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The year-old Google Pixel 2's camera surprisingly still beats the brand new iPhone XS

With staggered release cycles, companies get a short-term upper-hand when they launch a phone against months-old hardware and software from the competition. Right now, the brand new iPhone XS is out — and we're still about a month away from the Google Pixel 3, so it's being compared to the nearly year-old Google Pixel 2 instead.

Normally, you'd think that'd put the iPhone XS way ahead — and in many ways, it is, because that's just how the tech industry works. But one place it seems Apple still hasn't caught up to Google's best tech from 2017 is the camera. With iPhone XS phones out in the wild now, a common refrain among reviewers and observers alike is that the Google Pixel 2 still takes consistently better-looking photos than Apple's new latest $1000 flagship.

Indeed, in the first handful of camera comparisons we've done with the two phones (a Pixel 2 XL and iPhone XS Max, in particular), the Pixel continues to flex its software-driven camera capabilities even as Apple touted its new "SmartHDR" camera processing on the latest iPhone. Most of us know the Pixel 2 takes deep, colorful photos with a really good feel for the proper exposure, and you can see in these side-by-side shots the area where it still shines against the iPhone XS' 12MP f/1.8 setup.

iPhone XS Max (left) / Google Pixel 2 XL (right) — click images to view larger.

Across the board the iPhone XS seems overexposed and soft compared to the deeper colors and sharpness of the Pixel 2. The dimly lit indoor hallway shot in particular shows how well Google manages to smooth details and nail the lighting.

The iPhone XS takes great photos — they just aren't as great as the Pixel 2.

As is the case in so many camera comparisons, if you were to take the iPhone XS photos alone and analyze them you'd be perfectly happy with the results. They're better than what the iPhone X was capable of, and probably better than most other phones out there. But it's interesting to see them beaten by the nearly year-old competition from Google. Other publications and reviewers have observed the same: the Pixel 2 just takes better photos, whether you measure by subjective feelings or objective metrics.

That has me increasingly excited for the Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL, which we'll see in a matter of weeks. We were rather skeptical of the Pixel 2 and 2 XL's cameras as the start given their lackluster hardware, but Google blew us away — now with another year of hardware advancement and software improvement, it could widen the gap.

What are your thoughts on the differences between the Pixel 2 and iPhone XS cameras?

