The Pixel 8 Pro continues in the footsteps of the previous generation with its camera system, offering a trio of 50-ish megapixel cameras on its back. In principle, they're the same setup too - a primary camera with a wide lens, an ultrawide one, and a telephoto that brings around 5x zoom. That said, there are several key improvements in the hardware, plus some software tweaks for good measure.
The main camera uses what appears to be the same sensor as last year - a 50MP 1/1.31" unit with 1.2µm pixels and a 4-to-1 binning to get from its nominal resolution to 12.5MP resulting images. What's new this year is the lens, now specified to have an f/1.68 aperture, as opposed to the f/1.85 of last year's model - we'd go with f/1.7 vs. f/1.9. The specified field of view of 82 degrees corresponds to an equivalent focal length of around 25mm. The lens is still stabilized.
The Octa-PD AF capability of the sensor is augmented by a laser, which on the Pro we have here is a multi-point system, while the smaller Pixel only has a single-point setup.
As is the case on the Pixel 8, the Pixel 8 Pro's ultrawide gets possibly the most meaningful upgrade. But while the small phone only gains autofocus, the Pro is treated to a larger and more capable sensor. The new 48MP imager has a 1/2.0" optical format and a 0.8µm pixel pitch, up from the 12MP 1/2.55" unit of the previous generation. The lens covers a 126-degree field of view and has an f/2.2 aperture. It still supports autofocus, of course.
The telephoto camera's sensor is the same size as before, at 1/2.55", and it's got a 48MP nominal resolution and a 0.7µm pixel size. The lens is different though - while the old one had an equivalent focal length of 120mm, the new one stands at around 113mm. Also changed is the aperture - from f/3.5 on the 7 Pro, to f/2.8 on the new model. This new lens is stabilized too.
Over on the front, the selfie camera features a 10.5MP sensor with a 1/3.1" optical format and 1.22µm pixels. The lens has a 20mm focal length equivalent and an f/2.2 aperture. The unit on the Pixel 8 Pro has autofocus, unlike the one on the Pixel 8, so while we appreciate the functionality here, we won't hesitate to point out that we don't quite get why the 'lesser' Pixel gets fixed focus.
From a software perspective, there are some interesting things about the new Pixel phones. The new camera app now houses the settings pane on the bottom, and it can be accessed by swiping up instead of down. The app is also split into dedicated photo and video modes, with each having its own sub-modes.
An interesting change here is that the Pro and the non-Pro models have different camera settings. Both phones get the option to shoot in RAW, but only the Pro phone also lets you pick between 12MP and 50MP resolution.
You also get the option to force a lens choice, and the camera will use your chosen lens regardless of the light levels or distance from the subject. This way, you can avoid the phone automatically switching lenses without your permission. It's nice of Google to give you that level of control that Apple, for example, doesn't.
Both phones get a new menu with the ability to adjust brightness, shadow detail, and white balance, but the Pro model also gets manual focus with focus peaking, shutter speed control, and ISO. This, along with the previously available RAW capture, finally brings full control over the image capture experience that was always missing on the Pixel phones. Having said that, these are all software features, and gatekeeping them to the Pro model only is disappointing.
Both new Pixel 8 phones can also capture images in Display P3 color space, after enabling the option from the advanced settings. The phone will save the original raw data in a much wider Display P3 color space that can show a greater range of shades, especially in the green and red areas of visible light compared to sRGB, but you need an appropriate display and subject to fully see the difference. All images shown below, however, are in standard sRGB for compatibility.
Another cool thing with the image capture experience is actually in the Photos app. Like the iPhones, the Pixel 8 phones now capture additional metadata regarding the luminance levels of the images they capture. This information is then used to generate HDR PQ-like effect in the Photos app, where image highlights are automatically brightened when you view them, creating a stunning high dynamic range effect. It was always a cool trick previously found only on the OLED iPhones, and we are glad it is making its way to more devices.
Quite expectedly, you can get some excellent daylight photos from the Pixel 8 Pro's main camera. While the 12.5MP resolution is no different than most competitors, and this year we're seeing an uptick in sharpening, the Pixel still renders detail in a more pleasing way than a lot of its rivals. There's hardly any noise to see in these photos, even if you look long and hard.
Tonal development is handled in the usual Pixel way with exposing for the highlights and relatively high contrast, so you may end up with slightly darker shadows than you'd get from some other makers' efforts. Still, we think there's a slight tendency towards brighter images this year.
