Pixel 6 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro Max vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Camera Comparison

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Pixel 6 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro Max vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Camera Comparison
Google is back in the race for the very best smartphone out there with the Pixel 6 Pro!

The company has been working for years on a brand new "Tensor" chip that not only enables faster speeds, but also allows some AI and machine learning shenanigans, along with what Google says is "the most advanced Pixel camera ever." Hey, what do you know, the iPhone 13 Pro Max also claims its the best iPhone camera ever, and so did Samsung saying the Galaxy S21 Ultra is its very finest. We live in a world of best and best-est!

Of course, there can only be one truly "best" camera to take the crown, so it's our task to dive deeper and compare these three exciting camera phones.

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Camera Specs Comparison

Technically, the Pixel and the Galaxy both use pixel binning to capture images with the main camera, while the iPhone directly outputs 12MP shots. Google by default combines 4 pixels into 1, creating a 12.5MP photo out of its 50MP main sensor, while the Galaxy does "nona-binning", combining 9 pixels into 1, again for a final, 12MP shot. You can capture a full resolution image on the Pixel and Galaxy, and get a larger image file with more detail.

Another thing worth pointing out are the unique zooming capabilities of the Galaxy, which features two zoom lenses, with a 10X periscope camera that allows it to capture long range photos and videos far better than the other two.

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With all of that in mind, let's jump into the actual photos and compare the differences.

Google Pixel 6 Pro 128GB: get it now for $350 less!

You can get the base version of the Pixel 6 Pro with a 28% discount at Amazon right now. Hurry up as some of the other color options have already been sold out!

Google Pixel 6 Pro 256GB: get it now for $250 less!

You can get the 256GB unlocked version of the Pixel 6 Pro for as little as $749 at Best Buy right now. That is almost 30% less than its original price.

Color reproduction

The Pixel features cooler colors and might have gone a bit over the top with processing

The Pixel definitely stands out when it comes to color reproduction. Most of the shots captured during the day have noticeably colder tonality and while sometimes that looks cool (the first set of photos above), often times it make for a very bland photo (the other two sets of images). Additionally, the Pixel just insists on lifting the shadows in a photo which further contributes to the somewhat flat look of photos.

The iPhone, on the other hand, takes photos with a lot of warmth and contrast, and does that very consistently. It's a look that is ready to share on social media, even if sometimes it can be a bit overboard.

Samsung is a bit of the middle ground here: it doesn't have quite the warmth of the iPhone, but it's not quite as cold as the Pixel either; it also picks up a bit more detail in the shadows than the iPhone, but doesn't quite lighten them up unnaturally as the Pixel.

Of course, here we should mention the new Photographic Styles option on the iPhone 13 series, which is quite unique as it allows you to customize the color and contrast, and basically have your custom warmer or cooler look to photos. Want your iPhone to take pictures that don't crush the shadows as much? Set the Tone slider up. Want cooler colors in photos? Set the warmth slider to cooler colors. No other phone offers such global controls that once set can be applied to every single photo you take, without ever bothering with any filters afterwards.


Crops from photos give us a closer look at the detail you get

Looking that close, you start to notice that the Pixel has a lot more oversharpening going on (evident in the halo around the edges of objects) and overall its detail is quite grainy and rough. The iPhone and Galaxy definitely seem to have the upper hand here. The Galaxy is a bit more aggressive with smoothening the detail on a photo and removing any grain and noise, while the iPhone doesn't go as far, but we'd say it strikes the best balance here.

We should also mention that having a higher resolution option on the Galaxy with its 108MP sensor definitely allows for more detailed photos (the Pixel has no option to use the full 50MP resolution of the sensor). We don't recommend using that higher resolution on the Galaxy for every shot simply because photo files turn out too big, but for some memorable shots, it's definitely worth turning the full resolution on and getting that extra detail.


Speaking of detail, it's nice to know that you can get up close and personal with the 4X zoom lens on the Pixel, so we compare it agains the iPhone and the Galaxy. At 3X where you have a native zoom lens on the iPhone and the Galaxy, the Pixel loses out clearly, but then regains the lead at 4X where it looks a lot cleaner.

