Ever since the announcement of iPhone 4, the smartphone camera award has gone to the folks at Apple practically every year. But Apple has stiff competition this year. Samsung has unveiled a gem of a camera in Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, and on top of that, at this moment, iPhone 7's biggest competitor for the best camera is Google's Pixel phone.
Let's look at the specifications first. Both the phones use a 12 MP Sony sensor, of different kinds, in the rear. While the iPhone 7 Plus relies on dual cameras, Pixel and Pixel XL have singular cameras. In the front, iPhone 7 sports a 7 MP Facetime HD camera, while Pixel has an 8 MP camera.
First off, iPhone cameras have always been great and this year is no exception. As Apple's global marketing VP Phil Schiller explained at the keynote event, iPhone 7 is using a new 6-stage lens. The new sensor has an f/1.8 aperture which allows a lot more light to be captured, as compared to the iPhone 6's f/2.2 aperture.
I have taken many photos from the iPhone 7 plus and they have come out great. The white balance -- a measure to tell how a white object, in reality, looks in the photo -- is a bit on the lower side of the spectrum, but shadows are very well captured. Since Apple cameras have a tendency to produce warmer colours, the result pleases the eyes. Technically, the phone is capturing a wider colour gamut than before but the difference is negligible in most cases.
Google Pixel's camera also has a 12 MP Sony sensor with f/2.0 aperture. At the keynote event, the company proudly showed off its DxoMark rating of 89. While this sensor is similar to the one used in Nexus 6P, improvements have been made.
For instance, there is the sensor HDR which means that there is hardly any post processing needed after a shot has been taken. And, the picture is ready to use within seconds. The Google camera uses the smart burst to take 9 pictures and picks the best of the lot. The Pixel camera is great and has amazing sharpness and contrast. But sometimes the HDR has a tendency to over-blow the details and it kind of sticks in the eyes.
Additionally, the iPhone 7 has introduced Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) in both iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus while Google is mainly relying on software processing with Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS). Here is where it makes a difference. Since both cameras are ultra fast, you can click many pictures in a minute. The shutter lag in both is almost non-existent. Yet, when you are clicking the photos quickly, the iPhone 7 photos come out better because of the three-axis stabilization.
On the other hand, the level of detail in Google Pixel camera is better. There is a lot going around the objects that is captured. Even in a crowded food plate, you can distinguish items very well in a Pixel photograph.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 7 wins the zoom round. There is hardly any difference between the smaller phones in each brand. The iPhone 7 uses only digital zoom but its processing is much better. The real play starts in the bigger phones, where iPhone 7 Plus has a 2x optical and 10x digital zoom. Pixel's zoom feature, on the other hand, is not something you would enjoy using too much.
In low-light imaging, Pixel seems to have the upper hand as it tends to identify people and objects better to merge them with HDR processing and carve out a better result.
With out flash. Left :iPhone 7 plus
— Ivan Mehta (@IndianIdle) October 18, 2016
With its dual camera setup, iPhone 7 has a wide angle lens with f/1.8 aperture and a telephoto lens with a f/2.8 aperture, which helps in capturing objects at a distance well. Apple has introduced a portrait mode as well that creates a shallow depth of field around an object, using both the cameras for a 'Bokeh' like effect. Sure, the effect is not as impressive as a DSLR camera's but the company has promised a lot of enhancements through the software.
Google Pixel can create a similar 'lens blur' effect by capturing an object and moving the camera upwards later for better depth. Although the end result is not as good as what is produced by the iPhone 7 Plus camera.
Both phones are capable of producing 4k videos at 30 fps and the slow motion 240 fps videos with 720p quality. One major thing to consider here is that Pixel gives you unlimited photo and video storage. So, you don't have to hold back on shooting 4k videos on Google's phone. The front cameras in both phones turn out pretty well for the everyday selfies and video calls.
Overall, both the phones are top notch in terms of their cameras delivering top performance. The preference will lie in the eyes of the beholder, literally, as both follow different colour schemes. While Google relies more on software processing, Apple is giving hardware a push. You can check out our iPhone 7 Plus and Google Pixel XL reviews for more details.