New Google Pixel 6 promises revolutionary images and editing

The Google Pixel 6 boasts an impressive array of software features behind the phone’s photographic capabilities

Whether you are a computational photography buff, or you just want to do a spot of fuss-free photo editing directly on your phone, then you might be looking at the new Google Pixel 6. Not unlike the way Brite payment provider sites have revolutionised online transacting, the latest in the search powerhouse’s family of products has transformed handset photo-taking beyond recognition.

In a distinct break from the past, Pixel 6 uses Google’s own mobile processor, the Tensor chipset. Tensor was designed specifically for Pixel phones, which means that it is engineered to meet Google’s expectations for the level of AI and machine learning performance for their phones. It also underscores Google’s intention to assume full control over its products, both in terms of hardware and software, for the greater empowerment of the user.

This move towards heightened integration of its products is significant because it also signals the Google’s readiness to take on Apple in the fierce smartphone market. It is no surprise that Apple’s ownership of the primary technologies is the force behind the success of the iPhone.

Without Tensor, Google was just one of many manufacturers that relied on Qualcomm to provide the chips for its Pixel phones. With Tensor, Google has signalled that the market could no longer supply it with a product suitably performant for its line of phones.

The Google Pixel 6 boasts an impressive array of photo-taking hardware, comprising of a 50MP wide camera and a 12MP ultrawide. The Pixel 6 Pro also has a 4x optical zoom. This notwithstanding, it is the Tensor chip that drives the remarkable software features behind the phone’s photographic capabilities.

Building on Google Pixel’s already well-founded leadership role in imaging prowess, the new phones introduce a host of intriguing (for a handset) photo editing modes. Although they can do more or less what can be done using other image editing software, they can do so directly on the phone without the need of any additional hardware, software, or indeed any special skills.

The Magic Eraser removes elements from a picture. In this it is similar to the excellent Photoshop's Heal brush and other, less inspiring applications. The difference is in the ease with which this can be done. The Magic Eraser actually recommends which objects to remove, and the user can then select them, or even very simply remove them all at the touch of a button.

The Face Unblur tries to overcome the problem of capturing a moving object in relatively low light. In such situations, moving objects will appear blurred, a normal consequence of shooting at slow shutter speeds. In Face Unblur mode, both the primary and the ultra-wide cameras capture the action simultaneously, with the former shooting at the normal shutter speed for the prevailing light levels, while the latter shoots at a faster speed. The phone then uses computational photography to create one image, sharpening only the face.

The Motion mode is designed to give a sense of movement within a still image. Blurring is often used to create this effect using conventional photographic techniques. The classic example from the sports world would be taking a picture of a car on a racetrack. The effect of movement can be produced by panning, or following the moving subject with the camera during exposure to keep the car mostly sharp while the background appears blurred.

The converse of this would be to show movement of one element against a largely static background. One example would be to capture the flow of a stream of water in a country landscape scene. This effect can be achieved in the traditional way by putting the camera on a tripod and using long exposure times.

The blurred background effect can be recreated in Photoshop by working with layers and the eraser tool. Reproducing the moving water example is more complicated, because the subject actually changes during exposure. The way Pixel 6’s Motion mode achieves both effects is by merging several shots. There are other applications that attempt to do this, often with less than ideal results. The problem is to make sense of the innumerable variables, such as movement of the camera itself. The Pixel 6 has the computational photography muscle power to do this.