I took photos of the northern lights with my Pixel 8 Pro and Galaxy S24 Plus — the results were very different

A photo of the northern lights in the night sky
(Image credit: Derrek Lee / Android Central)

Last night, an intense storm gave the world quite a show as it ignited the sky with an array of colors that many south of the Arctic rarely get a chance to see. Many set their sights on the sky, which was ablaze with stunning views of the northern lights (or aurora borealis), now vividly emblazoned into all our minds and on our phones.

I was a bit late to the party, but as soon as I could, I made my way up to my rooftop to try and capture the event. I live in Seattle, so this is definitely not a common occurrence. Fortunately, the skies were much clearer than they were for the recent solar eclipse (save for some light pollution), which was blocked off by the gloomy Seattle weather. So, I grabbed my Pixel 8 Pro and Galaxy S24 Plus and pointed up, curious to see how both phones would capture the event.

Pixel vs. Galaxy

I tried to shoot the exact scene with both phones each time I snapped a photo, alternating one after the other. Since they were both in night mode, I tried to stay as still as possible, and holding both at the same time wouldn't really work. The Pixel 8 Pro made it easy to see where I was shooting, but the viewfinder on the Galaxy S24 Plus wasn't really doing me any favors, and much of the time, it was just guesswork.

I also had both phones alternate between auto night mode and max night mode to see if there would be any visual difference (there wasn't) with the extra few seconds. Eventually I just kept them both on auto to see how they would fare (the Galaxy would usually take one extra second to capture the scene than the Pixel), and I was a little surprised at the differences between the results.

I chose not to edit the images to compare the raw output from both phones.

Shot with the Pixel 8 Pro. (Image credit: Derrek Lee / Android Central)

Shot with the Galaxy S24 Plus. (Image credit: Derrek Lee / Android Central)

The images from the Pixel 8 Pro were much more true to life than what the Galaxy S24 Plus captured. The colors were a bit more muted, and the image was overall much softer, although there was a lot of light pollution where I was, so the auroras were not as vibrant. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S24 Plus seemed quite aggressive with its colors, punching up the saturation more than I personally prefer. 

Shot with the Pixel 8 Pro. (Image credit: Derrek Lee / Android Central)

Shot with the Galaxy S24 Plus. (Image credit: Derrek Lee / Android Central)

I admit it the punched up saturation could sometimes make for a cooler image, but overall, I preferred the photos from the Pixel for being much brighter, even if I wish they had more contrast.

Shot with the Pixel 8 Pro. (Image credit: Derrek Lee / Android Central)

Shot with the Galaxy S24 Plus. (Image credit: Derrek Lee / Android Central)

The Pixel 8 also seemed to do a better job of capturing the stars in the sky despite the auroras and light pollution from the city.

Astrophotography mode on the Pixel 8 Pro came in clutch

Before I grabbed my Galaxy S24 Plus, I took a few images of the sky using Astrophotography mode on my Pixel to see if that would provide better results than the default night mode. Unfortunately, they weren't much better than what night mode captured, but the cool thing about this mode is that it also captures a short timelapse in addition to an image, which made all the waiting around more worthwhile.

(Image credit: Derrek Lee / Android Central)

I admittedly tried using the Astrophoto mode on the Galaxy S24 Plus, but no matter what capture time I selected, the resulting images just weren't usable.


Many people captured amazing images of the northern lights, which can be found on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and other sites. You can also check out more amazing photos and learn more about the event at Space.com.

Did you capture any good photos of last night's light show? What phones or equipment did you use to take them?

Derrek Lee
News Editor

Derrek is a long-time Nokia and LG fanboy who loves astronomy, videography, and sci-fi movies. When he's not working, he's most likely working out or smoldering at the camera.

  • kxc1279
    These are very beautiful photos, esp w/the Pixel 8 Pro. Google's Pixel still most def has the edge over the Galaxy photos. Thanks for sharing.
    Reply
  • parksanim
    Neat article. Samsung is killing it with gains in sales while Google have dropped. There is a perception on the street that Google is deflating. It's not due to phones, but other problems with the company. A lot of trust in its products has been lost. It's really time for some new direction.
    Reply
  • subguy812
    parksanim said:
    Neat article. Samsung is killing it with gains in sales while Google have dropped. There is a perception on the street that Google is deflating. It's not due to phones, but other problems with the company. A lot of trust in its products has been lost. It's really time for some new direction.
    Maybe so, it is really a shame Samsung has always lagged behind in photo quality. Maybe one day they will find the magic sauce, or Google can sell it to them.
    Reply
  • dprahn
    Even with my Pixel 6, with street lights right behind, I still got some great photos. One here below.
    362399
    Reply
  • cosmojetz
    Did you also try with Video Boost mode on the Pixel 8 Pro?
    Reply
  • Reahs
    Why did you use "night mode" when manual mode is so much better when it comes to photographing at night/aurora/astrophotography?
    Also use a tripod next time or prop your phone upp against something
    Reply
  • SyCoREAPER
    Reahs said:
    Why did you use "night mode" when manual mode is so much better when it comes to photographing at night/aurora/astrophotography?
    Also use a tripod next time or prop your phone upp against something
    Exactly. Writer is shilling the Pixel while using both phones incorrectly.

    The Samsung should not have been in night mode, it should have been kept in regular mode or astrophotography. Night Mode is NOT for taking pictures of the sky, it's to capture regular pictures in low light situations...

    My god "articles" like these drive me nuts.
    Reply