10 Reasons Why Google’s Pixel 5a Phone Is Good for Shooting Video
Google’s Pixel 5a is a mid-range phone offering 4K video, smooth motion tracking, and more for content creators on a budget.
Not everyone has the budget to drop big bucks on a dedicated camera for video, but continued advances in the world of smartphones make them viable, affordable alternatives to dedicated cameras.
Not only is a smartphone camera compact, but it’s also always with you, making it the best camera around for any situation. But, which smartphone to choose in such a saturated market is a bit of a head-scratcher.
One option is to go the iPhone route, but I suggest looking at Google’s affordable Pixel 5a. Considering what you’re getting, it’s a bargain.
The Pixel series of smartphones by Google have consistently been some of the best Android phones available. Despite Google’s relatively recent foray into the smartphone space, the search engine company has proven itself as a formidable opponent.
The latest Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones are the most innovative, powerful Pixel phones yet, leveraging Google’s in-house Tensor chip for next-level AI and machine learning features like Magic Eraser, which can altogether remove objects from images. However, Google also offers budget options with a generous amount of top features.
The Pixel a-series phones are almost identical in features to last year’s release, with the Pixel 5a repackaging the Pixel 5 at a lower price point. It’s got 5G, an OLED display, and a freaking 3.5mm audio jack.
The $450 Pixel 5a isn’t the flashiest phone on the market by far, but it’s a low-key smartphone for beginner content creators looking to get started on a budget.
1. Arguably the Best Budget Smartphone Camera
Above all else, Pixel phones are known for one thing: the cameras. It’s not necessarily that Google manufactures phones with the best glass and image sensors. Google is exceedingly proficient at computational photography. It’s the secret sauce.
Google was on it before even the geniuses at Cupertino could do the same on iPhones. The Pixel 3 introduced computational photography to the wider world, and it debuted one of my favorite features on the Pixel: Night Sight.
In plain terms, Night Sight uses machine learning to create a well-lit image by either stitching together a burst of pictures or doing a long exposure. The feature has only gotten better over the years, and as of last year, it’s been upgraded to be used with video, as well. Well, kind of.
The mode only works with Astrophography mode toggled on, which is limiting but still awesome. The Pixel 5a can capture the stars as they move—no need for a telescope or complicated software for stitching images together.
2. Stable Motion Tracking and Cinematic Pan
This is a relatively new feature on Pixel. It’s also a much-needed one. Instead of having to rely on something like a DJI OM 5 phone gimbal for stabilization and tracking, the Pixel 5a has it baked in.
Rather than a basic and general stabilization feature, the Pixel 5a has specific modes to tackle whatever complex shot you’re working on. The Standard setting is set as the default, and it’s good for a minimal shake. You can change that by selecting the small icon with a hand beside the shutter.
Active is for heavy movement, while Locked is best for zoomed-in shots. But the real draw is Cinematic Pan, which does exactly what you think. More than any other mode, Cinematic Pan makes a case for why the Pixel 5a is an excellent phone for video. It’s perfect for capturing establishing shots, dynamic B-roll shots, and moving subjects. It’s a banger feature.
The Time-Lapse and Slow-Motion modes are another two features. It’s unlikely you’ll use either mode often, but they’re nice to have. The Slow Motion mode can shoot in either 1/4 or 1/8 speeds, up to 120 or 240fps. That’s wild.
3. Easy to Use
When you need to capture a video like right now, the Pixel 5a has two clutch shortcuts you’ll rely on. The first opens up the camera app when you double-press the down volume button. I’ve used this feature so much that I’ll be doing it from muscle memory with future phones until the end of time.
The second feature makes shooting an impromptu video a piece of cake by allowing you to hold the shutter button in the standard camera mode—the video records for as long as you keep your finger on the button. I instinctively shoot short clips this way unless I need to capture a longer video or tweak the shooting settings.
4. 4K Shooting
I know, 4K shooting on a smartphone is not new, but you’re getting it on a sub-$500 phone. That’s something. You can even change frame rates, with the option to choose between 30 or 60fps.
The quality of the 4K footage on the Pixel 5a is good. It can even be great with external lighting and a color grade. It won’t beat a mirrorless camera in terms of quality, but the Pixel 5a can hold its own, especially with motion tracking and stabilization.
5. Advanced Shooting Settings
Having more control over your settings is one of the reasons why a dedicated camera is necessary, but the Pixel 5a does have a few advanced settings.
