Apple iPhone 13 Pro vs. Google Pixel 6 Pro: One More Data Point

I’m not sure that the world is waiting for yet another iPhone 13 Pro review, but I’m working on mine. In the meantime, here’s one data point to consider. And it’s one that is particularly important to me: camera quality.

At a very high level, what I figured would be true is indeed true based on my month-plus of experience with the iPhone 13 Pro: its camera system is roughly as good as that of the Google Pixel 6 Pro, and each has a few little advantages or disadvantages when compared to the other. Day-to-day, both perform similarly, and both take great still photos in a variety of conditions.

But because I’ve been living with the iPhone since it arrived in mid-December and I announced that I was moving to it full-time about 10 days later, I now have a more nuanced view of this camera system and how it performs. And of course, now I’m in Mexico City and taking a lot of photos and some videos, and the differences are becoming more pronounced. So let me make a blanket statement: the Pixel 6 Pro camera system is better—for my needs—overall. It’s not a gigantic divide. But that’s my general assessment.

The photos I take with the iPhone are mostly very good to excellent. Apple tends to shoot (ahem) for objective realism in its photos (and, I assume, videos) over, say, the mildly boosted photos provided by the Pixel or the Samsung S20 Ultra my wife uses. Subjectively, I like that bit of boost, so I find that many iPhone photos can be a bit bland. Scrolling through my trip photos, I mostly like what I see, but there are some that are a bit washed out. They’re probably true to life too.

The Pixel would have nailed this shot

Interestingly, the iPhone 13 Pro camera app has a feature called styles that lets you take photos that more closely resemble those you might take with a Pixel, Samsung, or other cameras. These are not filters, per se, and they can’t be unapplied after the fact: if you choose a style like Rich Contrast or Vibrant, the photos you take from then on will be forever modified accordingly. (I suppose it was too cheeky or on point to call these styles “Pixel,” “Samsung,” or similar.) I’ve experimented with them, of course, but I don’t feel comfortable switching to one of these styles for all of my photos, especially on a trip like this. I do like that they’re customizable, though: you can make “Vibrant” even more vibrant if you want, for example.

But whatever. Generally speaking, I like the rich contrast and HDR effect provided by recent Pixels better than the probably more realistic iPhone shots. It is what it is. It’s just that here are a few areas where the iPhone objectively falls short. And I suspect most iPhone users will agree.

The first regards lens flaring. If I’m facing the sun and take a shot with the iPhone, the resulting photo isn’t just terrible, it’s almost unacceptable. The Pixels handle this kind of thing much better. Here are a few examples.

Night mode is another problem. Where Pixels handle low-light shots wonderfully and consistently, the iPhone does not. Some night/low-light shots are fantastic. But many are washed out.

The shutter lag on night/low-light shots is also inconsistent. Sometimes, I take a picture and the shutter quickly clicks once like a normal daytime shot. But about half the time, it clicks once, displays an animation on the shutter button, and then clicks again seconds later to indicate it’s done taking the shot. You need to hold it steady and there’s no warning when that’s required.

The biggest difference—and, to be fair, this doesn’t come up a lot—is the zoom. The iPhone features 3.5x optical zoom and digital zoom up to 15x and it’s … OK. In day-to-day use, that little bit of zoom is a nice option.

Normal shot:

3.5x zoom:

But when I saw a nearly full moon the other night, I couldn’t zoom in enough to get a good shot no matter what I did; I tried bracing the iPhone against a railing and the wall, but no matter. All it took was a shot of a blurry white ball in the sky. (Sorry, I didn’t even save those shots.)

Unhappy with this, I grabbed my Pixel 6 Pro and zoomed in as far as it would go. It’s hard to focus at that distance by hand, so I braced it on the railing and got an OK—but overly red, for some reason—shot that at least shows some of the geographical features of the moon.

Curious about this, I borrowed my wife’s Samsung, zoomed in all the way, and took this handheld shot, with no bracing. I mean, seriously. There’s no comparison. It’s not just “better,” it’s also color accurate. (It’s off centered because I was holding it by hand.)

