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iPhone 14 Pro vs. Pixel 6 Pro Camera Comparison: A Photo Is Worth $1,000

Apple's new flagship iPhone packs 48 megapixels. How does that compare with Google's camera?

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Daniel Van Boom/CNET

This story is part of Focal Point iPhone 2022, CNET's collection of news, tips and advice around Apple's most popular product.

The iPhone 14 Pro takes the biggest photographic jump the product's recent history, at least on paper. After years of rocking a 12-megapixel main lens, the newest flagship iPhone quadruples its megapixel count to 48

Some of the 48-megapixel camera's benefits are hard to demonstrate here. A key benefit to shooting in ProRaw, Apple's 48-megapixel format, is how much detail the photo retains when you zoom in close after its been taken. it's something hobbyists and creatives will appreciate. Because of the bigger image size, these photos can also be printed much larger. 

ProRaw aside, what we can see, however, is that compared to last year's 13 Pro, the 14 Pro performs better in low light, captures more detail and wider shots. How does the new camera setup compare with the Google Pixel 6 Pro, a favorite among Android photography enthusiasts? (The Pixel 7 will be unveiled in early October, so we'll be sure to compare the iPhone 14 Pro with that phone too.) 

To some degree, it's a matter of taste. Apple and Google clearly have different philosophies when it comes to photography. Apple likes its phones to take shots that look as close to what the human eye sees as possible, whereas Google wants to use software to capture as much detail as possible. Yet there are some areas where one phone has a clear advantage over the other.

The iPhone has far better dynamic range, due in part to the Pixel's habit of trying to lighten up any shadow it encounters. Its lowlight photography is less illuminated than the Pixel's, but also has less noise and looks more natural. I found the iPhone's zoom to be superior to the Pixel's up to 3x, but the Pixel and its its 4x optical zoom lens had a clear advantage for greater magnifications. 

iPhone vs. Pixel in the light of day

Daytime conditions are essentially easy mode for these cameras, so photos captured on both phones look superb. But the different ways these phones handle daytime photos lays bare the approaches to photography outlined above.

Exhibit A: These leaves. You'll notice the the iPhone's take has greater contrast, with more pronounced highlights on the leaves. The Pixel is more muted but, if you look closely, you can see more of the leafs' texture. 

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) vs. Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

In these shots of a statue, the first thing you notice is how blue the sky is in the iPhone 14 Pro's shot. The Pixel 6 Pro's capture was far warmer: Notice the light emanating from the building on the bottom right, as well as the stronger beige color of the building itself. 

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

I preferred the iPhone's photography in the above two shots, but the below pair of photos show that sometimes the Pixel does better. The iPhone's photograph is truer to life, a recurring theme here, but the Pixel's software made the green more fecund, and the wooden railings a deeper brown. 

Again though, notice the subtle note of blue in the iPhone's sky versus the Pixel's flat, overblown sky. 

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

The photos below of mossy rocks on a lovely Sydney bush walk were more challenging for these phones than it may look. Harsh sunlight was shining down, which you can see by yellowy hue in the Pixel's take. This actually surprised me, because as noted the iPhone's shots tend to be a closer representation of what my eye sees. In this case, it was Apple's software that managed to un-filter the harsh sunlight. 

If you look at the backside of the rocks on the left side, you'll again see how the iPhone better captured shadows and light in the same picture. It's a good example of the Pixel's tendency to try and lighten up shadows instead of embracing them for contrast like the iPhone does. 

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

iPhone 6 Pro says OK, zoomer

When it comes to zoom, there are two main things to know. First, the Pixel 6 Pro has a 4x optical zoom, while the iPhone 14 Pro only has 3x. Second, the iPhone's Ultrawide has a "0.5x" magnification, while the Pixel's is more narrow at 0.7x. The takeaways are that, generally speaking, the iPhone's zoom does better up to 3x, but the Pixel wins out at longer lengths. 

Also, as you can see in the example below, the iPhone's Ultrawide setting is quite wider than the Pixel's. (Notice how much more of the two buildings on the right the iPhone crammed into the shot.)

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

The shot below was taken at 3x zoom. There's actually not much to say here in terms of image quality denigrated by the zoom, since both hold up equally well. As we've seen in previous pictures though, the iPhone captured more blue in the overcast sky, while the Pixel made the beige of the clocktower stand out a touch more. 

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

There's more of a difference below, where there's a bit more action going on in the form of moving water. The iPhone ended up performing better. Note the more image noise in the Pixel's photo. The water is more shimmery and reflective compared to the clearer aqua captured on the iPhone, which makes me want to have a cheeky snorkel. 

Zoom in further, though, and the Pixel gets an edge. It's clear in the 5x magnified photos below that the iPhone relies more on software for the zoom -- which makes sense, since its optical zoom is shorter -- as the colors and contrast are less balanced. There's an artificial warmth in the iPhone's shot, and the photo looks flatter too.

The little soldier dude below was shot at 15x magnification on both phones. The Pixel is the clear winner here, with much sharper textures on both the statue and the wall. Note also that the Pixel can go up to 20x zoom, while the iPhone 14 Pro stops at 15x. 

