The Pixel 2 is a very good smartphone, and it’s biggest asset is its camera. Seriously, only a fool would argue that Google’s flagship phone doesn’t have what it takes to compete with the the best of the best phone cameras out there. When I compared the iPhone 8 Plus and Pixel 2 last year, I found I preferred the shots taken by the iPhone a bit more, but it was very much a toss up in many cases. Now that the iPhone XS is here improves on the last generation models in every way, I feel like the iPhone is clearly better almost all the time.
Let me explain why before the pitchforks come out. There are 2 reasons I prefer the iPhone as my camera over the Pixel 21.
First, I prefer Apple’s handling of dynamic range. Even last year when the iPhone wasn’t as good at this, I liked how shots taken with the iPhone camera maintained more shadow detail than the Pixel 2. As I’ve said many times at this point, the Pixel 2 camera optimizes for drama, which means it often loses detail in the lower end. This came to light again recently on Twitter:
FWIW it’s a stylistic choice that makes the difference. One could also say “look at how much detail is lost in the shadows in the Pixel’s shot.” +30 contrast, -40 shadows, and +5 clarity in Lightroom and the iPhone shot will look basically identical to the Pixel shot. https://t.co/i5r9nUXAAE
— Matt Birchler (@mattbirchler) September 18, 2018
The decisions the Pixel makes with color handling is that it crushes the blacks, which can look good in some photos, but also means that you lose detail forever. You can always edit a photo in the Photos app to be a little more contrasty or a little more saturated, but you can’t reclaim details that are killed by the default processing. I’d rather get photos that are less blown out and have more shadow detail. The iPhone camera does this much better for me.
And the second reason I stick with the iPhone camera is that the RAW performance is just worlds better than the Pixel 2’s. I acknowledge this is not a mainstream feature, but it’s an important one to me. Here are the big differences:
- There are dozens upon dozens of quality RAW camera apps on iOS, and basically nothing of note on Android.
- RAW images often have major issues with noise and distortion on the Pixel 2.
- If I do take a RAW photo, the Snapdragon 835 is painfully slow at processing those photos compared to last year’s A11, and absolutely gets crushed by the processing on the A12 in the iPhone XS.
Ultimately, the lens on the Pixel 2 is far more pedestrian than the one in the iPhone, and the post-processing Google is doing on every photo is what makes it a camera people love. When you cut out the “magic” step and just look at the raw image the sensor picks up, you end up with something that looks pretty bad. It’s a credit to Google that they do so much with such a sensor, but I just stopped taking RAW photos because they looked like garbage compared to the jpegs I got from the stock app. That’s a shame too, because in many situations, I can take a RAW photo and make edits that turn it into something that looks like it was taken on a much more expensive camera.
I think it’s great that there are numerous competitors out there that are vying for the smartphone camera crown. But this means that stylistic preferences are often the reasons someone prefers one camera over another. The above reasons are why I prefer the iPhone camera system to that of the latest Pixel, but you may disagree. You may not take RAW photos and you might also prefer the automatically more dramatic photos the Pixel 2 takes, and that’s cool too. It’s just not quite in line with my personal preferences.
- The Pixel 3 is just days away, so we’ll see how that improves over the Pixel 2. ↩