iPhone X vs. Pixel 2 Camera in Five Images

This post is a long time coming, in that I had this idea a long time ago but wanted the right opportunity to do some quality comparison images between both the iPhone X and the Pixel 2. There are some very important differences about how both companies are philosophically approaching imaging, and these differences are the most interesting parts to analyze. In many respects, these are both fantastic cameras. It’s hard to say that an owner of either device is going to be disappointed, with few exceptions which I will point out, with the overall picture taking quality of either smartphone.

For this test, I attempted to get as close as possible as I could the same photo using the same technique. In every case, each photo was taken seconds after the previous shot from the same position. Click on any image to enlarge and inspect them for yourself.

Comparing Portrait Mode
The iPhone X and Google Pixel 2 both handle portrait mode very differently. Both approaches yield different results which I’ll point out.

Exhibit 1: Cactus

As you can see comparing both these images, they are both pretty fantastic. Any person taking a portrait mode photo of this cactus in the cactus garden is going to be happy with the result. What we see here are a few key differences in both colors and how the portrait blur is applied. The color of the cactus is a little greener in the iPhone X which yielded a color much closer to the actual color of the cactus to my eye. That depth of color is continued into the cacti in the background as well.

Looking at the blur effect, you will notice the blur on the Pixel 2 is slightly heavier and makes subtle details (like color) of the cacti in the background hard to make out. The blur on the iPhone X allows more detail to be seen in the background cacti while still drawing your focus to the cactus in the foreground.

The way the blur is applied in the bokeh effect is quite important if you want the background to be recognizable. For example, you take a portrait photo of yourself or a friend/family member with a specific monument or famous location in the background you want the background to be still recognizable and not so heavily blurred that it could be just any cityscape, landscape, or monument behind you.

Exhibit 2: Portrait Mode Failures

On both devices, portrait mode had some solid wins but also some important misses. See in this photo where the Pixel 2 could not recognize the firepit as the object I was attempting to portrait where the iPhone successfully applied the bokeh effect I was looking for.

On many occasions, I found the Pixel 2 did a great job applying bokeh (portrait mode) effect to people, or animals, or an object that clearly stood out from its background. The Pixel 2 failed, however, often when I was picturing a non-living object where it almost always defaulted to a landscape mode instead of portrait mode. This is a result of Google applying the bokeh effect as a post process to the image, where their machine learning algorithms are attempting to identify the object for the bokeh effect. If it can’t identify it, it doesn’t try and just applies a landscape post-process instead. This the above image is a result of that process. The Pixel 2 took a great photo of that scene, however, it wasn’t the one I wanted.

The iPhone’s dual-camera system was superior here to Google’s machine learning post process as the iPhone’s rear camera portrait mode always captured the image I wanted by applying the bokeh effect properly.

Exhibit 3: iPhone Portrait Mode Fail

As great as the iPhone X is all wasn’t always perfect. The iPhone X includes a highly desirable feature in being able to take portrait photos with the front facing (selfie) camera.

Above is an example of me taking a portrait selfie from the same spot, in the same outdoor lighting conditions. The images are flipped because the picture from the Google Pixel 2 is the actual picture taken by the camera and the bokeh effect applied. The iPhone failed at applying the bokeh effect from the front-facing camera with the error “subject is too bright” (which I was told to take as a compliment from friends) and would not snap the picture, so I took a screenshot just to show the failure. This is also why the colors and picture quality of the iPhone X should not be compared in these two since no post-processing was applied to the photo. This example simply serves to show an example where Google’s approach worked flawlessly every time and Apple’s did not. In fact, in nearly every outdoor lighting situation whether full sun or cloudy I was hit with more iPhone X portrait selfie failures than I was getting successes. The only outdoor successes I had were in very overcast or much later in the day conditions. Indoor portrait selfies worked fine on every occasion it was only with outdoor scenes where I kept having trouble.

Exhibit 4: Depth of Color

This was an interesting picture to compare. The subject is an actual canvas painting by an art student at my daughter’s high school. There is no effect or filter applied this is simply the natural picture from both smartphone cameras. You can see how the iPhone X has a wider and richer depth of color. It seems more detail is captured by the iPhone X as well. Again, both great photos on their own but the iPhone is providing a broader depth of color and color detail which was closer to what my eyes saw when looking at the photo.

Exhibit 5: Low-Light

No camera comparison is complete without a low-light challenge. This scene was taken in our house, without any other lights on, late in the evening. The only light usable for the cameras was the light from the houses.

I took a ton of low-light images, and all came out really well on both cameras. I’ve seen people on Twitter claim the low-light photos on the Pixel 2 blow away the iPhone X and honestly, it will all come down to how you prefer the white balance of each device. As you can see, the Pixel 2 has a slightly more yellow tint in the light, which many claim is more natural, where the iPhone has a bit more pure light or whiter tone from the light it is picking up.

Examining the two, I note the iPhone X picking up a little more detail overall but also the house on the far right being a little overpowered by the light but with the Pixel 2 the house on the right still has its detail preserved.


  1. Both cameras are really impressive. In fact, quite impressive that on Google’s second device, they were able to get close to the iPhone’s cameras system/image sensor/post-processing. Someone who is not able to compare these cameras side by side will be impressed and happy with the result of either devices pictures. The few failures in portrait mode aside.
  2. From a comparison perspective, again failures aside, which photo you like is truly going to come down to a matter of preference. I’ve shown all my comparison photos to friends and family, several professional photographers, and the responses to which they like varied and were rarely unanimous.
  3. Despite my gripes with the different portrait mode failures on each device it seems like both those issues can be fixed through software at which point it will be good to compare again.
  4. The main reason I got a Pixel 2 was for the machine learning aspect of Google’s hardware/software/cloud backend solution to the camera. This is an area where I’m intrigued to see if it becomes an advantage for them over Apple. Conceptually, Google’s camera can keep getting better via software/cloud backend at a rate faster than the iPhone can from a hardware-only standpoint. While there is no guarantee this will happen, it is the one part of Google’s camera system with the Pixel I’m most interested to keep an eye on.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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