Samsung Galaxy A54 vs. Google Pixel 6a camera face-off: Which phone wins?

Samsung Galaxy A54 (left) shown vs Google Pixel 6a (right)
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A Samsung Galaxy A54 vs. Google Pixel 6a camera face-off is easily the most critical comparison you can make between these two midrange phones. Camera performance is central to the Pixel 6a's appeal, not to mention its high ranking among the best camera phones

As we discovered in our Galaxy A54 review, Samsung has certainly made big strides. The A54 comes with a 50MP main camera — the same sensor used by the Galaxy S23, as well as a 12MP ultrawide lens and a 5MP macro sensor.

Meanwhile, our Google Pixel 6a review shows that it's also a stellar camera phone for the money.  It uses a 12.2MP main camera and a 12MP ultrawide lens. The real secret to the Pixel 6a's photographic success is Google's AI-powered photo processing. If the Galaxy A54 can match that performance — let alone top it — Samsung's latest device becomes the one to get among the best cheap phones currently available.

Samsung Galaxy A54 (left) shown vs Google Pixel 6a (right)

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I put both camera phones to the test in a series of head-to-head shots to see which phone outperformed the other. Here's how our Samsung Galaxy A54 vs. Google Pixel 6a camera face-off went down.

Galaxy A54 vs. Pixel 6a: Indoor photos

I took a couple of photos indoors, under less-than-ideal lighting conditions. In both cases, the larger sensor on the Galaxy A54 came in handy, allowing it to take in more light for a clearer, more detailed shot.

My plate of breakfast tacos was positioned in a tough spot for a photo, with a nearby window letting light stream in from just behind the food. That explains the darkness of the Pixel 6a shot, where backlighting casts a shadow over everything.

The Galaxy A54 fared a little better in these conditions, drawing more color out of those eggs and the various peppers, onions and taco meat tossed into the scramble. The coffee mug is still a little too dark — it's actually a forest green color in real life — and there's a bit of a glare off the front of the plate, but the overall shot is much brighter and better looking than what the Pixel 6a mustered.

A nearby toy store has what seems every Star Wars figure ever created on display behind a pane of glass. Both phones lose some detail, as a result of the light reflecting off the right side of the case. But once again, the larger sensor on the Galaxy A54 produces a brighter, more colorful picture. You can see some fuzziness creeping into the Galaxy A54 shot — some of the droids on the right end of the shelf aren't exactly in perfect focus — but Baby Yoda's green skin, Chewbacca's brown fur and Luke's orange flight suit all pop in the unforgiving lighting.

There's some color in the Pixel 6a shot, mostly on the Star Wars figures in the first row of the shelf. But things get darker and darker as you go further back into the case, making it hard to see as much detail as the Galaxy A54 photo reveals.

Galaxy A54 vs. Pixel 6a: Outdoor photos

Once we moved our photo competition outdoors, the Pixel 6a had more of a chance to shine. The cameras match up pretty closely in many of these shots, but there are some instances where the Google phone's photo processing prowess really shines through.

A fruit stand partially bathed in shadow proved challenging for the Galaxy A54. While you can actually make out more details in the background area underneath the canopy in the Galaxy A54 shot, the excessive sunlight causes Samsung's camera phone to over-expose some of the melons and squash. The Pixel 6a does a better job of producing a more balanced photo where there's a more subdued shine on the fruits and vegetables.

We also get a study in contrasts with a shot of a California lilac bush taken at dusk. The Galaxy A54 was able to capture more of the surrounding light with its sensor, resulting in a less dark photo overall. You can clearly see the green plants and yellow flowers at the base of the lilac bush, and there's even some light blue left in the sky. 

The Pixel 6a goes the other direction with a darkened shot that loses some of the detail found in the Galaxy A54 photo. To compensate, Google's photo processing software has honed in on the lilacs, pumping up the purple color of the flowers on the bush. The Galaxy A54 is the more balanced photo, but there's something striking about the deep purple of the Pixel 6a photo that catches the eye in a way Samsung's image does not.

I'm not going to pretend this shot of an entrance to a local pizza joint is a masterpiece, but it does illustrate how differently these two phones produce images. The Pixel 6a shots tend to run cooler, which can make the images sometimes appear dark while deepening certain colors. (Check out the blue sky in the background of the Pixel 6a photo.) The Galaxy A54 shots are brighter, producing a more true-to-life image that sometimes makes the colors a little too subdued.

You can see the effects of that in the bricks on the right side of the pizza restaurant building — with the Galaxy A54 photo, they're a little washed out, while the lines look a little more distinct in the Pixel 6a shot.

