The Pixel 8A and the camera you have with you

May 13, 2024
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Sometimes you travel thousands of miles from home to see something amazing. And every once in a while, that something appears right in your backyard.

That’s what happened on Friday. “What’s the aurora forecast for tonight?” I asked a friend who keeps up with those things. “Amazing,” he said. He wasn’t lying. At 9:30PM, my husband and I went to the backyard to check the sky — nothing but hazy light pollution on the northern horizon. But just an hour later, the sky erupted.

I didn’t think twice about what camera to use to photograph the event since I already had my SIM card in the Pixel 8A — it had arrived a couple of days ago fresh off its announcement. I handed my husband the Pixel 8 Pro; he left his night mode-less iPhone XR in the house. The rippling lights were visible even to the naked eye, but the sky came alive with greens and purples in our photos. It put the wispy blob we’d seen from our flight to Reykjavik, Iceland, the previous year to shame.

I’m still reeling from seeing this in my backyard.

We had everything on our side on that cold night in Iceland. The sky was clear; our tour boat in the bay put the city lights far behind us. I had the excellent Xiaomi 13 Pro in hand ready to photograph it — but there was nothing to see.

The sky just wasn’t talking. The ship’s crew passed around plastic cups of aquavit as consolation. We gave it our best shot, we thought, and at least we saw that one light from the plane. Then, just over a year later, improbably, we saw the light show of our lives right in our backyard. Life is funny.

The next day was unseasonably sunny and warm, and I made a last-minute decision to take my two-year-old to West Seattle’s finest sandy beach. It was the kind of day that reminds you why you suffer through months of dark and drizzle to live here; from our little patch of man-made sandy shoreline, we had a view of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains and downtown Seattle. A small armada of sailboats approached from the north. We walked down to the low tide, and I watched my son put his bare feet in saltwater for the first time.

The thing about core memories is sometimes you just stumble into them. Sometimes you’re just trying to have a perfectly average morning by the water or a night at home eating ice cream and playing Diablo, and boom — you’re face-to-face with a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

The Pixel 8A also comes with full dust resistance, and boy was I grateful for that at the beach.

I have a tendency to shrug off phone cameras as all being good enough. “The best camera is the one you have with you,” etc. And that’s true for 90 percent of the things we take pictures of day to day. But in those core memory moments, having a camera that can do the scene justice really does matter.

The Pixel 8A was the camera I happened to have with me this weekend; it’s far from the most expensive phone I have on hand, but it delivered. Not every budget phone can take a good portrait mode photo of a toddler running in the surf having the time of his life. Not every budget phone can take a decent night sky photo. I have more testing to do with the Pixel 8A, and a full review is in the works. In the meantime, I’m grateful that it has a camera that can keep up.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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