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I did a Pixel 7a camera test — and it’s bad news for Samsung

Google Pixel 7a and Samsung Galaxy A54 cameras
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Every smartphone manufacturer updates its flagship lineup annually, packing in all of the best components that are available. For Google, this is the Pixel 7 lineup, and Samsung has the Galaxy S23 series.

However, not everyone wants to — or can afford — to pay flagship prices all the time. Thankfully, both Google and Samsung have more budget-friendly options with the Pixel A-series and Galaxy A-series devices. If you want a good smartphone without paying too much, then these are both pretty good phones to check out.

But what about the cameras? Even if you aren’t going for the top-of-the-line model each year, you’ll still want a phone with a good camera for capturing all of life’s moments. Both the Pixel 7a and Galaxy A54 pack in high megapixel counts on the main camera, come equipped with ultrawide lenses, and also have some decent selfie cameras.

How do these phones measure up against each other? Let’s find out.

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54: camera specs

Google Pixel 7a and Samsung Galaxy A54 in hand
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Both the Google Pixel 7a and Samsung Galaxy A54 are budget devices at their $499 and $449 prices, respectively. But for those affordable prices, the phones pack in some pretty impressive camera specs.

The Google Pixel 7a's camera module.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

With the Google Pixel 7a, which is the most advanced A-series Pixel phone yet, you have a 64MP main camera with an f/1.9 aperture and a 26mm lens, dual pixel phase-detection autofocus (DPAF), and optical image stabilization (OIS). The ultrawide lens is 13MP with f/2.2 aperture and 120-degree field of view (FOV), while the selfie camera is 13MP with f/2.2 aperture and a 20mm ultrawide lens.

The Samsung Galaxy A54's camera module.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

On the Samsung Galaxy A54, you have a 50MP main camera with f/1.8 aperture, PDAF, and OIS. The ultrawide lens is 12MP with f/2.2 aperture and 123-degree FOV. The A54 does have a 5MP macro lens with f/2.4 aperture as well, but since the Pixel 7a does not have a macro lens, we won’t be doing any comparisons for that. On the selfie front, the A54 has a 32MP camera with f/2.2 aperture and a 26mm lens.

Though Samsung manages to pack in some decent specs on the camera hardware front, itreally leans into its tendency to produce overly vibrant and saturated images with the Galaxy A54, which affects the outcome of the results. Meanwhile, Google packs in impressive camera specs on the Pixel 7a, and when combined with the intelligent computational photography processing from the Tensor G2 chip, it’s hard to take a bad photo.

One other thing I want to note with the Galaxy A54 is that there seems to be a delay in capturing an image at times. I would press the shutter button on both phones at the same time, but sometimes the A54 would take an extra second or two before it actually captures the image — which can result in me completely missing a moment with a very active toddler. It’s actually very frustrating.

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54: main camera

The main camera is probably the one that everyone shoots photos with the most, so it’s going to be one of the most important comparisons. The Pixel 7a has a 64MP main shooter, but the Galaxy A54 is nothing to sneeze at with 50MP.

In our first photo, let’s take a look at this flower in overcast lighting conditions. The Samsung photo appears more vibrant, especially the pink and orange on the petals, but it ends up washing out the finer detail and texture on the petals themselves. The color in the Pixel 7a photo is more true to life, even in the background leaves, whereas those are a bit washed-out on the Samsung image. The Pixel also creates more of a bokeh effect with the leaves and ground toward the bottom, which I prefer.

Here’s a photo of my daughter having some fun at the park on a gloomy, overcast evening. As you can clearly see, the Galaxy A54’s photo appears a little too vibrant and washed-out with the colors, which is not accurate to what you see in reality. In fact, the washed-out color of the building in the background makes it hard to read what the text says, as there’s not much contrast.

The blue in her jacket is brighter than it should be, so you can’t fully see the texture of the fleece. The Pixel 7a photo has much more detail, especially with the textures and contrast, and is overall accurate and true to life. Even though the lighting wasn’t the best at the time, the Pixel 7a handled it without issue.

This photo is of the ceiling of a gazebo on a sunny California day (a welcome sight after many gloomy ones). In the Galaxy A54 photo, the overall image has a slight pinkish tint to it for some reason, and the sky and leaves in the park peeking through the gaps are completely washed out. The Pixel 7a image is clearly better, as it retains a neutral tone. You can see that the wood is painted white, and the bright blue sky and green leaves are actually visible in the gaps.

Let’s now take a look at this photo of a cluster of flowers on a sunnier day. At a quick glance, the Galaxy A54 image appears overly sharp and harsh, whereas the Pixel 7a has a softer look to it. Unfortunately, the Galaxy A54 also seems to have a hard time dealing with the colors in the background, as the blue sky appears completely washed-out in one spot, whereas the Pixel 7a had no problems. Combined with the natural bokeh effect on the Pixel 7a, I think it makes for a better image.

