Pixel 8 Pro vs. iPhone 15 Pro camera test: we have a winner

An iPhone 15 Pro in Blue Titanium (left) and Google Pixel 8 Pro in Porcelain showing camera modules.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Every fall, there’s lots of pumpkin spice, spooks, and flagship phones from Google and Apple. This year, Google released the powerful Google Pixel 8 Pro, while Apple upped the ante with the iPhone 15 Pro.

While the Google Pixel 8 Pro is more comparable to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, we wanted to see how it would do against the smaller iPhone 15 Pro as well. After all, the regular iPhone 15 Pro is still considered a flagship, and both phones share the same $999 price tag.

So, let’s check out how the cameras on the Google Pixel 8 Pro fare with the iPhone 15 Pro.

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

A Google Pixel 8 Pro in Porcelain (left) with an iPhone 15 Pro in Blue Titanium held in hand.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Google made some pretty hefty upgrades to the Pixel 8 Pro camera system this year.

The main shooter is 50MP with an f/1.7 aperture and a 25mm lens. The telephoto is 48MP with an f/2.8 aperture and 5x optical zoom, while the 48MP ultrawide has an f/2.0 aperture with a 126-degree field of view (FoV). On the selfie front, you have a 10.5MP front-facing camera with f/2.2 aperture.

Apple also made some improvements with the iPhone 15 Pro camera, though it may not look as impressive on paper compared to Google.

The main shooter is 48MP with f/1.8 aperture and a 24mm lens. The telephoto camera is 12MP with f/2.8 aperture with 3x optical zoom, and the ultrawide camera is 12MP with f/2.2 with a 120-degree FoV. The TrueDepth selfie camera is 12MP with f/1.9.

As you can see, the specs are similar in some regards, like the main cameras (a 2MP difference is negligible). But Google made a big upgrade with the ultrawide this year, going from 12MP on the Google Pixel 7 Pro to 48MP on the Pixel 8 Pro.

However, Apple has also made the default pixel resolution for photos taken with the main camera to 24MP instead of 12MP, which allows for more detail and clarity. There is a new Auto Portrait mode, which automatically captures depth information in an image when the focus is on a person or pet (dog or cat), allowing you to turn any image into a portrait after it is taken.

They both have their pros and cons, so let’s see which phone takes better pictures overall.

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

For most people, the main camera will be the primary, most used lens. So let’s dive into that one first.

Here’s a photo of some table decor at a local food hall. The Pixel 8 Pro version retains more natural-looking colors and appears to have more parts of the plant in sharp focus, though there appears to be some random blurriness with the lower red flower on the left side. The iPhone 15 Pro version has a bit more saturation in the colors, making the plants appear more lively and vibrant. However, a lot of the plant seems to not be in focus and a bit distorted. I prefer the colors in the iPhone 15 Pro image, but the Pixel 8 Pro definitely came out better.

In this next sample, we’ll take a look at some more cute plant decor, this time with some fall additions. The Pixel 8 Pro is a bit darker with more shadows, especially on the countertop surface, but the colors are pretty true to life for the plants in the jars. The iPhone 15 Pro version, however, appears brighter and more vibrant. It also does a bit better with the smaller details this time around, like showing the texture on the white wall in the background, which is lost on the Pixel 8 Pro version. And with Apple’s Deep Fusion technology, you can see the intricacies of the middle bow a lot better versus the Pixel 8 Pro.

In this next image, we’re looking up at a swath of vine-like plants that form a canopy, along with a few lanterns hanging from the branches. The Google Pixel 8 Pro fared quite well here, with good color balance and enough detail to differentiate the branches and leaves from each other. The iPhone 15 Pro version appears too dark with a lot of shadows, making it hard to see the finer details in the branches, as well as the lanterns themselves.

Next is a photo of my daughter at the local park. The Pixel 8 Pro resulted in an overall cooler tone for the image, and some details in the texture, like with the wood chips, got lost as you look closer to the slide. In the iPhone 15 Pro version, it has an overall warmer color temperature, making the colors appear richer and more vibrant.

Again, there’s more texture detail with the wood chips, and even the playground remains in focus, unlike in the Pixel 8 Pro photo. The sky does look better in the Pixel 8 Pro image, though, as it is a bit washed out towards the playground in the iPhone 15 Pro. Skin tone is pretty accurate with both phones. But overall, I think I prefer the iPhone image just ever so slightly.

I’m not a botanist or anything, but I do love seeing beautiful flowers in bloom, so I love that there’s a rose garden at my park. This is a closeup of a rose, taken as a macro on both phones. The Pixel 8 Pro image is overall much sharper and clearer, especially with the center. The iPhone 15 Pro image has more saturated hues and shows off more texture in the petals, though the center is not as clear as I’d have wanted. The Pixel 8 Pro did better on this one.

Winner: Google Pixel 8 Pro

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

The ultrawide lens on a camera is great for capturing more of a scene than you would with the regular main camera. It’s especially handy if you’re trying to capture a large group photo or a large object without any more room to back up. This year, Google upped the Pixel 8 Pro’s ultrawide lens to 48MP, while Apple kept it the same at 12MP for the iPhone 15 Pro. Does it really make a difference?