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

Apple would fairly reason that it's more important to have a superior zoom quality for the practical magnifications of 2x-3x, but hobbiest photographers who regularly find themselves shooting more distant objects will find advantage in the Pixel's capabilities here. 

Pixel 6 Pro takes sharp portrait shots

Portrait photos, which mimic the depth-of-field effect you get from using a DSLR camera, are crucial to any phone's photographic toolkit. Unfortunately, testing the iPhone 14 Pro's Portrait shots against the Pixel 6 Pro's is difficult. The Pixel automatically zooms in when you switch it to Portrait Mode, making it almost impossible to take the same photo on the two different phones. I've done my best in the shots below, but be aware that it's an imperfect exercise.

What I can say for sure, though, is that the iPhone captures softer portraits. The Pixel's photos tend to be sharper, and show more facial details. As you can see below in this photo of my friend Dan, who was super stoked to pose for me, the Pixel brings out some of the creases on his forehead, as well as the texture of his skin. In principle, I like that the Pixel shows more detail, but I suspect most people would prefer the skin smoothening effect of the iPhone. (I actually don't think it's the iPhone smoothening the skin as much as it is Google's software sharpening it, but alas.) 

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

Also worth noting here, the Pixel did a better job of foregrounding Dan's hair. However, it also applied the depth-of-field effect to the wooden beam on the bottom right but not on the bottom left. I found this in other photos -- the Pixel would do an outstanding job at foregrounding the subject, but random parts of the background would pop in too.

Not all portrait shots looked so different, however, as these lowlight photos of Sharon show. Far from any major differences, these show how the iPhone often shoots warmer than the Pixel, something you notice in most picture types. Foreshadowing something we'll see more of later, the Pixel also works harder to brighten up the background. The upside is obviously that the photo is more illuminated, though some may prefer the ambiance darker shadows can provide. 

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A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

Daniel Van Boom/CNET

Over on the selfie side, the Pixel made me look a little more tanned than I really am -- thanks, Google! -- but the shot looks a little oversaturated. The iPhone's Portrait selfie looks less artificial, but also verges on overblown highlights.

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

As intense as the highlights in iPhone selfies can be (on bright days, at least), I found the Pixel's texture sharpening to be more of an issue in extreme cases. Below both flaws are on show, but notice how much less flattering (artificially, I hope) the Pixel made my forehead look: Like a greasy brown bowling ball.

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

iPhone 14 Pro vs. Pixel 6 Pro after dark

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that it's evident during daylight that the iPhone focuses on dynamic range while the Pixel tries to cram in as much detail as possible. That difference only becomes more striking when the sun goes down. The Pixel's inclination towards computational photography is especially evident in low-light. Where the iPhone has shadow, the Pixel has detail. It's often grainy detail, but detail nonetheless.

See this Vespa-themed bench. The Pixel 6 Pro captured much more detail in the foliage, both in the tree directly behind the Vespas and in the larger tree looming at the top right. The cost of that is some image noise and unwieldy highlights. The lights below the bench feel artificially fluorescent compared to the iPhone's shot, which also has more realistic shadows. What you prefer here is a matter of taste in regards to realism versus detail.

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

The Pixel's processing often works in its favor though. As you can see in the photos of a fountain below, the blue of the water pops a lot more, as does the neon green in the background. In terms of actual photo quality, the iPhone does a better job of handling the lights in the fountain base: Notice how they're two overpowering white blobs on the Pixel, and far more nuanced on the iPhone. But I'd bet most people find the Pixel's shot more pleasing. 

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

When it comes to Night Mode, I far prefer the iPhone's shots. Apple's phone does a great job at magnifying light sources, rather than brightening the entire picture, which results in more natural-looking photos.

See how, in these photos of a cinema complex, the iPhone amplifies moonlight behind the building, as well as the lights coming from inside the theater. By contrast, the Pixel's much brighter photo tries to brighten up the entire picture. 

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom  

That dichotomy is more evident below. At first glance, the Pixel's Night Sight shot is more impressive due to its aggressive illumination. But the more l look at the photos, the more I prefer the iPhone's subtle approach. The (almost literal) midnight blue sky behind this school building looks more natural than the navy sky on the Pixel, though it is worth noting that, as you can see on that tree on the left, the Pixel does capture more information.

A photo shot on the iPhone 14 Pro (left) versus the Google Pixel 6 Pro (right).

CNET/Daniel Van Boom

iPhone 14 Pro vs. Pixel 6 Pro: Takeaways

Since the night time performance of the iPhone and Pixel encapsulates each phone's approach to photography, it's a good proxy for which phone's camera you'd prefer. Because, with the phone market being as mature as it is, a lot is up to taste. (See the iPhone 14 Pro versus the Samsung S22 Ultra.) Do you like your photos looking natural and realistic, or are you more interested in capturing as much information as possible? How you answer that question likely determines whether or not you'd sway towards the iPhone 14 Pro or the Pixel 6 Pro.

As noted, there are aspects in which one phone is unambiguously better than the other. The iPhone's dynamic range is greater than the Pixel's. The Pixel's long-range zoom captures sharper pictures than the iPhone. But it's hard to crown one phone as being clear-cut better than another. There's only preference -- and my preference goes towards the iPhone. I respect Google's computational photography, but philosophically prefer photos that look closer to what my eyes see.