Winner: Google Pixel 7a

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54: ultrawide camera

The ultrawide camera is pretty standard on most smartphones nowadays, and it’s great to help you capture more of a scene in a single frame. It works well for scenic landscapes and is also helpful for fitting more people into a group photo. I honestly don’t use it too much for the situations I’m in, though, but it comes in handy for certain moments.

I snapped an ultrawide photo of the gazebo in the park in front of my house. The Samsung photo appears overly washed-out, lacks detail and contrast, and is overall just not impressive. The Pixel 7a photo is much more realistic-looking, with accurate color depiction. It also doesn’t completely destroy the detail in the tree leaves, background buildings, and texture of the rocks and ground.

In this ultrawide image of the park’s rose garden, I also found the Galaxy A54 result to be not satisfying. It not only lacks a lot of detail in the plants, but the colors are a clear demonstration of Samsung’s reputation at work as they appear overly saturated and vibrant — to the point where it’s unrealistic (especially the sky).

Some may find that appealing, but I do not. The overblown colors eliminate finer details, and some things — like the first large tree on the left of the arches (behind the left lamp post) — appear over-sharpened. Texture in the rock planters is also lost because it appears washed-out. The Pixel 7a photo has more true-to-life colors and better detail and textures.

Winner: Google Pixel 7a

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54: zoomed photos

Neither phone has a telescope camera, so they are both using digital zoom. For this comparison, we get to see how they do with 2x zoom — anything higher will look worse since it’s digital and not optical.

With this image I took while zooming in on some palm trees on an overcast day, the differences are stark. For some reason, the Galaxy A54 has a very blue tint to it, which is not at all how it looked in person. The Pixel 7a is more realistic in terms of how the overcast sky looked behind the palm trees. The Samsung image also has a bit too much contrast in the palm trees for my liking, making it hard to see the texture and details in the trunk and leaves — this is the kind of image I would like to lighten up a bit. The Pixel 7a photo allows you to see at least some of the texture on the trunk and crown.

This is a simple zoomed-in photo of a lamppost at the park. I actually prefer the Samsung image for this one. While both images capture the color of the lamppost well enough, the Galaxy A54 goes a step further and makes the trees in the back also appear in focus and more vibrant, while details are lost in the Pixel 7a photo. Of course, that’s not the focus of the photo itself, but I’m impressed with the Galaxy A54’s ability to handle that well.

Winner: Draw

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54: lowlight photos

Sometimes you just don’t have good lighting for photos, which is why it’s good to see how a device handles those lowlight situations.

I love sunsets in California. I managed to capture this right in my backyard before the sun went away completely. The Galaxy A54 seems to capture it well, but I do notice a bit more noise in the sky compared to the Pixel 7a’s shot. I do think Samsung managed to capture the colors a bit better, though, and even the streetlight does not appear washed-out, somehow. But the Pixel 7a also manages to retain the texture in some of the trees compared to the Galaxy A54. It’s a toss-up here, depending on what you like more.

This photo of a pinwheel in a planter in front of my porch is illuminated only with a single light outside my front door after 8 p.m. I used Night Sight for both of these pictures. The Samsung image appears a lot brighter than it is, and almost makes it look like it’s daytime (but it’s not, as you can see that the ground is dark towards the right).

Though this is good if you just want to make sure you can see the subject in a lowlight environment, I am not a fan of how unnatural it ends up looking. The Pixel 7a photo is also using Night Sight, but it looks more natural and not overly bright. The wall behind the pinwheel also retains the wooden texture, which is washed-out and blurred in the Samsung version. I suppose it’s about personal preference on this, but I like how the Pixel 7a handled it more.

Let’s take a look at this Night Sight image of my husband’s car in the driveway. While the Pixel 7a handles the overall color of the car better, I feel like the sky is way too bright for the evening. Even some of the grass in the front has very soft details, and the streetlights appear blown out. The Samsung photo is slightly better at handling the night sky and grass detail, and surprisingly does not blow out the closest streetlight. But I’m not a fan of how it handled the color of the car itself, and it has a bit more noise overall.

Winner: Google Pixel 7a

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54: portrait mode

Portrait mode is one of my favorite ways to take photos, especially now that I have a daughter. Seriously, it’s crazy how many portrait images I have tried capturing in numerous attempts to get a good portrait of her, but she can never stay still long! I also like to use portrait mode for inanimate objects and pets whenever possible. A lot of other people also like portrait shots, so how do the Galaxy A54 and Pixel 7a fare?

Note: I did not adjust the portrait mode from the default 1x zoom. It seems that the Pixel 7a appears closer to the subject compared to the Galaxy A54, which looks a little farther away. Both devices were physically the same distance from the subjects. And while Samsung lets you adjust the bokeh intensity, I did not change it from the default setting.

