Vic Gundotra is Wrong About Smartphone Cameras

Vic Gundotra is Wrong About Smartphone Cameras

Former Google executive Vic Gundotra recently declared that the iPhone’s camera is better than that of any Android device. He’s wrong about that, actually. In fact, it’s not even close.

I remember Mr. Gundotra mostly from his 15 years or so at Microsoft. But he is more generally famous for moving to Google in 2007, after a one-year delay because Microsoft sued to force him to honor the non-compete clause in his work contract. At Google, Gundotra played a key role in getting the firm to embrace mobile, most specifically with the iPhone. But he later went on to mastermind—probably not the right word—Google+, the search giant’s failure of a social media service.

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But it is the iPhone bit that figures most prominently in the today’s Vic Gundotra. He had become friendly with Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs back when that company was planning the first iPhone, and he still has a real bias for iPhone over Android. And it’s clear from his recent comments about the cameras on these platforms that he no longer has any idea what he is talking about.

In a Facebook post (ironic?), Mr. Gundotra says he has left behind his DLSR and now uses only his iPhone. I made a similar transition in 2013, starting with the Lumia 1020. But I guess we all embrace new technology at different speeds.

This got some people commenting. And that’s when he went off the rails.

“I understand this topic reasonably well,” he responded to one comment. “I would NEVER buy an Android phone again if I cared about photography.”

Which is interesting. Because if you care about photography, what you care about is getting the best photos. Right? Well, according to the photography experts at DxOMark, there are fully 12 Android handsets that deliver better photo quality than the iPhone 7 Plus that Gundotra loves so much. And if you listen to the unbiased consumer advocates at Consumer Reports, their latest roundup of smartphone cameras lists 5 Android handsets that are better than the iPhone.

My own experience is that the iPhone 7 Plus is surprisingly terrible from a camera standpoint, especially the software-based and deeply-flawed Portrait mode. The cameras in many phones I’ve owned, including the Google Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, and Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+ are all superior. But then I like to base my opinions on experience, not hearsay.

But, please, sir, explain to me why my real world usage is countered by your theories.

“The problem is Android,” he writes. “Android is an open source (mostly) operating system that has to be neutral to all parties. This sounds good until you get into the details. Ever wonder why a Samsung phone has a confused and bewildering array of photo options? Should I use the Samsung Camera? Or the Android Camera? Samsung Gallery or Google Photos?”

No. What I wonder is why so many Android phones have better cameras than Apple’s seamless solution.

His conclusion is priceless.

“Bottom line: If you truly care about great photography, you own an iPhone,” he writes. “If you don’t mind being a few years behind, buy an Android.”

Sorry, but that is simply not true, not anymore. It hasn’t been for years, in fact. And, if anything, Apple actually took a step backward with the iPhone 7 Plus especially.

So I’ll do what I always do when I got to Barcelona this week: I’ll use the best camera for the job. Which in my case is the Google Pixel XL. And not the iPhone. Just wait until you see the low light shots that remain impossible on Apple’s devices.

Sorry, Vic.


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Conversation 31 comments

  • Brian Devins

    31 July, 2017 - 10:06 am

    <p>Whether Vic is correct or not, these polarizing comments reflect so poorly on him. He really wants to burn his bridges. How could anyone take him seriously?</p>

    • mmcpher

      Premium Member
      31 July, 2017 - 10:30 am

      <blockquote><a href="#156528"><em>In reply to demodulated:</em></a></blockquote><p>Well the guy could have said that he prefers iPhone, takes better pictures with his and then discuss the differences between the iPhone and leading Androids. But then he would have missed the fun of trolling. Hasn't photography always produced people who work better and shoot better with one camera than another? Sure, there are measurable technical differences that either limit or extend a photogs capabilities but many great pictures have been taken on "bad" or old equipment. Gundotra becomes downright silly when he goes absolute with his personal opinion. </p>

