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For the first time, my Pixel wasn't a vastly superior camera during the holidays

The Pixel went from a trailblazer of mobile photography to a happy bystander.

Published onJanuary 7, 2024

google pixel 8 pro manual camera sliders
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Every holiday season in Lebanon is a rare chance for us to reconnect with friends and family members who now live all across the globe. From Canada to France, the UAE, and more, we all travel back home for the holidays and meet up for lunches, dinners, engagement parties, surprise proposals, and impromptu get-togethers. Everyone takes photos, but my phone is usually the designated snapper for the more serious and important moments.

The reason is that a few years ago, my Pixel 2 XL surprised everyone with the quality of its portraits and shots in darker indoor environments. Somehow, my friends and family all agreed that my phone’s cam was superior to any of theirs, and that started a tradition that the Pixel 4 XL, 5, 6 Pro, and 7 Pro all carried with pride. That is until this year when, all of a sudden, no one really asked me to take pics with my Pixel 8 Pro.

My Pixel used to be the designated snapper for all our holiday pics. This year, everyone was using their own phone.

The first engagement party came and went, then the Christmas dinner, a couple of big family lunches, and even a moody fondue evening, all without any special requests for my Pixel and its excellent Google Camera app. I was a little surprised at first, but as the days passed, a new reality began to settle.

The Pixel’s camera isn’t as special anymore.

And I know I sound like a bitter, privileged geek, but the truth is that I’m very happy about this.

Google Pixel Camera on Pixel 7 stock photo (1)
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

In previous years, the gulf between the picture quality of my phone and those carried by my friends and family, be it midrangers or flagships, was quite noticeable. When my husband’s friend brought his newborn son to a holiday lunch, the photos I snapped with the Pixel 4 XL are the ones his wife still uses as her profile pictures on social media. When my brother-in-law and his wife celebrated their first Christmas together, the pics I took with my Pixel 5 were miles ahead of anything their phones were capable of snapping. And when my second brother-in-law proposed to his now-wife, he asked me to get some shots with my Pixel 6 Pro.

But what was once a staggering gulf in 2017 slowly dwindled into a smaller and smaller gap. Last year, the difference wasn’t as noticeable anymore, and this year, everyone was practically using their own device.

The picture quality gulf between Pixels and other budget or flagship phones has shrunk. Now, almost any phone can take usable pics.

I like observing these trends because they tell me something beyond what a pixel-peeping side-by-side camera comparison can say.

See, every time there’s a new flagship camera phone released, we do the most extensive camera shootouts here on Android Authority, we zoom in, we compare and contrast, and we judge the differences with a more expert eye. We did this with the Pixel 8 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro, for example.

Pixel 8 Pro vs iPhone 15 Pro camera shootout
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

However, that doesn’t tell me anything about the general sentiment of the millions of users out there, with their budget camera phones. It doesn’t tell me how confident they feel about their photos and videos, and how much they trust them to get a good result. And it definitely doesn’t show me how well these cameras behave in real-life situations, with moving people or pets, and outside of a perfectly chosen scene for a comparison article.

The holiday experiment at Casa El Khoury et al. does. And at the end of 2023, it told me something I’ve suspected for a while: People trust their smartphones’ cameras now. They trust them with people, kids, pets, and their best memories. And even the most midrange phone can take a good enough snap that passes the social media and phone display test.

We've reached a point where everyone is empowered to save their most precious memories, no matter their phone.

That is awesome. It means everyone, including my older family members with their slightly shaky hands and improperly framed shots, can snap a good photo of the people and moments they cherish most, without paying for a $1000 phone or needing to stay still for three seconds each time. It means everyone is empowered to save their most precious memories.

google pixel 7a vs iphone se 2022 cameras
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Smartphone photography has come a very long way. And sure, I could be standing right next to my friends, shooting the same pic as them with my fancy Pixel 8 Pro, and pixel-peep to point out all the ways in which my photo is better than the one their iPhone or Galaxy captured. But does it matter? Absolutely not.

All that matters is that your kid is smiling in their pic, your pet is doing something silly in the video, or your friend group is together in a shot. In the grand scheme of things, the difference between the photo from phone A and B is so minor that it’s irrelevant now. Long are the days of pixelated faces, noisy indoor shots, and blurry movements. The minimum bar for photo usability, as a way to freeze a moment in time, is met by all but the cheapest and oldest budget phones out there.

In a way, the Pixel was a victim of its own success. It pushed other brands to take photography more seriously.

But does that mean intricate camera comparisons and shootouts don’t matter anymore? Of course not. It just means that we have to pixel-peep a bit more and find smaller things to nitpick about, to push phone makers to do even better. We can and we should help raise the bar so everyone can take better and better photos, no matter the setting.

As for me, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m a bit nostalgic for the early Pixel days. There was an energy there that started a mobile photography revolution. And, in a way, Google’s Pixel line-up finds itself as a victim of its own success. Now that the mobile photography field is nearly level, Google has to figure out other mountains to climb.

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