Google Pixel 2 vs iPhone X, Galaxy Note 8 portrait camera comparison: is one camera really enough?

Instagram would have been super silly during the Renaissance years, don't you agree? Seriously: imagine dinner being served, then an artist is summoned to draw a painting of your dish, after which a carriage arrives to pick up the painting and deliver it to your crush. And then you start eating your pork belly soup. Luckily, we have smartphones – smartphones that can not only take great photos, but also make these photos more fun and better at grabbing attention; smartphones that have Portrait Mode, developed to make the subject stand out by applying artistic blur (basically simulated bokeh) to the background. 

The Google Pixel 2 is one of the many phones that have such a Portrait Mode. What's interesting, however, is that it needs only a single camera to produce the effect. Most other phones, including the iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8, require two cameras to define subject and background – a crucial step in determining where blur needs to be applied. Meanwhile, the Pixel 2's Portrait mode relies on artificial intelligence to do the same, as well as on the sensor's dual pixel properties. You can read more about how Portrait Mode on the Pixel 2 works in our article dedicated to the subject.

So, can the Google Pixel 2 produce Portrait photos at the level of the iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8 with half the cameras? Let's explore and find out.

Scene 1

One of the factors that separate good portraits from not-so-good portraits (portraits with simulated bokeh, that is) is how well the subject is separated from the background. In this particular case we see the Pixel 2 handling my messy hair really well, but on the other hand, edges around my shoulders and arms haven't been detected as accurately. 

Overall, and if we don't take things like color fidelity into account, all three portraits look fine unless examined under a magnifying glass. Only then you can really see imperfections: the Note 8's poor edge detection around the hair, or the Pixel 2's inability to detect the border where my muscular arm ends and the background begins.

Scene 2

When it comes to Portrait Mode photos, one thing that any phone seems to struggle with is curly or wavy hair. We'd say the Pixel 2 is no exception, seeing how it blurred out that disobedient strand of hair up there. Meanwhile, the iPhone X and the Note 8 had a bit of a hard time with the jacket's fuzzy collar. And it looks like the point we made above is still valid: these portraits look fine as long as you don't zoom in.

Scene 3

Now it gets interesting. In this scene the pixel failed to apply its Portrait magic, presumably because it couldn't detect a human face in the frame. However, the iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8, relying on their dual cameras, managed to blur out the background pretty well. Admittedly, this is an unusual situation to take a portrait in, but it does demonstrate how the Pixel 2's Portrait Mode may be unable to handle trickier or more artsy scenes.

Scene 4

In this next scene, all three portraits look fine at a glance, but a few seconds later you realize that something with the Pixel's shot isn't quite right. Apparently, the Portrait algorithm missed the area inside my arm, leaving it untouched when it should have been blurred. The iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8 didn't have any problems blurring everything properly.

Scene 5

Later that day, we repeated the situation, but in a different location and under poorer lighting. Once again, the Pixel 2 missed the very same area, but surprisingly, so did the Galaxy Note 8. Only the iPhone X blurred out the background properly. 

Scene 6

What happens when you have more than one face in the frame? Would any of the phones fail to pull off a Portrait shot? Not really. Here's a situation where all three deliver great results, with pleasing bokeh and sharp, in-focus subjects. 

Scene 7

And here's another set of shots that we like quite a lot. This time around, the Google Pixel 2 did a pretty good job separating our subject from the background, despite the challenging hair conditions in the way. On the other hand, the effect isn't applied as strongly as with the other phones. The iPhone X and the Note 8 were rather aggressive with their edge detection, at least in this particular case, but produced a more convincing bokeh.

Scene 8 

And before we wrap things up, here's another low-light indoor scene. Unfortunately, the Pixel 2 couldn't quite produce a perfect portrait here – a part of the background in the lower right corner has no blur applied to it. On the other hand, the iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8 blurred out the background accurately.


We'll be brief: the Pixel 2 isn't as good as the iPhone X or the Galaxy Note 8 when it comes to taking Portrait Mode shots. Admittedly, Google's phone produces great results in most cases, but it is still a step behind the heavyweights from Apple and Samsung. 

On the other hand, it is truly impressive how the Pixel 2 manages to deliver results that are nearly as good using one camera only instead of two. The way we see things, it is only a matter of time until Google's Portrait Mode algorithms match the performance of dual-camera rivals. 

But even now, most portrait photos from any of these three phones would look fine unless you zoom in. And if you really, really want perfect bokeh every time, a proper camera is still the way to go.

Full-resolution versions of the images used in this comparison go below:



1. iczer

Posts: 160; Member since: Oct 14, 2015

Awesome photos from Pixel 2!!!

27. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Dynamic range in Pixel 2 is just awesome

43. blingblingthing

Posts: 986; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

The other phones (Other than Pixel 2) are taking pictures with soft subject details then blurring. This makes for a cleaner look with the blur effect. (The only knock on the Pixel 2) My question is. Do you prefer soft subject uniform blur or strong subject and soft blur?