As I already mentioned, you can adjust resolution and frame rate in the drop-down menu when shooting video. That’s nice for when you want to switch from capturing a slow-moving subject to a fast-moving one, or if you feel a higher resolution might benefit the clip.
But if you click the More Settings button in the same drop-down menu and then hit the Advanced option, you’ll be able to choose whether you want to record videos in H.265 (HEVC) instead of H.264 (AVC), which helps with producing smaller video files.
Additionally, photographers can toggle on RAW + JPEG control, a setting that gives you the option to shoot stills in RAW and JPEG. On the subject of stills, you can adjust the bokeh effect in images taken with Portrait mode—it’s an advanced feature that not many know about.
6. External Microphone Support
Typically, the Pixel a-series phones have fewer features than the phones they’re based on. In the case of the Pixel 5a, however, it has one feature the Pixel 5 didn’t have: a headphone jack.
It’s such a big deal nowadays to have a headphone jack—this news made waves. Even Google joined in on the fun by putting out a hilarious commercial parodying over-the-top tech ads focusing on the headphone jack.
The headphone jack is good, but it does more than you think. The 3.5mm headphone jack also works well for audio input from an external source.
You can simply hook up a microphone to the phone and get clear audio that will make your videos so much better. The onboard microphone on any smartphone is just not an option and should only be used as a last resort.
It won’t work with just any microphone, however. Obviously, XLR microphones are a no-go, but you’ll want to make sure to use a microphone with a TRRS cable and not a TRS one. The former includes a third ring on the tip for microphones. Something like this Movo lavalier microphone is not too expensive, and will give you a much clearer sound.
7. First for Any Android Updates Until August 2024
One of the best reasons to own a Google Pixel phone is because they’re the first in line for any Android updates, and the phones are supported for a long time. According to Google, the Pixel 5a is guaranteed to have updates until August 2024, though updates could continue well after.
I’ve had a Pixel 3 XL since 2018, and it’s still being supported until May of this year. No other Android phone maker can compete with a Pixel’s longevity. The frequent updates keep Pixel phones relevant long past competitors, with big-number updates like Android 12 gracing Pixel phones months, if not years, before other Android phones.
Pixel phones are also recipients of Google’s “feature drops.” You never know when a new feature drop is coming, but it’ll improve your experience in some way when one does. These occasional updates add features to Pixel phones that are exclusive, such as time-lapse astrophotography.
8. Long Battery Life
Although the Pixel 5a is a 5G phone, it’s got surprisingly excellent battery life. The Pixel 5a’s “Adaptive Battery” extends battery life based on your usage, making it possible to go up to two days without charging, in my experience. Of course, if you’re shooting video all day, that may not be the case.
However, shooting in even 4K shouldn’t drain the battery extremely fast. When the battery does reach the single digits, the Pixel 5a’s 18W charging puts your phone back in action rather quickly. A full charge will take under two hours, but you can get close to half charge in just thirty minutes. That should be enough to get a few more clips.
9. Cloud Backups
Nothing sucks more than losing your work, especially if it’s for a client. Storing your files in two or three places is one way to make sure that doesn’t happen. Another way is to upload your files to the Google Photos cloud.
Unfortunately, the Pixel 5a doesn’t come with years of free Google Photos uploads like previous releases, but you can still subscribe to Google One for 200GBs of cloud storage for $3 a month. Later on, you can upgrade to 2TB, 5TB, or even 10TB. You can directly upload your content to the cloud immediately after shooting, which protects your files from disappearing if you lose your phone or break it.
If 200GBs isn’t enough, you can upload to the cloud and then download the videos back onto a physical storage drive.
10. Incredible Bang for Your Buck
Have I mentioned that this phone is only $450? If you buy directly from Google, as I did, you can trade in your old phone to bring down the price. Or, you can wait until a sale rolls around.
The Pixel 5a was down to $400 during Black Friday. Google Fi, Google’s wireless network, has a plan that brings the price down to $360 paid over two years ($15 a month). Cheaper Android phones exist, but none offer as much for the same price. The OnePlus phones come close, but many mid-range devices aren’t sold in the U.S., such as the OnePlus Nord 2. Even then, OnePlus phones don’t have the same level of access as Pixel phones do.
Whether you’re looking for a camera for vlogging, making YouTube videos, or trying your hand at filmmaking, the Pixel 5a is simple enough to learn and evolve as a content creator.
The Pixel 5a may not sport the best lenses or the fastest chip, but it does offer a solid camera app with a variety of flagship features at an affordable price.
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Cover image via Gabo_Arts.
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