Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

Can a $500 Pixel phone beat a $1,000 iPhone in a camera test? I found out

iPhone 15 Pro (left) and Google Pixel 8a in hand.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Right before Google I/O 2024, Google showed off the latest Pixel device, the Google Pixel 8a. This is the latest offering from the Pixel A-series, which is a more budget-friendly Pixel for those who don’t need all the bells and whistles of the flagship Pixel 8 or 8 Pro.

The Pixel 8a features a new design with more rounded corners and a matte-finish back. It packs Google’s latest silicon, the Tensor G3, but the camera hardware remains unchanged from its predecessor, the Pixel 7a.

One of the things I personally like about Pixel phones is the camera and the resulting photos; it’s hard to take a bad photo with a Pixel! But my primary phone is my iPhone 15 Pro, and I was curious as to how Google’s latest $500 phone stacked up against Apple’s $1,000 flagship. So, I did what any sensible person would do — an in-depth camera comparison between the two.

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone 15 Pro: camera specs

iPhone 15 Pro (left) and Google Pixel 8a camera modules.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Before we look at the photos, we need to examine the camera hardware. How does a $500 phone compare to one that’s $1,000?

With the Google Pixel 8a, we have a dual camera setup on the rear: a 64-megapixel main camera with an f/1.9 aperture and a 13MP ultrawide lens with a 120-degree field of view (FOV) and an f/2.2 aperture. there’s also a 13MP selfie camera with an f/2.2 aperture on the front.

The iPhone 15 Pro has a triple rear camera system: a 48MP main camera with an f/1.8 aperture and a 12MP ultrawide camera with a 120-degree field of view (FOV) and f/2.2 aperture, plus a 12MP telephoto camera with up to 3x optical zoom. For selfies, we have a 12MP front facing camera with an f/1.9 aperture.

Since the Pixel 8a does not have a telephoto lens, we won’t be comparing zoomed-in photos here, as it wouldn’t be fair. But everything else is fair game, so let’s get to it.

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone 15 Pro: main camera

For most people, myself included, the main camera is likely the one you’re going to use the most. After all, it defaults to the main camera when you open up the camera app, and you typically just snap your photo and carry on with your day. While the megapixels are important, there’s more to it than just the number.

Let’s start with this Pixar Fest 2024 display on Main Street in Disneyland. Though both images are similar, the iPhone 15 Pro version seems to have more contrast, making some parts of the display, especially shadows, appear darker than they should be. The Pixel 8a image is brighter and more vibrant with the display’s colors, but some details are softer, like the yellow flowers upfront and certain characters, like the Turning Red trio. Both photos are good, but the iPhone 15 Pro handles the smaller details just a bit better.

It looks like the TARDIS from Doctor Who has landed in Downtown Disney! Unfortunately, I did not see any sign of the Doctor other than his TARDIS. Both images here are very similar, but when you take a closer look, the texture on the wood’s surface is crisper and sharper in the iPhone 15 Pro version, whereas it appears softer in the Pixel 8a pic. But the Pixel 8a did a better job of background details, such as the tree on the right and the people in the background, compared to the iPhone.

Here’s a batch of yellow foxgloves in the planters on Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure Park. The iPhone 15 Pro version appears to have a warmer tone and is much more vibrant overall. It also has a much stronger bokeh effect going on in the background. With the Pixel 8a version, you have a less pronounced background bokeh, and the plants appear darker, with more lush greens and more realistic colors. These are both good images, so it just comes down to which one you prefer.

This is a photo of the incredible Millennium Falcon sugar sculpture in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel during the Season of the Force event. The iPhone 15 Pro version looks incredible, with all of the small details crisp and clear, from the rock formations in the back to the tiny parts lining the side of the Millennium Falcon. On the other hand, the Pixel 8a image didn’t do so well, as all of those finer details appear softer and a bit more blurry than in the image snapped by its iPhone counterpart.

I think this photo captures a bit of the beauty of living in Southern California. Palm trees, blue skies, and a sunset in the distance. The iPhone 15 Pro did a great job of capturing the bright blue sky with some cloud cover and the yellow sun in the distance. The palm trees and grass are very dark, so you can’t see a lot of detail due to the contrast, but that’s the kind of look I go for when the focus is the sunset. On the Pixel 8a, the colors are a little more dull in the sky and the sun peeking behind the clouds is definitely blown out. It does have less contrast so that you can see the grass with the glow of the sunset, though.