  • Tom Webb

    31 July, 2017 - 10:11 am

    <p><em style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">Pixel XP</em></p><p><br></p><p>All that muscle memory from writing about Windows XP, seem to be at work here. </p><p><br></p><p>I remember that in the past the iPhone camera was incredible compared to it's competitors, but that hasn't' been true for a few years. </p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      31 July, 2017 - 10:16 am

      <blockquote><a href="#156548"><em>In reply to Harpocrates:</em></a></blockquote><p>That is correct. And I will fix the XP :)</p>

  • Dan

    31 July, 2017 - 10:11 am

    <p>I agree with him. My iphone consistently takes better photos than that of an Android device. You need both great hardware and great software. The iphone has both.</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      31 July, 2017 - 10:15 am

      <blockquote><a href="#156550"><em>In reply to Dan:</em></a></blockquote><p>lol. </p>

    • IanYates82

      Premium Member
      31 July, 2017 - 10:21 am

      <blockquote><a href="#156550"><em>In reply to Dan:</em></a></blockquote><p>From Paul's reaction here I'm trying to work out if there is a missing sarcasm tag here. </p><p>High end phone cameras (ie s8 VS iPhone VS pixel, etc) can be like TV's in the store – direct comparison can pick a winner but if you just had the one to pick from you probably wouldn't be able to pick out the flaws. </p>

    • evox81

      Premium Member
      31 July, 2017 - 11:26 am

      <blockquote><a href="#156550"><em>In reply to Dan:</em></a></blockquote><p>The problem with such a statement is that you're not qualifying what Android device you're comparing it to. Are you talking about an Android devices from 5 years ago? Or are you talking about the pre-paid special your friend got with a $20 minute refill card? Or are you talking about the Galaxy S8+ or the Pixel XL? Two of those confirm your observation… two of them do not.</p>

    • Waethorn

      31 July, 2017 - 1:30 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#156550"><em>In reply to Dan:</em></a></blockquote><p>And we know who drank the Kool-Aid here now.</p>

  • conan007

    31 July, 2017 - 10:20 am

    <p>Looking at the Consumer Reports link, the only differences between iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S8+ (which is ranked #1) are front camera resolution and availability of memory card slot. They both have "very good" still image and video quality.</p>

  • Gardner

    Premium Member
    31 July, 2017 - 10:21 am

    <p>Perhaps Vic meant to say that Android has set a harder task for itself by having so many competing interests and companies. But that doesn't mean they are behind, more like that they have done a better job in the face of larger (if self-inflicted) obstacles.</p><p><br></p><p>Pretty much anyone focusing on the phone as a differentiator is probably throwing their money in the wrong place. All phones take great pictures now.</p><p><br></p><p>Siri and Google's assistants on the other hand…. plenty of room for improvement there</p>

  • Nicholas Kathrein

    Premium Member
    31 July, 2017 - 10:58 am

    <p>This seems to me to be the opinion of someone who's made up their mind on something regardless of the facts. Some people are hard headed. If you choose you buy an iPhone you can choose to buy a Google Pixel. Every complaint mentioned in this article Vic has has nothing to do with the Google Pixel or the Nexus phones from before. If he's saying the most popular Android phone is Samsung then yeah sure but taking the photo in auto mode and just installing Google photos to be your backup to the cloud option has nothing to do with using the Samsung stock photo app which you can leave in auto and never touch the massive amount of settings and even use the Samsung Gallery app. Who cares. In the end you want the photos you've take for download or printing and Google photos took care of that. It's crazy how people can make up BS arguments to try to make their point. </p><p><br></p><p>Fact = Google Pixel has the same software integration / eco system as Apple. </p><p>(built in apps and functions)</p><p>Apple can spin silicon to do something that Google can't that is true and they have some apps not on Android. </p>