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

95 Comments
  • You can only compare photos by using the same display, and identical brightness, etc... I don't deny either phone takes great photos. To suggest the Pixel is as good a phone as the latest from Apple is a bit silly. The number of people who's first consideration is the camera is very, very tiny. 🤣Granted, it is difficult to ever say anything nice about a Pixel phone.
  • "To suggest the pixel as as good as a phone as the latest from Apple is a bit silly." The author isn't making this argument. He's specifically stating that the camera on an older phone is outperforming that of a new phone. Also, your argument that you can't compare cameras without also comparing the devices' displays, brightness, etc. is kind of silly itself. You're aware that the photos taken on each device can be exported and viewed elsewhere, making the idea of their respective brightness/displays moot?
  • I have always thought that pictures as well as art are subjective. What looks good to me might not good to you.
  • EXACTLY! These arguments are ridiculous.
  • You are correct from the artistic viewpoint, and I agree with you on that. Composition, perspective, saturation, are all important, and you can have a "better" photograph even if it's not the highest quality. However, there are technical aspects that also come into play, and sometimes being artistic is not enough to make up for missing detail, lack of clarity, or missing colors. I guess this is where balance comes into play, and you often need a good eye and capable equipment. I've tossed photographs that were technically excellent because they just were not good photos, but I have also tossed photos that were very good just because of technical faults.
  • As someone who studied both fine art and digital imaging and has worked professionally with both, yes and no. Yes, with photography as well as other forms of art/design there is a whole lot that boils down to subjective interpretation or appreciation. However, there are also absolutely objective qualities that can be measured and compared. In the case of digital photography, there are actually a whole lot of those qualities. We're talking about things like clarity or sharpness, resolution, noise (especially in lower light), focus, lens distortion, aberration, flaring, balance, exposure, saturation/contrast, etc. Now, interestingly enough, some of those absolutely can be used purposefully to achieve a specific effect. But when comparing devices themselves we're sort of measuring the devices' ability to achieve the same standard at the same settings. That 'standard' usually being as close to reality as possible with some consideration given for certain aesthetically pleasing qualities like narrow depth in portrait modes or boosted dynamic range in less than ideal lighting conditions. Hence comparison photos of the exact same subject in the exact same setting and lighting, simply measuring the technical merits and not so much the aesthetics. Or mentioning the aesthetics separately. For example: If I take two photos with two separate devices I can clearly show and explain why one is sharp and clear or blurry and grainy. Or how one struggled to focus on a moving object and the other didn't. Or that one's shutter or processing speed was slower than the other. One's image stabilization or noise reduction is better. Exposure is better or worse. So on and so forth. All objective qualities. Then I can also point out that one is closer to reality in terms of saturation or color temperature than the other yet, at the same time, include an asterisk that some may prefer the warmer/colder vibrant/dulled look subjectively. Though I would also provide my professional recommendation to always look for the more unconditionally natural-looking shooter, as it's generally easier to adjust *to* a desired effect from a solid base than it is to come back *from* an undesired effect.
  • Agreed
  • Oh look, another Apple fanboy with hurt feelings. Feels like 2012 all over again
  • That's funny since I have a Note 8, and haven't had an Apple product since the iphone 4
  • I believe he was referring to the comment from TurnOnTuneInLogOut.
  • Wow then your really in the lower end of things such as the camera, battery, and top notch performance! I have the Note 8 as well, along with the HTC U12 plus. While the battery on the U12 dont blow away my Note 8's it is better. But when it comes to performance and the camera, that's when these 2 phones are separated by a huge margin. Plain and simple the Note 8 should be considered a midrange device when it comes to performance, while the U12 is leaps and bounds ahead. And as for the camera the U12 takes far better photos. I do prefer video on the Note 8, but that's something I hardly ever use. It confuses me to why people are so quick to brag how they own the Note 8 as if they have the best device, lol. You have the most expensive Android device my friend, but far from the best. Heck you could of saved 400 bucks and got a better device in the Oneplus 6
  • I wouldn't brag about owning a U12 either. That phone is a POS I returned after a week!
  • My point exactly. Just admit defeat in the particular category. Lol
  • We are looking at the samples in the article on the same display.
  • Obvious troll is obvious
  • It's easy to say nice things about a Pixel Phone, my P2XL is a great phone. It takes great picture and video, really good battery life and is both fast and smooth... See how easy that was?