There’s a local park in my town with this fun airplane model that my daughter loves visiting, and it’s fun to take photos of. Again, the iPhone has more contrast going on with a warmer tone. The colors are more vivid and bright, and the finer details are crisper and sharper. You can even make out the individual details in the wood chips and the texture on the wing of the plane. The Pixel 8a image looks a bit more dull and lifeless, and it has softer details compared to the iPhone image.

Lastly, here’s a shot of the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. I like the overall vibrancy of the Pixel 8a image, but it also loses a bit of detail with the textures on the castle walls and even the steeples up top. The water fountain also looks a bit blurry and you can’t see make out the details on the rocks. The iPhone image appears sharper and has all of the finer details, but the colors are a little harsher than I’d like.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone 15 Pro: ultrawide camera

The ultrawide lens on smartphones is great when you want to capture more of a scene than what you typically get with the main camera. But the problem is that you usually have fewer megapixels than the main camera, which means a loss of detail. Both the iPhone 15 Pro and Pixel 8a have similar ultrawide lenses, with just a 1MP difference between them.

One of my favorite views in Disney California Adventure is just looking out at the waterfront from Pixar Pier. Both the iPhone 15 Pro and Pixel 8a produce similar results. However, the iPhone image has a bit more noise and grain in the water, and it appears darker than the Pixel 8a’s. In the Pixel 8a version, you have brighter colors and slightly more detail, thanks to the 13MP lens instead of the 12MP of the iPhone. But the Pixel 8a didn’t handle the sun too well, as it appears blown out and has a visible lens flare effect, which isn’t an issue in the iPhone image.

The flowers have bloomed in the rose garden at the local park, and it’s one of my favorite things to see. In these ultrawide shots, both the Pixel 8a and iPhone 15 Pro performed similarly. But I feel like the Pixel 8a is a bit better in terms of colors and detail, especially with the greenery on the right side of the first archway. The iPhone image isn’t bad, though, and it does show textures in the rock planters a bit better, but the difference is pretty negligible.

Winner: Draw

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone 15 Pro: selfies and portraits

Though my most used camera is the main one, I also take a lot of selfies and portraits. Portraits are an especially easy way to give an extra professional touch to a photo of a person.

Here’s a portrait of my husband, who is my No. 1 portrait subject when I’m testing cameras. Both images are similar, but the skin tone seems more accurate with the iPhone 15 Pro version. I also believe that the tree in the background has a better, more vibrant color that contrasts nicely and allows his hair to be more visible. His shirt is also a better color in the iPhone image, whereas it looks a bit washed-out in the Pixel 8a version, and he appears more pale there, too.

My other great portrait subject is my daughter, who loves to have her photos taken. Once again, the iPhone gets the skin tone more accurately, as the Pixel 8a makes her look more pale than she actually is. The iPhone captures the rosiness in her cheeks, which you don’t really see in the Pixel 8a image. The Pixel 8a does have her more in focus, however, while the iPhone has softer edges around the hood of her jacket. But there’s some distortion around the edges of her hair in the Pixel 8a image, while the iPhone has a softer bokeh effect that seamlessly blends in. Both images here have their strengths and weaknesses.

No trip to Disney California Adventure is complete without a photo along the Pixar Pier waterfront. In the iPhone 15 Pro selfie, you have sharper details, especially with the background scenery — you can see the railing of the Incredicoaster loop clearer than in the Pixel 8a image. However, I feel like the Pixel 8a did a better job here with the vibrancy in the colors, and it got my skin tone better. But the sky is a bit washed-out. Again, pros and cons for each image.

I took this selfie while at the park with my family. I prefer the iPhone photo here, as my skin tone is better represented. The Pixel 8a made me look a bit redder due to the sunlight hitting my face. However, the Pixel 8a seemed to get the other colors more precise, with the bright pastel shades in my shirt, as well as the background with the blue sky and green in the trees, looking more realistic. The wood chips seem more true to life in terms of color with the iPhone image, though.

This is a selfie of me in the rose garden at my local park. Both images are similar in handling my skin tone and the color of my shirt. But for the background, the color of the trees is a bit more vibrant in the iPhone image, whereas it is a tad darker in the Pixel 8a version. Overall, it’s pretty close for this one.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone 15 Pro: lowlight photos

Remember a point in time when smartphone cameras were just absolute crap at taking photos in dimly lit environments or at night? Boy, have times changed. Our smartphones now are capable of taking some pretty good images in lowlight scenarios thanks to night modes and larger sensors that capture more light. Though I’m hardly out late these days (the joys of being older), Night Mode and Night Sight on iPhones and Pixels, respectively, are super-handy to have.

