Google Pixel 6 Pro Camera vs. Apple iPhone 13 Pro Camera | Digital Trends November 11, 2021 – Posted in: Smartphone news

The iPhone 13 Pro may be Apple’s latest smartphone, but its camera isn’t a big upgrade over the iPhone 12 Pro. So where does that leave Apple when it competes with the newly released Google Pixel 6 Pro? The iPhone and the Pixel have long fought for camera supremacy, and if the 13 Pro can’t always best its predecessor, can it at least beat Google’s latest model? To find out, I took both phones out for a couple of days to take a selection of photos, and the outcome may come as a surprise to some.

Camera specs and testing procedure

Before we look at the photos, let’s check the specs of each camera. The Google Pixel 6 Pro has a 50-megapixel main camera joined by a 48MP telephoto camera with 4x optical zoom, plus a 12MP wide-angle camera. The Apple iPhone 13 Pro has three 12MP cameras, with the telephoto providing a 3x zoom, and the wide-angle camera a 120-degree field of view.

The iPhone 13 Pro has iOS 15.1 installed, and the Google Pixel 6 Pro has Android 12. All photos were taken back-to-back, and all I did was press the shutter button. Once the shots had been taken, I compared them all on a color-calibrated monitor. You’re seeing the original photos below, just slightly resized to make them more suitable for online use.

This test was also performed at the same time that I put the Pixel 6 Pro up against the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, and I’ve previously compared the iPhone 13 Pro with the iPhone 12 Pro in a similar camera test.

The main camera

Our first photo shows just what a big difference there is between the Pixel 6 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro’s cameras. The Pixel 6 Pro takes a brighter, more detailed photo with greater contrast, better white balance, and far more attractive colors. The iPhone 13 Pro’s photo can’t get close to the Pixel 6 Pro’s, in my opinion.

Look at the additional detail on the side of the pub building and the window in the roof that’s closest to the camera. The wall is bathed in shadow in the iPhone’s photo, yet you can see every brick in the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo, which it exposes without ruining the rest of the image. On the nearest chalkboard, you can make out where the writing has been erased on a regular basis, but this is not visible in the iPhone’s photo.

I don’t think the iPhone 13 Pro’s photo is technically bad at all, but of the two pictures, I’d always be happier with the image taken by the Pixel 6 Pro in this situation. It’s pretty, inviting, colorful, and shareable.

The car

This is an odd one, as although this is a photo taken with the main camera on the Pixel 6 Pro, it almost looks like it’s a poor wide-angle shot. It has elongated the car’s body in a strange way, making the back look far longer than it actually is.

The car in the iPhone 13 Pro’s photo is proportionally correct, and although there is a slight variation in the angle I took the photo, it seems unlikely this would cause such a drastic difference in appearance.

However, the iPhone 13 Pro’s coolness remains, and though I like how it makes the car’s paint and wheels look, the overall tone is more realistic and natural in the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo. But because the car isn’t actually that shape, it can’t compete.

The dog

A friendly dog sat with me while I had coffee, and quietly modeled while I took a few photos. Compared to the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo was the clear winner, but it’s a little closer between it and the iPhone 13 Pro.

Yes, the coolness of the iPhone 13 Pro’s photo is immediately obvious, but the scene has been captured in a similar way, complete with very attractive depth of field in both photos.

But again, the Pixel 6 Pro’s level of detail is astonishing, and the dog’s fur and nose are just a little sharper. Even though the iPhone 13 Pro comes close to it, the Pixel 6 Pro takes the photo I’d want to share, and that’s a very important distinction.

Winner: Google Pixel 6 Pro

The wide-angle camera

Not the easiest photo for either camera to take, as I was shooting directly into the sun, but the results are interesting. First, note the iPhone 13 Pro’s wider 120-degree field of view compared to the 114-degree field of view from the Pixel 6 Pro. It may not sound like much, but you can certainly see the difference in the final photo. I used the sun to line both photos up, showing the extra amount captured by the iPhone 13 Pro on the right of the shot.

