Everyone expected the Pixel 4 to have the best smartphone camera, but Apple's iPhone 11 Pro ruined Google's party (GOOG, GOOGL)


Google Pixel 4

  • Everyone may have been expecting the latest Pixel 4 to carry on Google’s domination as the best smartphone camera maker, but Apple ruined Google’s party with the iPhone 11 series. 
  • Google’s Pixel 4 may eke out a win on some of the photos below, but not by much. 
  • Ultimately, Apple’s iPhone 11 camera is superb, and it decidedly wins for giving you the option of an ultra-wide camera. 
  • The Pixel 4 doesn’t have an ultra-wide camera, which was a controversial move. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Either Google messed up the camera on the Pixel 4, or Apple made significant strides in the iPhone 11-series camera.

Whatever happened over the last year, Google’s famed pedigree as the best smartphone camera maker on Earth is now in question.

I took both the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro Max for a camera shoot-out, and I came back surprised when I saw the photos on my computer. 

Check out the photos taken by the Pixel 4 compared to those taken on the iPhone 11 Pro:

SEE ALSO: I tested Google’s new Pixel 4 against the iPhone 11 Pro to see which one is better at taking photos in the dark, and the Pixel drastically outperformed in one key way

The Pixel 4 did a great job with this challenging combination of extreme brightness, like the sunlit buildings and glare, and darker shaded parts, like the building on the right, left, and toward the bottom.

The iPhone’s photo looks almost identical. But the Pixel 4’s photo above has a little more contrast, and it’s a little sharper, too. (It’s only something you’d notice by zooming into the photo.)

Here’s another Pixel 4 photo that looks pretty great.

Amazingly enough, the iPhone’s photo is nearly identical, too, and it looks just as good. But wait a minute — that tall building in the back looks familiar …

Oh, it’s One World Trade Center! This was taken in the same exact spot using the iPhone’s ultra-wide camera. Without an ultra-wide lens, the Pixel 4 can’t get the entire building in the shot, at least in landscape mode.

Enough buildings — how about some color from the Pixel 4? Everything looks good here …

… same with the iPhone. It looks a little brighter, which makes the photo appear more vibrant, but the colors are a little paler. Still, anyone would be happy with either image.

Here’s a busy photo with a variety of things to focus on, taken by the Pixel 4 …

… and here’s the iPhone’s effort. Oddly enough, it’s the Pixel 4 that made colors seem a little paler this time. This goes to show that no smartphone camera is perfect, or even fully consistent.

How about some zoomed photos? Google added a 2X zoomed lens to the Pixel 4, and here’s the result.

Now here’s the iPhone’s 2X zoomed version. There aren’t any issues with either picture.

Google touted its software magic for better digital zooming when you’re zooming beyond the 2X optical zoom. I gave it a try, and while there’s more detail on the bird in the Pixel 4’s photo, it still looks like it was taken using digital zoom.

Here’s the iPhone’s 6X zoomed photo. Less detail here on the bird, and a little more blotchiness and detail-smoothing from the iPhone’s digital zooming.

Google’s Pixel is famous for its low-light Night Sight mode. The Pixel 4 suggested I take this photo with Night Sight enabled, probably because the subject — this cute little truck — is so dark. So I did.

The iPhone also indicated it wanted to take this photo with Apple’s new Night Mode. The iPhone did incredibly well here — even better than the Pixel 4, surprisingly.

Here’s another Night Sight shot from the Pixel 4, for good measure …

… and here’s the iPhone’s version. I’d have to say the Pixel wins this one, but only by a hair. You can see brighter details, like the clock and things through the windows of the firehouse, a little better on the Pixel’s photo.

Finally, here’s a low-light shot without Night Sight or other fancy modes. This is the Pixel 4’s shot.

The iPhone’s version looks nearly identical, save for the warmer color-tone.

What does it all mean?

Apple’s latest iPhone camera has caught up to Google’s Pixel camera in a big way. The Pixel 4 may eke out a win here and there in the photos above, but not by much at all. 

Ultimately, however, it’s pretty clear that Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro is the overall winner for the best smartphone camera of 2019 and most of 2020 until new phones are announced. 

Apple’s win is largely due to its fantastic regular and zoomed cameras, including the option of an ultra-wide lens. The iPhone 11 Pro is simply a more versatile camera than the Pixel 4, which only includes a regular camera lens and a zoomed lens. And unfortunately, Google’s software magic for digital zooming doesn’t make up for the missing ultra-wide camera on the Pixel 4. 

I’d even say that the $700 iPhone 11 would also be a better option for anyone who wants the best camera on a smartphone. You get Apple’s latest regular camera as well as an ultra-wide lens, which still gives you a lot of versatility.