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I went to the zoo with a $2,500 camera and a Pixel 7 Pro. The results surprised me

This past weekend, I went to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo with my Sony Alpha 7 IV and Pixel 7 Pro. By the time I left, I wondered why I even bothered bringing two devices.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Pixel 7 Pro Super Res Photo
Matthew Miller/ZDNET

This past weekend, I visited the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo with two of my daughters, and the Sony Alpha 7 IV with 28-75 mm lens and Google Pixel 7 Pro in hand. I had no plans to write about my experiences at the zoo, but after discovering hidden wildlife with the Pixel 7 Pro, I just had to journal my sheer amazement at how far smartphone cameras have come. 

In my colleague Jason Cipriani's full review of the Pixel 7 Pro, he stated, "I can't print the first thing that came out of my mouth after taking a 30x picture..." and that was my exact sentiment several times while walking around the zoo. 

Review: Newest Pixels zoom past Samsung on this one camera feature

Things are getting wild

While my youngest daughter was disappointed that she could barely catch a glimpse of the snow leopard lying down far far away behind a chain link fence, the Pixel 7 Pro, with the new 30x Super Res Zoom was able to capture the restfulness of the spotted cat.

Pixel 7 Pro Snow Leopard Super Res Zoom

The snow leopard is behind a chain link fence and barely visible to the naked eye.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The tiger was also behind a chain link fence and more than 50 yards away from us, but I was able to capture its full body soaking in the sun. The benefit of having a smartphone in this instance is how quick and easy it is to open the camera app and just snap a shot. With my Sony Alpha 7 IV, I'd have to load the camera, grab focus (either waiting for autofocus or manually dialing the lens), and then hope that the tiger doesn't prowl away. 

Also: Google's Pixel 7 cameras focus on 'accessible creativity'

Sure, burst mode comes in handy for these scenarios, but I'd rather not have to sift through dozens of frames when I can just get a clear shot in one take. 

Pixel 7 Pro shot of a tiger

The Pixel 7 Pro captured what we could not see with our eyes.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The large bear and mountain lion (seen below) were both behind thick glass and over 100 feet away, but the Pixel 7 Pro brought them up close and personal.

Pixel 7 Pro bear shot

With those massive claws, I did not want to get any closer to the bear than this.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The lynx was barely visible, hidden in a dark barrel down a hill and also about 50 yards away, but the Pixel caught him looking right back at me. It was quite amusing seeing people around me wonder what I was taking pictures of. 

Pixel 7 Pro Lynx

Others at the zoo could not even see what I was shooting down the hill and behind the tree.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The wolf was actively wandering back and forth far up the hill in an enclosure and I caught him as he paused to turn around thanks to the active targeting and zoom on the Pixel 7 Pro. I captured more than 150 photos of wildlife at the zoo with the Pixel 7 Pro and its output made me question why I even brought out my Sony. 

Also: Google Pixel's Magic Eraser can wipe out the worst photobombers

Pixel 7 Pro lone wolf shot

Active targeting kept this lone wolf in focus.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

While many of the zoomed-in photos may not print out well, they captured enough detail to show me the character of the animals and gave me a glance at once that would typically go unnoticed. 

My Sony Alpha 7 IV could have captured printable photos, but that would have required a better and much more expensive zoom lens. The convenience of using a smartphone with no tripod for capturing subjects on the go is tough to beat, especially if you are not a professional photographer. The images captured by the Pixel 7 Pro were perfect for sharing the experiences with family and friends on social media or in a shared online photo album.

Also: Best action cameras you can buy today

Pixel 7 Pro selfie at zoo

The perfect ending to a day at the zoo. Notice how well the Pixel's front camera blurs out the background. 

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The selfie camera on the Pixel 7 Pro also reminds me of the awesome front-facing camera that Google provided on the Pixel 3 XL, with options for wide-angle shots and solid results. I'm not a selfie guy by any means, but having a wider lens encouraged me to take more photos with those around me.

Pixel 7 Pro zoo giraffe photo

The baby giraffe spent some time in the sun with zoo attendees.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

It was a perfect day at the zoo and we even had the chance to capture photos and videos of the 10-day old baby giraffe (seen above). I was actually able to see nearly every animal at the zoo that day, which is quite an achievement considering they are rotated in and out of their areas or are often hidden far up in enclosures or behind trees and rocks. Having a reliable and flexible camera in hand was crucial for the journey, and on that day, it wasn't the more expensive one of my two. 

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