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Google Pixel 5’s wimpy camera is driving me to the iPhone 12

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Google’s Pixel 5 smartphone has ultrawide and wide-angle cameras, but no telephoto for more distant subjects.

 


Stephen Shankland/CNET

I’ve used Google Pixels and Apple iPhones for my daily smartphone photography needs for years. I’ve mostly relied on Pixels because of Google’s pioneering computational photography software, which wrings superior image quality out of limited hardware. My current iPhone, the XS Max, has been relegated to occasions when I’ve needed a telephoto lens. But two recent smartphone launches — of Google’s Pixel 5 and Apple’s iPhone 12 lines — have changed my mind. The midrange camera hardware on the Pixel 5, and the high-end array of cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, along with the gadget’s large image sensor and new software options, are pushing me to the Apple camp.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I’ve been impressed by Google’s ability to convert cutting-edge image processing research into superior smartphone photos. Google demonstrated how profoundly computers can modernize cameras, as it surpassed smartphone rivals and traditional-camera makers.

Google’s decision to build a midrange phone with just two cameras feels like an abandonment. There’s just no way to make up for the multiple cameras that rivals like Samsung, Huawei and Apple employ. Sure, rivals haven’t necessarily matched all of Google’s camera software, but Google isn’t close to their hardware.

To be clear, the Pixel’s cameras are good, as my colleague Lynn La details in her Pixel 5 review. From my perspective as a serious photographer, though, I’m looking for more.

 

Telephoto vs. ultrawide cameras

In 2019, Google’s Pixel 4 took a step up by adding a second rear-facing camera, a telephoto option for distant subjects. That was the same year Apple added a third camera to its higher-end iPhone 11 Pro models, an ultrawide camera that sat alongside its main and telephoto cameras.

The Pixel 5 photo at 2X telephoto, shot here with Google’s computational raw format, is fine viewed small but has only a 3 megapixel resolution. At right, the 12 megapixel image from a 2-year-old iPhone XS Max, shot as an HDR raw photo with Adobe’s Lightroom app, offers more detail and editing flexibility. Clicking to enlarge reveals the superior iPhone detail, though it’s scaled down to match the Pixel 5 photo.

 


Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google tried to match Apple’s prowess this year by replacing the telephoto camera with an ultrawide camera in the Pixel 5. But Apple made major camera improvements with its iPhone 12 Pro, including a bigger image sensor, a longer-reach telephoto lens, improved image stabilization to counteract shaky hands, Dolby Vision HDR video at 60 frames per second and Apple’s more flexible ProRaw format. It’s clear Apple is sinking enormous resources into better photography.

Google may have made the right call for the broad market. I suspect ultrawide cameras are better for mainstream smartphone customers than telephotos. Ultrawide cameras for group shots, indoor scenes and video are arguably more useful than telephoto cameras for portraits and mountains.

But I want both. I enjoy the different perspectives. Indeed, for a few years I usually carried only telephoto and ultrawide lenses for my DSLR.

In response to my concerns, Google says it’s improved the Super Res Zoom technique for digital zooming on the Pixel 5 with better computational photography and AI techniques that now can magnify up to a factor of 7X.

“We studied carefully to determine what’s really important to folks, and then we focused on that — and shaved off literally hundreds of dollars in the process,” said camera product manager Isaac Reynolds. Having a telephoto camera would have helped image quality, but Google’s priority this year “was to produce a phone that compared well to the top end but at a much lower price — and we did that.”

I’m not so convinced. When shooting even at 2X telephoto zoom, my 2-year-old iPhone XS Max and my 1-year-old Pixel 4 both offer far superior imagery compared with the Pixel 5.

What I do like so far about the Pixel 5 cameras

I want to be clear: Google’s new phone has its merits, and I’ve experienced some of its strengths while testing the Pixel 5 cameras over the past few days. Here are a handful:

  • Google’s computational raw offers photo enthusiasts the best of both worlds when it comes to photo formats. It marries the exposure and color flexibility of unprocessed raw photo data with the exposure range and noise reduction of the multishot HDR+ processing ordinarily used to make a JPEG.
  • The ultrawide camera really is fun. It also dramatically improves video options, particularly indoors.
  • Based on earlier Pixel phones, I share my colleague Lynn La’s concern that Google’s video stabilization can be “drone-like,” but my early tests of video I shot while walking looked more natural.
  • Double-tapping the phone’s power button launches the camera app fast. It’s not new with the Pixel 5, but it’s so much faster than the iPhone’s lock screen icon.
  • Night Sight, particularly astrophotography mode, still is amazing for low-light shots.

