“The affordable Pixel smartphones are finally here, and it’s time to check out their cameras”
Google’s mid-range Pixels, the 3a and 3a XL have just gone official, and the first thing on our minds is whether the new phones can match their flagship siblings in terms of the camera prowess. Unless you’ve been living under a rock thus far, you’d know that Big G’s flagships, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL (review), are still counted as among the best in the business when it comes to camera image quality.
Specs wise, the 3a duo feature the same single rear camera as the flagships, thanks to the 12.2MP dual-pixel Sony IMX363 sensor with OIS and EIS, f/1.8 aperture, and 1.4 um pixel size. The front-facing snapper however, is a tad different. The new Pixel 3a / 3a XL sport an 8-meg, fixed focus front sensor with f/2.0 aperture, in comparison to the dual 8MP front cameras on the flagships, which comprise an f/1.8 PDAF unit and a f/2.2 ultrawide sensor. The features on offer are the same as the flagship Pixels too, and include the awesome Night Sight, portrait mode, super res zoom and HDR+. Google is also adding a new feature in the form of time lapse, and that’s something that should be available to the older Pixel devices via software update. Now that we have the specs and features out of the way, here’s a look at some camera samples shot using the Pixel 3a and how they compare with the Pixel 3.
Note: The images on the left were shot using the new Pixel 3a, while the ones on the right were captured using the Pixel 3 flagship.
Shooting against the light is tricky for most smartphone cameras, but the Pixel 3a does a great job of it. Moreover, there’s negligible difference when the same scene is compared between the Pixel 3a (left) and the Pixel 3 (right), showing that the cameras on these devices are very similar when it comes to results. If we were to nitpick, we’d say the camera on the flagship offers slightly better colour reproduction and sharpness, but the difference is tiny.
Daylight shot (HDR)
Beautiful shot isn’t it? Shot with HDR on, this image shows how capable the Pixel 3a is as a shooter. The colours look great, there’s tons of detail, and the images show great dynamic range. Again, the image shot using the flagship Pixel 3 (on the right), barely shows any difference in terms of pure image quality.
Here’s another lovely-looking shot, with the same scene captured using the mid-range Pixel 3a (on the left) and the flagship Pixel 3 (on the right). No prizes for guessing that the images look very similar and one can’t tell them apart unless one goes pixel peeping.
Sharp focus, vivid colours, and natural bokeh – the Pixel 3a shows its prowess here for close-up shots, and comes up triumphant. The image looks very pleasing to the eye and suffice it to say, the “cheaper” Pixel is a solid shooter. Again, the same image shot using the higher-end Pixel 3 (on the right) looks very similar.
Creamy-looking bokeh is the order of the day, and we all know how strong Google’s flagship Pixel phones are when it comes to portrait mode, and that too, with just a single shooter. The same capabilities are displayed here by the Pixel 3a, and for comparison, you can take a look at the scene captured by the Pixel 3. One point to note here is that the Pixel 3a seems to apply a crop factor, resulting into much tighter shots when compared to the same frame from the flagship Pixel 3, but the image quality is still sublime, nonetheless.
Night shot (auto)
Low-light photography is one of the strongest points for the Pixel devices, and the Pixel 3a proves it’s no slouch then it comes to shooting after dark. Even in extremely dim lighting conditions, it can churn out some great-looking shots (the image on the left). Now let’s see what happens when we switch on Google’s famed Night Sight mode.
Google’s Night Sight is almost magical, given how it can churn out usable images with barely any ambient light available. The test shots embedded here may not be the best examples of that scenario, but work well for comparing the output with images shot in auto mode (the same scene as the one in the previous example). The difference, as can be made out, is night and day. And again, there’s very little difference when the the Pixel 3a output is compared with the same shot from the Pixel 3, though one can make out that the shot captured using the Pixel 3 (on the right) looks a tad better overall.
The Pixel 3 duo count among the best selfie shooters, so it’s important to check out whether the new, mid-range Pixels can match. Comparing the selfies shot using the Pixel 3a (left) and Pixel 3 (right), it’s clear that the new phones cam also offer solid image quality from the front sensor. That said, the selfies shot using the flagship Pixels do show more detail.
The same story continues when we compare the image quality for portrait selfies. Both the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3 can shoot superb portrait shots with the front camera, with natural-looking bokeh and good edge detection, but the image from the flagship phone (right) looks better in terms of skin tone and detail.
Selfie (low light)
Low light selfies is one scenario where the difference between the Pixel 3a’s and Pixel 3’s front cameras becomes apparent. Clearly, the Pixel 3’s front camera does a much better job of selfies in low light (image on the right), while the selfie from the Pixel 3a (left) looks noisier and mushier in comparison.
So there you have it. We think Google has done a stellar job, yet again, with the cameras on the new Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL, and at least far as the rear camera image quality is concerned, has managed to keep things almost at par with the flagship Pixel phones. The front camera on the new, relatively cheaper Pixels phones can’t match up though, but we’d still count the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL among the best camera phones priced south of Rs 50k.