I took a portrait of my husband while we were at the park on an overcast day. The Galaxy A54 seems to struggle with overcast conditions, as the overall image appears way too washed-out and light. Samsung also seems to like adding a smoothing filter to the skin, which reduces the detail in my husband’s face. And I left the bokeh blur to the default level, but there’s way more bokeh effect than I’d like. I’m also not sure why there appear to be so many white light circles either, as those don’t appear at all in the Pixel 7a version.

Speaking of, the Pixel 7a version looks more like real life with the coloring, though the skin tone is a smidge off. The bokeh effect also feels much more natural with Google, and I prefer how the Pixel gets a little closer to the subject than the Galaxy A54, as that’s what a portrait photo should be like.

Here’s a portrait I took of my daughter, sitting along the edge of the playground with her favorite thing: a leaf. Both the Pixel 7a and Galaxy A54 captured the colors on this sunny day well, with the Pixel having a slightly more golden overtone, even with skin tone.

There is a more natural bokeh effect with the Pixel again, though I think for this image, the Galaxy A54’s less zoomed-in appearance works to my advantage here. The software edge detection on the Galaxy A54 is pretty good, though there are some rough edges in my daughter’s hair when combined with the bokeh blur. Because of this, it almost feels like a Photoshop cutout in some ways.

Winner: Google Pixel 7a

Google Pixel 7a vs. Samsung Galaxy A54: selfie camera

I take selfies often at Disneyland, and whenever I’m somewhere cool or new. Selfies are just a great way to capture a photo of yourself in front of something, especially if there’s no one else to take a regular photo of yourself. That’s why it’s important to have a good selfie camera on your phone.

Here’s a selfie I took in front of the rose garden at the park. The Galaxy A54 version applies a nice, subtle bokeh effect in the background to help make the subject appear more in focus. However, the colors of the flowers and leaves in the background appear both more vibrant, yet washed-out at the same time. It doesn’t look realistic, while the colors in the Pixel 7a version do.

The Samsung image also washed out my skin tone and hair, making me look paler than normal, and my hair appears gray (I’m not that old yet!). But I’m not a fan of how the Pixel 7a doesn’t seem to apply any blur in the background, as the sharpness can pull attention away from the subject. Still, the colors in the Pixel version are much better.

Let’s try a landscape selfie. Again, the Samsung Galaxy A54 image looks nicer because of that subtle bokeh effect in the background, which helps put the focus on the subject in the selfie. But the colors of the rose garden behind me appear a tad oversaturated and washed-out in some parts. It also made my skin tone look much paler than usual. The Pixel 7a version handles the background rose garden colors better, but it doesn’t have any background blurring like the A54. Google seems to not get my skin tone right in this photo either, as it makes me look a bit red.

Finally, let’s try the portrait mode for selfies. Once again, the A54 image seems to make the colors appear too vibrant on a mostly cloudy day, and I look lighter than normal. However, the edge detection for portrait mode here is better than on the Pixel, as it seems to be able to mostly discern my hair toward the bike rack in the bottom left.

In the Pixel image, it seems to struggle with that, as part of the bike rack remains in focus mixed in with my hair. But overall, the Pixel 7a version retains a more natural-looking color, including my skin tone, and there’s more detail and texture in my face, which seems lost in the A54 photo.

Winner: Google Pixel 7a

The Google Pixel 7a takes the cake for overall better photos

Google Pixel 7a and Samsung Galaxy A54 side by side
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Since both of these are smartphones under $500, you may not expect too much from the cameras on either. I mean, it’s not like these are top-of-the-line flagship devices like the Pixel 7 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. However, it’s clear that one is much better than the other.

Even though the Samsung Galaxy A54 looks a lot like the S23 series with the triple-camera array on the back, the quality of the photos with this device just isn’t there. Samsung phones tend to have a reputation for oversaturating colors in photos, and that is taken to the next level with the A54. And in certain cases, the oversaturated colors cause some details in images to be lost, and even lowlight images don’t look like they’re taken at night. I do like how the A54 does some subtle bokeh effects for standard selfies, but it’s not enough.

The Pixel 7a, though not perfect, has a much better camera than the Galaxy A54. It’s not just the higher megapixel main camera either, but the fact that there’s a lot of computational photography magic going on behind the scenes thanks to the Tensor G2 chip inside. Pixel phones are known to have reliable cameras, as it’s actually hard to take a bad photo with a Pixel. And as is evident with this camera comparison, all of that works in favor of the Google Pixel 7a. Though if you want to save some money, you could even get the Pixel 6a, which is only $349 now, and has pretty much the same kind of photo quality as the Pixel 7a.

Christine Romero-Chan
Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade. She graduated from California…
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