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The Pixel 3's Super Res Zoom feature looks nifty, but how does it work?

Super Res Zoom is one of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL's marquee camera features and might be the most Google thing we have seen.

Published onOctober 16, 2018

  • Google detailed how its Super Res Zoom feature works on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
  • The feature basically merges many frames to form a high-resolution image.
  • Super Res Zoom is exclusive to the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.

Announced as one of the marquee features of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL’s cameras, Super Res Zoom promises to clean up digital zoom in such a way that makes it stand toe-to-toe with optical zoom. How the feature works, however, is something we did not know until Google explained everything in a recent blog post.

Before we talk about Super Res Zoom, we should mention Rapid and Accurate Image Super-Resolution (RAISR). RAISR is a technique that uses the Pixel Visual Core to produce high-quality versions of low-resolution images. RAISR does that by magnifying straight edges and certain textures, but it cannot “recover natural high-resolution details.”

Super Res Zoom gets around that lack of detail and uses a technique called “drizzle,” which uses the minor movements of your hand shakes to capture multiple frames from slightly different positions. Even if you stand your Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL against a wall or on some sort of tripod, the camera shakes on its own to mimic those movements and capture the frames.

Thanks to improved algorithms, Google also minimized issues like excessive noise, ghosting, and motion blur. The end result are pictures that are “roughly competitive” with the optical zoom lenses on smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, LG V40 ThinQ, and the HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro.

Google even gives several tips on how to get the most out of Super Res Zoom:

  • Pinch and zoom, or use the + button to increase zoom by discrete steps.
  • Double-tap the preview to quickly toggle between zoomed in and zoomed out.
  • For performance reasons, Super Res Zoom activates only above 1.2x.
  • Keep the magnification factor modest.
  • Avoid fast moving objects. Super Res Zoom will capture them correctly, but you will not likely get increased resolution.
  • Google Lens plays nice with Super Res Zoom, so you can zoom in and grab details from a poster or billboard.

Super Res Zoom is certainly an impressive camera feature that compares favorably to regular digital zoom, which crops high-resolution images and upscales them. It is also a continuation of Google’s philosophy that software can make up significant ground where hardware is unavailable.

Google Pixel 3 cameras: Here's what they can do
Pixel 3 XL hands on

However, how much more impressive would something like Super Res Zoom be if there was a second lens on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL? That is not to discount Google’s accomplishments with its software, but there is only so much of the gap between software and hardware that the former can compensate for.

At least zoomed-in pictures will not look so much like watercolor paintings with Super Res Zoom.