One month ago, Google released one of the most highly-anticipated smartphones of 2017. Boasting an impressive set of internals, a beautiful display, and Google’s vision of the Android operating system, the Pixel is a wonderful phone. When it was released, however, one feature Google was especially excited about was the camera, which it called the “best smartphone camera ever.” In fact, the Pixel’s 12.3-megapixel rear camera received a high score from DxOMark, the self proclaimed “trusted industry standard for camera and lens image quality measurements and ratings.” The Pixel received a score of 89 – the highest score they’ve ever given out, and three points higher than the iPhone 7 (although they have yet to rate the iPhone 7 Plus).
Both phones feature incredible cameras, arguably the top two performers on the market today as far as smartphone cameras go, although some would give the nod to the Samsung Galaxy S7. As Stuff.tv points out, “These might be the two best phone cameras today, and in either case, you shouldn’t be disappointed at all.” Let’s take an in-depth look at both cameras to see if we can determine a clear winner.
12.3 Megapixel rear-facing camera, f/2.0 aperture, dual-LED flash
2160p@30fps, 1080p@30/60/120fps, 720p@240fps
8 Megapixel front-facing camera, f/2.4 aperture, 1080p video
Apple iPhone 7
12 Megapixel rear-facing camera, f/1.8 aperture, quad-LED flash
2160p@30fps, 1080p@30/60/120fps, 720p@240fps
7 Megapixel front-facing camera, f/2.2 aperture, 1080p video
Smartphone cameras have come a long way over the years, and with the explosion of social media, photo quality has been pushed to the forefront with new smartphones. Both the iPhone 7 and Google Pixel provide incredible photos, but each certainly has their own strengths and weaknesses.
Photos from both the Pixel and the iPhone 7 have solid exposure, offer incredible clarity, and rich colors. Both are also easy to use, snap photos quickly, and have a fast and accurate autofocus. However, many agree that the Pixel seems to handle highlights better, but not perform as well with shadows as the iPhone 7. Many also agree that the Pixel produces more vivid photos – The Verge states that, in comparison to the Pixel, “The iPhone 7’s camera doesn’t have quite as much punch straight out of the camera”. While that will likely be a plus for many casual users, some say that the Pixel’s photos look “over-processed”, and prefer the more natural look of the iPhone 7’s photos – especially those that prefer to tweak their photos.
Both deal well with action shots and close-up photos, although the iPhone 7 focuses better on very close subjects. The Pixel, overall, offers a bit better low-light performance, and its dual-LED flash surprisingly offers more natural, evenly-distributed light to photos when activated than the iPhone 7’s quad-LED flash. Portraits are beautiful on both phones, although it’s clear that the Pixel’s camera can’t compare in this department to the dual-lens iPhone 7 Plus. The same is true with regards to zooming – the Pixel and iPhone 7 offer great clarity when zoomed in – but the iPhone 7 Plus’s dual lens system clearly outperforms both in that department. When comparing the Pixel’s camera to the dual-lens camera in the iPhone 7 Plus, CNET stated,
“If you tend to shoot portraits and that’s what matters to you most, the iPhone 7 Plus is an obvious choice. Portrait mode is DSLR-esque, and we only expect it to improve by the time it gets a public release.
But if brighter colors, sharper detail throughout the backgrounds of photos and capable low-light photography is more important, it’s the Pixel.”
Both cameras certainly live up to the hype. One can arguably make the claim that for your everyday, casual, point-and-click shooter, the Pixel may outperform the iPhone 7. However, for the Instagram junkies, those who love to take close-up pictures of their most recent meal, or those who simply like to tinker with post-processing for the perfect picture, the iPhone 7 may be a better choice.
Both the Pixel and the iPhone 7 are capable of shooting video at up to 4K resolution. Slow motion video can be shot, as well – up to 240 frames per second at 720p. And although both shoot beautiful video, it can be argued that this is one area where the iPhone 7 edges out the Pixel.
The camera on the Pixel has, overall, a quicker and more accurate autofocus than the camera on the iPhone 7. The Pixel’s camera also offers more even exposure, whereas the iPhone 7 can sometimes wash out the video with brightness. Slow-motion video is sharper with the Pixel, as well. However, the iPhone 7 consistently produces videos with more clarity, more vivid colors, and better low-light performance. According to BGR, “even at a distance in terrible conditions, the iPhone 7… camera captures sharper, more appropriately lit footage than the Pixel… On the other hand, the Pixel handles exposure shifting like a champ, while the iPhone falters.”
One area where the iPhone is the clear victor, as well, is with image stabilization. The iPhone 7 relies on optical image stabilization when shooting videos, meaning that pieces of the lens actually shift around very quickly to offset any motion while shooting video. The Pixel, on the other hand, relies on digital image stabilization, using quick software algorithms to offset motion. While the Pixel’s digital image stabilization is certainly impressive, and can, in certain circumstances, provide a smoother video than the iPhone, it can sometimes misinterpret motion, resulting in a jerky, un-natural video. The iPhone’s optical image stabilization simple provides, as CNET puts it, “a smoother, more human feel.”
Once again, the cameras on the Pixel and the iPhone 7 each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and some people may have different preferences, but this is one area where we feel the iPhone just edges out a victory.
While the iPhone 7 seems to, overall, provide better video quality than the Google Pixel, the opposite seems to be true with audio quality within the videos. This is an area that is often overlooked when reviewing smartphone cameras, but can be important for you YouTubers out there, or while capturing important moments when audio clarity is a must.
A recent video by gadget-focused YouTube channel Btekt compares low-light footage shot from the top of the Shanghai Tower in China shot from the iPhone 7 Plus to footage shot by the Google Pixel XL. The video shows the clarity and low-light performance of the iPhone 7 Plus, and the exposure shifting of the Pixel XL. However, possibly the most noticeable aspect of the comparison is the poor audio quality of the video shot on the iPhone 7 Plus when compared to the audio quality on the Pixel XL’s footage. We find that the same is generally true for the iPhone 7 and Pixel – the iPhone 7’s video generally tends to look better, while the Pixel’s video almost always sounds better.
Audio quality may not be a deal breaker when comparing smartphone cameras, but it’s certainly something to consider when comparing between the iPhone 7 and the Google Pixel.
Like it or not, selfies are a part of life now, and the front-facing cameras on our smartphones are more powerful than rear-facing cameras were just a few years ago. The iPhone 7 offers a 7-megapixel front-facing camera, and the Google Pixel offers an 8-megapixel camera. Neither offers a dedicated flash, although the iPhone 7 offers “retina flash”, which quickly brightens up the screen to offer a bit of pseudo-flash in the photo.
Both offer solid color reproduction, but we find that the Pixel’s colors are a bit “cooler”, providing photos with a bit of a blue tint when compared to the “warm” colors of the iPhone 7’s cameras, which come off a bit yellow. Although it seems to be a pretty close call between the two, we find that the front-facing camera on the Google Pixel offered sharper photos, and the wider field of view offered on the Pixel’s camera made it easier to not only snap selfies without fully extending one’s arm, but also make it easier to fit more people into the photo for group selfies. The Pixel also seemed to offer better low-light photos, despite the lack of “retina flash”, although neither front-facing cameras did a stellar job in low-light situations. All in all, you can give a (very) slight edge to the Pixel in the selfie department.