So what’s the point? Is this a deal-breaker? Does it mean I’m going to go running back to the Pixel? No, not yet. I still have more testing to do, and I think I’ll use the Pixel for the next few days to get a better handle on this comparison. But I could always do similarly to what I’ve done in the past, in this case using the iPhone normally but using the Pixel when I’m away like this.

We’ll see. But it’s an interesting comparison.

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Conversation 35 comments

  • Bart

    Premium Member
    17 January, 2022 - 11:43 am

    <p>Paul, if photos are this big a deal for you, why would you carry the iPhone 13 at all? The January update should have fixed most common issues on the Pixel, right?</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      17 January, 2022 - 12:08 pm

      <p>We’ll see. But there are issues a software update can’t fix, too. </p>

      • SAJohnson53402

        Premium Member
        17 January, 2022 - 3:27 pm

        <p>I’ll just go on record to say, at least for me, the January update I just got for my 6Pro fixed the issues I was having. </p>

  • lvthunder

    Premium Member
    17 January, 2022 - 11:49 am

    <p>If photos are a big deal you should just use a dedicated camera. Something like the Canon M50 or something.</p>

    • rob_segal

      Premium Member
      17 January, 2022 - 12:28 pm

      <p>For some people, the best camera is the one you’ll always have with you. A dedicated camera would be something else to carry around everywhere. Also, I don’t think Paul’s expectations for smartphone cameras are unreasonable. Samsung Galaxy Ultra cameras perform really well, as well as Pixels. There are other problems or features with those phones that should be fixed or altered.</p>

    • wolters

      Premium Member
      17 January, 2022 - 1:40 pm

      <p>I can agree with this but like Paul, we want the best quality shot we can get on the fly with a smartphone so a professional camera doesn’t come to play here. </p>

    • scovious

      21 January, 2022 - 12:16 pm

      <p>As a Surface Duo owner, I literally have to agree with you.</p>

  • mmurfin87

    Premium Member
    17 January, 2022 - 12:05 pm

    <p>I appreciate the photos review. That’s a huge component of what I’m looking for in a smartphone.</p><p><br></p><p>It’s challenging my perceptions. I have a Note10+ and was considering an iPhone for improved camera, but maybe I’ll hold out for the s22 if it’s going to have on-par performance.</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      17 January, 2022 - 12:09 pm

      <p>I’m not a fan of the whole Samsung experience. But my wife’s photos are consistently excellent, for sure, and that phone is two years old now.</p>

      • dftf

        17 January, 2022 - 12:12 pm

        <p>I didn’t think in the <em>Thurrott</em> household any-phone not made-by <em>Apple </em>or <em>Google</em> were allowed… at-least, given your recent issues with the <em>Pixel</em> line, and diverting straight to <em>Apple</em> before considering any-other <em>Android</em> device, that’s the impression, anyway! ;)</p>

      • wolters

        Premium Member
        17 January, 2022 - 1:48 pm

        <p>I responded below but the Samsung "experience" is getting a lot more tolerable…it’s not quite there yet but it is much better especially if you take the time to tweak it some. </p>

        • aretzios

          17 January, 2022 - 3:03 pm

          <p>I agree with you. In fact, I much prefer the Samsung One UI to the UI in the Pixel line. I think that Paul dwells on past issues.</p>

      • singingwolf

        17 January, 2022 - 3:51 pm

        <p>I have replaced the Samsung experience with Microsoft Launcher. I’m quite ok now with my S20 Ultra. </p>

  • crunchyfrog

    17 January, 2022 - 12:55 pm

    <p>Hi Paul. I am curious what model Samsung your wife is using just to compare how mine might be working for making a similar shot. I never realized I could shoot the moon freehand with its camera.</p>

    • wolters

      Premium Member
      17 January, 2022 - 1:39 pm

      <p>I have the Galaxy S21 Ultra and it does AMAZING moon shots. </p>

  • Prohibido_por_la_ley

    17 January, 2022 - 12:59 pm

    <p>So… The whiny little bitch strikes again. The P6P trumps the iPhone in every scenario, it’s not even a comparison. With the January update now, my phone is even better than it already was.</p>

