Google Pixel 3a and iPhone XS Camera Comparison

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 5 min read

Y’all know the drill by now, so let’s do a world-famous BirchTree camera comparison®. These photos are separated into a few different categories, but know that the first photo will always be the iPhone XS and the second will be the Pixel 3a. Enjoy!

I’ll also note up front that we’re comparing a $399 camera and a $999 camera. Yes, the Pixel 3a makes other compromises, but the fact this comparison is even worth doing is remarkable and I’m very happy there is a budge phone out there will a killer camera.

Portrait Mode

I think the iPhone takes a better portrait here, especially when it comes to details in my scruffy face. It’s remarkably more clear than the Pixel’s image.

The iPhone once again smokes the Pixel here. Edge detection is better, and the iPhone has a better depth map as you can see the Pixel is just blurring everything that isn’t the gargoyle, but the iPhone is blurring everything that’s closer/further away than the gargoyle.

This is my all time favorite portrait mode test, and I think the iPhone wins again with better colors and better depth sensing (see between her hair and neck).

This one goes to the iPhone because the Pixel didn’t even try to blur anything. I will say this is the least “real world” test shot in the bunch, so take it for what you will.

This is serious stress test territory, and I think the Pixel does a better job here, although neither is good enough yet to nail this.

Daytime Photos

This might be a taste thing, but the iPhone shot is way better to my eyes. It was a bright, sunny day and the Pixel makes it look like a more cloudy, overcast day. Also the iPhone’s colors are more appealing and details are sharper when zooming in.

Pretty much the same story here as I think the Pixel photo has too much contrast and makes the building look darker than it should be.

I kind of like the Pixel image more here than the last two, but it’s still clearly contrasting the hell out of this photo and I prefer the nicer colors and clarity of the iPhone one.

This is a 5x zoom comparison, and while I think I got the iPhone to like 4.5x, it’s clear that Google’s fancy zoom enhancements can’t match simply having a longer lens (at least for now).

These selfies are mostly a wash, but I do prefer the iPhone’s FOV, which produces a more flattering image of people’s faces. The Pixel has a wider FOV, which is nice for getting more in the frame, but makes people look a little “off” sometimes.

This is another zoom shot, this time at 2x, and these are basically identical. If you zoom in there is a tad more detail in the iPhone shot, but you really have to squint to see it.

The Pixel is betrayed again by its overly aggressive contrast and this looks too dark compared to the iPhone’s more pleasant image.


Note for this section that it’s still iPhone, the Pixel, but if there is a third photo, it’s Night Sight on the Pixel.

This one is super close, but the Pixel has a slightly crisper image while the colors on the iPhone are a little better.

This one is hard to call too. The iPhone produces what is basically a watercolor painting as it blurs so much of the image to avoid noise, but it still looks a tad cleaner than the Pixel’s shot. The third image uses Night Sight and I think is what I’d like to have for myself. It’s a tap over brightened, but it’s easy enough to darken it a little in post than brighten up the other shots.

Holy white balance difference, Batman! I’m not even going to call this one since they’re so different. I think the Pixel gets closer to reality, but I think the iPhone shot, which unrealistic, is more pleasing.

On this last comparison I’d say the standard Pixel shot is the worst with its unappealing yellow coloring, and it’s a toss up between the iPhone and Night Sight photos. The iPhone holds its own here, and even zooming in shows as much detail as the Night Sight shot.