  • Darmok N Jalad

    31 July, 2017 - 11:12 am

    <p>Lumia 1020 was a revelation for smartphone cameras, and the 1520/930/Icon was a good follow up. Ever since, nothing has really blown me away, though I did find the LG G4 to offer one of the best Android camera UIs. And while iPhone doesn't offer much camera control in its default app, you can download "pro" camera apps that let you do so. I haven't used a premium Android phone in a while, but from what I see and read, Android has the clear edge right now on camera results. None of them can truly replace a DSLR, but in a world of infinite Instagram and Facebook posts, quantity is the new quality. Granted, a DSLR is not for everyone, and that's where smartphones have taken over. The world still needs race cars, if only so everyday automobiles can improve from their existence. </p>

  • cyloncat

    31 July, 2017 - 11:14 am

    <p>I'll show my bias here, but if you want great photographs, get a DSLR and learn to use it. Then get a lens (or three) that suits your usage patterns, and go shoot lots and lots of photos.</p><p><br></p><p>Phone cameras are surprisingly good, all things considered, but they are essentially point-and-shoot cameras that are extremely convenient to carry. As always, the "best camera" is the one you have with you. However, most phones have only a wide-angle lens that is good for snapshots and general landscape photography, but terrible for anything else, especially portraits. Portrait photography works best with a short telephoto lens, and the irony of the iPhone's second lens is that it is almost a good portrait lens as-is without their "portrait" software, which I will never use. Apple markets that second lens as "telephoto" but at 56mm, it isn't quite there. Still, it's better than a wide-angle.</p><p><br></p><p>As for low-light performance, color saturation, noise reduction, etc., phones rely on software to make up for the tiny lens and even tinier sensor. There's a limit to what software can do. I'm fine with autoexposure and autofocus, but beyond that, things like auto white-balance and "portrait mode" can actively hurt the quality of an image. I suspect that the main differences between iPhone and Android cameras are in software, not in the actual cameras, which are seriously compromised by their size.</p>

  • bryan1up

    Premium Member
    31 July, 2017 - 11:14 am

    <p>Who cares about this "has been"? Paul, sounds like this guy rubbed you the wrong way at one point in time. Not that there's anything wrong with your analysis.</p>

  • nbplopes

    31 July, 2017 - 11:38 am

    <p>Hi. I don't go on on in an run of the mill of what is the best camera in abstract. To put it in simple terms I found that people that really like photography and actually do some terrific work in the subject don't get really pumped up by these themes. I personally think that today almost all hight end smartphones have very good cameras. Some are better for certain approaches to photography than others. </p><p><br></p><p>But what I do find is that Apple approach to all around photography camera is very, very good. For instance the 1020 had probably the best IQ pixel wise for a phone camera, yet it was slow to take a shot.</p><p><br></p><p>Here are some hots I took with the Galaxy 5S 2016 this weekend: <a href=";oe=5A2EFF98&quot; target="_blank">20429709_1964801757096677_4371358263376165541_n.jpg</a></p><p>Its not the best camera phone …. I know its limitations:</p><p>Here is another with the same camera but in color: <a href=";oe=59F60387&quot; target="_blank">19956769_1956360917940761_8034825740572180266_o.jpg</a></p><p>Here is another I took with an iPhone 5S: <a href=";oe=59F76FB2&quot; target="_blank">18698183_1931628200414033_1068713317698586516_n.jpg</a></p><p>Here is another with an iPhone 3G: <a href=";oe=5A389287&quot; target="_blank">409_1723648044545384_6105432530349192099_n.jpg</a></p><p>Here is another with the iPhone 6s I think: <a href=";oe=5A3784D3&quot; target="_blank">12232715_1683113661932156_8158266160530317863_o.jpg</a></p><p><br></p><p>Anyway, who made these photos was not the camera. Bottom line is the if one truly cares about photography, yes buying a good camera is important, but best camera and good picture are not the same thing by any length. I think the term "limitations" is a wonderful Marketing world because it creates an necessity that only Marketing can lift in exchange of more $$$ of course.</p><p><br></p><p>Buy a phone with a good camera and practice, the ones that inspires you the most, than practice, practice. Changing cameras will do nothing to improve ones photography.</p><p><br></p><p>Saying that camera X or Y take amazing shots its the same as saying that pensil X or Y make emazing texts. Its an absurd.</p>