    • ontariopundit

      17 January, 2022 - 3:55 pm

      <p>Such class!</p><p><br></p><p>Never mind that the Pixels are terrible compared to iPhones when it comes to battery replacement, and have a equally sad software support life. These two things really put a damper on my enthusiasm for my Pixels. I’ve been on Pixels for the last three years after leaving Samsung but I’ve been thoroughly unimpressed with how Pixels lose support so quickly and how it’s next to impossible to get a battery replacement that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and is reliable.</p><p><br></p><p>I must confess that it’s tempting to return to the iPhone. I’m not a huge fan of the interface (but the minimal differences are easy enough to learn) but the fact that you can get affordable battery replacements direct from Apple for older models and they get software support for longer than 90% of phones are in use.</p><p><br></p><p>Google had so much promise when the Pixel was introduced. Sadly the phones they produce are better suited to the budget side of things with poor battery life and software support that craps out after three years.</p>

    • Craig Smith

      17 January, 2022 - 5:02 pm

      <p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">"the whiny little bitch strikes again". </span>I must say, you brought me around with your sophisticated use of language, and your clear understanding that other people may have opinions that are not the same as yours. You demonstrate a unique level of emotional intelligence and maturity. Well done. </p>

  • wright_is

    Premium Member
    17 January, 2022 - 1:13 pm

    <p>I read a review of the iPhone and Pixel somewhere, I can’t remember where, and, with over a thousand shots, side by side, I came to the conclusion, that there was little between them. </p><p><br></p><p>The Pixel did better in some shots, the iPhone in others, generally, I preferred the more natural shots of the iPhone, and it gives more room for experimentation with a photo editing app than a shot The has already been popped. </p><p><br></p><p>I haven’t noticed any lens flare yet, but moon shots are lousy, about as lousy as me old Galaxy S20+. The zoom is better than the Galaxy, which was just horrible, once you got over about 3 times zoom. </p><p><br></p><p> One thing I have noticed is that the iPhone images usually look better on a big screen (I use a 43” 4K Monitor for photo editing and viewing) than the Galaxy shots. </p>

  • Chris_Kez

    Premium Member
    17 January, 2022 - 1:14 pm

    <p>Paul, if you like the punchier look, just set the style and forget about it; don’t overthink it. If you happen to come across one that is a little too punchy you can dial that one back in a photo editing app. </p>

    • Chris_Kez

      Premium Member
      17 January, 2022 - 1:27 pm

      <p>p.s. If I’m interpreting your Night Mode issue correctly, keep an eye out for a little, yellow, pill-shaped indicator on the top left (just to the right of the flash indicator) that tells you when Night Mode is engaged. It features a partially shaded circle with “1s”, “2s”, etc. next to it that tells you how long to hold it for. If Night Mode is not engaged then the circle is just white and has no time. If you tap the circle you can also bring up a manual control above the shutter button to set the Night Mode duration (Off, Auto, Max). </p>

    • Stabitha.Christie

      17 January, 2022 - 3:28 pm

      <p>I can relate to not wanting to use the presets. I know I can change if I don’t like the results but I still get weirded out by the idea of setting one. It’s totally irrational, maybe I have commitment issues. </p>

  • wolters

    Premium Member
    17 January, 2022 - 1:38 pm

    <p>Paul…let me say I FEEL your pain here…Like you, Camera performance is huge for me…but why is my SIM in a Surface Duo 2? More on that in a moment. </p><p><br></p><p>To start, I remember when the first few Pixel’s had lens <span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">flaring pretty bad…but they finally fixed it. I went back and forth between a Pixel and a NOTE for years, usually always settling for the Pixel but last year, I pretty much stayed with the S21 Ultra because it was the most consistent camera and "complete" Android/Windows experience I could achieve. </span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">I have quickly say that for full Astrophotography, Pixel wins hands down but for moon shot, it would be the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. </span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">And one more digression…the "Samsung Ecosystem" is not THAT BAD. For one, the real "ecosystem" of the Phone, Watch, Samsung Pay, Samsung Health, accessories, YouPhone integration is really good. And you can hide away what’s left of the "duplicate" Samsung Apps. </span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">But still, my SIM is in a Surface Duo 2. Why when I demand so much from the camera? Because it is truly a great phone…mostly everything about it is fantastic…the dual screens…the hardware…the usefulness of it…despite my frustrations with the camera, I keep using it because the pros outweigh the cons, even if I need to occasionally pull out my Pixel 6 Pro or S21 Ultra to get "that shot." </span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">But like you, it does end up being about the camera but instead of going iPhone or Pixel 6 Pro, I may ultimately go back to my S21 Ultra or the upcoming S22/Note Ultra because of the overall best experience.</span></p>

