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Pixel 6 Pro Camera vs iPhone 13 Pro vs. S21 Ultra!

phones tech Dec 14, 2021

The Google Pixel 6 Pro is the much-awaited phone that I have been waiting for, to rival the iPhone 13 Pro. When it comes to their Cameras, both of these are by far in the same class as the Samsung S21 Ultra.

I had really, really high expectations when coming into this post where we are comparing all 3 phones across Photo, Video, and Audio, but I have to say, I'm quite disappointed in terms of meeting those expectations.

We do have the Pixel 6 Pro with its Larger 50MP Sensors, the iPhone 13 with its 12MP Sensor, and the insane Cameras on the S21 Ultra at 108 MP.

Today I'm going to show you a side-by-side comparison with each phone, awarding points along the way to whichever comes out on top. Then at the end, we can compare and see what we think of each of these phones and award an overall winner.

A quick thanks to my long-time Android friend, James who came out with his S21 Ultra to help me shoot for the day - so join me on our adventure as we spend a day with all 3 cameras, and we'll take these comparisons in the order we shot them on the day.

What order do you think they'll come? Well - I'll tell you something, this was NOT what I expected. At all.

1. PORTRAIT MODE

First, let's talk Portrait Mode and here we have 3 shots, taken on a bright but cloudy day. So the light was kind of perfect. And firstly I would say, I was quite surprised that the S21 Ultra just hasn't got any detail and the colours look washed out. You can also see that it's missed the edge of my hood a little and has tried blurring it but to be fair, around the hairline it's really quite good.

The iPhone is probably the most realistic in terms of colour representation. It also is the best here at pulling me out of the background. It's picked up my hood and only some light misses around the hairline. The Pixel 6 Pro, I think has kind of overprocessed the image here. BUT, out of all 3 images - I actually prefer the Pixel image if I was to go upload it to social media.

It has missed focus a little around the edges, but overall the image is quite pleasing. Though I would say when directly comparing these, it looks like the Pixel has just applied this general blur over the background, whereas the iPhone looks like a more natural blur you'd get out of a higher end camera.

So points to the Pixel and iPhone here, and nothing to the S21.

2. ZOOM

Next up Zoom. The iPhone boasts a 3x Zoom. The Pixel is a 4X with features to boost that up to 20X, and the S21 has a 10X Optical zoom which can digitally zoom up to an insane 100x!

On the Ultrawide lens, there's nothing really to report until you start zooming in on the shot. The S21's higher megapixel count obviously really helping here. The Pixel 6, and the iPhone are by far off the worst.

The same can be said for the 1x and for the telephoto, though you can see the big difference in colours here. Somewhere between the iPhone and the S21 Ultra provide the best colour. The Pixel again seemingly over correcting, over-saturation - but that can always be fixed after if necessary, or you might just like your shots like this. That's a personal preference. I actually quite like having my shots punchy and contrasty, so I actually dig the Pixel image here.

This is where it really starts to get interesting when it comes to zoom.

We've now reached the optical limit of the iPhone and the Pixel. So as we zoom in the furthest we can go. 20x on the Pixel,  it looks okay. It actually looks a lot better than I'd thought it would! The detail obviously goes, but nowhere near as badly as the iPhone which starts looking like some watercolour painting of some form.

The S21 Ultra absolutely beasts this. Not only on this shot which is using its optical lens. but this shot is all the way into 100x. I'd argue that's still better than the iPhone quality. Possibly not the Pixel.

So this comparison shows us 2 things. 1, that the size of your megapixels DOES matter if you want to crop your images. And 2. The S21 is hands down the best if you want to creep on someone from a distance. Point to the Samsung S21.

 

3. FRONT FACING CAMERA

On These front-facing Portrait shots in challenging lighting - directly into the sun, the S21 falls behind as it's not able to balance out the image, though it does a very good job at keeping the sky from being overexposed, it doesn't expose the face properly. The iPhone probably does the best job at bringing the face out. But the Pixel does a better overall job at balancing the exposure of the face with the background. Also, this is the first major difference I've spotted between these cameras now. But the S21 is the only one out of the 3 that doesn't flip the image on selfie mode. If you notice on the Pixel and iPhone, you can read the text on my Jacket. But with the S21 you can't. Depending on your use cases for the selfie camera, that might be an issue for you, though of course, you can fix that later if needed, it's just not as convenient.

Whilst I prefer the iPhone is the image I'd upload to social media, Point to the Pixel for producing an overall more balanced image.

This front-facing shot was shot the opposite way with the sun directly on me. The iPhone decided to apply some form of weird smoothing effect on my skin. That's a no. The Pixel I think did a good job, but again the colours just feel off to me. Actually this one I'd give to the S21 for producing a more realistic image. Yes, it's a little overexposed on the face, but I'm really not keen on what the other 2 phones are doing to these images to counterbalance the sun. Point to the S21.

