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Google Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4 camera test shootout: Is it worth the upgrade?

Does the Pixel 5 take better phots than its predecessor? Check out the samples and see for yourself!

Published onApril 12, 2021

Google Pixel 5 vs Google Pixel 4 1
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Google‘s Pixel lineup has long been known for offering some of the best smartphone cameras on the market. The Pixel 5, just like its predecessors, promises superb image quality. Is it good enough to warrant an upgrade, though?

In this Google Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4 camera test shootout we’ll be taking a series of image sample comparisons and providing our analysis. You can decide the winner for yourself via the poll at the bottom of the article.

We expect the results to be pretty similar, given that both phones come with near-identical camera hardware. The only main difference is that Google has switched the telephoto zoom lens for an ultra-wide-angle one for the Pixel 5. The company is instead relying on its Super Res Zoom software for zoom shots on the Pixel 5. For more on the phone’s zoom capabilities, check out our Pixel 5 Super Res Zoom deep dive to see how well software can match up to a true telephoto lens.

Google Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4: Camera specs

As mentioned above, camera specs on the Google Pixel 5 and Pixel 4 are very nearly identical. The main difference is that the secondary lens was switched from a zoom to a super wide-angle one. Otherwise, you get the same main 12.2MP sensor. We can thank much of Google’s camera prowess to its software enhancements and computational photography.

Another improvement comes in the form of slightly superior video recording. As you can see in the spec sheet below, The Google Pixel 5 can capture 4K video at 60fps. Meanwhile, the Pixel 4 is capped at 4K at 30fps.

Google Pixel 5Google Pixel 4
Rear cameras
Google Pixel 5
Main: 12.2MP, f/1.7, 1.4µm pixels, OIS, EIS.

Ultra wide: 16MP, f/2.2, 1 micron pixel, 107-degree FoV.
Google Pixel 4
Main: 12.2MP Dual-Pixel, f/1.7 aperture, 1.4μm, 77 degree FOV, OIS + EIS, PDAF.

Telephoto: 16MP, f/2.4 aperture, 1.0μm, 52 degree FOV, OIS + EIS, PDAF.
Rear video
Google Pixel 5
Up to 4K@60fps.
Google Pixel 4
Up to 4K@30fps
Front cameras
Google Pixel 5
8MP sensor, f/2.0, 1.12µm pixels, fixed focus, 83-degree FoV.
Google Pixel 4
8.1MP, f/2.0, 1.22μm, 90-degree FOV.
Front video
Google Pixel 5
Up to 1080p@30fps.
Google Pixel 4
Up to 1080p@30fps.

The samples

Disclaimer: The Pixel 4 samples were taken with a Google Pixel 4 XL. However, the Pixel 4 XL and Pixel 4 have identical cameras and have proven to produce the same results in previous tests. If there was Pixel 5 XL we’d have tested that too, but sadly it doesn’t exist!

It’s time to get down to business: which phone takes the best photos? The Google Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4 camera battle should be a fierce one. Let’s start with some daytime samples.

Read more: Photography terms explained

Outdoors daytime photos are where smartphone cameras shine the most. There is ample lighting to keep ISO and shutter speed down. This means blur and noise are kept to a minimum. There are some factors to keep an eye on, though. Daytime photos tend to produce harsher shadows. This is a good time to look at how a camera handles dynamic range. How blown out are the highlights? Is there enough detail in the shadows?

Images taken by both phones look amazingly similar. Exposure, color, and crispness are outstanding. The only difference we see is the level of detail in the shadows, especially in darker areas of the trees. This might suggest the Google Pixel 5 has a slightly better dynamic range. On the other hand, the Pixel 4 seems to show more detail once you really zoom in. The Pixel 5 algorithm seems to be going heavier on removing noise, which could sacrifice data.

Things went a bit wrong for the Google Pixel 5 in this image. The latest device got the white balance a little wrong, leaning more towards the blue side of the spectrum. You can tell especially when looking at the clouds.

