The Google Pixel 4 is finally out and we’re sure you want to know how good its new camera is. After all, the Pixel 4 has some big shoes to fill. The Google Pixel 3 was known for its impressive camera capabilities; it beat the competition with a single lens and managed to stay in our top 10 best smartphone cameras list until the Pixel 4’s release.

Aside from featuring hardware improvements and an added zoom lens, the Google Pixel 4 brings a lot of software improvements to the table. Will these upgrades be enough to beat the current slew of impressive camera phones? That’s what we are here to find out today.

Don’t miss: Pixel 4 XL review: Untapped potential

In this camera shootout, we pit the Google Pixel 4 against its biggest competitors: the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro Max, Huawei P30 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 10, and OnePlus 7T. We have taken these phones for a stroll around New York City and taken identical photos with each, in a variety of environments and shooting situations.

Let’s find out how the Google Pixel 4 stacks up against the competition!

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About this photo shootout

Google Pixel 4 XL camera design 7

We know the Google Pixel 4’s main competitor (at least when it comes to general consumers’ opinion) is the iPhone 11. Taking this into account, we placed samples from the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 in slider comparisons, so you can better appreciate the differences between them. Photos coming from the iPhone 11 Pro Max, Huawei P30 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 10, and OnePlus 7T will be shown smaller right under, to save space.

You may also be wondering why we decided to use the Huawei P30 Pro as opposed to the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. This is because the P30 Pro is still the phone we recommend out of the two, as it comes with Google apps and the Google Play Store out of the box. It’s the most user-friendly device in most markets, which we thought was more valuable than the slight camera improvements in the Huawei Mate 30 Pro.

Also, we aren’t talking too much about wide and telephoto shots because there are too many differences in hardware across devices. We can’t really compare between lenses some phones have and others don’t. This means the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro Max will have nearly identical results in this article, so if we talk about one we are also referring to the other (unless we specify otherwise). For the same reason, we won’t touch on unique features these phones may have, like the Pixel 4’s Astrophotography mode or the Huawei P30 Pro ultra-low-light mode.

We will pick a winner for each photo category, then highlight the phone with the most victories at the end.

Images in this Pixel 4 camera shootout have been resized, but they have not been edited otherwise. You can see the full-size samples in this Google Drive folder.


Daylight

It’s hard to rate daylight images, as even affordable smartphones can produce great photos when there is ample lighting to work with. The differences are in the details. We need to pay very close attention to exposure, color, white balance, dynamic range, detail, and texture.

iPhone 11 Google Pixel 4 iPhone 11
Google Pixel 4

While the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and OnePlus 7T produce the most vibrant and popping colors, you can tell this is a result of heavy post-processing, which hurts detail. Google, Apple, and Huawei images show more detail in the buildings, bricks, and shadows.

Even affordable smartphones can produce great photos when there is ample lighting to work with.

Edgar Cervantes

iPhone images were warmer, while the Google Pixel 4 and the Huawei P30 Pro showed a more realistic white balance. The Google Pixel 4 displayed superior performance in exposure and dynamic range. Take a look under the bridge and you will notice more detail in the cars. Likewise, you will notice the highlights of the reflections in buildings aren’t as harsh. Though it is a slightly darker image, it’s more evenly lit.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

iPhone 11 Google Pixel 4 iPhone 11
Google Pixel 4

The OnePlus 7T did horrible in this image set, killing the shadows and not exposing the image correctly. Surprisingly, the Huawei P30 Pro had a hard time figuring out the white balance, producing a cooler hue and a slightly purple tint. As per usual, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 produced a bluer sky, greener foliage, and an overall “dreamier” look. This can make for striking images, but you can see data loss in the shadows, which we can thank the higher contrast and saturation for.

The Google Pixel 4 and the iPhone 11 did a better job here, but Apple’s latest smartphone takes this round. While white balance is more accurate, and overall detail is slightly better on the Pixel 4’s photo, the iPhone 11 manages to balance exposure and dynamic range better, bringing out more details from the shadows in the trees.

Winner: iPhone 11


Color

Color is a more subjective matter, as people will love a highly saturated, vibrant image that pops. The issue is most times this is due to excessive image processing, which can also deteriorate a photo in other ways. What we want is a balanced image, in which colors pop, look realistic, and detail isn’t crushed into oblivion.

iPhone 11 Google Pixel 4 iPhone 11
Google Pixel 4

What we want is a balanced image, in which colors pop, look realistic, and detail isn't crushed into oblivion.

Edgar Cervantes

The Huawei P30 Pro tanked this one; highlights are blown out, dynamic range is unimpressive, and the white balance is way off. iPhone 11 images are good, but detail isn’t great and the tint is a little on the purple side. Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 produced a very vibrant and colorful image, but detail under the flowers disappears due to over-processing, the background looks too softened, and colors look unnatural. It still looks gorgeous, though, and the deeper colors help when showcasing colorful objects like flowers. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 image is likely the one most people will pick at first glance.

