The Pixel 4 Still Beats the iPhone 11 Pro for Zoom Photography

Sometimes people suggest you can just pinch-to-zoom and get basically the same result with smartphone cameras. I very much disagree, and used this shot to see the difference.

I'm standing a ways away from the mailbox and tapped to focus on it in all of these shots. Here's the iPhone's difference between 1x and 2x zoom when you look at the details:

It's not even close! It may still not be that big of a deal for you, but it is for me, and the difference is massive.

But how well does this stack up to the Pixel 4, which also has a zoom lens? Well first, let's compare the details at 1x.

In terms of detail, I think these are identical. I prefer the colors a little on the iPhone one, but that's another conversation. In terms of capturing details, there's no real difference.

Now let's look at 2x zoom:

These are also pretty similar, and while the Pixel shot looks a little better, it's because the image processing is doing some more agressive noise reduction, not that it's actually capturing more data. One could certainly argue that for most people this is preferred though, and I tend to agree.

Which brings us to the 8x SUPER ZOOM SHOWDOWN…ahem, the 8x zoom test:

Amazingly, even though it's entirely digital, the Pixel takes a massive lead here, which an image that is cleaner, yes, but also has more detail. This is a pretty remarkable difference, and it shows Google's big talk around enhanced digital zoom is no joke.

And in case you're thinking "it's just the same as the 2x shot, here's those two side-by-side.

The image quality is genuinely better, and while it's a little soft, it's still very, very good for a phone.

Google gets top marks from me in their ability to do zoom better than the iPhone, especially at anything past 2x.

Portrait Mode Confusion

Portrait Mode Confusion

This photo comparison was really interesting to me. I shared a portrait taken from the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 and asked people which they preferred. Opinions were split, to say the least. Here are the photos for your viewing pleasure:

Pixel 4 Portrait Mode
iPhone 11 Pro Portrait Mode

I personally think the iPhone shot is way better than the Pixel one. The colors are far more accurate to reality, and also looks better in my opinion. When I zoom in on the images, the statue itself is sharp on the iPhone photo, but looks way over-sharpened on the Pixel one. The fake bokeh is similar on each photo, but I think the iPhone's is a little more pleasant and has a better roll-off on the statue.

But these feelings are not universal!

Devon thinks the PIxel one looks way better.

I prefer the look and feel of the second photo, for sure. Quality is all together higher, but could be lighting factors.

Kareem agrees.

  1. Not too bright. Not too dark, perfectly balanced.

Fouzan triples down.

IMO 1 is too vibrant for the overcast day it was shot in.

You could increase contrast with 2 and fix it. The DOF effect is very unrealistic with 1, and really bothers me. It wouldn’t be easy to fix.

What I find most interesting about these is that numerous people who thought the Pixel was better cited the "accuracy" as a reason for this. The reason this is interesting is that, as the person there, I can tell you the Pixel shot looks much different from the reality of the scene. For example, the fox statue is straight up not the color shown in the Pixel photo, while the iPhone one is pretty spot on.

Dynamic Range, Telephoto, and the iPhone 11 Pro & Pixel 4

Dynamic Range, Telephoto, and the iPhone 11 Pro & Pixel 4

One thing I've noticed in the last few months using the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro day-to-day is that photos off the iPhone's telephoto lens tend to be better quality. The Pixel 4 is no slouch, but side by side, the iPhone tends to do better for me.

As an example, below is a shot I took this morning directly into the sun. The sun is obviously super bright, but the ground is all backlit and darker. The photos have very similar colors, which is not always the case between these cameras, but you can see there is much less clipping on the highlights in the iPhone shot (look at the cloud above the sun), it avoids the lens flare that the Pixel has front and center, and the little details like the tree branches are more sharp.

iPhone 11 Pro
Pixel 4

Deep Fusion and Indoor Dog Photos

Deep Fusion and Indoor Dog Photos

Psst, the above photo has nothing to do with the comparison, but I had to share a picture of Sherman shortly before the comparison photos were taken.

My dog Sherman was chilling on the couch last night and I wanted to take a picture of him just lying there, loving life. The type of shot made the telephoto lens make more sense, which is all well and good, but results in worse shots in low light.

But that presented an opportunity for me: a test! Let’s see how much of a difference Deep Fusion makes when using the telephoto lens. Here’s the iPhone 11 Pro:

And here is the Pixel 4:

Pardon the yawn, but for the sake of this test it’s worth noting that he was paused in that pose for about a second, so it’s not the action shot it may look like. You can probably already tell which one looks better, but here’s a crop in on each one:

It’s really night and day, with the iPhone producing a much cleaner image. Both cameras still have that watercolor-esque look on the body fur, but the iPhone has crisper lines on his longer ear hairs and the green blanket has more texture.

I previously did a similar comparison using the main wide lens, but the difference using the telelphoto lenses is even more pronounced.

