Google’s Android flagship devices have received a lot of acclaim for their smooth performance and clutter free Android experience. One feature for which they have, however, been less rarely praised is their camera prowess. In fact, the erstwhile Nexus series was best-known for its lack of multimedia prowess – “goeth thou to purchase a Nexus,” the geeks would say, “expect not the greatest camera or speakers.” The Nexus 6P broke that mold to an extent, with its brilliant low light performance. And the newest Google phones, the Pixel and the Pixel XL, claim to have raised the bar even higher, with each sporting a 12.3-megapixel camera that has a DXOMark score of 89, which is the highest given to a camera on a phone.
All of which has inspired two very obvious questions:
- Is the camera really that good?
- Is it better than the one on the iPhone 7 Plus?
We have spent about a week with the phone and well, based on our experience, what cannot be doubted is that the camera on the Pixel (both the Pixel and the Pixel XL have the same camera) is the best we have ever seen on a device with the Google brand name. And unlike the 6P, which seemed more adept at low light photography than at normal light (oh the Lumia-like irony), the Pixel holds its own in normal light as well. Details were very good indeed, and while colors did seem a tad more “warm” making them slightly unrealistic, we got good shots more often than we did not.
The phone also carries ahead the low light legacy of the 6P, handling glare very well indeed, and giving us some brilliant low light shots in spite of lacking optical image stabilization (although it has EIS). Truth be told, we did not miss OIS too much as images of moving objects like traffic also came out fine. We really wish Google would jazz up that interface a bit – it is way too plain, given what we are getting from other Android phone manufacturers, particularly the likes of Huawei.
So yes, we would say that the camera on the Pixel is a very good one. Almost as good as the one on the Samsung Galaxy S7, which we still rate as among the best we have used in terms of color reproduction, detail and most important of all, sheer consistency.
Now comes the second question: the little matter of how the Pixel’s shooter compares with the current Cupertino Darling, the iPhone 7 Plus?
Having both devices with us, we took a number of comparative snaps from both of them (in default mode, tweaking no settings apart from setting HDR off), and well, here are our conclusions:
- In terms of speed, we did not see a major difference between the two devices. Both take snaps relatively fast. And yes, while we do wish that both Apple and Google would do a little more with their camera interfaces, the fact is that their sheer simplicity makes them easy and quick to use.
- Both phones are very good in normal light conditions. In terms of detail, however, we think that the Pixel has a slight edge – while on the surface (no pun!) the results of both cameras are impressive, getting into pinch to zoom mode saw the Pixel’s results pixelate (pun intended) slightly later as compared to the iPhone 7 Plus. That said, those sharing images on social networks will not really notice the difference, but yes, if you are keen on printing out images and have to choose between the two devices, we would say that the Pixel has a slight edge here.
- But if the Pixel has an edge when it comes to detail, we must confess that the iPhone7 Plus holds its own when it comes to handling colors. Both phones handle color well, but we felt that the Pixel slightly oversaturated some snaps, giving them a pleasant but very unrealistic feel – this was particularly evidently during the early part of the day when the golden sunlight was almost turned a light brown by the Pixel. The iPhone 7 Plus also has a slight tendency towards over-saturation but shots captured by it appeared far more realistic. If you want pleasant looking shots, go for the Pixel. Want something more realistic? The iPhone 7 Plus it is.
- Both phones capture motion well in auto mode without any significant blurring. Honestly, we could not choose between the two.
- If you are capturing human beings, we would advise using the Pixel more frequently as its penchant for slight over saturation results in more pink-complexioned people. The iPhone 7 Plus again tends to pretty much show it as it is.
- Snapping food? We would go with the iPhone 7 Plus here – the slightly more realistic colors help, although those loving lots of reds and greens in their shots might be tempted by the Pixel. The Pixel also does capture slightly more detail so if you are looking for textures and grains, the Google phone might be a better choice.
- When it comes to close-ups, we think the iPhone 7 Plus has the measure of the Pixel, even if you do not summon up its 2X optical zoom. We were able to get sharper shots and the background blurred even without invoking the much talked of portrait mode. Bokeh comes better to the iPhone at the moment of writing.
- Which brings us to low light photography, and while (as we stated earlier), the Pixel is no mug in this department, it frankly is outgunned by the iPhone. Playing spoilsport for the Google phone is the fact that many low light snaps from the Pixel often ended up having a slight blue tint. The iPhone 7 Plus, on the other hand, was superb in low lights, rendering some very realistic imagery. Pixel also has issues with the lens flare which are more apparent at low light situations. We would not recommend using the flashes on either of the two phones, unless absolutely necessary, though – you get much better results without them.
- Sample videos in default mode from both phones yielded similar results – we got decent videos from both devices. The Pixel was reasonably stable in spite of not having optical stabilization up its sleeve. Once again, we felt that the iPhone 7 Plus had slightly more realistic colors.
- In terms of sheer consistency, we think the iPhone 7 Plus still has the edge not just over the Pixel but all other phone cameras out there. The results from the iPhone 7 Plus were often pretty close to what we expected, while the Pixel occasionally surprised us pleasantly and even less pleasantly too. If you are the point and shoot type, we think the iPhone will find greater favor with you.
So where does that leave us? Well, frankly, we think the Pixel runs the iPhone 7 Plus very close in many departments and even betters it sometimes in detail, but is let down by a slight tendency to over saturate colors and get blue tints at night. And we are saying this without factoring two massive advantages the iPhone 7 Plus has over the Pixel in sheer hardware terms – the 2X optical zoom, courtesy the dual camera set up, and optical image stabilization. The iPhone 7 Plus for us remains the best camera phone out there for its sheer consistency shot-on-shot, but the Pixel is not a very distant second (or third, depending on how much you like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – we would rate it slightly above the Pixel for its color handling).
So, if you use Android and want a phone with a great camera, we would definitely recommend the Pixel. And that, in our book, is a massive achievement for Google, considering just how mediocre some of the Nexus snappers were.