Nexus 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus camera comparison: where Google's smartphone shines and where it lags behind the iPhone

Nexus 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus camera comparison: where Google's smartphone shines and where it lags behind the iPhone

Not long ago, we did a camera comparison between two highly-acclaimed smartphones, namely the Nexus 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. But you, guys, didn't know that at the time since the comparison was of the blind variety. In other words, we only presented a series of photo samples and asked you to vote for the camera which you liked better. Once all votes were in it became clear that Google's handset had won the race. And not by a hair. In fact, the Nexus 6 was favored by more than three quarters of all who voted, while the iPhone 6 Plus, despite known for its great camera, received less than a quarter of all votes. 

So, is the Google Nexus 6 the next yardstick and new king of cameraphones? Not really. Is it better than the iPhone 6 Plus? Well, it depends. We continued our extensive testing between the two phones' cameras and concluded that the Nexus 6 does have the potential to stand out under the right conditions. In certain cases, however, it can't quite beat Apple's biggest iPhone to date. We'll elaborate on the matter below as we comment on the photo samples in this comparison. Note that they've all been taken using the cameras' default settings, with HDR off, and flash on only where specified. 

Scene 1 - performance in broad daylight


We took a shot of this scene on a sunny afternoon, when the sun was nearing the horizon. Judging the two cameras' performance, at least in this case, is not easy as it is a matter of picking between faithful reproduction and what looks pleasing to the eye. To be more specific, the image from the Nexus 6 comes closer to reality in terms of colors and overall presentation, whereas the iPhone 6 Plus has captured an overly-warm, yet more captivating photo. 

Zooming in on the two photos reveals that Google's smartphone has produced a sharper image. But a sharper photo, although it might look better that way, isn't a necessarily a more detailed photo. As a matter of fact, we took the iPhone's photo and manually increased its sharpness – the result was an image looking almost exactly like the Nexus 6's in terms of details. All in all, the Nexus 6 took only a marginally more detailed shot of this scene despite its considerable advantage in megapixel count (13MP vs the iPhone's 8MP).

Side-by-side preview

Side-by-side preview



Scene 2 - outdoor color accuracy


The iPhone's tendency to produce warm images is even more obvious in this scene, where the rocks and foliage, illuminated by the sun's already yellowish glow, appear unnatural with their exaggerated warmth. As for the Nexus 6, its image is a much closer representation of what our eyes could see at that moment. Also, the latter has produced sharper details, as it did in the previous scene. 

Side-by-side preview

Side-by-side preview


Scene 3 - details and color fidelity in daytime photos


Here's another example of how the Nexus 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus approach color reproduction differently. Again, the former sticks closely to reality, while the latter delivers much warmer color tones. Yet despite its imperfections, the image from the iPhone easily grabs the attention with its vividness, while the Nexus's photo is somewhat dull in appearance.

Side-by-side preview

Side-by-side preview


Scene 4 - Colors and exposure


Now let's take a look at a scene with a bit more color variety in it. Here's where the iPhone's camera shines with its ability to not overexpose brightly-lit portions of the frame – take a look at the flowers' petals in the first close-up to see what we mean. Again, the photo taken with the Nexus 6 is noticeably sharper. 

Side-by-side preview

Side-by-side preview


Scene 5 - Indoor studio test


This is a test image we take in a studio with any smartphone that lands in our office for review. What you see photographed is a poster printed with great precision on high-quality canvas. We ensure the frame's accurate illumination by measuring and controlling the amount of light falling at several key points of the image. Phones are mounted on a tripod for this test. When taken under these conditions, the Nexus 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus produce nearly identical results. The amount of details and the presence of digital noise stand, more or less, at the same level for both images. 

Side-by-side preview

Side-by-side preview


Scene 6 - ISO 12233 chart


These images were also produced using the procedure described above. What we have here is an ISO 12233 chart, which is used for detecting a variety of camera distortions. That the Nexus 6 adds a hint of sharpness to its images is clear to see, whereas the iPhone 6 Plus retains a neutral sharpness level. About the whole sharpness thing, it makes images seem more detailed, and we're sure that some people might like their photos better that way. But a silver bullet it is not. The extra sharpness is more of a double-edged sword, making some images more pleasing to the eye, while rendering others unnatural. Scenes of high contrast, for example, may end up looking plain weird. We must also note that the photo from Google's smartphone contains more artifacts due to jpeg compression.

Side-by-side preview

Side-by-side preview


Scene 7 - Flash performance


To test the low-light performance of the two phones, we shot this indoor scene in complete darkness. The results are greatly in favor of the iPhone 6 Plus, as we're sure you'll agree. Its image is well exposed, with good details and plenty of illumination provided by its flash. The Nexus 6, on the other hand, produced a darker image with poorer detail quality. On top of that, the odd dual-LED flash configuration on Google's smartphone produces horribly-looking "twin" shadows behind objects at a specific distance from the camera. 

Side-by-side preview

Side-by-side preview


Scene 8 - Details and noise in indoor images


We shot these two images in our office under a fair amount of artificial and natural lighting. Overall, the iPhone 6 Plus's camera did a slightly better job at it – its photo contains clearer details despite the lower resolution of its sensor. As for the Nexus 6, we see a greater amount of digital noise its image. Also, the amount of distortion seen in the tree on the right is unacceptable. 