When shooting in normal light with no direct sun, it's an even closer call. The S21 actually picks out the person from the image better than either the Pixel or iPhone which has this slight hazing effect around the hairline. Point to the S21.

4. AUDIO

Audio now. I was Standing in an empty field, on a quiet day, with a lawnmower in the background (head over to my youtube video to hear it) And they all sound fairly similar, there's not much in them at all.

However, one thing I couldn't test that day was how good the Pixel 6 Pro does in windy conditions. I've tried waiting for a windy day, but other than hanging my head out of the car whilst trying to hold 3 phones which I really don't fancy doing in case I dropped one, the Pixel 6 Wins in terms of 'all conditions' audio based on that feature. So point to the Pixel!

5. LANDSCAPE MODE

In Landscape and kind of architecture shots, there are some interesting differences. Other than someone not being able to hold the phone straight. The S21 probably again has the better colour representation of what the scene actually looked like. The iPhone has over-saturated the grass and the Pixel just looks a little washed out. Point to the S21 Ultra here.

As we walked into the Cathedral, I thought we'd try some shots with less light in them. And we came across these candles which we shot in portrait mode.

The Pixel and the S21 blow this out of the water. They have great focus, expose the image well, and the Pixel also has a really nice and natural drop off in that blur. Whereas the iPhone comes nowhere close. For me, the S21 wins for its colours bringing more realism BUT the detail does get lost in the dark areas, whereas the Pixel just made this way too cold but has a better overall exposure. Also, It took a number of shots on the S21 to get one in focus. Whereas the Pixel's ability to tap on any object, and track it, and apply the portrait mode blur. VERY good. Clear point to the Pixel here.

Some more portraits here, in lowish light.

With the Pixel you can see the detail, the dynamic range looks great, though I think they've really over-sharpened this photo as the coat just looks unnatural.

The iPhone just missed this whole image. The colours are off. Quality isn't there. And The black jacket is now grey? The S21 is a great image still. But that detail does get lost. Around the beard, the hood and such.

Point to the Pixel!

6. VIDEOS

Some videos now and there's some semi-low light video next. As you can see the iPhone seems to be quite blotchy. The Pixel is actually doing a pretty good job. And the S21 feels a bit washed out to me.

So I'm going to give this one to the Pixel. Point to Pixel!

Back outside again and let's look at some of the 'cinematic' features in video now with a panning shot. iPhone's 13's new cinematic mode, in this particular video, looks awful with that fuzz around me. A similar but arguably better experience with the S21 Ultra.

But the Pixel and their Cinematic Stabilisation mode - Looks great up until a certain point. But then the image starts falling apart if you look at the trees.

I think these are all 3 pretty bad experiences, and you'd actually be better off shooting in regular video mode for each. But I would give the edge to the Pixel for the ability to stabilise the footage in camera.

7. SLOW MOTION

On to some slow-motion now, and, it's not good.

The Pixel looks more and more like the footage was shot on a potato, which made it even worse when switching to the ultrawide footage. And the S21 Footage almost looks like an animation, the quality is so poor.

The iPhone probably had the most consistent experience and best overall quality, whilst still not really that great.

I wouldn't really want to award any of these phones a point here because they are far from where they should be. But the iPhone takes the point here.

Exhausted from throwing leaves for too many times to count, we headed to the pub for some lunch.

Now, I'm not a food blogger, I've no idea how to make food look pretty. But here's my chocolate cake.

The S21 focus really wasn't that great with half of it blurred out. The iPhone was better.

But the Pixel actually does better at keeping the whole dish in focus but still gives you a nice drop off with blur behind. It has over sharpened the image somewhat - but of all of those awful photos. The Pixel is the one I'd choose the upload. Point to the Pixel!

One thing to note here about the Pixel and the S21 actually is the post-processing. because I found a lot of the photos to look pretty garbage on the Pixel's screen whilst taking it but snap a photo, preview the photo you've taken and give it a second, and suddenly the image refreshes with all of the AI Image processing stuff done to it. Then suddenly the image looks good again.

Also here, is a quick test of the ability to track focus on objects for photos.

See how the Pixel locks focus onto the battery and tracks it? The S21 seemed pretty good too. The iPhone just doesn't do it. Which is a pretty big fail there. Points to the Pixel and S21 here.

I also took this shot whilst inside and you can see the Pixel has blown out the windows. The S21 is too dark. But the iPhone has pretty perfectly exposed the whole image. Point to the iPhone!

8. STANDARD VIDEO

We filmed a standard video in the forest, lots of detail in the leaves and trees. The light was starting to go, and I was quite blown away by the differences here.

First is the S21 Footage on a standard video test. Which looks horrendous.

Then there is the Pixel Footage. Much better, but still quite noisy if you look at the coat and the detail. And here's something I didn't notice until watching it back on my monitor. But look at what happens to the colours when I step out of frame at the end... It totally shifts colour!

I felt that the iPhone was definitely more consistent. For me, iPhone clear winner here.

