Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off: Who has the best cheap camera phone?

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off will go a long way toward determining which of the two best cheap phones is the right fit for your photo-shooting needs. After all, one of the most important functions our phones serve is taking pictures. Since we're always carrying our phones with us, they have the cameras we're most likely to turn to when the opportunity to grab a photo arises. You want a camera phone that's up to snuff, even if you're carrying a lower cost device.

The Pixel 7a certainly has a good pedigree heading into this face-off. Google's phones usually rank among the best camera phones, its midrange Pixel A models included. That's mostly because of Google's excellent photo processing features, but as we found in our Pixel 7a review, the new phone has the hardware to compete with any rival, too.

But the Galaxy A54 boasts a camera upgrade of its own, adopting the same main camera as the more expensive Galaxy S23. It's improvements like that which show how serious Samsung is about offering compelling midrange devices — and it ensures that the Galaxy A54 is well-equipped to challenge Google's well-earned reputation for excellent camera phones at all price ranges.

We grabbed a Pixel 7a and a Galaxy A54 and captured a bunch photos in a variety of scenarios to find the better camera phones. Here's how this Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off played out.

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off: Comparing the cameras

Before we dive into the camera comparisons, let' take a closer look at the hardware each phone brings to the table, starting with the Pixel 7a. Past midrange Pixel phones have offered a pair of rear cameras — usually a 12.2MP main shooter accompanied by a 12MP ultrawide lens. The Pixel 7a keeps that two-lens setup, but makes a serious upgrade to both cameras.

The Pixel 7a's main camera sees the biggest change, with a 64MP sensor now acting as the main camera. Not only is that an increase in megapixels, Google says the sensor is 72% larger than the one in the Pixel 6a. That should help the Pixel 7a capture more light, leading to more detailed photos than before.

Google Pixel 7a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The ultrawide camera on the Pixel 7a gets an upgrade to in the form of a 13MP sensor. Up front, the Pixel 7a sports a 13MP selfie cam.

The Galaxy A54 enjoys an upgrade of its own in the form of a 50MP main camera. As we mentioned at the outset, that's the same sensor used in the Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23 Plus. It also allows Samsung's phone to use quad-pixel binning, combining four pixels to make a 12.5MP for a sharper picture.

Samsung Galaxy A54 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Along with that main camera, you get a 12MP ultrawide lens and a 5MP dedicated macro sensor. A 32MP front camera is there for your selfie needs.

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off: Outdoor shots

Outdoors, Sculpture

Throughout this Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 photo comparison, you're going to see that Google's phone tends to favor dark colors. Sometimes, that doesn't work out for the finished product, but in this case, it really helps the Pixel 7a's photo look balanced and colorful.

This bug sculpture features rich reds and deep greens in the Pixel 7a's reproduction. I also like that the orange and yellow parts of the sculpture appear textured in the Pixel 7a shot — it helps you see that the bug's nose is really just a pair of tongs painted yellow. In contrast, the Galaxy A54 over-exposes its shot, with the yellow and orange sections losing important detail. There's even too much of a sheen off the bug's red head, though I do like the vibrant colors of the chicken off to the side in the Galaxy A54 photo.

A photo of the carousel in New York's Bryant Park offers another contrast between dark and light. Both phones have taken decent photos, but the Pixel 7a shot is too caught up in the shadows. You lose a lot of detail and contrast on the carousel itself, with the black iron fence in front of the carousel blending in with the horses in the background.

With its lighter hand, the Galaxy A54 highlights more details like the different surfaces of the ticket booth as well as individual horses in the background. It's a far more balanced shot that isn't overly dark in areas. That said, I do think the way the Pixel 7a presents the leafs on the trees in the background; it looks a bit more striking than the somewhat washed-out effort of the Galaxy A54.

Outdoors, Jet

There's not a lot separating the different photos of a decommisioned Navy jet turned into a statue, so the winner likely comes down to how you want your camera phone depicting scenes. The Pixel 7a's photo looks more realistic, with the darker lawn and somewhat lighter sky. The Galaxy A54 leans toward a more stylized picture — the lawn has been brightened while the patches of blue sky have been darkened to create a greater contrast within the photo itself.

Ultimately, I prefer the Galaxy A54 shot, not because I necessarily prefer its highly saturated colors but because the lettering on the plane itself looks a little sharper than in the Pixel 7a photo. Your mileage may vary.