For some reason, it seems like the Google Pixel 4 got a better image, overall. Exposure is more uniform, there is more data in the shadows, and we can see more detail in the leaves. On the other hand, the background with the street and cars looks more noisy on the Pixel 4 sample.

Let’s make things a little harder on the Google Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4 camera test by moving indoors. There is still plenty of light here, but it seems the Pixel 5 came ahead by a bit. It has a warmer tone and slightly more vibrant colors. Not to mention the image is slightly brighter. The Pixel 5 also managed to capture a bit more detail, which you can mostly notice on the wood, dirt, and window particles.

Differences become more apparent as we move to areas with more contrasting lighting conditions. These image samples are similar in terms of exposure, but the Google Pixel 5 did a better job overall. The newer handset managed to capture much more detail in the bricks, not to mention the Pixel 4 photo shows a blue haze throughout the image. The older handset’s image also shows more grain.

The Pixel 5 seems to get better the darker the scene gets. In this image comparison, we can see the Pixel 4 is slightly colder white balance. Meanwhile, the Pixel 5 has a very nice saturation and contrast. Differences in detail are most apparent when looking at the brick wall, the coffee bag text, and the cardboard box in the bottom. The Pixel 4 seems to show more detail once you really look at textures. Again, The Pixel 5 might be sacrificing detail in its efforts to remove noise.

Something went wrong here, or it could simply be the angle in relationship to the lights, but the Pixel 5 clearly lost this round. Glare is rarely flattering, and this image has a lot of it. It’s also noisier and has less detail. The Pixel 4 didn’t do amazingly, but it’s a much more acceptable photo.

These are very similar results, but I see a slightly warmer tone. There’s also more detail in the hair and skin of the Pixel 5’s photo. Colors and exposure are very similar, though.

What even happened to the Pixel 4 image here?!

One of the biggest differences between the Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4 is lens selection. As seen in the specs, these devices have significantly different lens options. The Google Pixel 4 came with a standard and a telephoto lens. The Pixel 5 gave up the telephoto camera for a super wide-angle one, but Google claims their Super Res Zoom software improvements are good enough to fool any eye. Let’s find out!

Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4 Pixel 5 10
Pixel 5 super wide angle

We thought we would show you a super wide-angle sample from the Pixel 5, just so you can see what it can do. Of course, we have nothing to compare it to, as the Pixel 4 had no super wide-angle camera.

Not to be a buzzkill, but the Pixel 5 seems to have created a better zoom image without optical zoom, which is outstanding. The detail in the background buildings is much better in the Pixel 5 photos. You can also see a clear difference in the trees to the bottom of the frame. Exposure, color reproduction, and contrast are all pretty similar, but the Pixel 5 image definitely shows more detail.

This seems to only be the case in night time photos, though. We took things a little further and got some sample zoom photos in the daytime, where the Pixel 4 did better capturing detail and keeping the image sharper.

Google Pixel 5 vs Google Pixel 4 camera shootout: The verdict

While specs and software optimizations seem nearly identical on paper in the Google Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4 competition, there seem to be some clear differences. We thought the lack of an optical zoom camera would affect close-ups, but our tests show better results coming from the Pixel 5.

Related: Google Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4 general comparison: Should you upgrade?

We can’t come out and say the Pixel 5 is worth the upgrade if you already have a Pixel 4, but the newer iteration seems to be the better camera phone. The Pixel 4 still has an amazing camera, however, and it is now much more affordable than the Pixel 5. On the other hand, while the Pixel 5 seems to have a better camera, the Pixel 4 beats the newer phone in a few other departments.

We’ll be doing an even more in-depth look at the Pixel 5 vs older Pixel phones very soon. For now, though, which camera results do you prefer in the Google Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4 battle?

Which phone takes better photos: the Google Pixel 5 or the Google Pixel 4

2484 votes