  • glenn8878

    31 July, 2017 - 11:57 am

    <p>Hey, the latest Consumer Reports did not place 5 Android phones higher than Apple. They simply list the 7 best smartphone cameras. </p><p><br></p><p>"<span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">In fact, the discrepancies among this group are so small that they could be chalked up to variations in our test samples, he says."</span></p><p><br></p><p>There's barely any difference in the quality between the Apple and Android brands. You'll be quite happy with an Apple iPhone 7 Plus as I am. </p>

  • MTrimmer

    Premium Member
    31 July, 2017 - 1:07 pm

    <p>If he had said he preferred the iPhone camera output, I wouldn't have a problem. But when he jumped to saying Android is 2 years behind and hyped the portrait mode of iPhone, I laughed out loud. Portrait mode is nothing but a gimmick that only works in brightly lit subjects. If I really want to see bokeh, any cheap DSLR with a kit lens will blow the doors off an iPhone.</p><p><br></p><p>I guess Vic is still bitter and secretly hopes to land a gig at Cupertino.</p>

  • ben55124

    Premium Member
    31 July, 2017 - 2:18 pm

    <p>Vic must like giving android blogs red meat for their commenters. Glad there are 2 viable mobile platforms. Controlled and polished vs open and chaotic.</p>

  • rameshthanikodi

    31 July, 2017 - 3:03 pm

    <p>Vic Gundotra nearly ruined Google by trying to get them into social media so badly over and over again with things like G+ and whatever that came prior. It even ruined YouTube at one point, something which they're still dealing with. This guy has got enough wrong for me to take whatever he says with a pinch of salt.</p>

    • hrlngrv

      Premium Member
      31 July, 2017 - 7:02 pm

      <p><a href="#158453"><em>In reply to FalseAgent:</em></a></p><p>Maybe he got so much wrong that MSFT screwed up by enforcing the noncompete agreement.</p>

  • Winner

    31 July, 2017 - 3:46 pm

    <p>My beloved Nexus 5x went into bootloop the other day. Desperate, I bought a Galaxy S8. I then called Google and even though I'm out of warranty on my Nexus they are sending me a refurb, free.</p><p>I've tried out the S8 camera and honestly my Nexus 5x camera was better, especially in low light. Due to that and a few other items (Bixby…fingerprint reader), I'm going to eat the restocking charge and return the S8. I'm waiting for the next Pixel coming out shortly. The Samsung S8 is underwhelming IMHO.</p>

  • zybch

    31 July, 2017 - 4:55 pm

    <p>Android cameras have started to suck big time. Moving from my lumia 1520 to the galaxy S7 the severe lack of a reasonable camera is immediately apparent, and the S8 isn't much of an improvement. Its not all about MPs, but when you can't zoom into your pic in any reasonable way without it turning into a mess of edge enhanced, saturation boosed custard you KNOW its just a bad camera. I can't understand how anyone including Paul could EVER have said the S7 has a fantastic camera.</p>

