Google made 3 big mistakes with the Pixel 4’s camera, and missed a golden opportunity to make it unbeatable

The Google Pixel 4.

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The Google Pixel 4.
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Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

  • Google’s Pixel 4 doesn’t have a popular and trending camera lens that the competition has: ultra-wide.
  • In my opinion, this was a bad move for three reasons: because ultra-wide cameras are often more useful than zooming; the Pixel 4’s zoomed lens isn’t good enough that it makes up for the lack of ultra-wide; and the Pixel 4 is a less versatile smartphone camera as a result.
  • This is only one opinion, as some people may actually prefer better zooming to an ultra-wide lens.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Google’s brand-new Pixel 4 is missing a key feature when it comes to the camera.

The $800 flagship phone may have a dual-lens camera system, but it’s lacking the ultra-wide camera that its peers – the $700 iPhone 11 and $750 Samsung Galaxy S10e – do have.

The iPhone 11 and Galaxy S10e have both a regular camera lens and ultra-wide lens, and the latter can be used to capture more scenery or capture a subject in full if it’s too close for the regular camera lens.

Google, on the other hand, decided to double down on zooming on the Pixel 4, which has a 2X optical “telephoto” zoomed lens that’s enhanced with Google’s digital “Super Res Zoom” software magic. Theoretically, the Pixel 4 is meant to take great zoomed photos at 2X zoom and beyond.

But in my opinion, Google made three big mistakes concerning the lenses on its Pixel 4 camera, and it makes the Pixel 4 less appealing than it could have been as a result.


Google’s first mistake was to double down on zooming because it’s more “useful” instead of giving the Pixel 4 an ultra-wide lens, which the company said is just for “fun.”

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Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

The company’s rationalization for giving the Pixel 4 a zoom lens is because zooming is more “useful” and ultra-wide is mere “fun.”

I strongly disagree. On recent phones with ultra-wide lenses, I have used their ultra-wide cameras far more often than their zoomed lenses. Ultra-wide cameras are more “fun,” sure, but they’re also more useful.

With an ultra-wide lens, I can capture more scenery and more of my surroundings, and it gives a better idea of where I and my subject are.

I would strongly argue that ultra-wide lenses are just as useful, if not more useful, than a zoomed lens.


As an example, here’s a regular photo from the OnePlus 7T …

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Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

… and here’s an ultra-wide photo taken from exactly the same spot and time with the OnePlus 7T’s ultra-wide camera.

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Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

There’s some fish-eye effect, to be sure, but it doesn’t ruin the photo, and you get a better view of where I was when I took the photo.

I’d send my friends and family this photo instead of the regular photo.


Google’s second mistake is assuming that the Pixel 4’s cameras and technology are so good, people will forget all about ultra-wide.

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The Pixel 4’s 6X zoomed photo (above) looks better than the OnePlus 7T’s 6X zoomed photo (below), but there are still tell-tale signs of inferior digital zooming.
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Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Google set out to make its zoom camera better than anyone else, and it succeeded. At high zooms like 6X, Pixel 4 photos look better than 6X photos from other phones. It’s surely thanks to Google’s digital zoom technology, known as “Super Res Zoom.”

At the same time, the tell-tale signs of inferior digital zoom are still present on the Pixel 4’s photo (above). There’s way more detail in the Pixel 4 photo than the OnePlus 7T’s photo (below), but you can still see the signs of digital zoom, like blotchiness and soft details.

As a result, I haven’t forgotten that the Pixel 4’s telephoto camera still uses digital zoom, and it doesn’t give me enough confidence to use the zoom lens for anything meaningful.

And most importantly, it doesn’t make me forget about ultra-wide.


Google’s third mistake is to limit the Pixel 4 to two lenses.

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Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Doubling down on zooming wouldn’t have been an issue if the Pixel 4 also had a third ultra-wide lens. But since it doesn’t, the Pixel 4 is lacking options and versatility compared to the competition.

Fine, the iPhone 11 and Galaxy S10e also have two lenses, neither of which are designed for zooming. But zooming can be “faked” by a regular smartphone lens by pinching out on the screen to zoom in. Even if that faked zoom isn’t very good, it’s still an option at least.

Ultra-wide photos, on the other hand, cannot be faked. You can’t pinch in to zoom out from the regular camera. It’s just not an option at all on the Pixel 4.


I’m not the only one who’s disappointed that the Pixel 4 doesn’t have an ultra-wide lens.

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YouTube/MKBHD

Marques Brownlee of the MKBHD YouTube channel alludes that adding a zoom lens instead of an ultra-wide lens was the wrong move.

The New York Times’ Brian Chen said that the Pixel 4’s value is diminished because it lacks an ultra-wide camera.

And the Verge’s Dieter Bohn said he was bummed about the missing ultra-wide lens and said it means the Pixel 4’s camera lacks the versatility of other phones.

But, to be fair, the majority of other outlets don’t knock the Pixel 4 for lacking an ultra-wide lens. Some only lightly mention it, and others don’t even mention the lacking ultra-wide camera, suggesting it’s a non-issue altogether.

Google did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on the camera on the Pixel 4.


At the end of the day, this is just my opinion. Someone, somewhere, prefers better zooming than taking ultra-wide photos. And for them, the Pixel 4 has the best camera for that.

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Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Suffice it to say, then, that I miss the ultra-wide lens on the Pixel 4, especially after using other phones with ultra-wide lenses.

For those who haven’t experienced ultra-wide cameras on smartphones, I suppose you wouldn’t really miss it if you upgraded to the Pixel 4. But you’re also missing out.

Unless, of course, you actively wished the zooming was better on your smartphones. In that case, the Pixel 4 is your best bet.