The Pixel 4’s Face Unlock is Hampered by Android

I hate my pixel 4 for one reason and one reason only : reddit

BANKING APPS FACIAL RECOGNITION DOESN'T WORK. My most important apps are now a pain in the ass to use because I have to physically log in.

I can attest to this too. We’re over 2 months into the Pixel 4’s existence and almost no apps use the face unlock feature. Most notably, Chase does not support it, which means I have to either enter my password every time I launch the app, or I need to enable 1Password’s “full system access” feature to let it basically see everything I do on my phone so it can fill out fields for me.

Face unlock is a great feature, I love it on the iPhone, and I love it in the apps that support it on my Pixel, but it still feels like a half-measure, which is a shame.

Low Light Christmas Trees on 2019’s Best Phones (and an iPhone SE)

We have a little tree my wife and I put up every year and it’s a thing that is kinda hard to take good pictures of. There is quite a bit of dynamic range which typically means photos look overly darkened to compensate for the bright lights.

2019 has been a very good year for smartphone cameras, so I gave a few of them a shot last night to see how they’d do.

Samsung Galaxy S10e

Pixel 4

iPhone 11 Pro

And for fun context, the 2016 iPhone SE (with the 2015 iPhone camera)


Overall, I’m pretty impressed! Especially when you look at what we were using just 3-4 years ago, the differences in color and clarity are striking. Outside of the SE clearly being worse than the newer phones, the Pixel 4 is the outlier here in terms of color; it’s much cooler than the other images and is not an accurate representation of what the tree actually looked like. I think this has to do with Google’s new smart white balancing feature, which usually makes great choices, but sometimes results in crazy decisions1.


  1. Supposedly this was fixed in a previous update, so maybe this is a choice and not a bug, but either way I’d say this is not right. 

iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 Christmas Lights Shoot Out

I took the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 out to a public space last night that was lit up really nicely for the holidays. This is not a complete comparison for how well each phone does, but it’s a good first test and I’ll show you the comparisons before giving you my thoughts.

Point of order here, my tripod broke last night so all of these were taken handheld. Also, they were all slightly touched up in Lightroom to make the colors a little more pleasant. See this post for why I do this in my photo comparisons.

On the surface, these look pretty darn similar. Especially when viewing on a phone, the differences in quality are hard to see, so let’s zoom in on a couple of these.

The difference still isn’t huge, but my takeaways are:

  1. The iPhone maintains more detail in every single shot.
  2. The iPhone has better dynamic range, capturing the bright lights with less bloom.
  3. The raw shots came out very similar from each camera. Sometimes there is a major color temperature or white balance difference in these cameras, but not last night.
  4. In some of these, “night mode” didn’t even kick in. The lights are so bright that they don’t require an extended exposure.
  5. The iPhone has some occasional artifacts around really bright lights in the middle of frame. You can see this in the last comparison above the lights in the sky. I don’t know why this happens, but it’s not something that can be fixed by cleaning the lens. Maybe I have a defect or maybe it’s the nature of the camera, I’m not entirely sure.

I’ll be playing around more with these cameras throughout the month and will report back with anything else interesting, but for now I’d say that either of these phones are able to produce Christmas light photos unlike any other phone before them, and I think owners of both will be very happy with what they are able to accomplish.

Recorder on the Pixel 4 vs Dictation on iOS

I read this sequence from a recent blog post on this site and had the just released Dictation for iOS and Recorder for Pixel 4 listening at the same time. Here are the exact words I read:

It’s the end of the decade and I love lists, so today I’m starting a series of lists about my favorite things. Today we’re looking at my favorite albums from the past 10 years. What I learned more than anything with making this list is that 2010 and 2011 were more amazing than I gave them credit for at the time. 7 of the 10 albums below came out in those two years! Alway, I hope you like the list and check out one or two of these that you haven’t listened to yet.

And here is what Google Recorder captured:

It's the end of the decade and I love lists so today. I'm starting a series of lists about my favorite things. Today we're looking at my favorite albums from the past 10 years. What I learned more than anything making this list is that 2010 and 2011 were more amazing than I gave them credit for at the time. Seven of the 10 albums below came out in those two years. Anyway, I hope you like the list and check out one or two of these you haven't listened to yet.

And Dictation for iOS:

It's the end of the decade and I love lists so today I'm starting a series of less about my favorite things today we're looking at my favorite albums from the past 10 years what I learned more than anything making this list is that 20 10 and 20 11 were more amazing than I gave them credit for at the time seven of the 10 albums below came out in those two years anyway I hope you like the list and check out one or two of these two haven't listened to yet.

Both apps captured the general message well, but Google is so far ahead here it’s not even funny. I counted 5 errors in Dictation’s transcript and zero in the Recorder transcript.

Not only are the words more accurate in that transcript, it also includes punctuation that’s not too far off from the script. Dictation can only give me one loooong sentence, but Google mostly understood where each sentence ended.

I’m glad Dictation is out on the iPhone because the functionality is very nice, but Google should rightly be proud of what they have been able to do with voice detection on the Pixel 4.