Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a camera face-off — is the Pixel 7 worth the extra money?

Google Pixel 7 vs PIxel 6a cameras
(Image credit: Future)

A Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a camera comparison is arguably the most important thing to consider when you're looking at Google's latest flagship and its more affordable midrange phone. 

There are other key differences between the two devices, as our main Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a face-off covers. The Pixel 7 (starting at $599) has a new Tensor G2 processor, a more refined look and a 6.1-inch display that refreshes at up to 90Hz. Those features are all better than what the Pixel 6a (from $449) has to offer.

But if you're thinking about whether to make a Pixel your next phone, it's likely because of Google's reputation for mobile photography. Both flagship and budget Pixels routinely rank among the best camera phones.

We took a Pixel 7 and and a Pixel 6a out into the field, and captured pictures in more than half-a-dozen different scenarios to see how each one performed. Here's how our Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a camera face-off turned out.

Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a cameras: How they compare

Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a cameras

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In terms of camera setups, the Pixel 7 comes into this showdown sporting a serious advantage. Google equips its flagship phone with a 50MP main camera sporting an f/1.85 aperture. There's also a 12MP ultrawide lens with an f/2.2 aperture.

In contrast, the Pixel 6a turns to a pair of 12MP sensors for its main and ultrawide cameras; while the ultrawide shooter on the 6a has the same aperture as the one on the Pixel 7, the Pixel's main camera has a slightly wider f/1.7 aperture to let in more light.

The Pixel 7 also benefits to improvements to Google's Super Res Zoom feature. As we'll see when we compare zoom photos, the Pixel 7 can use the 50MP main lens, cropping down to a 12.5 MP shot when it's time to zoom in 2x.

Up front, the Pixel 7 gets an upgraded 10.8MP camera with an f/2.2 aperture. The bigger story here, though, is the wider field of view enjoyed by the Pixel 7's front camera. It has a 92.8 degree field of view, compared to an 84-degree field of view for the Pixel 6a's 8MP selfie cam.

Having broken down the respective camera specs, let's get to some comparison shots.

Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a cameras: Indoor, food

Let's start inside with a fairly simple shot — a plate of hard-boiled eggs with some toast. While indoors, a nearby window adding some ambient lighting and a little overhead light from a lamp.

It's not the most challenging of photos, which is probably why the Pixel 7 and Pixel 6a produce very similar-looking shots. Both managed to capture the glistening effect of the yolk on the egg that's been cracked open, and you can make out the grape jam spread on the toast.

Color is pretty evenly balanced across both shots, though if you look carefully, you can see that the peeled, whole egg in the Pixel 7's shot is a truer white. There's a bit of blue cast to the Pixel 6a's egg. 

Some of the glare off the yolk in the Pixel 6a's shot is a bit more noticeable, but not so much that it ruins the shot. The Pixel 7's photo is slightly better, though not so much that a Pixel 6a owner would be put off by the difference.

Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a cameras: Outdoor, food

It's a lovely day, so let's have lunch outside. The sun was particularly unforgiving in this shot featuring a sushi combo platter, as you can see from the glare on the red tiled table.

I'm actually impressed by the Pixel 6a's photo, though some of the credit may go to a variance in how I held the phone, minimizing the glare off the table. Even accounting for that, though, the Pixel 6a matches the color fidelity of the Pixel 7 shot.

You can tell the difference between the tuna and the salmon in those tekkamaki and sake hosomaki rolls. I do think the Pixel 7 captures more textural details on the fish flesh, but the Pixel 6a does a better job keeping the shrimp and squid nigiri in focus.

Again, the Pixel 6a more than holds its own here, and you could even argue it produces a better overall shot, even if the Pixel 7 renders some details more sharply.

Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a cameras: Outdoor, night

Let's see how the Night modes perform on the Pixel 7 vs Pixel 6a. There's a porch light providing some ambient lighting off to the left, but that's about it.

This is the first photo where there's a truly notable difference in the Pixel 7 and Pixel 6a shots that you can see right away. The Pixel 6a really pumped up the lighting with its Night mode, to the point where you'd hardly recognize this shot being taken after dark. 

On the bright side — see what I did there? — the bougainviella behind the skeleton tea party is a lot more visible in the Pixel 6a's photo. The Pixel 7 leaves that plant in the shadows for the most part. But the Pixel 6a's over-lighting robs the scene of its mood. I think the Pixel 7's approach — call out details but keep the shadows — creates a much spookier scene.

There's one other thing to note about Night mode. Because of the Tensor G2 chipset, it takes less time for the Pixel 7 to process night shots — it's twice as fast as the Pixel 6 series. All I know is I only had to hold the Pixel 7 steady for 3 seconds when capturing this shot; the Pixel 6a needed an extra second to finish shooting.

