Google Pixel 4 vs. Pixel 3: First camera comparison

Google PIxel 4 XL and Pixel 3 XL
Google PIxel 4 XL and Pixel 3 XL (Image credit: Android Central)

Discussion of Google's Pixel phones is dominated by photography. Google talks a big game about its capabilities, and backs it up with results — even last year's Pixel 3 regularly beat 2019 phones in camera comparisons. And now we have the Pixel 4, so it's time to see what strides Google's made between generations.

The Pixel 4's main camera sensor may be effectively unchanged, but that doesn't mean there aren't improvements to the resulting photos. New software running the show, and perhaps subtle differences in the hardware arrangement, can all make a difference. And the Pixel 4 of course has a secondary telephoto camera now, which can offer improvements in zoom and portrait mode quality.

Here are our first camera comparisons between the new Pixel 4 and last year's Pixel 3 — the results are impressive.

Daylight photos

Pixel 4 (left) / Pixel 3 (right) — click to view larger.

There are a few themes that stand out to me here. The Pixel 4 takes noticeably cooler photos than the Pixel 3, which is obviously extra-noticeable viewing side-by-side — whether you prefer cool or warm photos is a bit more of a personal preference, but I think the Pixel 4's are easier to work with and warm up in post-processing rather than vice-versa with the Pixel 3.

The Pixel 4 is brighter, sharper, and a bit cooler — but overall improved in most aspects.

The Pixel 4 is also considerably brighter in all of the shots, both in hitting the "right" exposure and also applying a bit more HDR-like processing to bring down highlights and bring up shadows. You could say it's a bit less natural than the Pixel 3, but I think they look better — and again, it's often easier to bring down the brightness than bring it up without creating other problems.

The Pixel 4 is also hands-down sharper across the entire frame in daylight. I already thought the Pixel 3 was sharp, but the Pixel 4 has better edge detection, better textures and fewer instances of texture being crushed down and overly-smoothed. It's most noticeable in close-up shots, but the effect comes across in the aggregate with wider scenes as well.

In terms of zooming, the results are as expected: at 2X, the Pixel 4 is considerably sharper than the Pixel 3. Though the differences aren't that massive when viewed at normal size — the Pixel 3's advanced digital zooming is good, and does a fine job considering the resolution limitations. But if you pixel peep even a little bit, you see how dramatically sharper and more detailed the Pixel 4's telephoto shots are.

Low light photos

Pixel 4 (left) / Pixel 3 (right) — click to view larger.