Now we get to where the Pixel, just completely falls apart. By trying out the Action stabilisation feature, which the iPhone and S21 don't have. But we took along the iPhone to compare to anyway.

Here is the Pixel on the standard 1x lens with Active Stabilisation enabled.

And it gets even worse. Flip to the second lens and try the same thing, and the image totally falls apart. To the point where it actually drops a huge number of frames as it can't keep up with processing.

Compare this to the iPhone standard lens, and yes the stabilisation sucks, but I'd rather this over the significantly less quality of the Pixel. Even the 2x lens on the iPhone still holds up better quality-wise.

So the Stabilisation sucks on the Pixel, actually, the quality sucks on both of them. But the iPhone wins by a mile on a, erm, apples to apple comparison.

I'll be honest. I realised after shooting that we missed this on the S21 Ultra. So to be fair, let's award points to the iPhone and the S21, just to see where that leaves us.

Next, a really random one is lens flares. I've seen a few comments about this online as it's always been an issue on the iPhone for as long as I can remember.

But. The good news is. They all suck!

9. LENS FLAIR

Out of all of them, actually, I think the iPhone is the better one. Marginally. The Pixel had quite a lot of issues with the image, and the S21 had a more pronounced reflection. So here, points go to the iPhone.

10. FEATURES

Features now, because all of these phones have their assortment of features, but by far I'd say the features go to the Pixel as the hands-down winner.

Even though some of them are currently half baked like the stabilisation. The features like magic eraser that lets you remove things from your pictures at the touch of a button, and interesting features like literally shaking the camera and the Pixel will still give you a stable image - can be quite handy. It's actually quite mind-blowing how you can literally shake the camera in your hand, and it's barely noticeable on the finished footage...

Action Pan can also give you some interesting motion blur effects. 

Though, it purely just depends on what type of photos or videos you use your phone for. For this instance, I'm going to give it to the Pixel on features. Point to the Pixel.

What's not going to win any points is the interface. Because on both the S21 and Pixel, the interface isn't really easily accessible for one-handed use. You can alleviate some of these issues by using the one-handed mode shortcut to lower the interface, but some things still pop up in the middle of the screen requiring you to ideally use 2 hands.

On the iPhone, I feel they've really thought about the experience and everything you actually need is kept down the bottom with just a swipe of the thumb away. Point to the iPhone.

Also, point of note, that the actual interface seemed quite jumpy on the android phones. With noticeable lags and jumps when switching between camera lenses, compared to a much smoother experience on the iPhone.

Point to the iPhone here as well.

And then, as the day got dark, we took some low light photos of a nearly pitch-black room.

On the Ultrawide, we can see the iPhone is a bit noisy, but the colours were very accurate. The Pixel just fell apart with a blue hue on everything, and the S21 whilst it did have the cleanest image, the colours were off and it couldn't brighten the image as much as the other 2.

Also, I saw so many times throughout the day, but the Pixel on-screen preview looks HORRENDOUS. Like. It's so bad, honestly, it makes you feel like all of your shots are going to be just as bad as they look. This is what I saw on screen whilst taking those pixel night shots... That's just not cool at all. Hopefully, something that Google can fix over time.

Switch over to the 1x lenses and that story changes dramatically.

The iPhone doing a good job with clean colours and a relatively clean image. But it does look like it's daylight!

The Pixel still with the odd colours and loss of detail on the sofa on the right.

But the S21 definitely a much cleaner image, particularly when zooming in. And the colours were pretty good.

I'm going to give this a tie to the S21 and the iPhone here. Points to them both!

 CONCLUSION

So before I add up these scores whilst putting this post and video together. My thoughts from spending the whole day shooting with all of these 3 phones are that the Pixel 6 felt like it should have performed much better than it actually did. But every time we were shooting side by side, it felt like either the iPhone or the S21 was outperforming it. Unless we look at specific cases like the cinematic panning footage.

The S21 looked and felt like every image and every video we took, was just slightly washed out, And the iPhone, to me, well it just felt more consistent throughout the day.

But - as a lifelong iPhone user, that's probably because I've used one for so long.

So without further adue.

The iPhone scored 9

The Pixel scored 10

and the S21 scored, just 7.

Given the iPhone and Pixel are just a point apart, it very much depends on what you are looking for in a phone.

The iphone is definitely a better video camera. The Pixel is arguable a better still camera.

And the S21, an absolute beast when it comes to Zoom, or needing to crop your images - providing you have enough light in the first place.

Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments below.

Next up, go and watch my video about the Winner here, the Pixel 6 Pro, to see my thoughts of when I switched from iPhone to the Pixel 6 Pro. Or which cloud storage service you should be using to back up your images.

And I'll see you in the next one

🛒 Samsung S21 Ultra: https://geni.us/cgArjB

🛒 Get your Google Pixel 6 Here: https://geni.us/p0CqYwN!

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