Image Quality and Performance

Thanks to its powerful Snapdragon 805 processor the Nexus 6 feels quick and responsive in use at all times. It takes approximately one second from tapping the app icon to being ready to shoot, a touch longer when opening the camera from the lock-screen shortcut. 

At just under one second in bright light AF speed is decent but not among the best we have seen. As we'd expect, the AF slows down in lower light but usually manages to reliably lock on after a a couple of seconds. The Nexus 6's 3220 mAh battery usually takes you through the day but will need recharging overnight. Thankfully the device comes with a fast charger that can give you 6 hours of battery life in just 15 minutes of charging.

Daylight, low ISO

In daylight conditions the Nexus 6's auto white balance tends to produce natural results and colors and tonality are, as usual on smartphone cameras, on the saturated and punchy side. Sharpness and detail captured by the 13MP sensor are generally very good across the frame but our test unit showed some slight softness toward the left edge. Strong sharpening in combination with some blurring of low-contrast detail through noise reduction can lead to a slightly unnatural look when viewed at 100% but the Nexus 6 images are free of halos, chromatic aberrations and other artifacts. 

Some luminance noise is visible in areas of plain color, such as blue skies, and in shadow areas of the frame but overall low ISO noise is well under control on the Nexus 6. In terms of highlight clipping the Google device is in line with the competition in the high-end bracket of the smartphone market. In high-contrast scenes some clipping is inevitable but extreme highlights, such as reflections of the sun on shiny surfaces, are handled fairly well, with a smooth roll-off. That said, the lens is a little prone to flare and internal reflections with a strong light source, such as the sun, inside the frame. 

Overall the Google Nexus 6 camera performs well in bright light conditions, with decent detail and pleasant colors. Some of the typical smartphone camera blights, such as smearing of fine detail by noise reduction and a tendency to clip highlights are noticeable but aren't any more pronounced than on its closest rivals.

ISO 40, 1/1743 s
Good detail and sharpness but some detail smearing is noticeable
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ISO 49, 1/120 s
Good detail but slightly yellow skin tones in this shadow scene
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ISO 40, 1/1089 s
Smearing of fine detail noticeable in shadow areas
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ISO 40, 1/518 s
Some clipping can occur in high-contrast situations
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ISO 40, 1/240 s
Shadow noise is well controlled
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ISO 40, 1/2998 s
The lens is a little prone to flare
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Low light, high ISO

The samples below were shot in low light in the Nexus 6's standard mode. As we have shown in the features section of this review the camera is capable of achieving noticeably better low light results in its HDR+ mode, as long as you are willing to accept a slight processing delay after each shot.

In its standard mode the highest value the Nexus used during our testing was 1198. In combination with the 1/12 sec slowest shutter speed and F2.0 aperture this allows for decent exposure of illuminated night scenes but is not quite enough for even darker scenes. However, HDR+ mode can also help achieve brighter exposures in very dark scenes. That said, before conditions get too dim good exposure and color are maintained in across the ISO range in standard mode as well. The slowest shutter speed is used in some conditions from ISO 300 upwards. The optical image stabilization helps reduce camera shake but with moving subjects some motion blur is almost inevitable at such low speeds. 

As one would expect noise and loss of detail through noise reduction take their toll as you go up the ISO scale but overall the Nexus 6 is controlling noise well, with a good balance between noise reduction and retention of detail. Chroma noise is very well under control as well, with only some traces creeping in at the highest ISO settings. As mentioned above results noticeably better in HDR+ mode, with improved detail and lower noise levels. We have included another HDR+ sample at the bottom of the following sample table.

ISO 151, 1/40 s
Low noise levels and good detail in this image taken at dusk.
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ISO 219, 1/40 s
Illuminated interior shot
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ISO 292, 1/33 s
Still a clean image in this interior scene
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ISO 305, 1/15 s
Shadow noise is well controlled
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ISO 333, 1/13 s
Slight softness caused by subject motion
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ISO 646, 1/12 s
Luminance noise and effects of noise reduction becoming more intrusive
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ISO 843, 1/12 s
Softness is noticeable at pixel level but the image is still usable at screen size
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ISO 842, 1/12 s, HDR+
Low noise levels and good detail in HDR+ mode.
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Flash

The Nexus 6 uses an LED ring flash that looks, at least form the outside, identical to the unit used in the new Motorola Moto X. Like all smartphone flashes it's not very powerful and struggles with subjects that are more than a few feet away from the camera. In many situations, including very low light, on the Nexus 6 we'd prefer the results of the HDR+ mode over a flash exposure.

The flash is capable of achieving good results when you are relatively close to the subject but when you get too close skin tones have a tendency to wash out. The camera tends to stick to a 1/40 sec shutter speed and keeps the ISO relatively low though. This results in decent image detail and a reduced risk of blur. The auto white balance system usually does a decent job dealing with mixed light situations as well. Red-eye is sometimes noticeable.

ISO 218, 1/33 s
Slight overexposure of skin tones
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ISO 254, 1/40 s
Noticeable red-eye effect
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