, the only option is 128GB currently, and with no MicroSD memory expansion available, this could be an issue for some people, depending on how you use your storage.

Google Pixel 6 lock-screen

Google Pixel 6 lock-screen

The screen is a 6.4inch OLED display with a 20:9 aspect ratio, a FullHD+ resolution, and a variable refresh rate up to 90Hz. The screen is flat, and the borders are quite noticeable, especially in comparison to the curved screen on the Pixel 6 Pro.

As a flagship smartphone you’ll also find stereo speakers built-in, IP68 protection, as well as scratch resistance that is 2x better than previous Pixel phones, thanks to the use of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, however, as with other glass phones, a case is highly recommended.

Google Pixel 6 camera bar / bump

Google Pixel 6 camera bar / bump

Wireless charging is supported, and Google say the new Tensor chip gives them lower power consumption compared to previous Pixel smartphones, however we found battery drain appeared quite quick when the always on display feature was used.

We also found the phone was particularly fussy when it came to charging, rejecting the following charging devices: a Huawei charger, car charger, and car stereo with USB, meaning we had to purchase a new charger, even though Google are trying to “save the planet” by not including a charger in the box.

Google Pixel 6 Performance – Image Quality

Motion blur – gives you the option of Action Pan or Long Exposure. We focused on the long exposure option to create long-exposure waterfall shots.

Sure, you could probably do this with a smartphone with manual controls, and perhaps an ND filter if you could work out how to attach it, plus a tripod and mobile adapter, but the simple ability to point this phone at a scene, hold the camera handheld, and take amazing blurred movement shots is incredible. The only other actual camera that makes this almost this easy, is the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III with built-in Live ND.

Google Pixel 6 Motion Blur Waterfall

The Google Pixel 6 motion mode gives you a choice of “Action pan” or “Long exposure”, here we used long exposure. The camera store both the blurred image (right), and the original (left). Curves adjusted, click to enlarge.

So not only are smartphones more convenient than cameras, being smaller, easier to use (for the most part), and have much better sharing features, being constantly connected to a mobile network means you can easily share images straight away, but they’re also starting to chip away at the areas of photography that were previously only possible with a “proper” camera.

If camera companies don’t start embracing computational photography, then people are going to start asking questions like “Why do I need to use a dedicated camera to achieve this, when my mobile phone can already do it? And it’s significantly easier as well…” In the case of the Google Pixel 6, it’s also cheaper than a number of cameras.

Google Pixel 6 Night shot

Google Pixel 6 Night sight shot, 1/11s, f/1.85, ISO299

In addition to Motion, the camera also features a Night sight mode which has been a feature on Google Pixel phones for a long time. The night sight mode lets you take low-light night photos without the need of a tripod, letting you take photos of the night sky full of stars, or other low-light scenes. Using the night sight mode, which combines multiple images, you can often end up with an image that has a hyper-HDR look, depending what’s in your scene, as shown above.

Night stars, handheld, night-mode,

Night stars, handheld, night-mode, 1/3s, f/1.8, ISO3759, 24mm equivalent

Introduced with the Google Pixel 4 was an additional astrophotography mode that would deliver even more impressive star photographs, when the phone is used on a tripod, and the camera will automatically detect when it is stable, and then allow for even longer exposures capturing more detail. Using the smartphone on a tripod, the camera decided to take a 4 minute exposure, producing the image below using a much lower ISO speed, which is greatly improved over the handheld shot, and in addition, the camera automatically produced a short timelapse of the stars moving across the sky!

Pixel 6 Astrophotography mode, tripod mounted

Pixel 6 Astrophotography mode, tripod mounted, 16s, f/1.8, ISO129, 24mm equivalent (click to enlarge)

The portrait mode gives an impressive level of background blur (or bokeh), and for the most part this works well enough, giving a more impressive looking image compared to a standard photo, but for those who are used to using portrait lenses on “real cameras” the effect won’t be as attractive, particularly around the subjects hair, where fine detail can often be blurred, giving an un-natural look.