  • Everybody keeps saying the pixel 2 has the better camera. Even the verge said the same things. I went to the Apple store today and the people who worked there who saw me with my 2 xl looking at other iPhones kept saying how much better the pixel camera was compared to the iPhone. These people who worked at my close Apple store were die hard apple fans.
  • I’m not saying you are not telling the truth but having both the pixel 2xl and iPhone X. I highly doubt you walked into an Apple store, especially after their big yearly announcement of the new phones and showed their employees pictures taken on the pixel. They are trained on how to behave in such matters. The Pixel takes amazing photos, outside the zoom, and video recording....recorded a 25 second clip at concert and it was it horrible! I was very disappointed, that’s where the iPhone comes in. Still to this day no one beats HTC’s older phones!
  • I have an iPhone X and Pixel 2. I don't know about the new iPhone but I definitely keep the Pixel in my pocket for those special occasions I need good pictures. The camera that Google has made just blows everything away. The iPhone does take good pictures but they just look ok next to the Pixel. By the way you don't need the same display or brightness. When I put similar pictures on a computer or social media you can clearly see the difference.
  • Everything that you say makes no sense as the next person already said. Your comment just states either wrong statements or totally subjective and non elaborated ones..
  • But did anyone actually expect an iPhone camera to compete with the Pixel?
  • I was hopeful.
  • Rene will be fuming and will hate you for this 😂😂😂 I expect to see an article why iPhone Xs is the best camera from Rene soon 😜
  • I'll double down on that and say I expect it before the weekend!!
  • Almost certainly within 24 hrs.
  • Nay, within 8 hours.
  • I look forward to reading his butthurt
  • I expect René to comment on this thread of comments real soon... :)   
  • Apple needs only do enough to keep people in the cult. I know people that grumble about Apple's phones all the time but would never think of switching. Until Apple falls way behind, much further than they are today, the flock will stay on course.
  • Tabguy, the cult following will remain. But Apple still continues to be stupid. They couldn't even include a 9 dollar dongle in the box. And the quick charger has to be bought separately. Plus their decision to discontinue the SE model. And then in the end their pricing is ridiculous. I had the iphone7plus 128gb model but SIRI drove me bonkers, repeato repeat. It was a great phone but when an important feature like SIRI drives me nuts I had to get rid of it. For myself the note9 offers more for cheaper. The XR with the 1792×828 display is not anything I would purchase. Plus no 3d touch and the single camera. 750.00?
  • Yeah you're quite right. Apple continue to be stupid. So stupid in fact, that they became the first trillion dollar company in history.
  • Exactly, where can I sign up to become stupid.
  • You're right. Their customers are stupid, not Apple.
  • I don’t know if I’m part of the cult. I do have an Apple TV, iPad, and iPhone. Was even thinking about the Apple Watch. But 1k is just a little too much for me. As for Siri, that’s one of the reasons I got into the Apple ecosystem. For my usage it works well...navigation, music, and alarms. Another thing that I use is Apple Pay which also works extremely well. But I use that and feel it is much better with touch id, something Apple is getting rid of. So, I too am looking to the Note 9 as I feel it offers more bang for your buck. Plus, having research a bit more on the watches, I prefer the look of the galaxy watch. I know the Apple watch is more feature rich, but what I plan on using it for, galaxy watch will work just fine.
  • That’s a very cliche comment, particularly on a website specialized in Android.. it’s like a cult atracking another
  • You are describing the people who buy Pixel phones as well just for Android instead of iOS. People will defend Google's atrocious Pixel 3XL by saying, "Oh well, it has the best camera even though it has a bucket notch and only 4GB of ram and is the ugliest smartphone that has ever been released. But hey, you know, that camera!".
  • So how are you any different posting in every Pixel article, using the same assertions over and over? Bucket notch, 4GB RAM, ugliest, I've seen that repeatedly in articles on the Pixel.
  • I am not a pixal fan but when it comes to camera's their still king of the hill. Many are top dogs but the king still remains. It's that simple!
  • I have always thought that pictures as well as art are subjective to the person that's looking at it. What looks good to me might not necessarily look good to you.
  • Dynamic range and exposure is not subjective
  • But overall quality is very much subjective to a lot of people. My wife likes her Note 5 camera better than the original Pixel camera due to its warmth even though I have argued with her about the other aspects of the camera. Just because DXOmark says something is better and gives some random number or some scale shows its range is better doesn't mean people will like it better. Sure, maybe a pro photographer who knows how to make use of what the camera can offer might make something of that but the average person isn't looking that close and probably won't be able to make full use of what the camera can offer. They point and shoot without thinking. It's the same reason people love Samsung's oled displays vs a more accurate IPS or whatever.
  • Yep. I fully agree with you. For example me, I feel that the higher mid-range and flagship devices all have good camera now. So I can't be bothered with choosing the phone by being it on camera (I'm not a professional photographer). What I want is a nice looking device with minimal bloatware if possible and software updates.
