I took over 200 photos with Pixel 8a and Pixel 6 Pro — here's the winner

Google Pixel 8a vs Google Pixel 7 pro
(Image credit: Future)

If you’re still rocking a Google Pixel 6 Pro like I am, odds are you’re thinking about upgrading at some point soon. While the Pixel 9 and Pixel 9 Pro are expected to arrive in a few months time, you may also be considering the Pixel 8a. Not only is it much cheaper, it also offers a lot more than the Pixel 6 Pro.

Better performance, better battery life and from the looks of things better camera quality. Not only has the camera hardware improved over the past couple of years, the software and image processing hardware has advanced alongside it. The question is, are the photos from the Pixel 8a actually better?

Comparing the two on paper is pretty difficult since the camera specs are all over the place. The Pixel 8a has a higher resolution main camera, but the 6 Pro also has a larger sensor and larger pixels — both of which can give it a boost in low-light photography. The same is true of the 6 Pro’s ultrawide camera, though not to the same extreme, and the telephoto lens should offer a zooming advantage.

Then again, there’s a lot more to mobile photography than hardware. These days the software plays just as big a part in the final image as the hardware. So the fact the Pixel 8a has a more powerful Tensor G3 chipset means it should have more advanced image processing and computational photography abilities. Even if it won’t make it to the top of our list of the best camera phones.

So to put these two cameras to the test, I took over 200 photos with both phones at the same time. I then compared those photos on my laptop so I could see them side-by-side and figure out all the differences. And to decide whether the Pixel 8a or Pixel 6 Pro takes the best photos, I graded them in 10 categories to figure out which one is the winner.

Daytime

It's immediately apparent that there's a difference in color when comparing the Pixel 8a and Pixel 6 Pro during the day. The contrast is more obvious on the Pixel 8a and the colors look a little more vivid and realistic in the process. There isn't a noticeable difference in quality until you start looking a little closer. 

Zoom in even just a little bit and you'll see the Pixel 6 Pro's sharpness dip quite considerably. Whether its the higher resolution, Tensor G3 advancements or some mixture of the two, the Pixel 8a's photos look considerable better — not to mention less washed out.

Winner: Pixel 8a

Ultrawide

It's a very similar situation with the ultrawide lens. The Pixel 8a offers better contrast and realistic coloring whereas the Pixel 6 Pro seems rather washed out. However, zooming in shows that the actual difference in quality isn't nearly as extreme. In fact, these shots are virtually indistinguishable. 

The Pixel 8a's 120-degree field of view also means you can capture more than the 114-degree Pixel 6 Pro. Too bad a number of shots on the A series came out with some serious distortion along the edges. It hasn't happened on every photo, but it was a common enough occurrence that it could prove to be a problem. Let's just hope it can be fixed with a software update somewhere down the line.

Winner: Tie.

Dynamic Range

The better contrast and coloring on the Pixel 8a means it excels at dynamic range. At least, it does compared to the Pixel 6 Pro. There's a lot of detail to be found and there's a very clear boundary between light and shadow.

But you have to hand it to the Pixel 6 Pro. While the definition is a little blurred between the light and darkened areas, it was able to pick up a lot more detail in areas that otherwise look pitch black on the Pixel 8a. That larger camera sensor comes in handy.

Winner: Pixel 8a.

Color Reproduction

The color reproduction on the Pixel 8a definitely pops a lot more than it does on the Pixel 6 Pro. There's an extra level of realism there that the Pixel 6 Pro wasn't quite able to replicate.

That's not to say The Pixel 6 Pro does a bad job, but the slight lack of visual quality and oversaturated appearance doesn't do it any favors — especially outdoors.

Winner: Pixel 8a.

Selfie

Funnily enough, it's the Pixel 8a that seems to struggle with coloring on the front camera, with photos looking a little washed out in places. It also has a much wider field of view — covering 120 degrees compared to the Pixel 6 Pro's 94 degrees. That means you can pick up a lot more of your surroundings. Including your camera arm, and my good friend Oscar Wilde.

From a quality standpoint there's very little difference between the two phones. They manage to pick up smaller details freckles and sweat pretty well. Even the reflections in my sunglasses are pretty comparable.

Winner: Tie.

Portrait

Portrait shots from the Pixel 8a and Pixel 6 Pro looked fairly similar, though I give the edge to the Pixel 8a in the above pic. My hair looks sharper and it's a brighter photo. Both camera phones seemed to stumble in the same areas. Apparently the Pixel portrait mode struggled to blur out my living room without taking half my face with it.

It's interesting to see how both phones reacted to my dogs as well. The Pixel 6 Pro blurred the face in the one shot a dog ended up in frame. Meanwhile, the Pixel 8a blurred one dog, but added the bokeh effect around the other. But the principle subject (me) was very clearly defined and popped out against the background — with no complaints from me.

Winner: Pixel 8a.

Zoom

The Pixel 6 Pro has a separate telephoto lens with 4x optical magnification, which gives it a huge advantage in zoomed photography. The Pixel 8a is reliant on digital zoom and features like SuperResZoom to try and mimic that effect. That has led to significantly worse photo quality, even at 4x magnification.

The difference was most apparent on shots of objects in the far distance, even before you try and zoom in further. Objects in the near distance aren't quite as bad through the Pixel 8a, and come out looking reasonably well, but they have more of a fuzzy over-exposed look compared to the Pixel 6 Pro.