Portraits also benefit from improved skin tones and colours as part of Google’s new “Real Tone” designed to better reflect the beauty of all skin tones. However, saying this, there does appear to be the risk of images and skin tones looking overly HDR’d at times, and selfie’s can lack detail due to the 8MP selfie camera. If you do use the LED flash, then this has a yellow tone which can give your images a warmer tone.

Bishops House, the camera gives warm tones, 1/2463s, f/1.85, ISO37, standard wide-angle camera (24mm equivalent)

Bishops House, the camera gives warm tones, 1/2463s, f/1.85, ISO37, standard wide-angle camera (24mm equivalent)

As the camera takes multiple images for each shot and merges them together, you get significantly more dynamic range than you would with a normal camera. This can mean that your images look overly “HDR” and colours can also look a little bit “off” if you’re used to using standard cameras and non-HDR settings. You do get the option to shoot raw and JPEG images, but no option to switch off HDR, as even the raw DNG files are not true raw files, but instead have HDR baked into them, so that you still get the benefits of computational photography when opening raw files in Adobe etc.

Google Pixel 6, Ultra-wide camera

Google Pixel 6, Ultra-wide camera, 1/1176s, f/2.2, ISO51

The ultra-wide-angle camera doesn’t offer as wide a view as some of the main competitors, with the iPhone 13 Pro offering a wider ultra-wide lens. However, images too look very good, with colours matching the standard camera.

Google Pixel 6, wide camera

Google Pixel 6, wide camera, 1/1011s, f/1.85, ISO38

The main camera offers up to 7x “Super resolution zoom” combining multiple images to produce images with more detail than standard digital zoom would, however, we’d say that beyond 2x zoom, images don’t look particularly good, and they aren’t a match for a true telephoto camera.

Google Pixel 6, 2x zoom

Google Pixel 6, 2x zoom, 1/348s, f/1.85, ISO38

Video recording gives 4K 60fps recording, with good image stabilisation, as well as good low-light performance. Whilst the camera automatically records video in HDR, it doesn’t offer the same features as some other smartphones. When questioned about this Google said that they are working on the video quality, which was originally found to be slightly lacking in Jon Devo’s Google Pixel 6 Pro review. Google say this is a long term project, and it may take some time to improve.

Google Pixel 6 Verdict

Overall, the Pixel 6 takes excellent images, on-par with flagship smartphones costing nearer £1000. Yes, you miss the telephoto camera on most other premium flagships, however, if you can live without this, you’re making an impressive saving, as well as benefiting from some of the most impressive computational photography features seem on any camera, let alone a smartphone.

The ultra-wide-angle camera gives great results, 1/453s, f/2.2, ISO44, 16mm equivalent

The ultra-wide-angle camera gives great results, 1/1453s, f/2.2, ISO44, 16mm equivalent

One area where the Pixel 6 could improve, is by giving more control to the user, as it would be good to be able to tone down the HDR look of images, and a fully manual mode might be useful, especially if you want to learn more about how to take photos, however, it looks like this isn’t very likely. The selfie camera also lags behind some, as Samsung’s flagships offer AF, rather than fixed focus, and 4K video.

Another area is in video, the Pixel 6 will record 4K 60fps video, with great image stabilisation, however, other smartphones offer more, with the iPhone 13 series and Samsung S21 series leading the way, with a number of background blur and cinematic options, as well as 8K video on the Samsung.

But for stills photography, the competition, both from other smartphones, and cameras (particularly) have a lot of catching up to do!

4.5 stars recommended testbench award

Google Pixel 6 Specifications

  • Ultra-wide camera: 16mm, 12MP ultrawide camera, 1/2.9-inch image sensor size, 1.25μm pixel width, f/2.2 aperture, 114° field of view
  • Standard wide camera: 24mm, 50MP Octa PDAF Quad Bayer wide camera, 1/1.31-inch image sensor size, 1.2μm pixel width, f/1.85 aperture, 82° field of view, OIS
  • Display: 6.4-inch display, 20:9 aspect ratio, FullHD+ (1080 x 2400) OLED at 441ppi, upto 90Hz
  • Operating system: Android 12
  • Dimensions: 158.6 height x 74.8 width x 8.9 depth (mm)
  • Weight: 207g
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