The iPhone 13 Pro’s photo has a considerably more silvery tone than the Pixel 6 Pro’s, but a slightly bluer sky, and less noticeable lens flare too. The Pixel’s sand looks more natural, and the footprints are better defined.

It was a chilly, very windy morning, and both cameras capture the atmosphere well, but the Pixel 6 Pro’s natural tones and colors make the overall photo more appealing, despite the 13 Pro’s wider field of view and striking sky.

The beach

The Google Pixel 6 Pro takes a far warmer, slightly more saturated photo than the iPhone 13 Pro, with its cool tones. However, the iPhone 13 Pro’s wider angle does come into greater effect here, adding drama and scale to the sky and the sea on the right of the photo.

I also like the iPhone 13 Pro’s treatment of the sky, with more contrast, some sharper blues, and a moodiness missing from the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo. However, the pebbly beach is captured more attractively by the Pixel, due to those warmer tones.

While the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s photo of the same scene was very close to the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo in my previous testing, these are quite different from each other. I struggle to choose which one I like the best, and almost want to combine the iPhone’s sky with the Pixel’s pebbly beach. But because the beach is really the focal point, the Pixel 6 Pro is the winner in this one.

The park

Like the other photos here, the iPhone 13 Pro’s wider angle camera adds greater scale compared to the 6 Pro, and in this environment, the coolness has been minimized, making for a better balanced picture.

However, the fall colors that are starting to show through are more evident in the Pixel’s photo, and the blue sky and less aggressively darkened clouds make it a happier scene and closer to what I saw with my own eyes.

Overall, the Pixel 6 Pro’s wide-angle camera may not capture the same scale as the iPhone 13 Pro’s, but its warm tone, great white balance, and attractive colors and contrast mean the photos it takes capture your attention more. It beats the iPhone 13 Pro here.

Winner: Google Pixel 6 Pro

Portrait and macro mode

This portrait photo was taken with the zoom feature active, which adds a 3x magnification on the iPhone 13 Pro and a 2x magnification on the Pixel 6 Pro. For each photo, I tapped on the screen near the top of the post where it meets the directional sign.

The Pixel 6 Pro understood the entire sign was the focal point, while the iPhone 13 Pro began blurring out the actual sign part as it extends into the distance. The portrait effect is ruined, and it’s clear an artificial bokeh effect has been added.

In the Pixel 6 Pro photo, the sign is better isolated, but there is still evidence of blurring where there shouldn’t be, so it’s not perfect. However, it has captured the scene more effectively than the iPhone 13 Pro.

The cup

The same problems are encountered in this photo of a coffee cup. Here I did not tap on the screen to take the photo and left the cameras to sort out the focal point and effect. Both understood it was the cup and my hand, but the iPhone 13 Pro seems to treat it as a “flat” item, while the Pixel 6 Pro recognizes the cup is round when it decides what to blur.

The Pixel captures the strap on my Apple Watch Series 7 more effectively, there’s more texture on the cardboard cup than in the iPhone’s photo, and the edge of my hand is more sharply defined too.

Look at the difference in the depth of field effect as well. The iPhone 13 Pro’s blur is far stronger than the Pixel 6 Pro’s, which does suggest it’s tuned more for portrait photos of people, and not really objects. That’s fine, but the Pixel 6 Pro’s better object recognition makes it more versatile.

The chestnuts

The iPhone 13 Pro has a macro mode that automatically activates when you get within a certain distance of an object by switching to the wide-angle camera. The Google Pixel 6 Pro does not have such a feature and is not very good at close-up photos at all.

Just like in the test against the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo is outclassed by the iPhone 13 Pro, which sharply captures plenty of detail and color. The Pixel 6 Pro can’t match it, focusing on the very center of the image and adding a distorted blur to the outer part.

Ignoring the difference in the overall photo, I prefer the colors and tone of the iPhone 13 Pro’s photo, making this photo one of the few times so far where it has beaten the Pixel 6 Pro in this aspect. While the iPhone 13 Pro can take much better close-up photos — an area it also beat the iPhone 12 Pro — it can’t match the Pixel 6 Pro’s portrait mode.

