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Pixel 2 vs. iPhone 8 camera: A real-world test

Everyone knows the Pixel camera is something special, and if Google made anything clear from the Pixel 2 announcement event it was how much better this new camera actually is. So we wandered into the demo area with an iPhone 8 to see for ourselves how these cameras stack up.

It's worth pointing out the Pixel 2 is running pre-production software and we're using an unreleased demo phone, and because of time and venue this photo compare is hardly comprehensive. Each photo was taken with a single hand and no mechanical stabilization. Each phone was set to full auto with no tap-to-focus or expose, and HDR Auto was on with both phones.

This shot is in a relatively low-light area of the event, clearly showing off the Stranger Things partnership between Netflix and Google. In these two shots, you can see the iPhone 8 (on the left) has much warmer colors. It makes the Pixel 2 version of the shot (on the right) look almost washed out by comparison. Zooming in on these photos reveals how much more detail the Pixel 2 camera was able to catch, which makes a huge difference in those low-light shots.

These shots were taken with much more ambient light, and again the iPhone captured more vibrant colors. In fact, the iPhone shot almost looks overly saturated. The Pixel 2 again captured more detail, but the colors are consistent and sharp everywhere in the image.

Ohai there, Andrew! This photo was intentionally taken with more background light than foreground light, and it quickly demonstrated how Apple and Google see the world a little differently. Apple focused on warmth and detail in the foreground, but the background is now blown out and doesn't look great. Google properly exposed the entire image, leaving the foreground a little less lively.

Last but not least, we have direct downward light on a subject. You can see the iPhone 8 photo is clearly the brighter and more vibrant of the two shots, and there's really not much else to say here. Both phones captured a respectable amount of detail, but one is very clearly better than the other.

So there you have it. At first glance, there are some clear strengths and weaknesses to this Pixel camera when compared directly to its biggest competitor. There will obviously need to be a lot more testing done with this camera, but it's safe to say the race for "best" camera on a phone this year is going to be closer and even more interesting.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