Side-by-side preview

Side-by-side preview


Scene 9 - Low-light performance


It looks like taking photos in low light is a discipline the Nexus 6 isn't very good at. Or at least it isn't any better than the iPhone 6 Plus. Here's a photo taken at night, with a couple of small light bulbs acting as light sources. Google's smartphone fails at capturing fine details, as it becomes clear once we zoom in. The iPhone 6, however, manages to capture a fine, detailed image with less digital noise in it. The latter's warm color tones are present in this sample as well, but they do contribute to creating a more visually pleasing image. 

Side-by-side preview

Side-by-side preview


Scene 10 - Night scenery


Again, the Nexus 6 is lagging behind the iPhone 6 Plus by a significant margin, but given the quality of the previous shots, we kind of expected that. Google's smartphone produced a slightly blurry image despite the fact that it boasts optical image stabilization. (Before you blame the photographer, do keep in mind that I took the shot three times – this was arguably the best sample among them.) In contrast, the photo from the iPhone 6 Plus is much pleasant to look at with its warm colors and rich details.

Side-by-side preview

Side-by-side preview


Conclusion


Motorola, the maker of the Nexus 6, has equipped Google's smartphone with a great camera – a camera that rivals the iPhone 6 Plus with its quality photos. And we think many of our readers would agree with that statement, given the voting results from our blind camera comparison. But the Nexus 6 excels only under certain conditions. Although it shoots terrific photos in broad daylight, the quality of its images drops sharply when light is of moderate to low amounts. Moreover, we don't consider ourselves fans of its sharpened images. Sure, they may seem more detailed, and a fraction of users would surely prefer them looking that way, but we don't think a camera should attempt to create details where they aren't present. 

As for the iPhone 6 Plus, it is an excellent performer in low-light environments. It shoots fantastic photos in daytime as well. But our opinion on its color reproduction is mixed – on one hand, the warmth added to images creates a captivating effect, but it isn't exactly what we'd call natural. As a matter of fact, its presence may totally spoil an otherwise pleasant image, like what happened in the second scene we presented above.  

At the end of the day, the camera on the Nexus 6 is a splendid one, but it lacks the versatility of the one on the iPhone 6 Plus. In other words, the iPhone would take a good picture regadless of the shooting environment, whereas the Nexus shines only when given optimum conditions. That's what makes the iPhone 6 Plus one of the best cameras around. 

Related phones

Nexus 6
  • Display 6.0" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 13 MP / 2 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 805, Quad-core, 2700 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB
  • Battery 3220 mAh(24h talk time)
iPhone 6 Plus
  • Display 5.5" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP / 1.2 MP front
  • Processor Apple A8, Dual-core, 1400 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 2915 mAh(24h 3G talk time)

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60 Comments

1. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

"Sure, they may seem more detailed, and a fraction of users would surely prefer them looking that way, but we don't think a camera should attempt to create details where they aren't present." If a 13MP captures more detail than a 8MP, how on EARTH is the camera "creating" details? What the Nexus 6 has a way to distort reality & impose it's own reality? What are you talking about?

3. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

I agree that the night time & some darker indoor shots the iPhone 6 Plus is better than the Nexus 6 but during any other time the Nexus out classes the iPhone 6 Plus & that is a phenomenal achievement. That said, I bet with some future software tweaks from Google I thing the Nexus 6 can be closer or even on par with the iPhone 6 Plus in terms of night & darker indoor shots. Google already has a GREAT foundation in it's camera algorithms.

15. jerzyiroc

Posts: 36; Member since: Sep 16, 2014

I have the N6. I've also had the N1, N4, N5. Gotta say, i'm pleasantly surprised at the picture quality results of the N6. What makes it even better is having full control over the sensor with 5.0. Using Camera FV-5 and L Camera, i have taken some absolutely amazing pictures. I wish some of these tech sites would look into the advantages of having 5.0 and full control over the sensor.

19. Rorschach

Posts: 83; Member since: Apr 26, 2013

Don't waste your time with the nexus 6, it's pure trash.. the iphone wins in this comparison. no exceptions, period.

22. eldyagustius

Posts: 182; Member since: Oct 30, 2013

LOL. this reader is just a blind fanboy. maybe you should read the previous comparison article before it intentionally biased here.

25. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

I love it. You could have said "Mine better, yours not!" It sounds just about the same! lol SMH!

39. jerzyiroc

Posts: 36; Member since: Sep 16, 2014

I have the N6. Either you're snorted 15 lines of coke before typing this, or you're a troll. The N6 is an absolutely fantastic phone with a great camera.

86. rsmrx8

Posts: 14; Member since: Jan 07, 2015

Boy, I don't know why I wasted my time reading a detailed side by side comparison and viewed samples for myself when I could have just read this comment. Useless troll.

18. jove39

Posts: 2140; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

Nexus 6 struggles in low light...better control over OIS and shutter speed will help improve image quality of Nexus 6.

31. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

This article is just damage control, apparently the rule of democracy is not favored by certain sponsors.

33. wando77

Posts: 1166; Member since: Aug 23, 2012

Spot on with that comment

36. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

Thank you, it's like Apple said no more phones for you to review until you go against the numbers & try to make us look better... SMH +1

38. kristoferallen

Posts: 99; Member since: Jun 23, 2010

It means that the Nexus 6 uses processing to over sharpen photos. It is not a sharp image naturally, because the camera is far from sharp. Which is apparent in a lot of photos. Even the ones where it is sharper, it just looks unnaturally so. It looks down right awful. You can use any photo editor and sharpen in image and that's exactly what the photos look like. The Note 4 does a way better job than this garbage. Motorola has never been good with photos. They excel in a lot of other areas, but not photos.

40. jerzyiroc

Posts: 36; Member since: Sep 16, 2014

I really have to question your photography knowledge after reading this post. Completely false on basically every part of your comment.

42. kristoferallen

Posts: 99; Member since: Jun 23, 2010

I've sold cameras and worked with them. Not every camera has sharp pixels. It's software renders it's sharpness. It's not complicated.

45. iOSLMFAO

Posts: 290; Member since: Dec 15, 2014

And yet it still won in a BLIND comparrison. So you're saying everyone who voted, again, blindly, was wrong?

51. kristoferallen

Posts: 99; Member since: Jun 23, 2010

You're an idiot. It even explained in the article, if you even read it, that they emulated the same thing on the iPhone 6 and got the same looking results. This comment seems ignorant in the first place. You can't blindly pick which pictures are the most accurate. That's what this article is here for to explain. Read it.

83. JayQ330

Posts: 60; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

It's an easy fix, xpose could make something for the N6 easily. Besides I like the nexus 6 pics better, closer to what you actually see with your eyes. I think that's better IMO.

17. boosook

Posts: 1442; Member since: Nov 19, 2012

It's unbelievable how biased this comment is. The N6 actually delivers more detail. Just look at the church's facade on scene 3: the difference is huge, there's lots of detail (look at the stones, or at the columns' capitals) that simply is not present in the iphone 6 pictures. I have the sensation that, whatever the other manufacturers do, the problem is in the eyes of certain reviewers.

30. Limbopope

Posts: 62; Member since: Aug 12, 2014

I was thinking it might be PA most fair review yet with Android vs. iPhone............until I read your comment and took a closer look at the church facade. They said: "we don't think a camera should attempt to create details where they aren't present." Well The N6 camera just got so amazing it alters space and matter. It added all that detail to the brick work. Great job Google! Can't wait for Google Portal gun this year XP

32. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

"Zooming in on the two photos reveals that Google's smartphone has produced a sharper image. But a sharper photo, although it might look better that way, isn't a necessarily a more detailed photo. As a matter of fact, we took the iPhone's photo and manually increased its sharpness – the result was an image looking almost exactly like the Nexus 6's in terms of details. All in all, the Nexus 6 took only a marginally more detailed shot of this scene despite its considerable advantage in megapixel count (13MP vs the iPhone's 8MP)." That paragraph is a dead giveaway right off the bat.

46. iOSLMFAO

Posts: 290; Member since: Dec 15, 2014

Translation: "apple found out they got WRECKED, and called in to cry and b*tch so we had to write this fluff piece about how our readers' were mistaken in a BLIND comparisson test. They threatened to pull sponsorship if we didn't"

72. Limbopope

Posts: 62; Member since: Aug 12, 2014

Ha exactly @Finalflash. In that case N6 owners can go in manually to their photos and alter the colours to get the 6+ effect. Poor logic PA

21. eldyagustius

Posts: 182; Member since: Oct 30, 2013

I agree with your statement. Seems like PA couldn't admit something great that other phones than iPhone have. I admit that iPhone is a great performer when it comes to low light photos. But why the h*ll PA couldn't just admit that Nexus 6 has more detail as good as their megapixels count? Seems like it's really hard to let the other phone win on every inch of aspect. I really don't understand why Nick said the camera results have more details which are not presented. His words are no more than an assumption with no proof or what people called BS.

44. iOSLMFAO

Posts: 290; Member since: Dec 15, 2014

iPA, friend.

92. megabajt1808

Posts: 1; Member since: May 28, 2015

There is a problem in voters...they vote like - hey, nexus has shaper photos, that means, it is better! But the nexus might haven`t got realistic color, which iPhone does have!!! iPhone`s camera is just best even it isn1t the best phone.

2. Antimio

Posts: 313; Member since: Nov 11, 2013

the day in which an Android phone has a better camera than an iPhone, Android that day will be better than the iPhone.

5. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

Camera is not the feature that makes a smartphone a good phone, because if that were true then the Nokia's with PureView already devastate Apple's iPhones in terms of cameras. Microsoft would have the best smartphones if your logic was correct!

12. jerzyiroc

Posts: 36; Member since: Sep 16, 2014

There are plenty of Android phones that have better picture quality than the iPhone.

4. redmd

Posts: 1910; Member since: Oct 26, 2011

Nice article Nick.

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