Pixel XL camera showdown: How it compares to Apple, LG, and Samsung phones in the studio

We took four phones with the best cameras available into the studio to determine which one delivers the best image quality.

Google promised that its Pixel phones would pack the best camera of any smartphone. The Pixel's camera even has a DxOMark score of 89 to back up Google's claim. So, now that we have the Pixel XL in hand, we put it to the test against the best smartphone cameras on the market: the iPhone 7 Plus, Galaxy S7 Edge, and LG V20.

Our testing scenario is admittedly a bit limited. We set up a specific scene with specific lighting, and put each phone on a tripod to make sure we got the most apples-to-apples results possible. Camera shake never factored in, and it's possible the highest performing phones might yield different results in real-world scenarios. Nonetheless, we did our best to equalize the playing field, and we think our test shots tell a very informative story.

Make sure you watch the entire video above. It illustrates our test results quite well, and goes into more detail about the differences we found in the images.

Fantastic clarity in low light

Our low light setup is a desk scene lit only by lamp light, with blueish simulated moonlight coming in through the window.

pixel xl low light overview

Vastly different color in our low light scene. Click to zoom.

You can see that the Pixel XL keyed in on the orange light of the lamp, and pulled most of the blue hue out of the scene. The LG V20 went in the other direction, balancing the desk lamp as pure white, creating a very blue tone as a result. Overall, the Galaxy S7 Edge delivered the most accurate color, followed by the iPhone 7 Plus.

But let’s take a closer look at detail. Below are 100 percent crops with no resizing.

pixel xl low light close

The Pixel XL shows good detail. You can make out the words on the camera and book.

iphone 7plus low light close

The iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t fare as well. It’s a bit of a noisy and blurry mess.

gs7 edge low light close

The GS7 Edge can’t quite resolve details as well as the Pixel XL.

lg v20 low light close

The LG V20 is the sharpest, and delivers the most detail. It's worth noting the V20's rear camera is 16 megapixels, while the other three are 12 megapixels. We must also share that we tested a "pre-production" version of the V20, but we're confident LG's camera hardware and software in essentially final.

Wrapping it all together: The V20 delivers the best clarity and detail in low light, but also struggles with mixed lighting, giving the photo a very bluish cast. The Pixel comes in second thanks to its great clarity and definition. Want more details on low light performance? Watch the video attached to this article.

Bright studio lights

When we took pictures of the same scene under bright studio lights, we got somewhat different results. All of the cameras did a much better job under optimal lighting conditions, but there are still noticeable differences.

Read more: We compared the speakers of a Pixel XL and an iPhone 7

pixel xl bright light overview

Bright light makes all the difference. Click to zoom.

The Pixel XL delivered the best combination of accurate color cast and saturation. The iPhone 7 Plus is a bit on the yellow side, with slightly desaturated colors. The GS7 Edge is sort of yellow-green, too.

Now let’s zoom in and get a look at texture, detail, and noise. Again, these are 100 percent crops with no resizing.

pixel xl bright light close

The Pixel XL does a great job preserving detail, at the cost of just a touch more noise. You can clearly see the fuzzy texture of the stuffed Android, and even the roughness of the painted brick wall. All the strands of grass are well-preserved.

iphoe 7plus bright light close

The iPhone 7 Plus is slightly brighter, but to a fault. The iPhone also loses much of the fuzzy texture of the stuffed Android and even the texture on the monkey's arm.

gs7 edge bright light close

The Galaxy S7 Edge goes so far to eliminate noise that it washed out all detail. The stuffed Android looks almost entirely smooth, as does the brick wall. The money statue has barely any relief to it.

lg v20 bright light close

Because these are non-resized 100% crops, the 16 megapixel LG V20 looks like it’s zoomed in further. It has the second-best detail of the bunch, but even with a lower-res sensor, the Pixel XL does a better job with the fuzz of the Android and texture of the painted brick wall.

Overall winner: Pixel XL

Again, this isn’t a complete camera test. We simply examined the image quality of photos shot in a studio, with two very specific lighting setups. We have more camera tests ahead, and we'll look at both still images in the field, and video quality.

It's also worth noting the LG V20 and Galaxy S7 Edge have manual camera modes, as well as the ability to shoot and save RAW images. The Pixel can't do this without using a third-party camera app. So, again, the “best camera” may vary from scenario to scenario, depending on how you plan to use your phone.

That said, for this test the Pixel delivered the best combination of detail, color, and dynamic range. Overall, the Pixel preserves more details and more information than the other phones. And the LG V20 came in a close second.

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