A lot of shaking can happen in that extra second, and though the results aren't in evidence here, that can lead to blurrier photos even with Night mode enabled.

Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a cameras: Outdoor, 2x zoom

You can't fight city hall, but you can zoom in on it from across the street, using the 2x digital zoom on both phones. Here, we'll see if the updates to Super Res Zoom make a difference for the Pixel 7.

I think that they do, though the benefits may not be apparent at first. Both shots remain in focus with a minimum of noise and the ability to capture plenty of detail, even at a distance. Both the Pixel 7 and Pixel 6a recreate the brickwork on the building, the lines on the roof and the details on the stairs leading up to City Hall. 

I focused in on the City Hall sign, and I think it's a bit more clear in the Pixel 7 shot, but it's certainly legible in the Pixel 6a's attempt. You could even make the case the Pixel 6a offers a better, warmer color, particularly the leaves turning brown in the trees for fall.

But all is not right in Pixel 6a land. Check out the sky in the upper left corner of the photo. The Pixel 6a blows it out a little bit, whereas it's still a nice shade of blue in the Pixel 7 shot. Despite not having a dedicated zoom lens, the Pixel 7 handled this shot pretty well. I'd certainly be more confident trusting it on zooms than I would the Pixel 6a.

Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a cameras: Indoor, portrait

Portrait mode also figures to give the Tensor chips in both phones a chance to flex their muscles, with Google's vaunted computational photography adding a stylish blur to the background of dueling pictures of my daughter inside our house with only some ambient light from nearby windows to light the scene.

I think both portrait shots showsthese cameras at their best. The separation between my daughter in the background is neat and tidy, with only a few stray bits of hair getting caught in the blur. The blur in both shots is pretty thorough, too.

The Pixel 6a's portrait is nearly as good as the Pixel 7's, successfully capturing skin tone as well as the freckles on my daughter's face. Her face is brighter in the Pixel 6a shot.

However, the tone of the Pixel 6a shot is a little too cool for my tastes. I prefer the warmth of the Pixel 7 portrait, and my daughter's hair on the left side of the frame is sharper, too. The Pixel 6a isn't bad, but the Pixel 7 effort is better.

Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a cameras: Outdoor, selfie

We move on to a self-portrait of me.

I can't claim to be a fan of either the Pixel 7 and Pixel 6a shots here. Pixel phones historically over-smooth my face and get the skin tone all wrong, and you can see evidence of both flaws in what the Pixel 7 and Pixel 6a manage here. The Pixel 7's effort is a little more accurate — I hope I'm not as sickly as I look in the Pixel 6a photo. 

Plus, the Pixel 6a struggles a little with the sunlight coming through the orange tree behind me, resulting in some washed out patches on the left side of my face. The Pixel 7 keeps the same skin tone throughout.

Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a cameras: Outdoor, group selfie

Does the wider field of view on the Pixel 7's front camera make any difference for group photos? My daughter and I squeezed together on our porch to find an answer to that question.

We could certainly fit another person at least into our Pixel 7 shot; instead there's ample room for the neighborhood behind us. Then again, you could say the same thing about the Pixel 6a photo. Perhaps it would have been a tighter fit if he weren't the phones horizontally, but here the wider field of view just didn't come into play.

The different camera orientation didn't help the Pixel 6a's lack of consistent skin coloring. Both my daughter and I have overly smooth faces in that photo. The Pixel 7 is a little closer to our true complexions; you can at least spot her freckles in that shot. 

It was an overcast morning when I took this group selfie, which explains the gray, muddy sky behind us. Neither camera handled that particular aspect of the shot especially well.

Google Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a camera: Verdict

Overall, the Pixel 7 consistently produces better shots — though maybe not by as big a margin as some of you might have anticipated. Where the Pixel 7 thrives is when special features come into play — Google's flagship phone is better than the Pixel 6a at taking photos in low light or at night, and its portrait blur is a bit more polished. The digital zoom on the Pixel 6a is nearly as good as that same feature on the Pixel 7, which we take as another sign of how good Google is at computational photography.

We've concentrated on strict photo-taking here, but there are other features to take into account when deciding whether the more expensive Pixel 7 is worth it. While both phones support the Magic Eraser feature for touching up shots, only the Pixel 7 can run Photo Unblur to clean up blurry photos. Cinematic Blur, which does for videos what portrait mode does for photos, is a Pixel 7-only feature, too. These features could justify the extra $150 you'd pay for a Pixel 7, and that's without even taking the other camera advantages outlined above into account.

None of this is to say that the Pixel 6a cameras aren't solid — we still think this is the best camera phone you can get for under $500, and that bargain hunters will be pleased with the photos this handset can take. But if you're torn between Google's lower cost phone and its more expensive flagship, the Pixel 7 is a noticeable step up.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.