Apple iPhone X vs Google Pixel 2 XL: camera comparison


Comparing two of the best camera phones out there is no easy task: the iPhone X and the Pixel 2 XL are both excellent, but just as much as they are excellent, they are also different.

The differences start in the very camera setup: the iPhone X has a dual rear camera, one a wide-angle 28mm f/1.8 lens and the other, a slightly longer, "tele" lens at 52mm and f/2.4, both optically stabilized while the Pixel 2 XL only has one camera on its back, a 27mm, f/1.8 shooter that also has optical image stabilization.

What is more interesting in both phones is that there is more to the actual photograph than before. Call it computational photography, call it smart/auto HDR, it all boils down to photos from both these phones having better dynamics than you would think one can squeeze out of a tiny phone camera sensor. On both phones, you have an auto HDR option enabled by default, which means that the phones are actually taking multiple photos when you press the camera shutter button just once, and then smartly combining them into one final photograph.

What matters, though, is the final result. So let's compare photos from the iPhone X and Pixel 2 XL. We will include some general comments to each of the chapters in this comparison and then we will have per image comments, so let's take a look...

Exposure, White Balance and Color

iPhone has a brighter exposure, more accurate colors in daylight, while Pixel has darker exposure, warm whites and a big problem with the sky

There is a really easy way to know whether a photo was taken on the iPhone X: just look at the exposure. The iPhone consistently overexposes photos by a very slight margin. Pictures on the iPhone thus look a bit more cheerful, brighter. This results in two things: first, there is a slight bit of loss in the highlights that are sometimes slightly clipped (it is indeed very slight), but a lot of detail is recovered from the shadows. Most of the times, this looks nice, but sometimes it goes overboard and images get a bit of a "ghostly" overexposed look, for a lack of a better term.

The Google Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, has a noticeably darker exposure. It errs towards the underexposed, with much darker, deeper shadows where you cannot see that much, but ensures that you very rarely if ever will see highlights clipped on the Pixel. Which one is better? None, quite honestly, but if you had to look at unedited images, the brighter ones do tend to look better, so we give them a slight preference.

There is one exception to this rule: night time photos. Curiously enough, at night the Pixel 2 XL is usually able to capture a much better exposed picture, while the iPhone tends to shoot much darker exposures.

Here are a few examples:


In terms of white balance, the iPhone gets a white color that looks "right" most of the time. What do we mean? Simple, the whites are not bluish or yellow-ish, but are instead a pure, balanced white.

We have not measured white balance with a gray card, but it's obvious to even the naked eye that the Pixel 2 XL consistently shoots pictures with whites that look skewed: usually a bit yellowish or sometimes greenish. This really is more of the norm with the Pixel rather than an exception. Here are a few examples:


The human perception of color and brightness is closely interlinked, and that's why a brighter image would easily fool you into also thinking that it has more lively colors. And since the iPhone usually has the brighter photo, it appears that it has the more lively color. If we look at color separately, though, we can see that the two are very comparable. The Pixel actually tends to have a bigger boost in saturation and a general tendency towards painting color with a slight yellow hue.

Apart from the general rendition of color, we noticed one extremely weird thing about the Pixel. It consistently cannot get the blue color of the sky right. In lots of Pixel photos shot in broad daylight, the sky look all sorts of gray. It's very weird and unnatural, and it's definitely got something to do with HDR+ processing gone wrong.


Dynamic Range

The Pixel is in a league of its own with its amazing dynamic reach

When it comes to dynamic range, smartphone camera sensors are pretty limited because of pure limitations related to their small physical size. Apple and Google have both found ways to overcome these limitation using one key technology: HDR, which stands for high-dynamic range. Both phones have HDR modes always enabled by default. This means that they take a few pictures with different exposures and combine them together to have one picture that has better dynamics. All of this happens behind the scenes, so that the average user can never even notice it.

Yet still, the iPhone is a bit faster with HDR photos, while on the Pixel 2 XL you often see the loading bar for a few short seconds before the picture is processed.

HDR+ on the Google Pixel is also more aggressive and photos have higher dynamics. The iPhone X has a great dynamic range for a phone, but even it tends to clip the highlights in a picture ever so slightly, while the Pixel 2 XL keeps both highlights and shadows for a more fuller dynamics. You can take a look at this yourself in one example image that we pulled that shows this trend:


Sharpness and Detail

No one winner, both are similarly sharp and well-detailed

Both phones shoot 12-megapixel photos with a default 4:3 aspect ratio and detail is comparable on both, but there are some slight differences.