Let’s examine this first ultrawide shot of a gazebo at the park. It seems that Google’s higher megapixel count for the ultrawide lens does indeed make a difference, as you can zoom in on the photo and see more details in the trees, rocks along the railing and pillars, the ceiling of the gazebo, and even the fencing towards the back.

While the iPhone 15 Pro version is not bad, the details are definitely softer, as you can’t even make out most of the individual leaves on trees like in the Pixel 8 Pro image. The color also looks better in the Pixel 8 Pro version, though that’s a matter of preference.

Another view of the rose garden shot with the ultrawide lens. Again, the iPhone 15 Pro version is softer in details with more shadows, making it hard to make out individual leaves in the trees, and even the ground around the flowers lacks sharpness. The Pixel 8 Pro image is much sharper with the details such as the trees and dirt and even the lamp posts.

Winner: Google Pixel 8 Pro

Google Pixel 8 Pro vs. iPhone 15 Pro: telephoto camera

While both phones have a telephoto lens, the iPhone 15 Pro Max would be a better comparison since it has a 5x optical zoom capability like the Pixel 8 Pro. With the smaller iPhone 15 Pro, which did not get the new tetraprism telephoto lens, it can only do up to 3x optical zoom, so it’s not entirely an even matchup. But we’ll work with what we have here.

If you look closely at the first image, there’s a praying mantis on the hunt. I used only up to the 3x optical zoom on the iPhone 15 Pro while using the 5x optical zoom with the Pixel 8 Pro. With only 3x optical, it may be difficult to locate the praying mantis at first, but the iPhone 15 Pro still does a great job of showing the texture of the body of the praying mantis, as well as the grass surrounding it.

Again, the colors pop with vibrancy, but unless you know what you’re looking at, the 3x zoom here isn’t quite enough. On the other hand, the Pixel 8 Pro’s 5x optical gets you in really close to the praying mantis, providing a better look at the details of the body. The grass also looks a bit more toned down here, making it easier to spot the mantis.

One of the fun things about living in Southern California is the abundance of palm trees, especially right in my front yard. With the iPhone 15 Pro, again, I did a 3x optical zoom, and it’s pretty good for that. The color is accurate to what you see in reality, it’s sharp, and there’s still plenty of texture and detail with the trunk and leaves.

I did 5x optical zoom with the Pixel 8 Pro. Unsurprisingly, you get a better look at the top of the palm tree’s leaves and fronds. I do feel like the color of the trunk washes out the texture a bit, unlike on the iPhone 15 Pro version. But again, given what we’re working with, the Pixel 8 Pro definitely wins.

Winner: Google Pixel 8 Pro

Google Pixel 8 Pro vs. iPhone 15 Pro: night mode

Each year, it seems that smartphones are getting better at taking photos in low-light situations. And this is the perfect time of year for those nighttime shots of holiday decorations, right?

First, we have a photo of some jack-o-lanterns near the entrance of the Shaqtoberfest Halloween Festival at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. The iPhone 15 Pro was able to capture the scene beautifully, with rich and bold colors and lots of detail with the pumpkins, trees, ground, the night sky, and even the structures far off in the distance.

The Google Pixel 8 Pro, however, has very soft details, as you can’t even see the texture on some of the closer pumpkins. Some of the light effects appear to be bleeding and washing out parts of the scene (like the red light in the back casting a red glow on the fence). The grass and leaves towards the front of the image also appear blurry, whereas they’re sharp and in focus on the iPhone 15 Pro version. And the Pixel 8 Pro makes the sky look like it’s daylight, so it’s a bit unrealistic.

This is a shot of the Queen Mary grounds decked out for Shaqtoberfest. The Pixel 8 Pro handled this scene well, as the details appear much sharper and in focus on this go. The colors also look close to what you see in reality, and it’s easier to make out the text on the signs.

Perhaps it’s because there was more fog from the decorations, but the iPhone 15 Pro image looks like it has a lot more going on in terms of fog, lights, and oversaturated hues. The details also appear softer than the Pixel 8 Pro photo, with the smoke stacks on the ship appearing much more orange due to a warmer overall color temperature. Text on the banners and signs also aren’t as clear. However, both phones seem to have a problem with artifacts showing up in the sky from the lights.

Finally, here’s the spooky Oogie Boogie decor at the front gates of Disney California Adventure Park. The iPhone 15 Pro handled this one better than the Pixel 8 Pro. The colors are more rich and vibrant, while the details are sharp and crisp, especially with the bats and the “Disney California Adventure” signage. The night sky is also much darker in the iPhone 15 Pro version, which contrasts nicely with the decor, while the Pixel 8 Pro seems to have washed the sky out a bit.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro

Google Pixel 8 Pro vs. iPhone 15 Pro: portraits

Portrait mode images have been popular ever since Apple introduced them on the iPhone 7, and they’ve just been getting better ever since. It’s also pretty much on every smartphone now, and it’s an easy way to get a photo that looks professional, like a headshot, as the subject is in focus with a blurred background.

