Google Pixel 4 wants to take Huawei P30 Pro's crown... but has a long way to go

Zoom for improvement

Google Pixel 4 Camera Update
(Image credit: Google / Fidel Fernando on Unsplash)

Update, August 13, 2019: Google Director of Design Claude Zellweger has now confirmed the photo was not shot on Pixel 4, but rather a Pixel 3a. And he wasn't using a 20x zoom, either. Instead, Zellweger cropped into the original image to create the effect, since the Pixel 3a tops-out at 10x zoom.

Of course, tinfoil hat wearers will probably swear that Zellweger was telling the truth to start with, and has been strong-armed into making his clarification after the detail was spotted in the comments on the Instagram post to avoid spoilers for the Pixel 4. After all, we know the Pixel 4 is not short on rear cameras, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to assume that it could combine the existing 10x zoom with a telephoto lens to result in the 20x zoom teased in this image. Of course, we'll have to wait until the October launch to be sure, but for now, it looks like 20x zoomage isn't coming to the Pixel 4 series.

Original story published before the clarification follows... 

Another day, another tidbit about the as-yet unannounced Google Pixel 4 straight from the horse's mouth. After confirming the long-rumoured square camera design, as well as the iPhone-rivalling facial recognition system, and hands-free gestures, Google Director of Design, Claude Zellweger has let slip the zoom functionality coming to the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL successors. And it's pretty impressive stuff.

Zellweger shared a snap on Instagram entitled "light and shadow," which appear to show three tables and some seating inside the Google Design Studio. So far, so uninteresting.

However, in the comments of the post, Zellweger replies to a question from a fellow Googler about the camera behind the shot which confirms the Pixel 4 will boast 20x zoom. It's unclear whether this is optical zoom, a hybrid solution, or a next-generation version of digital zoom.

But regardless, it's a serious step-up from the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a series, which max-out at a purely digital 10x zoom.

Light + Shadow #googleIDstudio Claude Zellweger

A photo posted by @claudezellweger on Aug 9, 2019 at 4:54pm PDT

Since the introduction of the iPhone 7 Plus and its 2x optical zoom, the feature has become a battleground for manufacturers trying to best each other. As it stands, Huawei is comfortably top of the podium with its Huawei P30 Pro, which boasts 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid (which uses AI to fill-in the gaps), and 50x digital zoom.

In our P30 Pro review, we stated: "the phenomenal 5x optical and 10x hybrid zoom are unlike anything we've used before and allow you to capture photos that you simply wouldn't be able to get with any other smartphone."

You can get similarly impressive zoomage from the likes of the Honor 20 Pro, Huawei P30, and Huawei P20 Pro. Apple has stuck with the same 2x zoom that appeared on the iPhone 7 Plus, while Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ don't get close to the capabilities available on the latest from Huawei.

That means there is a massive opportunity for Google... especially with the Android OS ban still looming over future handsets from Huawei.

Unfortunately, Google Director of Design Claude Zellweger stops short of revealing exactly how the company has achieved this 20x zoom. Since this is a Pixel handset, presumably Google will be using software and AI to enhance and tweak the image – instead of periscope camera hardware like we've seen from Huawei.

But with the Huawei Mate 30 on the horizon, Google will have to do a little more than 20x to become the go-to recommendation for anyone who wants a camera with some impressive zoom credentials.