What Is Real Tone on the Pixel 6 Camera and How Will It Help You Shoot Better Portraits?


When taking a photo, most of us don't bother going into the camera settings of our device to try and make our shot the best it can be. Instead, we rely on our device and trust that the auto mode will do the job for us and snap a shot we will love.

The Pixel 6 wants to add on to this trust with Real Tone and help you shoot better and more accurate shots without the hassle of editing them yourself. Let's see what it is and how it works.

What Is Real Tone on the Pixel 6?

Real Tone is a new image technology designed to make different skin tones appear more accurate and natural no matter who is in front of the lens. It's a set of camera tuning models and algorithms to make computational photography better and feel more natural.

At its 2021 Google I/O event, the company announced its intent to make a fairer and more inclusive camera system to better represent racially diverse skin tones. The context being that smartphone cameras have historically not been tested with diverse enough subjects.

Image Credit: Google

As New York Times VP Creative Vida Cornelious pointed out, "Image technology was calibrated for white skin, and that meant that the variety and spectrum of colors had to therefore conform to that calibration."

This then resulted in image algorithms that worked great for lighter skin tones, but not so much for darker ones. As a result, the images often looked grayish or washed out when photographing the latter, especially in challenging lighting conditions.

This is where Real Tone comes into the picture, quite literally. Using it, the images that are output from the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro should be far more accurate than any other smartphone camera and able to better represent you if you happen to have a darker skin color.

How Does Real Tone Work?

Image Credit: Google

"We're making auto white balance adjustments to algorithmically reduce stray light to bring out natural brown tones and prevent over-brightening and desaturation of darker skin tones," said Google VP Product Management Sameer Samat.

There are mainly three steps that need to happen to make Real Tone work the way it does. First, in order to adjust the color and lighting of a face in an image, the camera needs to detect how many faces are actually there in the shot. That is done by improving face detection.

The next step is to make sure that the natural hues of a person's face are preserved in the image. This is done by making better auto white balance adjustments and tuning them such that they don't alter your natural skin color and make it look ashy or desaturated.

The last step is making sure there is an adequate amount of lighting in the shot. This is done by improving auto exposure tuning such that it makes the faces clearly visible but doesn't overexpose or underexpose other elements in the image such as the sky, roads, or buildings.

Image Credit: Google

With the combined use of face detection, better auto white balance tuning, and improved auto exposure, the Pixel 6 is able to better understand the nuances of different skin tones and adjust the image accordingly.

So the next time you take a group selfie with your friends or coworkers, you can be sure that every person in the frame will be represented accurately and feel seen. Although, you might want to take note that there is no way to turn this feature off if you want to as it's baked into the software.

A More Equitable Camera for Everybody

We know that smartphone cameras are becoming better year after year in a variety of brackets, from portrait mode to HDR to slow-mo video. But one area that is often overlooked is how well do these new tools work for different groups of people.

With the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, Google wants to fill that gap using Real Tone to create a fairer, more equitable, and representative camera for everyone, no matter their skin color.


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