The first image here is of a tree in front of my house at around 9 p.m. It’s dark out, and the only light source is the streetlights. It’s pretty clear that the iPhone 15 Pro did a better job here with Night Mode compared to Night Sight on the Pixel 8a. The details on the tree trunk and leaves are much more clear and crisp. The Pixel 8a has much softer details, and you can’t even make out the bunches of leaves at the top like the iPhone can.

I managed to catch this beautiful sunset while heading back to the car after a long day at Disneyland with the family. This one I believe is a matter of preference. The iPhone 15 Pro did a better job at capturing the brightness of the orange glow and the sun itself, as the Pixel 8a has a softer hue and a bit of a yellow aura around the sun. The contrast of everything else in the lot is also better in the iPhone version since it’s darker, whereas you can see Minnie on the first lamppost sign. Both images are good, but I prefer the iPhone one just for capturing the colors better.

Lastly, this is an image of the top of a tree with the moon peeking through the branches in the middle. The iPhone 15 Pro image is much more clear with the details of the tree branches and leaves, and you can clearly see the moon in the middle as it’s not blown out. The Pixel 8a has soft and muddled details everywhere, and nothing is really clear. Even the moon doesn’t really show up, as it’s just a blown-out white spot in the middle that doesn’t even look like a circle. There’s also a kind of vignette thing going on with the Pixel 8a image, as the edges are darker than the rest of the image.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone 15 Pro: verdict

iPhone 15 Pro (left) and Google Pixel 8a.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The results here aren’t all that surprising. After all, we are comparing a flagship phone with a midrange option. But still, Pixel devices are known for taking pretty good photos, which is why we wanted to see how the Pixel 8a would compare to one of the most expensive iPhones you can buy in 2024.

We aren’t saying that the Pixel 8a is terrible — it’s not! For a $500 phone, it actually does take some pretty good photos. It’s just not quite as good as a phone that costs twice as much. The Pixel 8a particularly struggles in terms of lowlight photos, even with its Night Sight mode. I know that people like to criticize Apple’s iPhones for their camera quality, but as this test proves, the iPhone 15 Pro remains an incredible camera phone. It’s also hard to deny some useful features like Auto Portrait mode.

If anything, this camera comparison is a good reminder that you can get solid camera experiences at lots of different price ranges in 2024. A $500 Pixel may not defeat a $1,000 iPhone, but it’s also not a complete blowout — and that’s pretty impressive.

Editors' Recommendations

Christine Romero-Chan
Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade. She graduated from California…
iOS 18 has ended the iPhone vs. Android debate
Updated interface of Siri activation.

“I just have to see anything particularly useful that AI can do,” a tech journalism veteran told me ahead of Apple’s WWDC 2024 event. To a large extent, I agree with the sentiment, even though I have pushed consumer-grade AI tools in every scenario that my hardware selection allowed. By the time Apple’s event concluded, I had a strong feeling that Apple may just have delivered the most practical dose of AI on a smartphone.

We have entered the era of Apple Intelligence on iPhones. I will drop the bad news first: The whole AI platter has been served only on the latest and greatest “Pro” iPhones. They are not even available for the iPhone 15 or the iPhone 15 Plus. It seems the silicon and the onboard NPU are to blame, or maybe it's all-important memory restrictions. Similar restrictions apply for iPads, which need at least an M-class processor.

Read more
iOS 18’s new iMessage features make me wish everyone I know had an iPhone
Screenshots of new iMessage features in iOS 18.

Without fail, one thing always happens during the iOS segment at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC): I have a moment where I want more people I know to own an iPhone and use iMessage because it always looks a whole lot more fun than my usual message apps.

It’s not evidence of iMessage being generally superior, though; it’s about something else. And this was especially true at WWDC 2024.
There's something about iMessage

Read more
iOS 18 makes an 11-year-old iPhone feature exciting again
Someone holding an iPhone 14, showing the Lock Screen.

Following the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC 2024) keynote, developers are starting to dig into the first iOS 18 developer beta. Though this beta lacks Apple Intelligence and many of the other features demoed on Monday, it offers a surprising new take on an old iOS feature: the flashlight.

The built-in flashlight feature has been available on the iPhone since iOS 7, which was released in 2013. It hasn't changed much at all since then, which makes sense, given its basic function. Interestingly, it has received a significant update in iOS 18.

Read more