The Pixel 6 Pro has a lot of selling points, but like the Pixel phones before it, the cameras are the big draw. The device’s three cameras take great photos and videos out of the box, with one major caveat: you don’t seem to be using the impressive 4x telephoto zoom when recording videos. Fortunately, this camera is not really off limits for videos, but you do have to know the solution to zoom in.
Let’s start with what happens when you use your Pixel 6 Pro the way Google designed it: you fire up the camera, switch to video mode, then choose the 4x zoom option. Rather than switch to the telephoto camera, which would optically magnify your image, the 6 Pro sticks with the main camera and simply digitally crops the image to get to “4x zoom”. What is going on here?
Optical vs Digital Zoom
We’ve covered the difference between optical and digital zoom before when discussing the iPhone’s strange relationship to zooming, but here’s the gist: That 4x telephoto zoom isn’t really “zooming in” on the subject, as there are no moving parts in the camera. to be . Instead, all three cameras have a fixed focal length. The ultra wide-angle camera has a focal length of 16mm (0.7x zoom), the primary camera has a focal length of 24mm (1x zoom) and the telephoto camera has a focal length of 102.6mm (4x zoom).
Normally, when you switch from the primary camera to the telephoto camera, you change to a camera that can capture a subject at 4x the distance from the primary camera. However, if you shoot between those focal lengths, or if you exceed the 4x zoom, the digital zoom takes over. Digital zooming is basically cropping the image to get artificially closer to your subject. For example, a 3.5x zoom crops the image from the primary camera, as there are no moving parts here.
Google’s software does some work to make digital zoom look better than if you cropped the image yourself, but it’s still not as good as using a camera designed to take a zoomed-in shot. . You have more detail to work with when using the actual telephoto camera, so it should be available to use whenever you want.
And yet it is not! At least not out of the box for video recording. As someone with a Pixel 4, I wasn’t aware of this issue until I read about it on Reddit, but it’s real: Google bypasses the 4x zoom telephoto camera when recording video at 1080p, the default video resolution for the Pixel 6 Pro. However, if you switch to 4K 30 fps, the telephoto camera works as expected. The iPhone also does something similar: at most settings, the telephoto camera only fires when iOS thinks there’s enough light for it. However, if you’re shooting at 4K 60 fps, you’ll always use the telephoto camera when switching.
It’s not clear why both companies are doing this, but it’s frustrating. You spend $900 ($1,249) or $1,000 ($1,388) on smartphones with telephoto cameras, but you can’t rely on being able to use them when you want to. Google doesn’t give you a warning or anything, so it’s one of those quirks that users are supposed to figure out for themselves. Luckily, if you just switch to that higher resolution for shooting (which you probably should, unless you’re low on storage), you’re all set.
If you want to shoot in 1080p, but still want to access the telephoto camera, you’ll need to use a third-party app for this. FiLMiC Pro is a great, albeit expensive option, handing you a significant amount of control over your shots. You can choose the camera you want to shoot with at any resolution, as well as control ISO, shutter speed, focus and more. It might cost you upfront, but at least you can use your Pixel’s camera exactly the way you want.