“Pixel’s approach to zoom is one that combines state-of-the-art hardware, a bunch of awesome software and then a lot of AI on top of that,” says Alexander Schiffhauer, a Pixel Camera & AI Group Product Manager. “This means the quality works well throughout a range of zoom settings — not just one specific setting, like 5x or 10x.” Here are a few ways hardware, software and AI come together to make Super Res Zoom.
While all Pixel 3 and newer phones have Super Res Zoom, I was using the Pixel 7 Pro on my recent trip, and Alex explained why the camera’s architecture was so useful for me. “Pixel 7 Pro has a pro-level camera, which is actually composed of three rear cameras: a .5x ultrawide camera, a 1x camera — the main camera when you open the camera app — and a 5x telephoto camera,” he says. A telephoto camera is one you can use to zoom in on subjects in the distance, and Pixel’s kicks in once you zoom anywhere between 5x and 30x.
All of that zooming potential comes in a surprisingly small package, especially compared to typical telephoto camera lenses, which are pretty large. To capture images from far away, you need a lot of light, bent in the right way. Traditional telephoto cameras use a stack of lenses to accomplish this — those lenses capture a lot of light and then bend it just so before it hits a sensor in the camera. The sensor’s job is to take that light and turn it into a signal that the phone’s software reads and translates into photo pixels you see on the phone’s screen.
You’ve likely noticed that the Pixel 7 Pro doesn’t have a gigantic, tube-like lens that sticks out, though. “That’s because we used a mirror that allowed us to stack our lenses sideways, and we built that horizontally right into the camera bar,” Alex says. The light enters the camera and hits the mirror, which redirects the light horizontally toward the sensor. Once that light hits the sensor, software and AI algorithms start doing their work.