  • mikiem

    31 July, 2017 - 5:08 pm

    <p>The title: "Vic Gundotra is Wrong About Smartphone Cameras" really does say it all. When real-world data proves him wrong, Almost the only reason to say anything else is because of Gundotra's [baselessly] pumped up ego.&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p><em>&gt;&gt;"Mr. Gundotra says he has left behind his DLSR and now uses only his iPhone. I made a similar transition in 2013, starting with the Lumia 1020. But I guess we all embrace new technology at different speeds."</em></p><p><br></p><p>No disrespect intended, then neither of you needed a DLSR — it's really the same thing that's behind the decline of Windows PC sales. And that makes Gundotra's statement moot [if not assinine]…</p><p><br></p><p><em>“I understand this topic reasonably well,” he responded to one comment. “I would NEVER buy an Android phone again if I cared about photography.”</em></p><p><br></p><p>Again no disrespect intended, most everyone has practical limits, so when you write, Paul, that you use a cell phone camera, &amp; want the best photos, I take that to mean without hassling with all the equipment and the pre-shoot setup a pro photographer might use. And there's nothing wrong with that. Gundotra OTOH seems to equate himself with said pros, which [IMHO] is kind of like a preschooler picking up a pan &amp; pretending to be a chef.</p><p><br></p><p>When Gundotra&nbsp;writes: "The problem is Android… a Samsung phone has a confused and bewildering array of photo options? Should I use the Samsung Camera? Or the Android Camera? Samsung Gallery or Google Photos?", he's saying that simplicity is of paramount importance, &amp; just like that preschooler, who has no idea what's involved in being a chef, Gundotra hasn't a clue about quality photos, nor does he seem to care.</p><p><br></p><p>That all said, what matters is real-world data, and thanks Paul for providing some. Once the camera sensor does its bit, data's handed off to software to turn it into an image. The manufacturer should know their hardware's weaknesses very well, &amp; so be in the best position to compensate in software, but not every manufacturer follows through, &amp; of those that do, they often don't achieve the same quality results. Or put another way, the only way to rank a camera's picture quality is by its results, which you've nicely done, so thanks again Paul.</p>

  • Jorge Garcia

    31 July, 2017 - 5:29 pm

    <p>You tell him, Paul.</p>

  • peterh_oz

    01 August, 2017 - 12:01 pm

    <p>I'd love to see your review of the new Nokia 6. Esp its 16Mpxl camera, at that pricepoint. </p>

  • Michael Babiuk

    01 August, 2017 - 1:59 pm

    <p>Like Paul, I read Vic Gundotra's quoted iPhone opinions yesterday and knowing how much "warm and cozy" history Paul has had over the years with Apple products and its product philosphophy, I suspected that a counter article to Mr. Gundotra's opinions would be forth coming. Paul did not disappoint. Grin.</p><p>What I didn't expect to read was a full 40 percent of his article (almost the first half) dedicated to a "destroy the witness character in order to destroy the credibility of the witness" type of character attack.</p><p>I expected Paul would use his own experiences and reports from various photographic sources to back up his opinions – which Paul did – but not the character assassination courtroom tactics best used by defenders of accused rapists against the victim. </p><p>Those comments and snarky remarks like his friendship with Steve Jobs (guilt by association?) were perhaps best left out of this article, IMO.</p><p><br></p>

    • Crimson

      01 August, 2017 - 3:17 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#160226"><em>In reply to Michael_Babiuk:</em></a></blockquote><p>Here's one for ya. Stephen Wolfram, who was also a close friend of Steve Jobs, has a very annoying bias towards anything and everything Apple. Here's another: Theodore Gray, the founder of the wonderful app maker Touch Press Media, was also a friend of Jobs, and he too considers Apple's products as the only ones that matter. I've tried contacting him to ask if they were going to create Windows versions, and he replied personally – he considers Windows and Android piracy havens and he also mentioned that the iPad had unique capabilities that made those apps possible. What a load of bull. Some people get swallowed into the Apple anomaly and cannot be pulled out. Some people, like Vic Gundotra and the ones I just mentioned cannot even begin to judge things objectively. No one asked for pure objectivity – but when you trust a brand that much you likely don't realize how much you've been conditioned to think so. Apple does have the most powerful marketing known to man, and a lot of cheerleaders in the media that spread the echoes. Now don't get me wrong – these are otherwise brilliant people, but they do have their weaknesses, you know.</p>

  • DixonLeung

    01 August, 2017 - 2:51 pm

    <p>If I care about photography, I shoot Raw/DNG. Neither iPhone nor Android native app support raw. (Sadly, my Nokia 1520 on Win10 does). All require third party apps. That is assuming the Android phone manufacturer even support the API to grant access to the sensor output.</p>

  • lordbaal1

    01 August, 2017 - 9:22 pm

    <p>He's complaining about having a lot of camera apps? But iPhone also have lots of camera apps.</p>

  • Joe Blo

    02 August, 2017 - 11:04 pm


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