I was told. And I believed. But I didn't quite understand how good Google's Auto HDR+ mode is. After shooting with the Pixel 2 in some very challenging lighting conditions, I'm a believer.

Google's HDR+ mode is really, really good. And I'm prepared to defend it as my Gear of the Year.

Like I said, I was told. Our own Lars Rehm was impressed with Auto HDR+ in his Google Pixel XL review of last year. In his words: "the Pixel XL is capable of capturing decent smartphone image quality in its standard mode but the device really comes into its own when HDR+ is activated... The Pixel camera is capable of capturing usable images in light conditions that not too long ago some DSLRs would have struggled with."

So heading out with the Pixel 2 in hand, I knew that was a strong suit of the camera. I was looking forward to testing it on some challenging scenes. Things didn't look too promising though as the day started off pretty miserably.

The afternoon forecast looked better, but any Seattlite can tell you there are no guarantees in October. I figured I had a day of dull, flat lighting ahead of me that I'd have to get creative with. I was happily proved wrong.

The clouds started to thin out mid-afternoon. On a long walk from the bus toward Gas Works Park, I came across this row of colorful townhouses. The sun was behind them, and I snapped a photo that looked like a total loss as I composed it on the screen – the houses too dark and lost in the shadows. I didn't want to blow out the sky to get those details in the houses, so I just took what I figured was a dud of a photo and moved on. So what I saw on my computer screen later was a total surprise to me: a balanced, if somewhat dark exposure, capturing the houses and the sky behind them.

Am I going to print this one, frame it and put it on the wall? No. But I'm impressed that it's a usable photo, and it took no knowledge of exposure or post-processing to get it.

Gas Works used to be a 'gasification' plant owned by the Seattle Gas Light company and was converted into a park in the mid-70's. Some of the industrial structures remain, monuments to a distant past surrounded now by green parkland and frequented by young families with dogs and weed-vaping tech bros alike. On a sunny afternoon in October it was, both literally and figuratively, lit.

I was convinced my photos were not turning out, but I kept taking them anyway. It'll just be a deep shadows, blue sky kind of look, I thought. Little did I know that the Pixel 2 was outsmarting me every step of the way.

Back at my desk with the final photos in front of me, I was genuinely impressed by the Pixel 2. Did it do anything that I couldn't with a Raw file and about 30 seconds of post processing? Heck no. But the point is that this is the new normal for a lot of people who take pictures and have no interest in pulling shadows in Photoshop. They will point their cameras at high contrast scenes like these and come away with the photos they saw in their heads. If you ask me, it's just one more reason why smartphones will topple the mighty entry-level DSLR.

Apple's catching on too. HDR Auto is enabled by default in new iPhones and veteran photographer/iPhone user Jeff Carlson is also impressed by how the 8 Plus handles high contrast scenes.

While smartphone manufacturers have been increasingly implementing HDR as an always-on-by-default feature, they've also been making these modes smarter and the effect more aggressive. What previously took technical know-how, dedicated software, and multiple exposures is now happening with one click of a virtual shutter button, and it's going to keep getting better.