We took over 200 photos with the Nothing Phone 2a and Pixel 7a — here's the winner

Nothing Phone 2a and Pixel 7a in hand.
(Image credit: Future)

In today’s market, you can’t discount the photo taking abilities of today’s best cheap phones. While you won’t find the same larger sensors and optical zoom lenses frequently reserved for flagships, budget phones can still deliver outstanding results with what they have — and the Nothing Phone 2a and Google Pixel 7a are proof of that.

In our Nothing Phone 2a review, we said that the Pixel 7a should fear it because the Nothing Phone 2a delivers one of the best bang for the buck values in a budget phone. The camera’s dynamic range performance also exceeded our expectations with its ability to handle difficult, high-contrast scenes. Its 50MP main and 50MP ultrawide cameras effectively delivered good results.

But there’s a reason why Google’s budget phone makes the cut in our best camera phones list, adding pressure for the Nothing Phone 2a to overperform in this area. The company’s decision to upgrade it to a higher resolution 64MP main camera (paired with a 13MP ultrawide) helped it to produce sharper looking images in our Google Pixel 7a review.

But now that we’ve had more time capturing photos with the two budget phones, we have a better idea of how they stack up against one another. In fact, we took over 200 photos spread out over a period of a couple of weeks between the Nothing Phone 2a and Pixel 7a — and in varying lighting conditions, too. Here’s how they stack up against each other.

Nothing Phone 2a vs. Pixel 7a: Main camera

Since they’re expected to be doing most of the leg work, the first set of photos shown above of the James A. Farley Building reveals how their main cameras operate. The Pixel 7a’s stronger contrast helps to reveal details in the red walkway in the foreground, which is somewhat washed out by the Nothing Phone 2a. There’s good detail capture with the two, but upon close inspection, they’re noticeably sharper with the Pixel. 

Winner: Pixel 7a

Nothing Phone 2a vs. Pixel 7a: Ultrawide

Moving to a different location, we didn’t come close to catching the entire span of the New York Public Library off the 5th Avenue side with both of their respective ultrawide cameras, but at least the main entrance was in the frame. The Nothing Phone 2a offers a 114-degree field of view, while the Pixel 7a has a wider 120-degree one. Despite that difference, we like how the Nothing Phone 2a’s pops out more thanks to the brighter tone of the building’s facade.

Winner: Nothing Phone 2a

Nothing Phone 2a vs. Pixel 7a: Dynamic range

Times Square is an excellent location for us to test their dynamic range performance, mainly because of the strong sources of light from all the digital billboards around. In nearly every snapshot we captured in Times Square, the Nothing Phone 2a gets our attention more with its stronger dynamic range performance. What’s evident most is how the Nothing Phone 2a boosts the shadows to even out the exposure throughout the scene.

Winner: Nothing Phone 2a

Nothing Phone 2a vs. Pixel 7a: Zoom range

Neither phone offers an optical zoom camera, but it doesn’t stop the average Joe from zooming when it’s needed. For this test, we took the same set of photos at 2x and 8x zoom. You can technically get 10x zoom with the Nothing Phone 2a, but we kept it at 8x for a proper comparison.

That’s because we’re noticing bigger differences at 8x zoom, with the Pixel 7a’s image processing algorithm doing a better job at cleaning up the shot. The Nothing Phone 2a appears to be applying your standard digital zoom, while the Pixel 7a sharpens the scene with slightly more definition. To an extent, you could feasibly rely on the Pixel 7a for zoom shots — but not so much with the Nothing Phone 2a.

Winner: Pixel 7a

Nothing Phone 2a vs. Pixel 7a: Color reproduction

Indoors under artificial lighting, we can see how these cameras handle colors differently. We like the truer-to-life color tones of the Pixel 7a’s shot of all the produce items, without applying unnecessary saturation — resulting in the red tones of the red peppers looking natural, which doesn’t clash with the greens of the nearby pickles. The Nothing Phone 2a has a penchant to increase the exposure for the entire scenes, which results in the green peppers appearing overblown and washed out.

Winner: Pixel 7a

Nothing Phone 2a vs. Pixel 7a: Selfie

This one’s a tougher call because the results are very similar with their respective front-facing cameras. We took dozens of selfies, both indoors and out with decent light, but it’s a tough call every time we look at them side-by-side on a monitor. These selfies almost look like they were captured by the main cameras, mainly due to all the small details they capture — like the individual strands of hair on the forehead, the fabric material of the hoodie and ample field of view.

Winner: Tie

Nothing Phone 2a vs. Pixel 7a: Portrait Mode

Similarly, there’s a lot to like how these cameras handle portrait mode as well. By default, the Nothing Phone 2a applies the more aggressive bokeh effect to the background — whereas it’s less with the Pixel 7a. Between them, the Pixel 7a does a better job of identifying background elements and delivers sharper details.

Winner: Pixel 7a

Nothing Phone 2a vs. Pixel 7a: Macro

When it comes to macro photography, we can get a lot closer to subjects with the Nothing Phone 2a — while the Pixel 7a requires a bit more separation to get the focus just right. But despite that, the Pixel 7a does an exquisite job of capturing the finer details of this yellow chrysanthemum. You have to zoom into the shot to make out the pieces of pollen covering it, but they’re almost non-existent with the Nothing Phone 2a.

Winner: Pixel 7a