  • Mike Dee You're right, it's not subjective. But how can you look at these three photos and insinuate the Pixel has better dynamic range? The iPhone is bringing out equal detail in the highlights, and way more shadow detail than the Pixel.
  • On the blind cameras tests I always find the Samsung and iPhone to be better with the pixel 2 3rd, everything else is just behind, even the mighty Huawei. Pictures can be very subjective.
  • I have always thought that pictures as well as art is subjective. What looks good to me might not look good to you.
  • Do good photos still look good on a crap screen?
  • They look great on good screens like my laptop screen.
  • That’s more than pixel pipping. I find them equals, the pixel is sometimes better sometimes worse imo. It depends also on how the pictures were taken. But as an Android centric website it’s normal to give the pixel a little bias.
  • This came from "The Verge"
  • And we all know The Verge is so Apple biased, so that's definitely something
  • Don't tell the bozos on BGR this. The Master Bozo, Chris Smith, thinks the iPhone XS blows everything out of the water.
  • 2nd set of photos isn't even the same shot.
  • Looks like they're comparing a picture taken on the iPhone telephoto camera vs the Pixels wide angle. Not exactly objective imo.
  • I do professional commercial photography, and I'm not surprised.
    As far as comparing photos on the same display and identical brightness, I'm doing that right now, and the Pixel photos are better. As a matter of fact, I personally did a shoot out with another photographer using the iPhone 8 Plus versus the HTC U11, and the HTC came out on top. A zoomed sample from the original images is below, and the HTC was in full automatic mode with flash turned off. https://photos.app.goo.gl/s6QaU53JW9R5oXj46
  • Well I must say the iPhone's one looks muddy and very dark.
  • It was indoors at a place called the Rainforest Cafe. That model of a dragonfly was about a meter long, and the photo was take from about 3 meters away. The room was very dark, and I did not see the model of the dragon until after we had been there for a while. The U11 used a shutter speed of 1/9 sec and an ISO of 2939, but I'm not sure what the iPhone 8 Plus used.
  • This just shows the Pixel 2 XL is still a competent camera - a year later after it was released. Originally I was disappointed with the Pixel 3 XL having only one camera and 4 gig of RAM. This may be the most efficient design right now - in which I guess I'm okay with... Patiently waiting for the Pixel 3 or the 3 XL... time to see what Google has to offer.
  • I just hope Google can finally bring them to my country (South Africa), we don't have the option of Nexus/Pixel devices here.
  • Well I still hope Pixel 3 will improve the camera because there is room for improvement. Pixel 2 sensor is small and smaller then Pixel 1
  • But it still takes amazing pictures better then most other phones so pixel size means nothing.
  • It obviously means allot because details on Pixel 1 are better then on Pixel 2
  • Google needs something... The camera isn't going to save the Pixel 3XL but it is nice to see that Google does something right. I wish they would focus a little more on design though. The camera is one small (but important to some people) part of a phone.
  • LOL at all the butthurt Apple fans
  • The pixel 2 images look sharper
  • Design is subjective and I like it because you can tell a Pixel from a mile away.. Understanding angles and when to toggle HDR+ /enhanced will make a world of difference for photos so no surprise Apple jumped on board with HDR and push there deliveries of phones closer to the Pixel 3 launch.
  • Pixel 2 has the best auto/HDR performance. Apple may still have the better overall camera experience with some of their additional shooting modes. It comes down to what people prefer.
  • Photos are only as good as the photographer
  • I don't understand how someone can look at these three photos and think the Pixel 2 did better? Are you serious right now? How much of a blind Pixel fanboy do you have to be to think that LESS shadow and color detail is BETTER? In all three of the photos the Pixel has too much contrast, you're losing so much with the black crush issue (very noticeable in pictures 1 and 3). And why does it look like the middle picture is shot with the 2x camera on the iPhone? How is that a fair comparison to the Pixel's wide angle? This article is a biased mess.
  • Do you think they're basing it on just 3 photos? Just cos they've picked 3 for the article doesn't mean they took these 3 photos and called it quits and wrote an article. Use your brain. MKBHD said XS is behind pixel. So did the verge.
  • Yeah, I agree. I would say that the Pixel's photos look more "cinematic", maybe more pleasing, but on technical merits no, the blacks are crushed compared to the iPhone. The first shot I might node to the Pixel, I expect the color is more accurate, but without being there it's impossible to say.
  • I would wait till Apple releases a software tweak cus the over saturation and general over-processing looks like a mistake.
  • This bothers me, I read a lot about the iPhone on "ANDROID CENTRAL"!
    Looks like A/C has it's fair share of Apple fan boys of their own writing for them.
    I don't give a crap about iPhone or Apple anything. I wish Android Central would get back on track about Android and let the Apple sites worry about how a year old phone performs better than their flagship!!!
  • AMEN!!
  • I see they are still getting payment from Google. Sad. Biased.