Outdoors, Ultrawide

The Pixel 7a's habit of embracing the darkness serves it well when testing ultrawide lenses — the darker cast to its shot highlights details on the buildings that are otherwise lightened out of existence in the Galaxy A54 shot. If you want to argue that the brighter lawn and trees in the A54 photo look more appealing, I'm not going to tell you you're wrong, but I think the point of an ultrawide shot should be to emphasize the big picture. I think the Pixel 6a has the better overall look.

That said, there's a fisheye effect at the edge of the photos that seems more pronounced in the Pixel 7a photo. (Check out the brick red building on the right of the photo, which tilts at a more acute angle in the Pixel 7a photo.) Maybe it's a reflection of different fields of view, though the Galaxy A54 ultrawide lens has a 123 degree FOV to the Pixel 7a's 120 degree viewpoint.

Outdoors, Zoom

Neither the Pixel 7a nor the Galaxy A54 has a dedicated zoom lens, so you're relying on a digital zoom when you want to get closer on a subject. You'd think the Pixel would have the edge here, as its Super Res Zoom feature promises to use computational photography to remove the photographic noise that can appear when you zoom in on a subject. The Pixel 7a's Super Res Zoom maxes out at 8x so that's what I shot this downtown Oakland skyline shot at. (You can push the Galaxy A54 to a 10x zoom if you want.)

While I think the warmer color tone on the Pixel 7a shot is more appealing, the Galaxy A54 did a better job at minimizing fuzziness in its zoom. The Tribune Tower remains mostly in focus in the Galaxy A54 shot, whereas it's a bit more blurry in the hands of the Pixel 7a. At 2x zoom, the Pixel 7a shot is a lot sharper, so this 8X effort may have been pushing Samsung's phone too far.

Outdoors, macro

I'm not really a fan of dedicated macro lenses, as I think they're pretty irrelevant to the average smartphone user. Still, it's a lens the Galaxy A54 has that the Pixel 7a doesn't, so if you want to get up close and personal with a subject, Samsung's phone has a leg up.

That's very apparent in this extreme close-up of a yellow flower. The Pixel 7a does all right at the edges, and its colors are bright and pleasing. But as you get toward the center of the flower, the Pixel 7a begins to struggle with focus. Everything's much sharper in the Galaxy A54 shot, and you can also see the various folds and ruffles on the flower petals.

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off: Indoor shots

Indoors, Food

A close-up of some s’mores waffles provides another too-close-to-call example in our Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off. A poll of Tom's Guide staffers believes the Pixel 7a shot does a better job producing a more realistic-looking chocolate syrup; also, the details on the right side of the plate are just a bit sharper in the Pixel 7a photo.

Yet, I'd like to say a word on behalf of the Galaxy A54, which is well-served by the cooler colors in its photo. I think that produces greater detail in the whipped topping, even if the Pixel 7a's rendition offers a truer white.

Indoors, Food at Night

Color tone also proves the deciding factor in this photo of my Star Wars May the Fourth dinner. (It's a plate of Boba Fettuccine Alfredo with a breaded Porg cutlet that tastes remarkably like chicken, if you must know.) The Pixel 7a favors a warmer tone that showcases the yellow pasta and browned crust of the chicken in a more appealing way than the flatter Galaxy A54 image. You can also tell that we've got a glass of blue milk in the Pixel 7a shot; it simply looks off-white in the Galaxy A54's effort.

Indoors, Grocery store

This photo of some multicolored peppers not only provides a contrast in how the phones approach color but also how they deal with harsh fluorescent lighting. It will not surprise you that the Pixel 7a has skewed dark with its coloring of the peppers, with some of the red peppers in particular obscured by shadow.

Things are definitely lighter in the Galaxy A54 photo, but I'm not sure they're better — that row of yellow and orange peppers is a tad over-exposed, and the brightness of the green peppers obscures some of the details called out by the contrasting lighting in the Pixel 7a shot.

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off: Night shots

Outdoors, Low light

This is one of the closest comparisons, by far, with both the Pixel 7a and Galaxy A54 taking excellent photos of a lamp at dusk. The colors are well-balanced in both shots, even if they're a touch darker in the Pixel 7a photo. (See the blue diamonds on the lamp itself for a good example of how the Pixel 7a favors darker tones.)

As closely matched as these photos are, though, I'd give the edge to the Pixel 7a. There's far less darkness around the edges in its photo than you'll find in the Galaxy A54 shot. Also, the Pixel 7a image is just slightly more detailed, perhaps because it better contrasts light and dark in its image.