In this first portrait, we have my daughter standing up on a little rocker at the park. The Google Pixel 8 Pro’s picture has a cooler color temperature that is realistic to what you get in reality, and the camera was able to get her properly in focus even though she was moving around at the time. However, the edge detection has randomly blurred parts of her hair, and there are some jagged edges around her right hand.

By comparison, the iPhone 15 Pro portrait also has some jagged edges around the right hand, but it handled the edges around the hair better. The colors pop a bit more in the iPhone image, too, though the Pixel 8 Pro handled the skin and bokeh blur slightly better.

The next portrait features my husband. Again, the color temperature in the Pixel 8 Pro image is on the cooler side, which I prefer. However, if you take a look at my husband’s head, it seems that the edge detection struggled with separating his hair from the trees in the background, as part of his hair is blurred out where the glasses sit.

The iPhone 15 Pro had no problem with the edge detection, and the warmer, more vibrant color temperature of the image provides more contrast between his hair and the background trees. While I prefer the stronger bokeh effect with the Pixel 8 Pro, the iPhone 15 Pro just handled the edge detection way better, which is important for portrait images.

Lastly, here’s a portrait of me showing off one of my Star Wars “Pew Pew!” RSVLTS shirt. Once again, the Google Pixel 8 Pro struggled with edge detection underneath my left sleeve, where you see some of the grass peeking through the blurred effect and some wood chips near my right hand. It also softened some edges at the top of my head with my hair and more rough edges around my arms.

The iPhone 15 Pro handled the edge detection a lot better for the most part, though it did miss a tiny part of my hair where the flyaway strands are. Color is better reflected this time around with the iPhone 15 Pro portrait, especially for the shirt color.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro

Google Pixel 8 Pro vs. iPhone 15 Pro: selfies

One of the most popular uses for a smartphone is for a selfie. Whether that’s just by yourself or with others, sometimes it’s the best way to capture something special.

This is a selfie I took while waiting for Disney’s Happiest Haunts Tour to start at Disneyland. Both phones did a pretty good job of capturing me in my Haunted Mansion shirt paired with my Club 33 Halloween ears.

However, the color of the shirt is better represented with the iPhone 15 Pro image, as the Pixel 8 Pro gave it a cooler tint. And it’s not just the shirt, but the ears are a smidge brighter, and the background with the trees and sky is not completely washed out like in the Pixel 8 Pro photo. My skin tone is more accurate with the iPhone 15 Pro as well.

How about a portrait selfie? Both phones handled this one well, though the Google Pixel 8 Pro feels like it’s leaning towards a cooler tone, which makes the shirt pop a bit more, especially the background print. But the finer details in the shirt pattern are retained better in the iPhone 15 Pro version, while it gets lost in the Pixel 8 Pro image.

It also seems like the iPhone 15 Pro handles the edge detection a tad better, as the random loose strands on the right side of the image aren’t blurred out, and the left strands look more natural compared to the Pixel 8 Pro. Skin tone is more accurate with the iPhone 15 Pro version too, and the background bokeh looks better.

Let’s try another selfie portrait. Oddly enough, with this sample, it appears that the iPhone 15 Pro version carries a much warmer tone over the Pixel 8 Pro. As a result, my skin tone appears more yellow/orange than it should be. Colors are more true to life in the Pixel 8 Pro version. However, the edge detection still seems very abrupt and jagged in some parts around my hair, which overall looks more natural on the iPhone 15 Pro, especially when it comes to the loose strands. I also prefer the bokeh background effect that the Pixel 8 Pro produced here over the iPhone 15 Pro.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro

Google Pixel 8 Pro vs. iPhone 15 Pro: verdict

An iPhone 15 Pro in Blue Titanium (left) and Google Pixel 8 Pro in Porcelain side-by-side showing backs.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

This is actually a pretty close call. In this comparison, both phones won three categories each, which effectively makes this a tie. Google clearly wins on the hardware side of things, but Apple has kicked it up this year with better software-side processing.

If you’re looking at the raw megapixel count for your smartphone camera, then you can’t go wrong with what the Pixel 8 Pro is offering. With a 50MP main shooter, 48MP ultrawide camera, and 48MP telephoto with 5x optical zoom, it’s a triple threat. And for the most part, images with any of these lenses will turn out pretty good — with realistic, true-to-life colors and plenty of detail. Low-light images can be decent, but portraits seem to have some issues with edge detection. Otherwise, it’s still pretty good.

But Apple has impressed us this year with its software-side improvements to image processing. Smart HDR 5 has made the colors appear more natural and not harsh, the over-sharpening problem seems to be minimal this year, and low-light photos have come out better than ever. The Auto Portrait feature is also incredible to have, as you can pretty much turn any photo (with a person or pet) into a portrait with a simple toggle.

Using the camera app on the Google Pixel 8 Pro.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Google’s Pixel lineup has always made it hard to take a bad photo, and that continues this year with the Google Pixel 8 Pro. And while the iPhone has had some over-processing issues in recent years, it seems to have fixed the problem this year.

No matter which one you choose, you can’t go wrong. But if we had to pick one winner, I think the Pixel 8 Pro edges out the iPhone 15 Pro just ever so slightly.


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