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.

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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:

Speed and Ease of Use

Both the iPhone and the Pixel camera apps start quickly and they focus impressively quickly. 

We find the shortcut to start the camera more intuitive on the Pixel: simply double click the power key on the right from any place, even from a locked screen and you instantly go into the camera. On the iPhone you do not have a such a shortcut and you have to actually fire up the screen first and then either swipe to the left from the lockscreen or force touch the tiny camera icon, which is a bit less convenient.

While the iPhone is slower in taking an HDR picture, it processes this picture faster, while on the Pixel taking an HDR photo is faster, but when you open the camera app to see it, you often have to wait for a few seconds for the photo to process.

Taking a picLower is betterTaking an HDR pic(sec)Lower is betterCamSpeed scoreHigher is betterCamSpeed score with flashHigher is better
Apple iPhone X1.3
No data
No data
Google Pixel 2 XL0.951

Also, when you shoot in portrait mode, you cannot see the blurred background effect on the Pixel, you only get to see it once you have already taken the picture, while on the iPhone it shows in the viewfinder, which is much more convenient.

Flash Performance

The iPhone X has a new slow-sync flash feature that really elevates photos taken with the flash to a new level. What is slow sync flash? Simple: the flash light fires with a lower shutter speed, which means that more light gets in the pictures. While previously setting off the flash would brighten up the subjects, it would leave the background in the dark, while slow sync flash allows for more of the background to show and it is a more controlled way of firing the flash, so people do not look excessively lit by the flash.

The Pixel 2 XL lacks such a feature as it has a regular flash unit.

Portrait Mode

The iPhone lights up a person's face and shows more pleasing colors, while the Pixel has troubles with color

Portrait Mode was a trend that the iPhone 7 Plus started and it involves blurring the background, while leaving the subject in sharp focus. This is usually called bokeh and is typically something you get when using DSLR cameras. Portrait Mode on smartphones is mostly done via software, as opposed to it resulting from the natural relation between the larger sensor and the lens on a DSLR.

Both the iPhone X and the Pixel 2 XL support this feature. The iPhone has a dedicated, second camera with a 52mm f/2.4 lens that allows you to get a bit further back and its optical properties contribute to a more flattering, "flat" look of a face in a portrait, while a wider lens usually exaggerates facial features (typically, it makes the nose look too big).

With this in mind, let's take a look at the actual Portrait Mode photos on both phones:

While the iPhone has a bit of green shift in colors, it does the important things right: my face is lit up properly, the background is consistently blurred, and while the picture lacks a bit in detail and is a bit on the soft side it is definitely very pleasing.

The Pixel 2 XL has a technically sharper image, but it fails to capture the sunset colors here and the whole image has dumbed down colors and my face is underexposed. There is also a huge part of the picture - the tree branches - that are in sharp focus when they should have been blurred out.

You can see similar issues for the second shot as well. One other small, but important thing is that the secondary lens on the iPhone allows for my face to be better "proportioned", while on the Pixel my nose looks unnaturally big and if this was a picture shot from an even closer distance, it would have been even worse.


The Pixel has much sharper detail, but it goes overboard with a clarity-like effect and it can get skin tone wrong. The iPhone has a soft picture, but more lively colors.

The Google Pixel 2 XL has an 8-megapixel front camera, while the iPhone X has a 7-megapixel "TrueDepth" camera, and both phones have one special ability: they can blur the background on photos with the front camera to get a DSLR-like Portrait effect.

When you compare selfies from the two one thing is immediately clear: the Pixel 2 XL shoots much sharper, much more detailed photos with a much better dynamic range. It really is a night and day difference. But - and this is important - it can get skin color wrong and exposure can be lower. In terms of sharpness, there is a bit too much of it. More specifically, the Pixel 2 XL selfies have the same "clarity"-like effect that you see on the main camera, but when it applies to selfies, it really over-exaggerates puffy eyes and under-eye bags in an unflattering way.

The iPhone, on the other hand, shoots much softer, almost blurry images and highlights on it are often burned and there is less detail in the shadows. But it is often better able to "see" a face and lights it up properly, while on the Pixel your face can often be underexposed and completely blend with the rest of the image. Also notice the first couple of pictures taken as the sun sets, the iPhone has less detail, but its colors are much more true to reality, with that soft gold tone on the face and the proper exposure, while the Pixel looks dark, underexposed and the face skin color is completely off.

Viewing Experience

The same picture looks completely different on the two phones

We shoot photos on our phones, and the majority of people tend to look at them on a phone as well. That's why how you see a picture on a phone display matters a lot.

The viewing experience has a lot to do with the quality of the display and proper color calibration settings.

The iPhone X pulls ahead in this regard: its OLED screen has a very pleasing color balance and iOS fully supports the wide, DCI-P3 color gamut, so that you can actually see those wider colors that your camera shoots in.

The Pixel 2 XL screen is a bit of a disappointment. It turns into a life-less bluish mess when you tilt it just slightly, but even if you look at the screen front and center, colors still lack a pop and look a bit dull. Even though, Android 8.0 Oreo supports wide color gamuts, the built-in Google Photos app does not, so you cannot actually see it.

*Disclaimer: The images below show an approximation of what images look on the two screens. We have custom edited them to be as accurate as possible.


It's time to sum things up and tell you which of these two is the better camera, but as much as we hate to say it, we cannot objectively say one is better than the other.

We can testify to these: both are excellent cameras, but in some conditions the iPhone will take better pictures, and in others, the Pixel.

If you are asking for a personal and a subjective opinion from a camera enthusiast like myself, I'd go with the iPhone... most of the time. I shoot a lot of pictures of people and a lot of pictures during the day when the iPhone usually does a better job with white balance, color and exposure right out of the gate, and it has a beautiful, non-compromised display that allows showing those pictures in their best light.

Which of these two would you prefer?

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