Google’s new premium Nexus, the Huawei-made 6P packs a serious camera and we decided to see what it’s capable of.
Last year’s Nexus 6 was a beast of a phone, predominantly based on the fact that it was just so damn big (packing a huge 5.96-inch display), however despite also featuring a large 13-megapixel camera, it under-delivered on the imaging side. Shots from the Motorola-made smartphone weren’t bad, but didn’t really impress either, particularly when set alongside flagship phones of the time.
With the new Huawei-made Nexus 6P things are a little different. As well as being the first offering for a Chinese smartphone maker as part of the Nexus program, the 6P shares its camera with its launch partner the 5X and both phones have been putting on a really good show thus far.
Google Nexus 6P: User interface
If you’ve already checked out our Nexus 5X camera review, nothing much has changed jumping to the larger, crisper display of the 6P, at least when it comes to the camera’s interface.
6.0 Marshmallow keeps things tidy, as have previous incarnations of stock Android camera interface but it weaves in a more current aesthetic; clear, minimalist iconography for primary functions like switching between the front and rear cameras as well as a simple swipe gesture in place when jumping from shooting stills to shooting video.
The 6P shoots full resolution stills in 4:3 whilst video is natively captured in 16:9 and in both cases the viewfinder remains clear of extra noise in the form of lesser used functions like photo sphere and panorama, which remain under the menu button floating in the top left.
In fact aside from the camera switcher, shutter button and gallery shortcut, the only other on-screen controls are toggles for a timed shutter, HDR and the flash (when snapping stills) or slow motion shooting and the video light when shooting video. Collectively it makes for an experience that highlights ease of use, even if it does miss on out more complex features found on rival smartphones.
Google Nexus 6P: Rear camera
As we mentioned earlier the Marshmallow launch party of the 5X and 6P both share the same rear camera arrangement too: a 12.3-megapixel Sony Exmor R (IMX377) sensor that until these devices had never been seen on a smartphone.
It forgoes any form of optical image stabilisation as Google claims that its enlarged 1.55μm pixels and f2.0 aperture should counter any lacklustre clarity or poor low light performance.
In practice the results of the camera are pleasing, but we don’t know whether we share Google’s confidence in forgoing OIS 100 per cent. Low light shots, which are the best place to pick out a camera’s weak points, show that it actually handles awkward lighting conditions very well, but we wouldn’t call them perfect.
Provided you have the time to pull off an HDR shot (which features a noticeable extra amount of processing at the point of capture), the resultant image will pack more accurate colours and less noise or grain, otherwise you’ll still have a usable photo, just one that’s not quite as attractive.
Natural lighting highlights the 6P’s ability to cope with high contrast environments well and conserve a lot of fine detail too, most apparent in macro shots. Colour accuracy goes a little off in artificially lit environments, but no more than likes of an iPhone 6s, so the average user should be more than happy with the results.
In fact, where possible HDR is the way to go, although fast-moving subjects won’t play nice with this slower shooting mode. Instead the powerful hardware inside the 6P also gives you SmartBurst (click the image above to enlarge) – a feature not found on the 5X that snaps a number of photos in quick succession and picks the best one. Again it’s not perfect, but it gets the job done on the odd occasion that you might need to use it.
Google Nexus 6P: Front camera
Going by raw size, the Nexus 6P’s front-facing snapper should offer more than enough detail for the average selfie-taker, as it features an 8-megapixel sensor. (Click the image below to enlarge).
The dynamic range, colour reproduction and contrast are noticeably weaker than on the phone’s main camera, but it still takes nice photos, even in artificial lighting. The option of HDR is a nice inclusion too that should give you a better chance of snapping a more balanced photo than on rival devices, even if we would have appreciated a broader field of view from its wide-angle lens.
Google Nexus 6P: Video
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 that powers the 6P is most obviously put to good use in the video department. As well as 720p and 1080p HD shooting modes (at 30fps) you can bump the quality up to 4K and capture slow motion footage at both 120fps and 240fps, putting it on a level playing field with the likes of the iPhone 6 and 6s.
Captured footage doesn’t have quite the same balance as the camera’s still photography experience, struggling a little in high contrast scenarios to correctly expose subjects, but at least it can adjust both contrast and focus quickly and automatically without too much prompting.
Shooting in 4K is handy for future-proofing your content, however motion on the 6P doesn’t always track completely smoothly. Despite the lack of OIS there does appear to be some level of DIS, which Google says it plans to improve further in a forthcoming update.
Google Nexus 6P: Verdict
As Nexus devices go, the camera experience on the Google Nexus 6P is feature packed and the main sensor does a good job of providing a balanced all-round experience. Exposure control and dealing with high-contrast environments is its biggest challenger, but you still get great still and video for the most part.
It’s easily one of the best camera experiences to be had on a Nexus and the hardware feels significantly better when compared to last year’s Nexus 6 snapper. The likes of the iPhone 6s, Galaxy S6 and LG G4 still may be better all-round choices, but the gap between Nexus and traditional flagship is narrower than it’s ever been, and we’re hoping things continue to go up from here.
Read next: Google Nexus 6P Review: In Depth