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Pixel cameras are foolproof, but I'm the fool who wants a manual mode

If Samsung, HUAWEI, and Xiaomi can do it, then so can you, Google.

Published onJuly 31, 2023

Pixel 7 Pro ToF sensor
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Pixels are some of the best camera phones on the market now. We can split hairs between them and the latest iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S phones, but the experience is the most foolproof on Google’s phones — at least in my opinion. A few years ago, who would’ve imagined you could take excellent night sky shots, excellent zoomed-in photos from afar, or action pans of cars with one tap? And yet, the Pixel 7 Pro does just that. It adapts very well to any setting you put it in and, thanks to some post-processing magic, it gets incredible results with a simple click.

However, despite all the AI smarts and on-screen sliders, I still have a small yearning for a proper manual camera mode on my Pixel. If this camera can handle anything, why can’t I fully control it and get the exact picture I want?

Pixels are fantastic shooters by default

google pixel 7a camera app
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Google built its entire Pixel camera experience around the concept of simplicity. You tap the shutter, you get a good pic. Almost infallibly. Whether you’re shooting a well-lit scene, night-time setting, astrophotography, panoramas, moving objects, still life, people, pets, nature, landscapes, or anything else you can think of, the result is always great. It even looks better than if you spent several minutes tinkering with the different settings. The app goes as far as suggesting Portrait or Night mode when it detects those situations, so you don’t have to think about picking the right mode to begin with.

The Google Pixel camera provides a foolproof experience.

You don’t need to balance shutter speed with aperture to take a good astro shot or action pan on a Pixel, nor do you need to know anything about ISO to reduce noise, or exposure to avoid overblown highlights or dark shadows. HDR is applied without your intervention, so even the most challenging shots come out as clear as possible. At most, you only need to correct the brightness, shadow, and color temperature sliders if the automatic detection doesn’t do exactly what you want.

It is essentially a foolproof affair, and one I have particularly enjoyed for many years now. Pixels can be fantastic tools for anyone who has a decent eye but no interest in fully understanding camera settings and photography terms. And in case some things go wrong, you can always get a RAW image to edit as you wish.

Why a manual camera mode on Pixels then?

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

If everything is as close to perfection as possible, why would I want a Google Camera manual mode or pro mode? To be honest, for a long time, I didn’t consider this essential. Then I took some photography courses, spent a couple of years learning and improving, and now I understand a thing or two about manual camera settings. While I still appreciate everything that Pixels can do, I am now much more aware of their limitations.

The Google camera app lacks an ISO picker, first and foremost. Then there’s no manual control over shutter speed, so I’m stuck using whatever it thinks is needed for a particular night or motion scene. I can’t force a specific speed to allow more or less light to shoot light-trail pics or take more natural (read: less AI-y) action pans, for example. Manual focus isn’t available either, so it’s impossible to granularly pick what I want to focus on. I have to keep tapping my big thumb on the display, hoping it’ll get the spot I want. And finally, there’s no histogram or proper exposure compensation.

The inclusion of a manual camera mode didn't make sense when Pixels had older lenses, but the Pixel series has much better hardware now.

The inclusion of a manual photography mode maybe didn’t make much sense when Pixels were still using older lenses. At the time, they required Google’s pixie dust to transform snaps into the most gorgeous post-processed shots. But with the Pixel 6 and 7 series, Google has finally caught up to the best Android phones on the hardware front. The newer lenses are able to hold their own, even in the hands of some semi-experienced users tinkering with manual settings. Couple manual controls with multi-frame RAW capture and we could nearly do anything we want with the three lenses on the Pixel 7 Pro.

Google, take a page from Samsung

Samsung Expert RAW manual controls shooting indoors
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

A manual photography mode would make the Pixel’s already-excellent camera experience much more awesome, and if you don’t believe me, look at Samsung — Google’s biggest competitor in the Android mobile photography space. Or HUAWEI, Xiaomi, or any other smartphone maker that has embraced manual controls.

A manual camera mode would make an already-excellent camera experience much more awesome.

Samsung, specifically, already includes the Pro mode by default in its camera app, allowing users to manually pick every setting before taking a shot. And thanks to the Expert RAW app, you can apply these changes on any of the phone’s lenses and obtain multi-frame images that can be manipulated — just like the iPhone’s ProRAW.

Sure, there are plenty of third-party camera apps on Android that could fill the void on Pixels, but they don’t really make the most of the available lenses and features. First, Android is notoriously bad at allowing third-party developers proper API access to its camera hardware, and second, the fragmentation across multiple manufacturers and lens makers certainly doesn’t help things.

Those reasons, along with the potentially better processing, make me wish Google would implement this manual mode, and not a third-party developer. Just take a page from Samsung and go the extra mile.

Do you want a Pro / manual camera mode on your Pixel?

3834 votes

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