That same effect is in place when we switch to the ultrawide cameras on both phones — the Galaxy A54 image is brighter with more subdued colors, while the Pixel 6a looks darker with richer blues and slightly more detailed brickwork. Both photos suffer from a fisheye effect doubtlessly exacerbated because I was standing pretty close to the building. The bend seems a little bit prominent in the Galaxy A54 photo, perhaps because it has the wider field of view (123 degrees compared to 114 degrees on the Pixel 6a.)

For the most part, I think the Galaxy A54 matches up pretty well against the Pixel 6a, with its photos topping those produced by the Google phone in more than a few cases. But one area where the Galaxy A54 consistently falls short is the portrait mode.

This shot of my daughter illustrates some pretty pervasive problems with portraits on the Galaxy A54. For starters, her skin is far too pale and washed-out in the Galaxy A54; there's also a lot of over-smoothing going on with her face that's disguised some freckles that are more visible in the Pixel 6a photo. Google's phone does have a very warm cast to its portrait, but it gives the shot a welcoming feel, and the colors are a bit more vibrant. I also think the bokeh effect is more complete in the Pixel 6a's version, as the Galaxy A54 has left some leaves of the orange tree unblurred.

Galaxy A54 vs. Pixel 6a: Night photos

If the Galaxy A54's portrait mode isn't up to snuff, the night photos it produces more than make up for that. Samsung has made what it calls "Nightography" a key part of its Galaxy S photo features in recent years, and it's clear from the low-light photos the Galaxy A54 produces that the phone maker's efforts are extending to its midrange devices as well.

Take this photo of a mural, where the Galaxy A54 has adjusted for the ambient street light to produce a well-balanced image with a lot of visible color. The skin tone of the girl in the mural looks consistent, while the cherry blossoms surrounding her still have a pop of pink. There's a bit of a glare off the right side of the building in the Galaxy A54 shot, but the edge of the building is sharply defined against the night sky.

I don't dislike the Pixel 6a shot, but it's definitely more shadowy than the Galaxy A54's effort. You could argue that the ultimate effect is atmospheric, but I don't care for the blue cast over the girl's skin, and I think the house on the left doesn't stand out as much as it does in the Galaxy A54 photo.

The differences are more subtle outside of the local tiki bar, and it's clear the Pixel 6a has a better time of it in this photo. Both phones produced a clear, well-balanced image that accurately re-creates the colors of the scene. The lettering of the bar's name is brighter in the Galaxy A54 photo, though some might dislike the glare around the word "Forbidden." The Pixel 6a casts more of a shadow over the name of the bar, for a more stylized photo that some may prefer.

Galaxy A54 vs. Pixel 6a: Selfies

There's one other camera to compare in this Samsung Galaxy A54 vs. Google Pixel 6 photo face-off — the front camera on each phone. For the Galaxy A54, that's a 32MP shooter with an f/2.2 aperture, while the Pixel 6a offers an 8MP selfie cam with a wider f/2.0 aperture.

In this selfie of, well, myself, the Pixel 6a skews cooler, which ends up muting some of my facial features. (I appreciate any attempt to play down my blemishes, but it's not a very realistic photo.) The Galaxy A54's warmer cast, in contrast, highlights more of my face, particularly my beard, which stands out more than it does in the Pixel 6a self-portrait. The sky also looks slightly more blue in the Galaxy A54 photo, and there's more overall color to the background.

What happens when you switch to portrait mode on the front camera? Well, the same overall differences between the two shots remain, with the Galaxy A54 exhibiting better color overall. However, I think the bokeh effect looks better on the Pixel 6a shot, especially since there's some parts along the edge of my beard that got caught up in the A54's background blur.

Galaxy A54 vs. Pixel 6a camera face-off: Verdict

Both the Galaxy A54 and Pixel 6a offer very good cameras, particularly when you consider the $449 price tag on each device. The Galaxy A54 clearly enjoys an advantage in low-light settings, especially at night, thanks to its larger sensor and Samsung's emphasis on night mode. The Pixel 6a shines in instances where Google's photo processing powers are called upon, such as night shots. 

There's uncertainty looming over this Samsung Galaxy A54 vs. Google Pixel 6a camera face-off, though, and it comes in the form of the Pixel 7a. This unannounced device is expected to appear soon — possibly in May at Google I/O 2023. And if one rumor proves accurate, the 12.2MP main camera is about to give away to a sensor that has a lot more megapixels. That could substantially swing any Samsung vs. Google photo face-off in a different direction.

For now, I'd give the edge to the Galaxy A54 over the Pixel 6a, as it's more likely to produce solid shots in less-than-ideal lighting 

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.