38 Comments
  • Well, I ordered mine... I think I'm going to be happy with it.
  • Watching on my note 8, I thought it was something to see, moving along. 😎
  • Oh dear, hopefully they can improve the camera software because the iPhone owned that comparison
  • Eat some carrots
  • Eyes are perfectly fine my friend
  • Depends, if you like over saturated photos then yeah, the iPhone produced, If you like true to life colors with more detail then the Pixel came out ahead.
  • It's funny, back in the day with Windows Phone a lot of people would comment about how photos didn't look good but really the better camera will produce the more realistic looking photo vs something that appears to look better.
  • The iPhone doesn't oversaturate colors. Put a Samsung in this Co prison and that would be apparent. The iPhone does use a wide color gamut profile, though. This can account for why some differences exist. The iPhone has always consistently erred for true to life colors vs. Artificially pumping through up. These Comparions are useless without reference images from an SLR or at least a decent P&S. It's Imperative that the person looking at the image have a reference for how the scene actually looked. It could be Google toning the colors down too much. It could be Apple oversaturating then. We literally don't know and can't tell without a reference. We can say that historically the iPhone typically is never the phone pumping up the colors in these comparisons, so that claim strikes me as very odd.
  • Totally agree with you mate. I'm an android user but with no allegiance to any damn OS.. but the BlackBerry brand. Having made that clear.. IPhone pics definitely look better in this comparison shots.
  • egh,have you even see iphones camera reviews?, they are following samsung path this year.
  • That has been true till iPhone 7. Look up reviews of iPhone 8: it produces the most saturated images of any iPhone ever. In fact, in a shootout between Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone 8 it was the Note that was more conservative with colours. I personally like the iPhone pics, but don't like that it blows the background so often.
  • Dude no phone camera produces true to life photos.
  • I would think it would be easy to do software-wise. However, I find the Apple implementation a little over-saturated while lacking in detail. In the one picture, the reds on the wall are different shades....? If I ever need a little more color, I can easily enhance a pic in Google Photos. With my Pixel, I rarely do that though.... Can Apple fix their camera to produce more detail in their pics???
  • Both phones have superb cameras with their own strengths and weaknesses. For me personally, Pixel's colors and detail is more important than instagram style oversaturated/overexposed pictures. I am sure whichever phone one buys, they'll be happy with the camera performance.
  • Yeah I don't like the oversaturated look at all.
  • I disagree. In every photo except for the first one, the iPhone 8 seems to consistently overexpose white surfaces to a point that all details and nuances are crushed. This, and the overly saturated reds, makes it look more like an Instagram filter than a depiction of reality:
    Photo 2: On the iPhone photo, the whites of the wall above the phones are blown out as if it were a picture of the sun, while at the same time the black phones on the wall are almost invisible on the black background because of bad dynamic range. On the other hand, the Pixel get the details of both the wall and the black phone on black background.
    Photo 3: The structure behind Andy is a white mess on the iPhone, and you can't even see the border between the lower and upper part of the structure to his right side. I agree that the Pixel is too dark here, but it has loads more detail.
    Photo 4: The table and end wall is again completely washed out and overexposed on the iPhone. The border between the white parts of the model cable car and the table are not captured at all, with details completely crushed. On the Pixel, all detail and every shadow on the table is visible, and the difference between the whites on the car and the white of the table are evident.
  • Exactly how I saw it to @Miguente. The Pixel did much better than the iPhone.
  • That was going to be my comment on the last iPhone photo. The whites are completely blown out which is not cool.
  • Look closer and you'll see the iPhone blows out the highlights.
    Then again, some people just don't know what to look for when comparing photos.
  • The iPhone pics all seem to have oversaturated reds. Nah, not my cup of tea. The Pixel 2 pics look excellent though.
  • Since I'm using the mobile Android Central APP, I'm going to assume that left means top and right means bottom. That is correct right?
  • Lets just say BOTH the iPhone 8 AND the Google Pixel 2 have excellent cameras.
    to pick on both: the iPhone has too much red, pixel not enough red. (or one is too warm, other too cool)
  • I liked the iPhone pics better. PIxels were awfully bland ..
  • I wish the Pixel was a little more vibrant but that is easily corrected. Getting extra detail is not so easy to correct. I wish there was an auto setting to have normal or vibrant photos...sort of like they give you with adaptive display settings.
  • Kind of funny to see a comparison where the iPhone camera is the one oversaturated.
  • Right? I feel like we are in an alternate world lol
  • Makes me worried to see Note 8 vs Pixel 2 comparisons. Yikes!
  • Ahh yeah, I didn't even think of that. I don't even know what to expect...
  • Actually, contrary to years past, the iphone 8 oversaturates and samsung toned down the saturation in the note 8. With that said, as somebody who owns a galaxy s8 plus, I was disappointed how the note 8 stacked up against the iphone 8 in the comparison I saw. And here the pixel 2 makes the iphone 8 look like something from samsungs old (and honestly outdated and overstated) reputation. I'm afraid to see the note 8 compared to the pixel 2, but I'm hoping the comparison I saw between note 8 and iphone 8 was a fluke because the zoomed in detail on the note 8 looked significantly worse than what my s8 plus seems to produce and that obviously doesn't make sense.
  • If you believe the DXO reviews the Pixel 2 is definitely better, and if you dig into the details of that "standard" the Pixel's score is even more impressive. The photography score of the Pixel is 99, to a score of 96 for the iPhone e 8+. But what is amazing is that the new Dxo standard it built to favour phones with a second zoom lens. DXO added zoom and bokeh ratings which both significantly favour a two camera setup where the second camera is a zoom lens. For still photos the Pixel is significantly better that the iPhone if you take away this standards bias towards a two camera zoom setup. I suspect in real wood use the Pixel2 will best the iPhone 8, and most other phones, for one reason. It has amazing autofocus performance, which is what is really going to impact daily use. That said the camera's on phones are so good now that it's really hard to not be happy no matter what you buy.
  • As one who made their living for two decades developing software for scientific image processing, I am glad that Google took a conservative approach to processing the Pixel 2 images. Comparing the images, the Pixel's are much sharper and more natural looking. I would much rather have the Pixel's images, because I can enhance them to make them look the way I want them to. In fact, if someone gave me images from the iPhone, I would have told them "go back to your processing software and dial back the saturation and contrast, you've blown out the image, it's unusable." It's like the TV's displayed in stores with everything jacked way up. People look and say "ooh, it's soooo vivid and bright!!!" Phone manufactures are trying to get this "wow factor" by doing the same thing but in the process, they're ruining the images. I analyzed the images on DxOMark as well and came to the conclusion that the iPhone is performing over-aggressive noise reduction and image sharpening. When you don't look closely, the images look great. But when you are trying to extract the most from your images, you want something much less processed. From a photographer's perspective, the Pixel's images win, hands down.
  • Thank you for this viewpoint! It's much appreciated. Seeing this made me wonder for a second if I made a mistake in ordering but I really don't like the colors on the iPhone. I like the way it was previously.
  • Some of the photos I've seen coming from the iPhone look almost cartoonish.
  • Funny how saturated iPhone shots are this year.
  • Pixel still on preprod firmware. Will definitely become even better with updates. Then it will really kill it.
  • Idk u can't even see the table color difference in the cable car shot. You can clearly see the defined line of table color separation on the pixel shot
  • The iPhone really over-saturated. OMG
  • Apple really needs to turn down the saturation and exposure on the iphone 8 lol.