One common issue on many modern smartphones (we are looking at you, Samsung and LG) is artificial oversharpening. It is usually easily seen when you zoom into a picture and see a sort of a halo around the edges of objects. It's easily noticeable with fine details in a picture, such as when you photograph tree branches for instance. Luckily, there are no major issues with oversharpening on either of these two phones (the iPhone maybe has a very, very slight bit of oversharpening).

Sharpness and detail are really very, very comparable on both phones during the day. Sharpness is also a function of exposure: if you have more light and brighter exposure, you have less noise, more detail and a sharper picture. So that's why when one of the phones shoots a slightly darker exposure, it also usually appears as less sharp. But those cases are really evenly split and as hard as we looked, we could not find one or other has the upper hand with sharpness and detail. We have selected a few examples to show this parity off:


Psst! This article continues on the next page!

Click here to learn about Portrait Mode and see our conclusion!

Related phones

iPhone X
  • Display 5.8" 1125 x 2436 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 7 MP front
  • Processor Apple A11 Bionic, Hexa-core, 2390 MHz
  • Storage 256 GB
  • Battery 2716 mAh(21h 3G talk time)
Pixel 2 XL
  • Display 6.0" 1440 x 2880 pixels
  • Camera 12.2 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Octa-core, 2350 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 3520 mAh

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41 Comments

2. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

I'd chose the iPhone X over Pixel 2 xl any day of the week... Sad to say this but I feel Pixel 2 is way over rated by Google enthusiasts and thus consumers are being largely deceived by major tech websites or YouTube channels.

5. peace247 unregistered

Isn't this true for iPhone too?

13. Peacetoall unregistered

King iphone can never do wrong. How dare you say that.

8. Peacetoall unregistered

I would do that too, pixel 2 xl with those software bugs and hardware issue is just a big headache. Throttling iphone x all the way

20. mikedemoda

Posts: 128; Member since: Mar 19, 2010

agree, only scenario where I like Pixel photos better is at night, for everything else... iPhone X

43. ColinW

Posts: 412; Member since: Jun 04, 2014

I think consumers are being deceived by the many clearly slanted reviews on Apple products. The X is a prime example of a phone that is clearly a "catch-up" model, that looks and feels like a WIP, yet is over-praised in the press. The X does have a great camera that can take consistently good photos and videos, however there are a good few devices that are just as good and arguably better.

4. Furkan

Posts: 552; Member since: Feb 25, 2017

there is no better phone than iPhone X till S9 so..

7. dazed1

Posts: 799; Member since: Jul 28, 2015

LMAO, thanks for the laugh.

9. Furkan

Posts: 552; Member since: Feb 25, 2017

lol if I am wrong say a better phone than iX. definitely Note8 and mate10pro are not

12. Peacetoall unregistered

thats right I would prefer faulty throttling iphone x over Note 8.

11. Peacetoall unregistered

Well said Sir . As we all know by then Iphone x will go into throttling mode . So Note8 or upcoming s9 will be a better choice .

19. Furkan

Posts: 552; Member since: Feb 25, 2017

not Note8. with terrible speaker no S9 will be

30. cnour

Posts: 2305; Member since: Sep 11, 2014

Till the next iPhone you mean....

6. dazed1

Posts: 799; Member since: Jul 28, 2015

Low light????

15. jjface

Posts: 238; Member since: Jun 07, 2017

Funny how everyone else says the pixel 2 is ahead.

17. Victor.H

Posts: 1062; Member since: May 27, 2011

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. What I've tried to do here is give you the images with some of my comments that you may or may not accept, but you can see the images and make up your own mind :)

32. jjface

Posts: 238; Member since: Jun 07, 2017

Maybe so but I think you are really trying hard to show how much you personally like the iphone. Unfortunately readers aren't particularly interested in one person's preference but would rather see a more objective evaluation. Yes of course it won't be totally objective but there were many things the iphone did wrong that you downplayed or ignored. eg when you say the iphone clips highlights a little teenie bit I say it ruins the shot. When you say there is an ever so slight yellow cast I say unless you fell asleep in the sun tan bed that ain't right. Photo 5 was awful for the iphone. As well as photo 9 with the pink tint. Anyway they are both pretty good. It is clear the iphone can produce good shots as well as the pixel. I think I preferred it when iphones were more natural though instead of cranking up the saturation and exposure. I'm sure if you take a picture of something red to add to your article we can all see how overly saturated the iphone X can be. But plenty of examples of that elsewhere.

