I did a very similar test a few weeks ago, but I got my hands on a Pixel 3 for a few days and finally (finally!) have a chance to play around with the real deal Night Sight feature that’s getting a ton of hype. You know the deal, so here are some shots taken at the same time from the same spots. It’s the iPhone Xs vs the Pixel 3 with and without Night Sight.
For all comparisons, the iPhone shot if first, then the Pixel.
Well, well, well…after spending a few hours with Night Sight on the Pixel 3 I’m totally sold; this is fantastic! Now, none of these pictures are particularly wonderful quality, but they were meant to be a stress test of these cameras’ ability to get shots in low light. In that measure, the Pixel 3 was able to get more information in its images in every single case.
It’s worth nothing that the photos from the Pixel are far from realistic. None of those photos are representative of what the world actually looked like at the time they were taken. The iPhone, on the other hand, created images that were very true to life; it was pitch black outside and Christmas and street lights were the only thing lighting any of these. But if I wanted to get something closer to reality, I could just not have used Night Sight. When I chose to use the Pixel like a normal camera, this is the comparison (iPhone on top, Pixel below):
When looking at these photos, the iPhone shot is clearly superior. The colors are better and there is way, way less noise, and details are better preserved. Here’s another example:
The Pixel shot (bottom) simply is a mess. The sky is noisy beyond belief and the details on the lights and house are not as crisp. The iPhone shot doesn’t look great either, but it’s better.
But let’s look closer at the Night Shot version of that same photo:
It’s really no contest here. Outside of blowing out the lights, the additional clarity the Pixel is able to get from Night Sight is impressive.
But what about the flash?
I personally never use the flash…ever. But since technically the flash should solve similar problems to Night Sight, I gave it a shot. Here’s my in my kitchen with all the lights off. Left is iPhone, middle is Pixel, and right is Pixel with Night Sight:
I really don’t like the two flash images, even though they are a little sharper. The Night Sight image blows them away in my book.
And of course, a flash does nothing for you when taking a picture of something more than about 15 feet away, so you’ll get way more out of Night Sight there.
I still think the iPhone Xs and Pixel 3 are quite comparable when it comes to normal photo modes. The iPhone gets more realistic shots and I personally prefer the flatter images since I like to tweak things to my liking. But when it comes to low light, Night Sight puts the Pixel 3 in a whole new class. The iPhone does a respectable job in most cases, but the Pixel always create a better image if you flip it into Night Mode.
And it’s important to remember that Night Sight is an optional mode on the Pixel. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it. I like it because it takes shots that were impossible, and gives you at least an option to get something that might be usable.