  • Stabitha.Christie

    17 January, 2022 - 3:25 pm

    <p>That moon shot is really good. I’d argue it’s compositionally better for being off center. </p>

  • Stabitha.Christie

    17 January, 2022 - 3:35 pm

    <p>I don’t know if this approach would help, probably not it’s a bit labor intensive. When I’m shooting pictures that I have more significance than day to day stuff o switch the phone to ProRaw. I keeps the HDR data but is a standard RAW format so you have a lot of flexibility in editing it. </p>

  • Calibr21

    17 January, 2022 - 3:45 pm

    <p>Latest Samsung phones have a specific AI enhance model trained for the moon. Moon features don’t change, so when the phone reconizes an object as the moon it runs the image through a specific enhancement mode designed to make better looking moonshots. </p><p><br></p><p>So the moon is a bad scene to use to compare smartphone cameras.</p>

  • richfrantz

    Premium Member
    17 January, 2022 - 4:38 pm

    <p>Can anyone tell me what exact settings to use for a decent moon shot. All I ever get is a glowing ball of white. I am using P6P</p>

    • winner

      17 January, 2022 - 5:56 pm

      <p>I think if you tap on the moon, it will both focus on that spot and expose for that spot. Worth a try.</p>

    • ronh

      Premium Member
      17 January, 2022 - 6:52 pm

      <p>If you can go to a pro mode that lets you change the exposure, try that. In general, cameras assume that you are taking a picture with normal lighting, so it is trying to brighten up the picture of the moon against the black sky.</p><p><br></p><p>This is why the software in the camera tries so hard to figure out what you are looking at…</p><p>My Galaxy S21 Ultra takes nice pictures of the moon, I just need to zoom in and hold it steady</p>

    • robincapper

      18 January, 2022 - 1:29 am

      <p>The phone thinks it is taking a night image, but the Moon is in daylight. On my Samsung unless the Moon is filling the frame I long tap to access the exposure override and reduce the exposure. Find the same thing helps with sunsets too as cameras try to ‘average the exposure’ too much</p><p><br></p><p>Samsung Moon photo</p>

  • dcdevito

    17 January, 2022 - 4:44 pm

    <p>Paul are you even using the iPhone’s Photographic Styles??</p>

  • mike2thel73

    17 January, 2022 - 5:13 pm

    <p>As someone who ditched pixel for iPhone this past cycle, I knew there would be things that I would have to sacrifice including picture related advantages but the pros and cons for both wash each other out.</p><p><br></p><p>It’s all about what the individual can live with.</p><p><br></p><p>I can’t live with a slow &amp; inaccurate fingerprint or face unlock sensor.</p><p><br></p><p>I’m tired of Android app quality taking a backseat to their iOS siblings.</p><p><br></p><p>I’m tired of Google’s lackluster hardware quality &amp; choices for pixel.</p><p><br></p><p>I’m not enough of a photo nerd and never was.</p>

  • red.radar

    Premium Member
    18 January, 2022 - 1:30 pm

    <p>If your going to dual wield phones on the account of photography. Why not pick the phone that is the best for Communications, and Content and carry a point and shoot like the excellent Sony RX100 series. </p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

  • Jeffsters

    18 January, 2022 - 8:29 pm

    <p>Hey you tried any of the other Camera apps?</p>

  • skramer49

    Premium Member
    22 January, 2022 - 12:31 pm

    <p>My daily driver is an iPhone12 (!) but I ordered a Pixel 6 as my Android alternative to replace my Note 20 Ultra. Came today – didn’t even try out the camera before I sent it back. The fingerprint sensor is unusable and I was very disappointed by the display clarity and brightness compared to both the iPhone 12 and the Note 20. Maybe the 6a will be better.</p>


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