A few years ago, the only camera in my pocket/bag was my phone. Starting with the LG G2 and going up to the G3, G4, Galaxy S7 Edge, then Pixel 2 XL, all that I could rely on was my phone and nothing else. I took good photos, great even, but I wanted to learn, improve, and capture better ones, so I bought a mirrorless Olympus cam with several lenses. It accompanied me on my trips to Nepal, the UAE, Spain, and Greece, and I loved using it. But as I was packing for my most recent trip to Belgium, I looked at my Olympus then at my Pixel 5 and made the rash decision to skip the former and rely solely on the latter. I never regretted it.

All of the pics in this post have been uploaded in full resolution, but WordPress tends to compress these to oblivion, so click to see them in their original resolution. I've only cropped or re-aligned a few of the shots, but no other color edits or filters have been applied. Everything is as is, from the Pixel 5's camera. Now imagine what Google Photos could do with a few minor color edits.

One of my favorite pics from this Brussels trip. The surreal spaceship effect is *chef kiss*. 

Several reasons informed this last-minuted decision. The first two have more to do with practicality than technology. My husband and I have been traveling light, so removing superfluous items lowers our backpacks' weight and affords us more room to bring back local products from each place we're visiting. Plus, we both got tired of using multiple cams (phone, 360 cam, mirrorless) and lenses (for the mirrorless) while traveling. It's just inconvenient to stop and switch lenses when necessary, or to put away then unpack the camera at each interesting location.

 

From zooming in on small details to grabbing the big picture, all in one device.

Then there's the fact that the Pixel 5 is the first Google-made phone I've owned that can handle Google Maps and Camera being open and used aggressively without draining its battery in less than two hours. Sure, I need a power bank to get me through a whole day, but that was par for the course with previous Pixels, even with me barely using the camera during the day. Here, I use it more and charge it less.

But the real reason why this decision was so easy to make and why I didn't regret it one single second during my trip is how goddamn good the Pixel 5's camera is. Every modern smartphone can take good pics these days, that's not up for debate. But the Pixel line-up can take great pics, reliably, every single time, in any mode, no matter the lighting condition, with an impeccable post-processing that feels like black magic at times.

Two other great pics, a little more abstract. Left: Atomium elevator. Right: War Heritage Institute.

There are so many instances where I look at a scene and think "there's no way I'm getting a good shot out of this," but I still tap the shutter and shrug it off, only to find an excellent pic that I wouldn't have been able to get from my Olympus. Well, not unless I could change lenses on the fly for portrait and wide-angle shots, and not unless I knew exactly and intuitively which exposure and shutter speed to pick for every scene, and not unless I had the Adobe editing chops to get the best result out of that RAW image. Instead, the Pixel 5 does all of that for me, in a split second, and the result is often jaw-dropping.

 

Left: GIF of what I was seeing with my eyes & on my screenRight: Resulting image.

Take the above image of my (pretending to be cheeky) husband with Tintin's statue. I tried to tap several areas of the screen to change exposure before taking it, but it seemed that nothing would be able to get both of their faces in the same photo. One was too dark, the other too bright. On the left is what I was seeing on my screen. On the right is the image the Pixel 5 gave me. That's impeccable HDR applied in a second without any manual editing or computer software.

Left: GIF of the strobing and changing lightsRight: Resulting image.

Also check this series of shots inside the Atomium. The lights were unpredictably strobing, pulsating, changing colors and patterns, and the Pixel could've and should've gone wrong so many times. But out of the 30 or so pics I shot, only a couple were meh because they were timed wrong and captured during a lights-off instant. The rest were either good or ridiculously awesome. It would've taken me days of trial and error to capture these with my mirrorless camera.

There are so many other examples where the versatility of switching between the Pixel 5's wide-angle, regular shot, macro, portrait, and night mode in a snap was extremely handy. Plus, knowing I can rely on it to output a great image frees me; I can roam and capture quick pics without losing time or worrying about selecting every granular setting. Instead, I can focus on the angle and composition and let it handle the rest.

Indoor to outdoor, portrait to wide angle, day to night. A very versatile camera.

If you've been following Android Police over the past month, this decision to go Pixel-only while traveling shouldn't come as a surprise to you; I've been slowly making up my mind during my champagne cellar tour and my cathedral (and other challenging situations) night mode explanation, leading to this logical conclusion.

The zoom performance could be better.

The only aspect where I'd like to see more improvement is in the zoom department. No matter how decent the 2x digital zoom is, I can't imagine how greater it could be if Google had a proper telephoto lens with 5x or 10x optical zoom. That's why I'm excited about the Pixel 6 Pro rumors.