It all fall aparts for the iPhone further on as you can see in the 10X zoom shot, you have a sore lack of detail on the iPhone, but the Pixel is almost on par with the Galaxy which has a 10X native zoom lens, which is... interesting. It also begs the question whether you really need a separate 10X zoom lens when the difference seems to be quite negligible (we'd still give the Galaxy the slight edge).

At 15X, the iPhone is just out of the league of the other two, but it's a close call between the Pixel and the Galaxy. The Galaxy actually has this weird glow around whites and highlights,  but otherwise has cleaner detail, but we're just impressed with the Pixel which is very close behind it.

Portrait mode

1X is not the ideal mode for portrait photos of people, but all three phones have it and it uses the main camera, meaning that it is the most suitable one to use for low light scenarios. Interestingly, the Pixel uses a digital crop of the main camera so 1X really is a bit of a misnomer with it. As it's using a digital crop, you get grainier, mushier detail on the Pixel compared to the true 1X portrait mode on the iPhone and the Galaxy. The colors are also darker and moodier on the Pixel, so these portraits are definitely a bit of an acquired taste, and we'd say not quite as good as the iPhone and Galaxy.

All three phones can use the main camera to capture portraits, but a true portrait begs for a longer lens and that more compressed view that isolates portrait subjects much better. And while you can use digital zoom on the Pixel to get up to 5X zoom in portrait mode, that only crops digitally from the main camera. So instead, we just used the 4X zoom camera WITHOUT portrait mode, and it actually looks quite good. Unfortunately, you don't quite get the bokeh that you have on the the iPhone and Galaxy which can shoot at 3X using their zoom lenses, but it's good to know that the best portrait mode on the Pixel might just be... not to use portrait mode and instead just capture a 4X regular photo.

Ultra-wide camera

Even though all three phones have "ultra-wide" cameras, these are quite different. For example, the Pixel only features an 18mm equivalent lens while the iPhone has a 13mm lens that captures a lot more in the frame and is much wider, and similarly so is the one on the Galaxy. If you have to shoot in tight spaces and want to capture the most, it's the Galaxy and especially the iPhone that has the advantage simply because of the wider field of view.

Front camera

One cool thing with the Pixel front camera is that it is just so wide, as you can see in the first picture above. It can easily fit a large group in the photo, while that would be a stretch on the iPhone and the Galaxy. Of course, you also have a zoomed-in view if it's just you in the frame.

In terms of quality, the most notable thing is just how aggressively sharp photos come out on the Pixel, while you have a softer look on the other phones. Being sharp is great, but it also tends to overemphasize little facial imperfections that all of us have.

Apart from that, exposure on the Pixel front camera is a bit darker, images are more contrasty and moody, while the other two phones go lighter on the exposure. It's a personal preference, but to our eye, the Galaxy has the best balance when it comes to selfies.

Google Pixel 6 Pro 128GB: get it now for $350 less!

You can get the base version of the Pixel 6 Pro with a 28% discount at Amazon right now. Hurry up as some of the other color options have already been sold out!

Google Pixel 6 Pro 256GB: get it now for $250 less!

You can get the 256GB unlocked version of the Pixel 6 Pro for as little as $749 at Best Buy right now. That is almost 30% less than its original price.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

Buy at Amazon

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Buy at Amazon


So is the Pixel 6 Pro the new smartphone camera king?

Well, first of all, it's a great camera that truly deserves to be in the conversation with the very best, but we think that while it’s really close, it's not quite there. Photos on it look mostly great, but sometimes they would turn out surprisingly flat. The iPhone and Galaxy do look a bit more refined, and more consistent, but then the Pixel surprised with its zoom capabilities and having that super wide front camera is also great. Also, let’s not forget how much cheaper the Pixel is than these other phones too.

What do you make of it all, do you like the new Pixel 6 Pro camera? And are you getting a Pixel yourself? Let us know your experience with it in the comments.

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