2. dnomadic

Posts: 449; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

The blur is definitely more natural on the Note and iPhone, but the subject looks much better on the Pixel in my opinion. The subject is what most will be mindful of when viewing a my eyes the Pixel looks much sharper and clearer than My Note and the iPhone.

13. Furbal unregistered

Makes sense. The pixel isn't using a inferior sensor to capture the detail of the photo like the other two.

30. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

Portrait mode means not a clean subject but a good background blur and a brighter more pronounced subject.

33. Furbal unregistered

The whole idea of blurred background is to bring focus on the subject

51. dnomadic

Posts: 449; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

I understand what you are saying, but when I'm using my 85mm F1,8 Canon Lens or my Nikon Lens (currently no lense actually since I sold my cameras) My subject was always Crisp. Some people like the softer photos for photos, but I think that is more consistent with a preference more than the principle by which all portraits are judged. I prefer a clean image not smudgey, the Note 8 and Iphone look smudgey. I can see a little out of focus, but not to the point of the Iphone and Note 8.

3. cnour

Posts: 2305; Member since: Sep 11, 2014

iPhone X destroyed them especially Pixel 2, the big failure of 2017.

14. muck1

Posts: 13; Member since: Mar 02, 2012

I guess you have a iPhone lmao

29. cnour

Posts: 2305; Member since: Sep 11, 2014

Hopefully you will be able to buy one.....

45. Georgio

Posts: 325; Member since: Nov 21, 2016

IPhones are for girls mate ; you just joined girls club.

4. Xilam unregistered

To be honest. It really doesn’t matter which phone you choose based on cameras. - choose which features and ecosystem you prefer and you’ll be fine with either of these for a camera.

34. An.Awesome.Guy

Posts: 636; Member since: Jan 12, 2015

Well, it is good to know especially if there is few friends and which camera is the best to get a photo, or if someone is really considering the camera when buying the phone.

41. FeloniusMonk

Posts: 18; Member since: Oct 25, 2017

I don't buy a phone based on the camera, but the irony here is that Google made its machine learning the main selling point of its phones, and used the camera's portrait mode as an example of that. Turns out their machine has a learning disability.

5. midan

Posts: 3213; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

Pixel 2 photos look very dull and dead while iPhone X photos are full of life, then there's Note 8 which just turns everything yellow.

24. cmdacos

Posts: 4383; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Wait... You're saying the note is turning everything yellow in these samples??? Granted in other tests and including personal use the note is putting out warmer pictures in general then what Samsung has produced in the past, you cannot say the note is adding more yellow than the iPhone eks is here. The subjects all have jaundice in almost every eks photo here. The pixel has the most natural colors of the bunch in these shots but not necessarily as punchy as most would like.

6. Whitedot

Posts: 893; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

Beautiful colour reproduction from PIxel 2.

7. Xilam unregistered

I actually think the opposite.

10. dnomadic

Posts: 449; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

I actually think the opposite of you... I like the colors on the Pixel. Tones in the faces look like I would anticipate, as for the accuracy of the colors, IDK, I think they look much better... iPhone looks as if red is boosted

8. Phullofphil

Posts: 1846; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

I am not an expert but for little phone cameras they all do the job great. For me I have the iPhone X and the only thing Holden me back is the quality of the case that ruins my photos especially with my flash on.

9. dnomadic

Posts: 449; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

I know portrait mode is cool, and the blur is cool, but the subject has to account for's not even close, razor sharp Pixel photos....look at the stubble on dudes face....look at the girls face...I can't account for color since I wasn't there, but the colors of the skin look like what I would expect on the Pixel. I wish the screen was better would have purchased over my Note 8.

11. jove39

Posts: 2149; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

I’d just use my dslr that take proper portrait pics. Say No To Gimmicks.

15. An.Awesome.Guy

Posts: 636; Member since: Jan 12, 2015

Look at the Pixel 2 image of Scene , you may notice that the left picture on the wall is blurred while the right one isn't even though they have similar distance from the camera, this mistake doesn't occur on the other two phones.

32. An.Awesome.Guy

Posts: 636; Member since: Jan 12, 2015

I am talking about scene 6

16. theot14430 unregistered

IPhone X, and Note 8 are the best.

17. CreeDiddy

Posts: 2284; Member since: Nov 04, 2011

I believe the Pixel 2 has the most detail, but very pale photos in comparison to the X that has warmer, orangy/yellowish/punchy skin tones that makes the photos stand out more. The Note 8 is a disaster.

21. darkkjedii

Posts: 31757; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

All of them took some very nice shots. The Note 8 is the best device though.

36. bucky

Posts: 3797; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

in your opinion.

23. jjface

Posts: 270; Member since: Jun 07, 2017

LOL yes totally pick out every flaw on the pixel and ignore all on the iphone X and even the note 8. Like the lost detail in the hair in scene 5 and the excessive noise. Or the outrageously warm color rendition on the iphone. Or blurring out the candy pot in scene 8. For all its flaws the pixel is clearly the best at portaits and plenty have shown it. Those two men in scene 2 though on her shoulder!

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

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