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I have been considering buying a Google Pixel 3 or 3 XL Android smartphone to use primarily for photography and phone calls. Google advertises that these phones have 12MP main cameras. That's fewer megapixels than I would like in a camera, but I was still considering those devices as possibilities.

While performing research, I saw a short video clip that showed Google's UI. From what I could tell, 12MP is only available in 4:3 aspect ratio. In 16:9 aspect ratio, the resolution drops all the way down to a paltry 8MP. That's much less resolution that what I what in a camera.

Is the resolution of the main camera in the Google Pixel 3 and 3XL only ~8MP in 16:9 mode? If so, is this limitation true for their entire line of Pixel smartphones?

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  • 16:9 is only a common video but not a common photography format, therefore the camera chips usually have 3:2 or 4:3 ratio. 16:9 is created by cropping the image, therefore the megapixel value is always lower for a 16:9 image. See this article for details: photographylife.com/aspect-ratio
    – Robert
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 12:38
  • See related answers on why 16:9 has less pixels and not a preferred photo format in most cases
    – beeshyams
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 12:44
  • @Robert I can't speak to current Samsung flagship smartphones, but I know that for years their market-leading flagship phones featured maximum resolution at 16:9 aspect ratio. For example, their Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Active (and I think S7 and S7 Edge) all support 16MP at 16:9 aspect ratio, but only 12MP at 4:3. Commented May 13, 2021 at 14:06
  • @beeshyams Thanks. Both answers to that question are, unfortunately, incorrect. It all depends on the aspect ratio of the sensor. Sensors come in a variety of aspect ratios, including 1:1, 4:3, and 16:9. Since most people view images on ~16:9 screens these days, I would postulate that 16:9 is the preferred ratio. Otherwise, you'll wind up with large bands on your screen or a cropped image where the primary subject may be partially off-screen. For prints, at only 300DPI, 12MP does not have enough pixels to make a print much larger than a common piece of paper. At 600DPI, cut that in half. Commented May 13, 2021 at 14:20

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Well, it looks like the Google Pixel 6 Plus (or Pro, or whatever they decide to call it) will finally have a camera sensor that isn't limited by technology that's a decade old.

That phone is supposed to come out sometime around the end of 2021. Of course, it will cost more than most computers, so it won't be practical for most people to own.

For all practical purposes, the answer is that Google does not currently have any smartphones that can take 16:9 photographs with greater than 8MP. In a few months, this might finally be possible, but the device will cost more than a mirrorless DSLR camera with a professional sensor that has much better characteristics.

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