Regardless, the Pixel 4 image is the most balanced, showing more separation between colors, a wider color gamut, and slightly better detail in the shadows.

Winner: Google Pixel 4


Detail

Capturing detail is no easy feat for smaller sensors found in smartphone cameras. Devices can struggle to expose images correctly without leaving too much noise visible. Meanwhile, reducing noise in post-processing requires softening, which in turn gets rid of detail.

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Google Pixel 4

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 did the worst shooting this image. Detail is too softened, which you can mostly notice in the buildings in the bottom and top of the frame. The OnePlus 7T does a better job, but it is still nowhere near the best contenders in this section.

The Google Pixel 4 and Huawei P30 Pro performed better measuring white balance, but if we must focus on detail, the real fight is, again, between the Pixel 4 and the iPhone 11. In this case the Pixel 4 is the winner. Take a look at the lounge in the terrace on the lower part of the frame. You can see much more detail in the plants. There is also a significant amount of more detail in the building walls across the street.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

iPhone 11 Google Pixel 4 iPhone 11
Google Pixel 4

The OnePlus 7T image is underexposed and misses much detail all across the frame. Huawei also did a bad job capturing data in the shadows this particular time. The whole image looks dark and the trees in the back seem washed off. Samsung’s photo is way too softened, but at least it’s better exposed.

The Google Pixel 4 wins again, with more detail in the buildings, as you can literally see dirty areas in the walls that aren’t noticeable in other images. The buildings, windows, and texture are crisper. Separation of color and contrast are also better, which you can notice by looking at the trees in Central Park. The trees look hazy in the iPhone’s shot.

The Pixel 4 seems to have a slight problem exposing high-contrasting images. This makes the image look a little darker than it should, but if you look closely there is more to look at.

Winner: Google Pixel 4


Dynamic range

To better understand dynamic range you can read our dedicated post. In a nutshell, dynamic range refers to a camera’s ability to pick up detail at the extremes of exposure in a scene, from the darkest to the lightest areas. Cameras with bad dynamic range will more easily either blow out highlights or black out shadows.

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Google Pixel 4

Both the Huawei P30 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 produced hazy images. It looks like the contrast was off and the Samsung image shows very obvious signs of softening. This would be compensated for if we could see more detail in the shadows (as we are talking about dynamic range), but that isn’t the case.

At first glance one would say the OnePlus 7T has better dynamic range because it managed to pull more data from the shade, but that isn’t exactly what happened. Look up (or through the tunnel) and you will see the highlights are way blown out. What happened here is that the camera exposed for the shadows, but lost all detail in the highlights.

Both the Google Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 did a good job here, showing plenty of detail in the shadows and exposing the area behind the tunnel accordingly. The Pixel 4 photo exposure is still more balanced, though. You can also see crisper detail in the wood and more info past the tunnel.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

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Google Pixel 4

This image is very hard to shoot, because much of the frame is in the shade, while almost a third of it shows a super bright sky. There are no in-betweens, which makes it the perfect test shot for dynamic range. I will tell you right now these are all horrible. The trick is finding out which one is the least ugly one.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 is the better exposed image of the bunch. I would love to say it’s the winner, but you can easily tell its improvements are simply a result of excessive editing. The shaded area looks hazy, trees are too soft, the sky has a halo effect, and detail in people’s faces is nearly gone. The OnePlus 7T’s photo is crisper, but it is too dark and white balance is significantly off.

Again, the Google Pixel 4 wins here. It manages to expose shadows and highlights better than the Huawei P30 Pro and the iPhones, all while keeping detail in the trees and buildings sharper.

Winner: Google Pixel 4


Low light

It’s when the sun goes down that we start seeing the real differences between cameras. These tiny sensors have to struggle to get the most detail they can. Software then takes the image and needs to make some hard decisions. Do you remove all noise and risk softening a photo too much? White balance is also something to keep in mind, and most phones fail to get true hues and tints in the process. Then the device must also figure out what to expose for.

iPhone 11 Google Pixel 4 iPhone 11
Google Pixel 4

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 is softening images in broad daylight, so you can be sure they do it in the dark too. Meanwhile, the OnePlus 7T photo is very dark and lacks detail in the shadows. This time even the Huawei P30 Pro softened the image a bit too much.

The best contenders are the iPhone 11 and the Google Pixel 4, and I must say Apple’s handset has this round. The Pixel 4 photo has a purple tint to it. It’s not as noisy, but Google’s image shows less detail in the darker parts of the image. This iPhone 11 shot handles white balance better. And while it shows more grain, it also includes more data (even in the night sky).