  • Google spending a lot of money then as quite a few other sources are saying the same.
  • Too bad other sites like The Verge are saying this too.
  • Pixel FTW!! That had to hurt Apple, it has to
  • I don't think anybody cares besides commentors on here.
  • Is that really a surprise to anyone? Literally no one has access to as huge a database of information and can do AR like Google.
  • I am not a photographer nor do I want to be. I just want really good pictures, that is all. Most of y'all go overboard with all this picture stuff just to justify the amount of money you spent on those overpriced phones.
  • You hit the nail on the head.
  • XS took the better pictures in photos 1 and 3. And picture two isn't even at the same angle.
  • Don't believe the hype. They are just trying to find something good to say about a
    *t u r d* taking better pictures than an iPhone. #TurdNation
  • The only thing that surprised me is people are still buying iPhones. LOL
  • I'm surprised you're just realizing this?
    What else would they buy? A pixel?
    Lol, no way.
  • I've had both the Pixel and the Pixel 2. The rest of my family are all in on Apple, from SE into a 7. We all take pictures of sporting events and at Disneyland, both day and night shots. I am also an amateur photographer with a DSLR. My Pixel 2 regularly takes pictures that have better balance, white and color, and lowlight detail than anything I've ever used for snapshots. Many don't require any touching up. That is all the proof I need to know that this camera will be flagship quality for years to come.
  • I'm sorry, but I don't know how you can say the Pixel nails the lighting in the hallway. I think it looks horrendous (not even in comparison to the iPhone, just the picture on it's own looks horrible). The last picture, there is no possible way you can say the Pixel looks better. The wallpaper is flattened and looks like someone ran the paintbrush tool over it. It would actually be nice with these comparisons to have a DSLR picture that has been white balanced alongside, so we know what the actual color of the object is.
  • I don't get it. I bought a Pixel 2 on launch day and recently sold it. The reason? The camera. It was OK at first, during the winter, but the summer brought out a trait I really don't like. Dark pictures. Google's HDR tries too hard to keep detail in the highlights and tends to underexpose the darker areas of the scene. Beautiful sunlit landscapes came out looking dark and gloomy. I was getting way too many dark photos. I bought a Galaxy S9 to use alongside the Pixel and took many pictures side-by-side with my Pixel 2. The Pixel photos were always darker and less pleasing (to me) than those from the S9, but the S9 photos lacked detail when zoomed in. I didn't have a faulty Pixel, I have read similar comments from other Pixel owners. You can pixel peep all you like and think technically the Pixel takes fabulous photos, but it the end result doesn't please then it's no good.
  • The iPhone Xs images appear to have a flat profile, soft focus and the white balance is on the warm side. Reminds me of a RAW image with greater dynamic range than images from Pixel 2. I could open them in Affinity Photo on my iPad and add sharpness, contrast and other tweaks to produce some stunning images because of their flat profile. Also, there’s more detail in the shadows on the iPhone Xs images. The Pixel 2 images are sharper, cooler with more contrast and they look good. However, there isn’t as much details in the shadows. These images appear baked-in. I’d have less latitude in post. These two companies take different approaches. I like iPhone Xs images because I maybe able to tweak them without losing as much detail as I would with the Pixel 2 images.
  • I criticize the Pixel program a lot, but credit to Google for pulling this off.
  • I will go out on a limb and say for pure image quality, the 1020 beats the new apple products. I used to own a 1020 until Microsoft felt that I was no longer important as a customer and blocked my phone from being updated to w10m. Moved to iPhone then. The 1020 was the best phone experience I ever had, shame MS hired that dummy CEO they have now. The pixel (I own one) is an awesome device too.
  • Don't you Apple fans worry. Apple will probably release an update that we correct some of this and it will be a closer comparison.
  • We happen to have read the review comparing both camera phones on a site that clearly markets and has established its self as an Hub for Android news and Information. Meaning everything posted will be about android and how better it is compared to others. Im looking at the comparison pictures and i really dont see any differences in quality of lighting, depth or all other jargon used to describe Smart phone pictures..
    I have a Pixel 2 and a 5s, and dont really see any difference in picture quality from either phones other than video recording quality, which the pixel clearly wins with 4k 30fps. Chill out, no matter which phone you get Iphone or Pixel the cameras are satisfactory.
  • It doesn’t beat it, they are both great. At this stage it’s more personal preference...
  • To me, the XS photos look better. More dynamic range and not over contrasted like the Pixel. In the corridor, the Pixel sacrifices too much detail and you barely see the door. The XS photo has more information in it. Of course, this being an Android site wanting to get more clicks with a catchy title, no one looks at the photos objectively. If you want more contrast from the XS photo, you just have to apply some "auto-enhance" filter from any photo editing program. The inverse isn't possible: You can't take a Pixel photo and get the too dark areas looks good.