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Pixel 3 camera: Six tips and tricks to get the best photos

Group selfies and some fancy tricks are just a few taps away.

Juan Garzon / CNET

Google's Pixel 3 ($850 at Amazon Marketplace) and Pixel 3 XL ($1,320 at Amazon Marketplace) have among the best cameras a phone can offer. The camera's success is partly thanks to the hardware, and partly because of its software tweaks.

The hardware takes care of itself, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the software before you can push the Pixel 3's camera to its limits. Here's what you need to know.

Now playing: Watch this: 10 tips and tricks for the Pixel 3
2:33

Quick access

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Out of the box, the Pixel 3's camera will open whenever you double-press the sleep/wake button. If you enable Flip camera in Settings > System > Gestures > Flip Camera, then you can also quickly switch between the front and rear camera by twisting your wrist back and forth twice.

Modes

There are nine modes in the Pixel camera app:

  • Panorama
  • Portrait
  • Camera
  • Video
  • Photo Sphere
  • Slow Motion
  • Photobooth
  • Playground
  • Lens

The first four of those modes are always available along the bottom of the viewfinder. Swipe left or right across the screen to switch between modes. Selecting "More" will reveal the remaining camera modes.

Top Shot

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Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Ever take a photo, only to notice someone blinked, or the action you were trying to capture happened just moments before you pressed the shutter button? Top Shot is Google's solution for missed shots.

Top Shot captures several photos just before and just after the shutter button is pressed, and then identifies the best photo of the group. To use Top Shot, you'll first need to enable Motion Photos with a tap on the circular icon along the top of the viewfinder. To consistently use Top Shot, it's best to select Motion On instead of Motion auto.

pixel-3-top-shot
Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

With motion enabled, take photos as you normally do. Then when you have a shot that didn't quite turn out how you'd like, open the Photos app and view the photo. Swipe up on the photo, where you'll find a section titled "Shots in this photo." That photo strip will contain suggested shots, which most of the time are better than the original photo.

Motion Auto Focus

Taking a photo or video of something that's constantly moving usually leads to out-of-focus, blurry shots. The Pixel 3 now has Motion Auto Focus, which means you can tap on an object and the camera will track the object, constantly adjusting the focus as it goes.

To activate Motion Auto Focus, tap on the subject you want to follow before pressing the shutter button. A white circle will appear on the subject and move around as needed.

Group Selfie

pixel-3-group-selfie

Top: The standard front-facing camera zoom level. 

Bottom: The front-facing camera of the Pixel 3 zoomed all the way out. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

The front-facing camera on the Pixel 3 lets you zoom out, getting more of your surroundings -- or people -- in the shot. Google is really playing up this feature, with commercials showing various users struggling to get everyone in the shot.

When using the front-facing camera, tap the magnifying glass to bring up the zoom interface. Zoom out by adjusting the slider, and then take your photo.

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Raw+JPEG

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

The Pixel 3 has the option to store the raw version of a photo, alongside the more common JPEG file format. Raw files are the unprocessed image as captured by the sensor, making the file larger than JPEG, in turn taking up more storage.

Only enable this feature if you want to edit the raw, unprocessed image, and are OK with the fact that doing so will use up more storage.

For the average user, however, leaving raw+JPEG disabled is the way to go.

To enable raw photos, open the Camera app and select More from the various modes along the bottom. Next, select Settings > Advanced and then enable raw capture.

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