Google also pointed to other Pixel 5 perks, including a portrait light ability to control the apparent light source brightening a subject’s face; portrait shots that work in Night Sight mode; 4K video that now works at a fast 60 frames per second, more advanced high dynamic range processing called HDR+ that’s now boosted by exposure bracketing for better shadow details like a backlit face, and better video stabilization.

Here’s the rub, though: As Google slips in hardware, rivals are improving their software.

Google’s rivals in computational photography are catching up

Apple didn’t comment on its photography plans for this story, but it spent more than 11 minutes touting the iPhone Pro photo and video abilities, and its actions speak volumes.

Pixel 5 portrait modePixel 5 portrait mode
The Pixel 5 offers a useful if not unique portrait mode that blurs the background for smooth “bokeh.”

 


Stephen Shankland/CNET

Last year, Apple matched most of what was best about Google’s HDR+ for challenging scenes with bright and dark elements. This year’s Pixel 5 boosts HDR+ with bracketing technology into the multishot blending technique. Apple’s Smart HDR alternative, however, is now in its third generation of refinement. Apple is improving the iPhone’s nighttime photos, too. And by using special purpose processing engines on its A14 chip, Apple’s Deep Fusion technology to preserve detail in low-light shooting works on all four of the iPhone Pro cameras.

Photo enthusiasts like me prefer unprocessed, raw photo formats so we can fine-tune color balance, exposure, sharpening and noise reduction. That’s great for when the camera doesn’t make the right choices when “baking” raw image data into a more convenient but limited JPEG image. Google’s computational raw blended HDR processing with raw’s flexibility, but now Apple plans to release its answer, ProRaw, in an update coming later this year to iPhone Pro models.

“We want to give our pros even more control over the images they capture,” said Alok Deshpande, Apple’s senior manager of camera software engineering, during Apple’s launch event.

Relatively few people use Pixel phones, and that weighs on Google too. Imaging software powerhouse Adobe calibrates its Lightroom photo software to correct lens problems and adapt its HDR tool for some cameras and lenses. No surprise that Pixel phones aren’t on that list. “We tend to provide support based on the popularity of the devices with our customers,” Adobe said in a statement.

In contrast, Adobe is “partnering closely with Apple” to tap into ProRaw abilities. And a Google computational photography guru, Marc Levoy, has left Google and is now at Adobe, where he’s building photo technology into Adobe’s camera app.

Selling a midrange smartphone like a Pixel 5 or Pixel 4a 5G might well make sense when the COVID-19 pandemic has cost millions of jobs and made a $1,099 iPhone Pro Max unaffordable. But for people like me with a photography budget and appreciation for Google’s computational photography smarts, it’s tragic that Google has lost its lead.

Source: – CNET

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The 2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line Is A Serious Threat To The Civic Si – Jalopnik

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Photo: Hyundai

At a time where both sedans and manual-transmission models are fading from the market, it’s nice to see automakers continue to make compact and fun four-door offerings. Hyundai just released pricing for the Elantra N Line and it seems that it has the Honda Civic Si sedan squarely in its sights.

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Hyundai brought some substantial updates to the Elantra lineup for the 2021 model year, including a drastic styling change that adds some flair to the commuter-car segment. The all-new 2021 Elantra N Line uses a formula similar to its competitors — four-door compact sedan, performance upgrades, manual gearbox — but offers an awesome value at a starting price of $25,095 with the six-speed manual and $26,195 with the dual-clutch automatic.

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In comparison, the Si is $26,155 is available only with a manual gearbox. The Elantra N Line uses a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that makes 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Honda’s motor is a turbocharged 1.5-liter that makes 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque

While the performance specs are incredibly similar, the Elantra N Line lays it on heavy with standard equipment. The sporty trim builds on the already well-equipped SE and SEL, which come packed with advanced safety equipment and technology, and then adds a host of upgrades to set the N Line apart. From Hyundai’s press materials:

Larger front brakes, Multi-link rear suspension Leather/cloth combination sport seats, Sport mode select option, Power driver seat 18-inch alloy wheels w/ 235/40 R18 Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires, Heated front seats, Chrome twin exhaust N Line analog gauge cluster, Sunroof Leather-wrapped sport steering wheel & shift knob, Full LED taillights, Alloy pedals, N Line front grille and bumper, Black headliner, N Line rear fascia w/ diffuser, 60/40 split-folding rear seatback with armrest & cup holders N Line DLO (glossy black)

Also in this category is the updated VW Jetta GLI that puts down similar power but has a starting price of $27,460 with a manual transmission. However, the VW doesn’t include the same level of standard equipment as the Hyundai.

While it would be nice to have a hatchback option as well, the Elantra N Line sedan retains the formula of a fun car at an affordable price — if the styling is your thing.

