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iPhone X vs. Pixel 2 XL Camera Face-Off: It's This Close

Although the iPhone X's front-facing TrueDepth camera is getting plenty of attention for its ability to recognize individual faces and unlock the phone when it sees its owner — even in the dark — we wanted to see how well the iPhone X's rear cameras compared to the current best Android camera phone, the Google Pixel 2 XL.

We already looked at the other features of the two phones, so how do their shooters stack up to each other? Google's camera packs a single 12.2-megapixel sensor with an f/1.8 lens, and the iPhone X has two 12-MP cameras: a wide-angle camera with an f/1.8 aperture, and a telephoto lens with an f/2.4 aperture.

We took both devices out for extensive shooting in different environments and lighting conditions. It's super close—in fact, too close to call.

Flatiron Building

Our first test of the two cameras was to see how well their respective HDR modes performed. Here, in this photo of New York City's Flatiron Building, the right side of the building was bathed in sun, while the left side was in the shadows.

Both phones did a good job at adequately exposing both sides of the building, but the Pixel 2 XL was better at showing the different colors of the stone on the shaded side. In general, the Pixel's photo just pops more than the iPhone's.

Winner: Pixel 2 XL

2x Zoom: Empire State Building

The iPhone X's second lens lets you get twice as close using optical zoom — a feature not found on the Pixel 2 XL. So, we took a photo of the Empire State Building using the optical zoom on the iPhone and a 2x digital zoom on the Pixel.

Here, we see the power of optical versus digital zoom. When blown up all the way, the iPhone's photo reveals crisper details, such as on the spire of the Empire State Building.

Winner: iPhone X

Outdoor Portrait

We took this portrait of a handsome young man outdoors to see how well both phones blurred the background.

In this case, the iPhone's dual cameras did a much better job at isolating the subject. While the Pixel 2's single camera and software tried, the result was uneven, as parts of the trees behind were more in focus than the rest of the background. The iPhone X photo also produced a warmer-looking skin tone, which looks better. However, the iPhone did blow out the blue sky in the background.

Winner: iPhone X

Indoor Portrait

Our first test of the camera's low-light performance came in this restaurant, which was lit by some Edison bulbs overhead and a candle on the table.

Here, the results could not have been clearer. The Pixel 2's photo was far superior, exposing all the elements in the image properly. The iPhone's photo was not only darker in general, but it overexposed the candle so that it looked like a yellow-and-white blob. Plus, you can actually see the subject's face in the Pixel 2's photo.

Winner: Pixel 2 XL

Flash: Pumpkins

We've seen how well each camera does without its flash, but how well do they fare with a little extra lighting? At night, we took a picture of a pumpkin on top of a bale of hay, and turned on the flash.

The iPhone's flash lit the scene more evenly, as the gourd and the pumpkin looked less washed out. The colors were a bit richer and warmer, too, such as the red in the scarecrow's outfit and flower.

Winner: iPhone X

Legos

We shot two different photos using Legos: The first was a close-up of the Millennium Falcon in our office, and the second was the dragon in the Lego store on 23rd Street in New York.

Both cameras' photos of the Falcon were pretty evenly matched. The iPhone's photo was a bit warmer, but both were appealing.

The iPhone did a better job with the dragon, though. The image in general was brighter, and while there was one hot spot, behind the creature's eye — which was not as prominent in the Pixel 2 XL's photo — the beast's snout was more evenly exposed in the iPhone's image.

Winner: iPhone X

Store Window

On our photo walkabout, we passed by a colorful store window with all sorts of interesting masks and sculptures.

In the iPhone's photo, the whitish, skull-like mask in the foreground is a bit washed out, and the painted details on its forehead, seen in the Pixel's photo, aren't visible. However, the colors in the iPhone's photo were much more pleasing overall.

Winner: Tie

Broccoli Romanesco

How well does the iPhone X capture detail? We took this close-up shot of a head of broccoli romanesco, with its intricate fractal pattern.

This photo was a pretty close call too. The colors in the iPhone's photo skewed warmer than the Pixel's, but the latter was slightly crisper when zoomed in to 100 percent. And the Pixel was better at exposing the overall scene.  Look at the cauliflower in the upper-left corner: In the iPhone's photo, it's blown out, while in the Pixel's photo, you can see all of the detail.

Winner: Pixel 2 XL

Gourds

Nothing says autumn like decorative gourds, so we wanted to see how well both phones captured the spirit of the season.

When we looked at both photos on the same screen, we were really surprised at the results. The iPhone's photo was much bluer — so much so that the green basket holding the gourds looked almost turquoise. The purple cauliflower in the upper-right corner was much more vibrant, too. The gourds themselves looked more true to life than the Pixel's, which seemed a bit too yellowish. In general, the iPhone's photo was much truer to the actual lighting conditions at the time we took the photo.

Winner: iPhone X

Group Shot

On the roof of our building, we took a group shot of Caitlin, Sherri and Kenneth, who was decked out in a shark costume for Halloween. The bold colors of both Caitlin's and Sherri's attire would also prove a good test for both cameras.

The iPhone produced a higher-contrast photo with more saturated colors, but the Pixel captured more nuances, such as the freckles on Caitlin and the wrinkles on the white teeth of Kenneth's costume.

Winner: Pixel 2 XL

Selfie

For our final test, we compared the iPhone X’s front-facing 7MP TrueDepth camera with the Pixel 2 XL’s 8MP front shooter, by taking a selfie on the roof of our building. For both shots, we used each camera’s Portrait Mode.

While both the iPhone and the Pixel blurred the background, the iPhone also blurred part of my face and hair; as you can also see by my shirt, the focus area for Apple’s phone was far too narrow. I preferred the colors in the iPhone’s photo—they were warmer than the Pixel’s—but I would have preferred my entire face to be in focus.

Winner: Pixel 2 XL

Overall Winner: It's a Tie

In the end, both phones excelled in different conditions, with neither taking a decisive lead over the other. The iPhone X's zoom and its flash outperformed the Pixel, for example, but Google’s phone beat it out in low-light and when taking selfies.

Are there any more comparison shots you'd like us to take? Suggest them in the comments.


iPhone X
Google Pixel 2 XL
Flatiron Building

Empire State Building

Outdoor Portrait

Indoor Portrait

Pumpkins

Legos

Store Window
Broccoli Romanesco

Gourds

Group Shot

Selfie

Overall
66

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide