The Google Pixel camera, although widely considered one of the best smartphone cameras on the market, is far from perfect. If you’ve read any of the many reviews, you probably already knew that. Yes, it can take a mean photo — arguably the best — but the occasional white balance hiccup and wonky auto focus, keep the camera from greatness.
Halos, and flares, and glare — Oh my!
Inconsistent performance was just one of a few things we mentioned in our Pixel camera review last week, along with the appearance of strong lens flare sometimes creeping into a few of our shots. It will appear in the corner or bottom of photos as a sort of halo. At this point I almost feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but because the issue seems to be making the rounds on the internet, I felt it was worth mentioning… again.
When does it appear?
The glowing halo or lens flare doesn’t appear in every shot. Far from it. We noticed it that it’s only when the light hits the camera lens at jusssst the right angle that the glare rears its ugly head. Even then, sometimes it’s so faint (depending on how strong the light source is), it’s easy to miss.
You can’t just aim your phone at something bright and see if it shows up, lighting is key and it’s very specific. I will say that I’ve been able to recreate it in a variety of instances, but only because I have an idea how the light has to hit the lens for it to show up.
What’s causing it?
Some have guessed that it could have something to do with grease or smudges covering the lens, but as someone who regularly washes their hands and keeps their phone 100% fingerprint free, this is definitely not the case. I have a very strong feeling it could have something to do with the placement of the lens on the 2.5D back glass panel.
It’s possible that because it’s not completely isolated (like the LED flash) and sits so high up (right where the glass panel begins to bend), the glass panel is causing the light to refract in an unusual way.
Does every device suffer from this little quirk?
iPhone 7 (left), Google Pixel (middle), Honor 8 (right)
It’s tough to say if this is simply an isolated hardware defect — one that can be remedied simply by exchanging the “faulty” unit out with a new one — or if it’s a design flaw inherent in every Pixel. I strongly believe it’s the latter, based on the Pixel XL unit I received from Google, the regular sized Pixel I’ve been using from Verizon, and the few units I played around with in the store. Basically, I’ve been able to reproduce this issue with every single Pixel I’ve gotten my hands on.
I’m also seeing comments that every phone does this. Sure, lens flares happen in every camera, typically when under direct sunlight. On the Pixel, however, it’s not really a “lens flare,” more of glare (likely caused by the back glass cover). In the above examples, you can see how the halo doesn’t show up on the iPhone 7, or even the Honor 8 which features a similar camera design to the Pixel.
So why haven’t other reviewers mentioned it?
More Halo action pic.twitter.com/xXv4b3QUoV
— Danny Winget (@superscientific) October 22, 2016
Good question. It’s possible they may have missed it, but there are plenty of those who have been very vocal about it. Even in early reviews where they failed to mention it, I’ve seen the halo show up in sample photos posted online by The Verge and MKBHD. In fact, the excessive lens flare was even mentioned in DxOMark’s own rating for the Google Pixel camera, a rating Google wears proudly.
Why haven’t you seen it?
— Michael Kukielka (@DetroitBORG) October 24, 2016
Again, the lighting conditions for the halo to appear are very specific. Even then, sometimes it’s very faint and if you’re not looking for it, there’s a good chance you wont even know it’s there. Other times it can be very prominent, usually depending on a variety of factors like exactly where the light source is positioned, exposure settings on the phone, and so forth.
For those that have yet to find themselves in the unique situation where the glare shows up — you’ve just been lucky.
Do we have another another #gate on our hands?
Probably not. It’s more or less just an odd little quirk and although it can be a bit annoying, we’re not about to lose sleep over it. There’s a good chance you wont see it at all, as we only noticed it popping up in about 3 of 100 photos we initially took with the Pixel.
Of course, it’s still something to take in consideration when looking to upgrade your smartphone, which is why we mentioned it in our initial Pixel camera review, but we’ll let you decide whether or not this is a deal breaker.
Google has confirmed the Pixel camera’s excessive lens flaring issue, which results in a halo/arc showing up in shots. Not only did they say this is something affecting all Pixel units (and that a hardware exchange / RMA wont fix anything), but that they’re hoping a future software update will help identify and erase the halo from appearing in photos. Seeing as this is a hardware issue, whether or not Google’s software tricks will be 100% effective remains to be seen.