Winner: iPhone 11

iPhone 11 Google Pixel 4 iPhone 11
Google Pixel 4

I won’t bother including Huawei and Samsung as finalists in this section. Their images are far inferior. OnePlus does better, but upon closer inspection we can see the image is too softened (and still noisy!).

The real fight is between the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 here, and it’s easy to see why iPhone 11 has won again. While the Pixel 4 image has better white balance, the iPhone 11 shot is far superior in terms of detail. Take a look at the wood in the table and knife to see the differences in detail. Also look at the fibers in the meat and the texture of the mashed potatoes. The difference is significant.

Winner: iPhone 11


Night mode

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Google Pixel 4

The iPhone may have better low-light performance in the previous section, but Google has a neat trick up its sleeve. The Pixel 4’s night mode (Night Sight) is far superior to those found in any of the other smartphones. It managed to get a good exposure that also looks more realistic given the photo was taken in a dark restaurant.

The iPhone may have better general low-light performance, but Google has a neat trick up its sleeve: Night Sight.

Edgar Cervantes

The skin is a bit softened, but that is a common result of night modes, and you can see softening in all sample images shown above (OnePlus went nuts with it). Furthermore, there are no weird light elements, which you can see in the Huawei and OnePlus shots. As for the iPhone image, it got the white balance wrong and softened the image a bit more than it should have.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

More posts about Smartphone cameras


Portrait mode

I have never been a fan of portrait mode. While it creates a fun bokeh (blurry background) effect previously only accomplished with specialized cameras and lenses, no camera really does it right. Most fail to outline the subject adequately, and if phones get close to doing it right, the effect can often look unnatural. Manufacturers continue trying to improve portrait mode, and these are the results of some of the best phones out there.

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Google Pixel 4

The iPhone 11 Pro Max got much better results shooting this portrait than the iPhone 11, so we will be comparing that one with the other phones. The best contenders here are the iPhone 11 Pro Max, Google Pixel 4, and Huawei P30 Pro.

While the Pixel 4 captured the most detail in David’s face, it has more outlining errors around the hair and the image looks a bit too processed. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is too soft and warm. I will have to give this round to the Huawei P30 Pro. Its bokeh effect looks more natural and the image isn’t over-processed.

Winner: Huawei P30 Pro

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Google Pixel 4

The Google Pixel 4 gets back on its feet this round, and much stronger than before. The Pixel’s image has the right hue and tint, beating all other phones in terms of white balance. It also managed to expose both sides of Adam’s face more evenly, whereas the other phones over-exposed the side facing the sun. In addition, the Google Pixel 4 did a good job outlining the subject. It wasn’t perfect, but it did pretty well.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

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Google Pixel 4

Huawei missed the whole point of portrait mode and didn’t blur anything (it needs to detect a face for Portrait Mode to kick in). Meanwhile, Samsung and OnePlus lost too much detail in the shadows. Out of the two iPhones, the iPhone 11 Pro Max did a better job outlining the subject. The Pixel 4 didn’t do as well performing this task, and it still looks like Google went a little crazy with the processing. The most evenly exposed, more accurately outlined, and overall better photo has to be the one from the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Winner: iPhone 11 Pro Max


Selfie

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Google Pixel 4

Smartphone camera selfies tend to be bad, so we have to find the one that does better. Among these sample images the best one is the Google Pixel 4’s. It is crisp, white balance is nearly spot on, all subjects are in focus, and colors are accurate. Meanwhile iPhone selfies have a green tint and look over-exposed. Samsung bumped up the contrast, and the Oneplus 7T looks too blurry. Huawei seems to have completely missed focus on David’s face.

Winner: Google Pixel 4


The Google Pixel 4 becomes the best camera phone

Google Pixel 4 XL back panel standing on rock 13

With nine victories out of fourteen, the tradition continues and the Google Pixel 4 has become the new best camera phone around. How long that will last is unknown, but the Google Pixel 3 was hard to beat, and kept its title as one of the best camera phones until now (it can be argued it still is).

Also read: Behind the scenes: Google’s Pixel cameras aren’t trying to be cameras at all

We can thank Google’s computational photography and software for much of its camera performance. The results are obvious, as Google took this camera shootout by storm. This is not to say the Google Pixel 4 camera is perfect, though. You can see it was beat multiple times, most notably in low light (when not factoring in night mode) and portrait mode performance. The iPhones did better in some instances, and the Huawei P30 Pro managed to take one victory in the portrait mode section.

Of course, there are some other factors to consider. Those who prefer iOS might not mind sacrificing the best camera for a pretty darn good one. If you want a wide-angle lens, the Google Pixel 4 doesn’t have one. And if all these phones are just too expensive, you might want to go with something like Google Pixel 3a, which has the same award-winning camera as the Pixel 3, yet starts at only $399.

Meanwhile, the Google Pixel 4 is here to take the throne. And it does so very gracefully.

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