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Apple iPhone X vs Google Pixel 2 XL: camera comparison

Posted: , posted by Viktor Hristov

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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.


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.

iPhone's slow sync flash preserves the background nicely

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.

Selfies

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.


Conclusion


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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