The Google Pixel 5 and iPhone 12 are smartphones with excellent cameras. Both of these devices have primary wide-angle and ultrawide lenses, both are loaded with software tricks like night modes and simulated bokeh effects for portraits and both are among the best camera phones available now. But which camera phone is best? To find out, we staged a handful of photo comparisons between the iPhone 12 and Pixel 5 in similar scenarios.
iPhone 12 vs. Google Pixel 5: Camera specs compared
Before we get into the side-by-side image comparisons, let's take a look at the imaging hardware. Both the iPhone 12 and Google Pixel 5 have dual-lens rear cameras and both also have wide and ultrawide lenses, but there's some key differences.
The iPhone 12 packs a 12-megapixel primary wide-angle shooter with a new 7-element lens and ƒ/1.6 aperture, the fastest ever in an iPhone. These improvements are said to allow 27% more light to reach the image sensor, thus enhancing the detail and color of low-light images. The ultrawide camera is also rated at 12MP, with an ƒ/2.4 aperture.
The Pixel 5 utilizes Google's tried-and-true 12.2MP, ƒ/1.7 primary shooter (also present in the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G) accompanied by a 16MP, ƒ/2.2 ultrawide lens with a 107˚field of view. This is narrower than the 120˚ perspective of the iPhone 12's ultrawide lens, meaning that the Pixel won't be able to fit quite as much of a given scene in the frame using its secondary optic as the iPhone can — a fact you'll soon see in our side-by-side comparisons.
On the front, the iPhone 12 features a 12MP, ƒ/2.2 camera for selfies, while the Pixel 5's front-facing shooter comes in the form of a decidedly low-resolution 8MP, ƒ/2.0 front camera.
Round 1: Creek
We begin our face-off with a pair of images of a picturesque creek at the peak of autumn. Both offer stunning detail and clarity, and really make you remark on how far mobile imaging in a relatively short amount of time.
Look closely, though, and differences slowly reveal themselves. More light bounces off of the water in the iPhone 12's shot, compared to the Pixel 5's. The shadows in the brush and leaves captured by Apple's phone are brighter than they are in the Pixel 5's rendition. And yet, the Pixel 5 brings more attention to the specular highlights and light being picked up by the leaves above the creek, filtering the sun's rays as they shine down.
Overall, personally I want to give the nod to the Pixel 5 here, for its superior contrast and deeper greens, especially in the darker regions of the frame. Most phone makers tune their imaging algorithms to decrease the strength of shadows, and while neither Apple or Google are the worst offenders in that respect, I do feel that in this particular instance, Google's device is more willing to preserve the weight of shadows, which in turn adds more body and richness to the scene. Still, there's very little between the two.
Winner: Pixel 5
Round 2: Portrait
Next we have a pair of portraits, both of which employ each device's Portrait Mode. Neither device has a telephoto lens, which means portraits end up being quite removed from the subject. However, the Pixel 5 does automatically crop into the frame somewhat, neutralizing the need to get up close.
There are aspects of each image to commend here. The Pixel 5 better picks up the sunlight hitting my colleague Jesse's face; it also provides more detail within the deepest shadows of the scene, on his right shoulder.
However, the iPhone 12 takes this round for two reasons in particular: sharpness and noise (or, rather, lack thereof). The iPhone's rendition is so much crisper overall even when you zoom in, which is honestly an incredible feat considering this shot was captured by a regular wide-angle camera, rather than a telephoto with an optical advantage. Apple's device also better isolates Jesse from his background and paints a smoother bokeh across the wall of trees behind him.
Winner: iPhone 12