Winner: Google Pixel 6 Pro

Night mode

Taken in the early evening and after the sun had set, anything beyond the gate post in this photo was in almost total darkness to the naked eye. I selected Night Mode on the Pixel 6 Pro, while the iPhone 13 Pro automatically activated it, and both cameras set the exposure time without me doing anything.

The iPhone 13 Pro beats the Pixel 6 Pro here, delivering a sharper photo with less noise and less blur on the walls and ground when you zoom in. While I do slightly prefer the Pixel 6 Pro’s warmer tone for the ground, the patches of damp and wet leaves do look more realistic for the time of day and conditions in the iPhone’s photo.

Interestingly, both struggle to avoid noise in the leaves and trees, while the iPhone 13 Pro makes better use of the available light, especially in the top right of the image.

The tree

The photo taken by the iPhone 13 Pro is more like what I was seeing with my own eyes, with the yellow glow of the sodium street lighting obvious in all areas. The Pixel 6 Pro’s photo is much brighter, and almost completely eliminates the streetlights’ yellow tint.

I prefer the iPhone 13 Pro’s treatment of the sky, which is less blue than the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo, and there’s more definition in the clouds. However, there’s a lot more detail in the street on the left of the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo, where you can make out the shape of the buildings, the windows, and parked cars.

If the goal was to capture more information and add brightness, the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo is the winner. If the goal was to capture the scene as you were seeing it, the iPhone 13 Pro’s photo is the winner.

The monument

It’s a very similar situation in our last night mode photo, where the Pixel 6 Pro produces a bright, sharp photo that misses out on the texture and realism of the iPhone 13 Pro’s photo.

The weathering on the monument and the wall is more defined in the iPhone 13 Pro’s picture, and both provide an almost identical amount of sharpness on the names and dates, which are entirely readable even without zooming in.

This is a hard category to judge. Both produce great lowlight photos, and which one you prefer will come down to whether you want more brightness or more realism. For me, the iPhone 13 Pro’s ability to better replicate what I was seeing at the time wins out.

Winner: Apple iPhone 13 Pro

Optical zoom

The iPhone 13 Pro has 3x optical zoom, and the Pixel 6 Pro has 4x optical zoom, so there is a slight difference between the photos here. The focal point of this image is the sign, which is made of a mesh, meaning what’s behind it should be visible in the photo.

This is more noticeable in the Pixel 6 Pro’s photograph, as the iPhone makes the sign considerably darker while emphasizing the text. The yellow text at the top of the sign in the Pixel’s photo is more apparent, and the trees in the background are sharper when you zoom in.

Both photos show the sign in sufficient detail to read the text, but the colors and contrast are better in the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo.

The tree

Repeatedly throughout this test, the Google Pixel 6 Pro has shown how it emphasizes colors and boosts contrast over the iPhone 13 Pro, which has a consistently cooler tone and can obscure detail in shadow.

This hasn’t changed with the optical zoom either, and you can really see the difference in this shot of a tree. The fall colors of the leaves, the texture of the branches, and even the colors on the trees in the background are richer and more apparent.

It’s better at separating the lower branches and trunk from the background, and all this despite getting in closer than the iPhone 13 Pro. Zoom in further, and there’s more detail as well. The Pixel 6 Pro beats the iPhone 13 Pro here.

Winner: Google Pixel 6 Pro

Overall winner: Google Pixel 6 Pro

In my first set of photo tests, it was a close battle between the Pixel 6 Pro and the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but against the iPhone 13 Pro, the new Google phone had an easier time. It only lost one section — the Night Mode test — but even then, there will be people who prefer the brighter look over the iPhone’s realistic atmosphere. However, the iPhone 13 Pro’s macro mode is a feature the Pixel 6 Pro can’t match.

The iPhone 13 Pro’s camera didn’t impress as much as I hoped when I put it against the iPhone 12 Pro, and I can’t help but wonder how the Pixel’s photos would compare to Apple’s 2020 smartphone instead. The iPhone 13 Pro still has a very capable camera, and it does take some good photos, but the Pixel 6 Pro is more consistent and takes more shareable, more eye-catching photos more of the time.