Low light photography: One area where the Google Pixel XL leaves the Apple iPhone 7 Plus behind

We pit the Google Pixel XL camera against that of the Apple iPhone 7 Plus in this low light shootout challenge

When it comes to flagship phones, one thing that we have seen manufacturers talk over the years is the camera functionality. With the flagships released this year, the story wasn’t any different.

Apple announced its iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus amidst much fan fare. The iPhone 7 Plus camera (or rather cameras) got a lot of screentime at the iPhone event. With its dual rear camera setup with one lens at 28mm (with an f/1.8 aperture) and the other one at 56mm (with an f/2.8 aperture), Apple ensured that you got optical zoom feature. While Apple is certainly not the first smartphone with dual cameras, it still offers one of the coolest implementations of a dual rear camera on a phone. You also get the feature to expand the zoom to 10x digitally if you so wish. The iPhone 7 Plus also gets the Portrait mode which lets you take images with soft backgrounds. This is again well implemented, although a bit time consuming.

The other big announcement we saw was last month, when Google launched its Pixel / Pixel XL devices. On stage Google also made a claim that the Pixel has the best camera ever to be seen on a smartphone. It backed this claim with a DxO Mark rating of 89. The Pixel XL just like the Pixel, comes with a 12.3MP rear camera and an 8MP front facing camera. It supports laser assisted AF as well as phase detect AF. While the rear camera has an f/2.0 aperture, the front camera has an f/2.4 aperture. While the iPhone 7 Plus does come with optical image stabilisation (OIS), the Google Pixel XL relies on electronic image stabilisation (EIS) in the video mode.

I have been using the iPhone 7 Plus as my daily driver for a week now. So when I got the Pixel XL, the first thing that was on the agenda was to get these phone-cameras face off against each other. While the iPhone has been a reliable player in the camera segment, Google’s claims that the Pixel had the best camera definitely had my ears perked up. I mean barring last year’s Nexus 6P, we have seen how Nexus cameras have fared.

All the pictures were shot on the default settings of both the phone cameras. I did not play around with the white balance or exposures as I wanted to see how the images come out right out of the camera. Also all photographs were taken from the same position and due to the Pixel XL camera being more wide, it may look otherwise.

Images on this page have been resized followed by 100 percent crops. To check the full resolution image, please click on the images before the side by side comparison images.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus (2)

Google Pixel XL (3)

The Pixel manages to get in more light in this shot with the pink hues visible more brightly than seen on the iPhone 7 Plus. Noise control is at par on both the images. But in terms of detail, the Pixel XL manages to show them better than the iPhone 7 Plus.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus (4)

Google Pixel XL (5)


The Pixel XL manages to show more detail in the upper half of the frame above the streetlight. iPhone 7 Plus, not so much. But the colour tone of the iPhone 7 Plus is much more neutral than the warm tinge on the Pixel XL. Noise control is better on the iPhone.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus (6)

Google Pixel XL (7)


The Pixel manages to get a better dynamic range here, be it the red glow on the lower left hand corner or the details in the leaves, while keeping the face of Dadabhai Naorojji in focus. There is a slight greenish tinge to the image coming out of the Pixel XL. The iPhone manages to capture less of the surrounding colours. This round goes to the Pixel XL.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus (7)

Google Pixel XL (8)


This is a no brainer - the Pixel XL clearly has an edge here, showing a lot more of the face-statues than the iPhone 7 Plus.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus (10)

Google Pixel XL (11)


The iPhone 7 Plus EXIF shows ISO 400 whereas that of the Google Pixel XL shows ISO 4000 plus. Yet on close observation, the noise seen on the iPhone 7 Plus is lot more than the Pixel XL. On 100 percent zoom, the spires of St Thomas' Cathedral show the structure intact whereas with the iPhone 7 Plus, you see JPEG artifacts around the point edges.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus (8)

Google Pixel XL (9)

It is difficult to pick a winner between these two - they are almost at par with each other.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus (9)

Google Pixel XL (10)

The Google Pixel XL offers much more sharpness in this one, than the iPhone 7 Plus. The face of the man in navy blue t-shirt, was the focus area, appears smudged with the 7 Plus but recognisable enough with the Pixel XL.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus (5)

Google Pixel XL (6)


The Pixel XL tends to oversharpen things here, whereas the iPhone 7 Plus keeps things rather dull when you look closely at 100 percent zoom. Overall the brightness is more apparent on the Pixel XL sample, but I'd go with the 7 Plus on this one.


In the eight images taken at various locations in low light, the Pixel XL offers a better image than the iPhone 7 Plus in 6 out of the 8 instances. There wasn't any instance when the iPhone 7 Plus was significantly better than the Google Pixel XL. For a first phone, Google Pixel XL more than delivers on the camera front in low light situations.

Straight out of the camera, the images coming from the Google Pixel XL offer a lot more punch and dynamic range than the iPhone 7 Plus. Apple tries to keep the image more neutral in appearance, which may end up looking a bit too flat a times. This was evident in the first four image samples, where the Pixel XL just manages to get in more brightness and colour. Although it achieves that at higher ISO vis-a-vis the iPhone 7 Plus, the noise isn't as much of a hindrance. Street lights are not an issue for either of the cameras as I didn't notice any halo around street lamps or lens flare.

In the low light photography department, Pixel XL clearly shows an edge over the iPhone 7 Plus.

Next in the series, we will tackle some daylight photographs along with macros and food shots.

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