The auto white balance is dependable and very consistent, with the slight lean towards cooler settings and a faint magenta bias characteristic of the Pixel M.O. We're also liking the saturation we get in these images - they're neither drab nor overdone.
Unlike the Pixel 8, the 8 Pro does allow you to shoot at each camera's nominal resolution. Depending on subject matter, distance, and lighting, you do stand to get some extra detail by shooting at 50MP in the main camera, with no obvious penalties in the global image quality properties.
You can count on some pretty decent 2x zoom shots out of the Pixel 8 Pro, even though they may not be pin-sharp when examined at 1:1. For example, truly random greenery might end up a little fizzy, depending on just how fine the detail is and how much movement there was while capturing the photo. However, less intricate scenes will generally look quite good.
For whatever reason, the Pixel 8 Pro also allows you to save 50MP shots at 2x. These have a distinctly upscaled look, and we reckon they're not worth the file size.
The telephoto camera on the Pixel 8 Pro is among the main reasons to go Pro and not vanilla. We're seeing some nicely sharp images with great detail and definition - a notable step up from the previous generation's somewhat soft-ish results - the new optics appear to be doing a better job. Global properties also live up to the high standard set by the main camera, so the dynamic range is solid, and colors maintain a pleasing level of saturation and fidelity.
The nominal resolution shots don't have quite the same acuity, and there are traces of noise to be seen here or there. Once again, we're not convinced there's a lot of practical use in the full-res mode.
The upgraded ultrawide on the Pixel 8 Pro captures excellent photos as well. The detail is great, and sharpness is preserved almost all the way to the extreme corners. Dynamic range and colors are also hard to fault.
The full-res mode on the ultrawide is lacking in sharpness and is once again questionable in its usefulness. Still, though, it's nice that it doesn't come with any real penalties in the global properties.
What's not debatable is the ultrawide's usefulness as a close-up shooter - not just for regular shots of nearby objects like the Lego items above, but also for the Pixel 8 Pro's 'Macro' mode. The implementation is familiar - the phone crops the center portion of the ultrawide camera's sensor to match the main camera's FoV. It's in this exercise that the Pro's ultrawide shows its superiority over the vanilla model, and brings you sharper, better detailed shots.
You wouldn't be surprised to read that the Pixel 8 Pro takes excellent photos in low light with its main camera. While it's very likely doing at least some level of auto Night mode processing at all times under certain light levels, it doesn't always explicitly notify you of it in the viewfinder, though it will be very apparent when it does. We'd trust its process anyway, but we need some sort of structure to discuss its image quality, so we'll start with the samples that do have Night mode applied - whether auto or forced.
The Pixel's Night mode shots have very nicely balanced exposure with well-preserved highlights and just the right amount of boost in the shadows. Things aren't looking artificially brightened up, but it's not a 'realistically dark' rendition either. We also have high praise for the Pixel's auto white balance in the dark, which handles all sorts of mixed street lighting with ease.
Detail is generally very good - in the highlights and shadows alike. We found the Pixel to have a slight tendency to wipe out detail in certain textures; its noise reduction mistakenly treating it as noise, but it's not so pronounced or common as to be an issue. Overall, we're quite happy with the rendition of detail.
If you disable Night mode and you're faced with a relatively darker scene, you can expect underexposed dingy photos. Better-lit scenes won't be as bad, and in more balanced light, there won't be all that big of a difference whether you have Night mode on or off.
Night mode delivers better results at 2x as well. Detail tends to be a little better defined than without Night mode, and there is, of course, the superior development of shadows and highlights. Colors have more pop in Night mode too.
Here's how these scenes look with Night mode disabled.
The telephoto doesn't mind the darkness one bit. While differences tend to be small here between Night mode versions of these scenes and their Night mode-less counterparts, we'd still prefer the better tonal development that Night mode delivers. We'd also argue that the Night mode images have better definition and less noise.
Stop us if you've heard us before, but Night mode does make the ultrawide camera's photos better in most ways. Contrasty scenes benefit greatly, with shadows getting a healthy boost, while highlights are better contained and less burnt out. Once again, colors have some welcome extra bit of saturation as well. Also, the Pixel 8 Pro's ultrawide photos are thoroughly superior to the Pixel 8's - a predictable outcome, but one that's worth pointing out nonetheless.
Once you're done with the real world samples, head over to our Photo compare tool to see how the Google Pixel 8 Pro stacks up against the competition.