iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 Cameras: Color temp, Color Quality, and Consistency Across Lenses

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read
iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 Cameras: Color temp, Color Quality, and Consistency Across Lenses

Ok, so this is one of the more abstract camera comparisons I’ve ever done, but I wanted to test a couple things about the wide and telephoto lenses on the lates iPhone and Pixel phones.

  1. How accurate is the color temperature?
  2. How consistent is the color temperature between the middle and edges of a photo?
  3. How consistent are colors between the wide and telephoto lenses?

My Approach

The way I went about doing this was to take a photo straight up at the sky on a nearly cloudless day here outside Chicago. The sky was beautiful, and to my eyes, the same color all around. Here’s how I saw them mapping to my 3 questions above:

  1. It was a beautiful day, so I’d expect a deep blue color.
  2. I would expect the images to be consistent in color from edge to edge.
  3. I’d like the same spots on the telephoto and wide lenses to produce the same color blue.

I understand this is unscientific, but the photos were taken on the same sky, as close the exact same part of the sky, and just seconds apart. I also took 3 of each photo and took the average for each phone, although that turned out not to be that important as the diffrences were effectively zero. Each camera was very consistent in what it spit out.

Also, I used HSL (hue, saturation, and lightness) to measure the colors, which made the most sense to me in terms of comparing these metrics.

My Results

Let’s hit the questions one at a time.

Color temperature

The iPhone and Pixel both averaged 218 for the hue, but the images (as you can see at the top of this post) looked noticeably different, so what was different? Well, the iPhone had a saturation value 20% lower than the Pixel, and was 17% darker. I actually think this is a funny way color works, because to me it looks like the iPhone shot (left) is more saturated, but it’s actually less saturated and simply is darker.

In terms of accuracy, the iPhone looks more true to life.

Edge-to-edge color consistency

So this was done by comparing the color at the bottom of the photos to the middle.

Again, both cameras did great when it came to hue. Both had exactly the same hue in 2 of the 3 photos, and each had 1 where they were off by 1.

For saturation, both were just as consistent, although I had one iPhone photo with edges 13% more saturated than the middle.

And finally, lightness was effectively 100% the same for each, except for that one iPhone shot which had a 4% difference.

Overall, fantastic consistency from both cameras.

Wide vs telephoto

The last comparison was to see how much difference there was when switching lenses, and as you might expect from what I’ve found so far, the results are not very exciting…which is good news!

The tele lenses averaged 218 for hue, exactly the same as the wide lenses. That said, the iPhone telephoto lens created an image 9% more saturated, and 10% lighter. The Pixel’s telephoto lens, meanwhile, was 22% less saturated and exactly the same lightness.

This is a bit hard to convey, so here’s the wide (left) vs telephoto shots on the iPhone:

And here they are on the Pixel:

Now honestly, it’s hard to tell the difference, especially if you’re not using a large, high quality display, but there definitely is a difference here, and for me I think the iPhone does a better job getting the same image. The changes in saturation and lightness almost level out, while the Pixel’s difference is more obvious to me.

Again, this is as scientific as I could get, and a professional photographer might disagree, but that’s what I see.

My Takeaway

My real takeaway from these tests is that they were boring, and that’s a good thing. Both cameras are very consistent from shot to shot and they both create very clean images from middle of the frame all the way to the edges. They both exhibit some color variation when going from wide to telephoto lenses, but they are not differences that are easy to notice unless you’re looking for them.

Personally, I continue to prefer the colors that come out of the iPhone camera, but colors are easily changed in post, so if you really care about this stuff and edit your photos anyway, it’s not a huge differentiator. However, since most people just point, shoot, and share, having better colors there by default is important, and I appreciate the iPhone’s slight edge in this area.