38. vincelongman

Posts: 5691; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Why no low light or other more challenging situations?

26. J2017

Posts: 74; Member since: Oct 25, 2017

Typical iPhone arena MO downplay iPhones weaknesses while emphasizing other phones weaknesses. Downplay other phones strengths while emphasizing iPhones strengths. Notice how pics 5 and 6 where the pixel 2 XL is clearly better there is no comment. But in the pics where iPhone is even marginally better the writer makes sure to point out pixels weaknesses

28. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

But the iPhone is terrible is most pics. The white balance argument is retarded because the color from that much sun exposure would appear yellowish not white. He is depeeately picking and choosing what to show in favor of the iPhone here and it still looks better and more real in the pixel photos.

35. thesilentnight

Posts: 16; Member since: Mar 12, 2012

It's shameful and petty that this site would "moderate" comments that question it's integrity.

36. Victor.H

Posts: 1062; Member since: May 27, 2011

The comments area has become toxic with hateful comments. We will moderate hateful speech and external links when there is no substance to them. That is not the type of "deep" communication that we would like to see here in the comments.

40. Ralph.

Posts: 249; Member since: Dec 20, 2017

I have every rights to hate something which I don't like, and provide my reasons off why. I have rights to show my feelings and expressions. Just like how you worship Apple and dislike others. You always praise Apple and give negative to other oems.

41. thesilentnight

Posts: 16; Member since: Mar 12, 2012

The "deep communication" here is challenging your writing and journalistic integrity. Two well known sites have both said the Pixel 2 XL is the better phone in terms of overall camera quality. No hateful, demeaning, or otherwise disrespectful speech was mentioned. It seems that the only thing YOU don't like or find "hateful" is that some of the responses AGREE with reviewers from other sites.

42. Victor.H

Posts: 1062; Member since: May 27, 2011

No, you don't have rights to troll around. You never had, this is not how things work. You can politely agree, disagree and criticize in a RESPECTFUL manner to both the authors and other readers. And have a civil conversation. The topic of cameras is one that is complex and you just cannot say: "this one is better". That is why we spent a few weeks taking pictures in different conditions and analyzing them, with a few knowledgeable people chime in with their thoughts. That is why we have a detailed two-page article to explain all of this in its exciting detail. Last but not least: one site may say one thing, another may say something else, and some youtuber can say something different. We cannot and will not comment on that as we don't know how they test, but we can vouch for our testing that we do diligently. And in the case with photos, you have the actual photos to see for yourself.

44. ColinW

Posts: 412; Member since: Jun 04, 2014

Victor, I respect that you do come to the comments page and contribute, most reviewers do not kudos on that. There is however, a clear iPhone bias in the reporting on Phone Arena. While reviews are highly subjective, cameras especially, consistency and a neutral approach are essential if the reviews are to be taken seriously. This is bound to lead to a reaction in the comments, which is exactly what some less serious sites clearly want. I read Phone Arena because I like the fact you do a full review of products, not just repeat what others say or make a judgment based on brief use and observation, yet the clear bias leads to me dismiss your findings. Please take the central ground and your reviews will be appreciated much more. By all means, tell us what you personally like in general articles, but in reviews, you have to be neutral and consistent.

46. thesilentnight

Posts: 16; Member since: Mar 12, 2012

Very masterfully stated. Victor seems to have a problem with receiving constructive criticism of his reviews. That's more than likely why other sites are mentioned because their reviews offer a more comprehensive finding of the analysis.

48. Victor.H

Posts: 1062; Member since: May 27, 2011

Thanks for the feedback, Colin, I appreciate you guys sharing with us. In this case, I disagree strongly that there is bias. We buy all Apple products that we review with our own money (also, many Android phones), and we try to always be objective. But as a wise man once said, when you hear advice or criticism, even if you don't like what you are hearing, listen to it and do take notice :) Happy Holidays!

45. thesilentnight

Posts: 16; Member since: Mar 12, 2012

No one is being disrespectful. Period. It says a lot that most of the other comments actually seem to call out a perceived bias on YOUR part as opposed to journalistic integrity. I didn't do that, but the fact that I mentioned other websites that have been PRAISED for their journalistic work seems to strike a nerve with you. Sounds like a personal problem to me. I do disagree with your reporting and I find it incomplete.

37. Donforreal

Posts: 60; Member since: Oct 12, 2012

it must have killed PA, like bleeding from the ears, to say anything nice about the Pixel 2. .Even if it was just couple things, this is the most harsh talk i have read on a site about Pixel 2 camera..

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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