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Sonos One Wi-Fi speakers are $40 off today – The Verge

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Sonos ran an all-too-short one-day sale on its Wi-Fi speakers last week for Black Friday. The good news is that they’re discounted once again at Best Buy and Amazon, though the price cuts aren’t as steep. Both the Sonos One SL without microphones and the Sonos One (Gen 2) are $40 off at either retailer. This puts the One SL at $140 and the One (Gen 2) at $160. Neither are best-ever prices, but given that they’re within $10 of their lowest costs, we thought you’d like to know about these deals.

If HBO Max caught your attention yesterday with the news that all Warner Bros. films released through 2021 will debut day-and-date on the streaming platform, you understandably might want a subscription for yourself or to gift to someone else. For new and returning subscribers, you can save 20 percent by prepaying for a six-month subscription to the service. Instead of $90, it’ll cost you $70. Just note that this is non-refundable.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the latest installment that crams essentially four games into one package, has received a $10 price cut across all platforms at Walmart. The PS4 or Xbox One version of the game now costs $50 instead of $60. If you’re already gaming on the PS5 or Xbox Series X / S consoles, you’ll spend $60 (PS5, Xbox Series X / S) instead of $70.

It’s worth keeping in mind that if you get the PS4 / Xbox One version, there’s a $10 fee associated with getting the next-gen patch for either the PS5 or Xbox Series X / S. So if you just don’t want to fuss with that, get the pricier next-gen version instead.

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What you need to know about COVID-19 antibody tests – Toronto Star

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A COVID-19 antibody test is now generally available to Ontario residents, with a doctor’s requisition. The medical laboratory chain Life Labs began offering the Health Canada approved serology test on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. Currently available in British Columbia and Ontario, the test costs $75.

However, internal medical expert Dr. Gerald Evans advises that the results of a COVID-19 antibody tests are not always straightforward. He said he can’t think of many clinical circumstances when a doctor would request this information.

“Really it has very little utility in the general practice of medicine,” he said. “Right now the only use that we have for an antibody test, based on the guidelines that are issued, is to use it to investigate children who present with a multi inflammatory syndrome (IMSC)…. That’s really the only clinical utility we have for it,” he said.

He also explained that not everybody who gets COVID-19 exhibits the exact same antibody response, which makes the virus different from others such as measles or chickenpox.

“Most people get something, but some people are what we call ‘low-level responders,’ meaning the levels of antibodies that they get could be below a detection level that we’re looking for.”

“So if you wanted to do this test because you’re saying ‘I recall being ill and I think it was COVID,’ you do an antibody test. If it’s negative, it doesn’t really say that you didn’t have a COVID-19 infection. It may mean that you were one of these people that had a very mild infection and didn’t get a big antibody response.”

He also explained that humans make three different types of antibodies in response to a virus — IgG, IgA, IgM.

“IgM antibodies disappear very quickly. If you’re more than a couple of months out from your infection, you won’t find them. IgA antibodies are super tricky because they go up and down, they disappear, and some people don’t make them at all.”

The IgG antibody, which he said believes the Life Labs antibody tests are based on, is much more stable.

Life Labs CEO Charles Brown called antibody testing “another piece of the puzzle to better understand COVID-19.”

The company also explains on their website that a negative result might mean a person has been infected, but that antibody levels were too low for the test to detect. They note that you might receive a negative result, even after being infected, if not enough time has lapsed since the infection, to allow for antibodies to develop.

“Antibody response varies from person-to-person and can take up to three to four weeks post-onset of symptoms or post-exposure to be reliably detectable by antibody assays,” the company said.

Both Dr. Evans and Life Labs note that the test cannot be used to determine a current infection.

“It doesn’t really help in the diagnosis of COVID-19. Antibodies are made after you’re infected or when you’re in that recovery phase,” Dr. Evans said.

Dr. Evans said that typically, the IgG antibodies for the measles can be detected by a test in anyone that has ever had, or been inoculated against, the virus, even years later. They also indicate immunity. In the case of COVID-19, he said, it’s not the same thing.

“We still don’t quite have the exact test that tells us that those antibodies we’re measuring are at a high enough level or are responsible for neutralizing the virus, which would then predict that you’re immune,” he said.

“We’ve found people that even have these antibodies, they may not be in sufficient quantity. Or, it may not be the right antibody that actually protects them and gives them immunity. That’s the big problem.

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“You could imagine somebody saying: ‘I’m going to get the test done to show that I’m immune,’ and that’s not really what it’s telling you.”

Life Labs website states that a positive test result does not infer immunity. They recommend getting the blood test three to four weeks after the onset of symptoms, adding that it’s possible to detect antibodies up to four months post-exposure.

“We look forward, to continue building our support for the healthcare system’s response to the pandemic, where Canadians have access to more important COVID-19 information to help them make informed decisions about their health,” Brown said.

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