Indoors, Low light

There's less of a contest when we move indoors and test night mode on some figurines. Godzilla, Homer and the retro camera are all brighter in the Pixel 7a's shot — you can even make out some scales on Godzilla. More tellingly, the horizontal and vertical lines on the surface are more visible in the Pixel 7a shot than they are in the Galaxy A54's photo. Clearly, Samsung's phone struggles when compensating for the lack of light.

Outdoors, Night

Likewise, the Galaxy A54's night mode just can't keep up when we move back outside late at night with no ambient lighting to help with the scene. Both phones capture the stuffed animals just fine, but the colors are brighter on the stuffies in the Pixel 7a shot — that looming pink monstrosity in the back looks particularly vibrant.

I do think the shadows in the Galaxy A54 are somewhat striking — the Kermit doll is a deeper shade of green in the A54 photo, even if his necklace is lost in the shadows. But take a look at background of both photos — you see more flowers in the Pixel 7a shot, and you can also make out a pole that disappears into the blackness of the Galaxy A54 photo.

Person, Night

There's a bit more ambient lighting in this photo of me on my front porch enjoying a late night martini. Perhaps that helps the Galaxy A54 produce a better shot here. The scene is better lit and my skin tone looks more natural; you can even make out the cocktail olives in my glass.

The Pixel 7a darkens everything — it's hard to tell where my shoulders end and the background of the photo begins. My skin looks an unnatural pinkish-orange and that cocktail is all but invisible.

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off: Portraits and selfies

Portrait, Outdoors

Testing out the portrait mode on both phones, we took a shot of my colleague Mark Spoonauer in a New York park. The Galaxy A54 wins points for the lighter touch, though I think the photo is a little over-exposed, leading to a washed-out background. That said, Mark's face is easier to see with the Galaxy A54, as the Pixel 7a loses the finer features in shadow. 

However, I think the Pixel 7a portrait shot is better balanced, thanks to the more even coloring of the background. It's a shame because the Galaxy A54 probably has the more thorough bokeh effect, as the bush on the left side of the Pixel 7a photo lacks some of the blur found in other parts of the image. 

Portrait, Statue

Typically, you don't take portrait shots of inanimate objects, though both the Pixel 7a and Galaxy A54 did a decent job with this statue. In both photos, the statue is clearly separate from the background blur. I like the closer cropped background of the Pixel 7a, but that's a matter of personal taste — perhaps you favor the more all-encompassing view that the Galaxy A54 offers.

What decides this photo for me is the different ways that the cameras handle color (which is really a recurring theme of this camera face-off). The Galaxy A54 adopts a cooler tone, which ends up muting some of the colors. The statue's pink suspenders and gray shirt are a little more vibrant in the Pixel 7a photo, and the warmer skin tone calls out his blue eyes. I think that makes the Pixel 7a's portrait more effective overall.

Selfie, Outdoors

Finally, turning to the front cameras, we have this selfie of Mark Spoonauer. It's interesting to see that the same differences that emerged when testing these phones' rear cameras also applies to the selfie cam.

Mark's face is more visible in the Galaxy A54 photo, though it's veering toward over-exposure once again. While Mark's eyes are lost in shadow in the Pixel 7a shot, at least Google's phone teases out more detail. You can better see the pattern in his jacket, and the Pixel 7a selfie has a warmer, more natural skin tone as well.

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 camera face-off: Verdict

Past comparisons of Google and Samsung midrange phones have generally led to resounding victories for the Pixel cameras. The contest is a little closer here, and really, you'd be right to expect some very decent photos regardless of whichever phone you wind up picking.

That said, I think the Pixel 7a performs a little bit more consistently, even if it tends to favor dark coloring in its photos. While that can mar some shots, a lot of the times, it helps call out details, and you don't get the over-exposure we ran into with some Galaxy A54 photos.

The Galaxy A54 clearly performs best outside, as it can struggle to compensate with indoor lighting. The Pixel 7a also took better night photos, except in one instance where a person was in the shot. I think the Pixel 7a's portrait mode is a bit more polished, too, though the Galaxy A54 does manage a very effective background blur.

So I think the Pixel 7a ultimately has the best camera of any phone under $500, though I'm impressed by what the Galaxy A54 can do, considering it's a slightly cheaper handset.

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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.