Camera - Daylight Evaluation

The main selling point of the Pixel 3a phones is that they offer the very same rear camera and shooting experience as the more expensive flagship sibling. The differences between the two phones are non-existent in terms of the camera module, however we do see a larger difference in terms of the supporting internal hardware. One obvious big change is that the 3a phones do not feature Google’s Pixel Visual Core. Although functionally the PVC doesn’t offer anything that the SoC’s own DSP isn’t capable of, it would have been able to accelerate the processing. However this shouldn’t really be much of a concern on mid-range devices as it’s a good compromise to make in terms of achieving the same pictures quality.

We’ve reviewed the Pixel 3 camera last year and went more in-depth into the camera performance back then. Ever since there’s been a lot of new devices on the market – so although Google still claims the Pixel 3a to be able to compete at the flagship level, how does this still compare to what’s out there from the competition?

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 3a ]
[ OnePlus 7 Pro ] - [ OnePlus 6T ]
[ S10+ (E) ] - [ S10+ (S) ]
[ P30 Pro ] - [ Honor 20 Pro ]
[ G8 ] - [ Oppo Reno ] - [ iPhone XS ]

In the first scene we see only very minute differences to the Pixel 3. There’s a bit of a change in colour temperature and the 3a posts slight less saturated colours than the Pixel 3. Overall if you wouldn’t have the devices side-by-side you’d have a tough time to notice the differences.

In terms of detail, the phones are still leading. In terms of exposure Google continues to have large issues in terms of exposure, going for a much darker than actual rendition. The Pixel 3a is lacking any levels beyond 90% in reds and particularly the greens of this scene, even though it’s in broad sunlight. Dynamic range is also quite limited as the phone over-emphasises shadows that aren’t there.

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3a ]
[ OnePlus 7 Pro ] - [ OnePlus 6T ]
[ S10+ (E) ] - [ S10+ (S) ]
[ P30 Pro ] - [ Honor 20 Pro ]
[ G8 ] - [ Oppo Reno ] - [ iPhone XS ]

In the next scene again Google posts an acceptable result, however it’s again way too dark. Fortunately the processing doesn’t actually flatten highlights, meaning you can get an accurate and much better result by simply increasing the brightness of the picture after-the-fact.

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 3a ]
[ OnePlus 7 Pro ] - [ OnePlus 6T ]
[ S10+ (E) ] - [ S10+ (S) ]
[ P30 Pro ]
[ Honor 20 Pro ] - [ G8 ]
[ Oppo Reno ] - [ iPhone XS ]

The next shot we see the 3a also differ from the 3: The 3a is using a 30% longer exposure at slightly higher ISO and thus does a bit better in preserving bright highlights. Interesting again is the slight difference in colour temperature, this time around I’d say the 3a has the better rendition. Details and textures are excellent on both phones. The image is again too dark but easily fixed with slight adjustments.

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 3a ]
[ OnePlus 7 Pro ] - [ OnePlus 6T ]
[ S10+ (E) ] - [ S10+ (S) ]
[ P30 Pro ] - [ Honor 20 Pro ]
[ G8 ] - [ Oppo Reno ] - [ iPhone XS ]

Continuing on we again see very slight differences. The 3a’s exposure is 20% longer and does manage to capture a slightly more representative scene in broad sunlight. Dynamic range continues to be an issue as the shadows remain the worst among all the phones. This time around it’s very hard to recover information after-the-fact.

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 3a ]
[ OnePlus 7 Pro ] - [ OnePlus 6T ]
[ S10+ (E) ] - [ S10+ (S) ]
[ P30 Pro ] - [ Honor 20 Pro ] - [ G8 ]
[ Oppo Reno ] - [ iPhone XS ]

Detail in the scene is excellent all-round, however again we’re lacking in dynamic range and overall too dark image.

Click for full image
[ Pixel 3 ] - [ Pixel 3a ]
[ OnePlus 7 Pro ] - [ OnePlus 6T ]
[ S10+ (E) ] - [ S10+ (S) ]
[ P30 Pro ] - [ Honor 20 Pro ]
[ G8 ] - [ Oppo Reno ] - [ iPhone XS ]

The phone’s detail remains excellent and preserves all textures accurately, however yet again we’re seeing a bit of a struggle in terms of dynamic range and exposure. In this case the camera is exposing for the highlights on the cloud, which ends up disadvantaging the whole rest of the scene. Again it’s possible to rectify this and get better results, but it needs manual work after the fact.

Daylight Camera Conclusion

Whilst we found some very small differences between the Pixel 3 and the new 3a, the phone’s camera largely perform the exact same. In daylight pictures unfortunately this means some of my larger grievances with Google’s processing are still very much present in the Pixel 3a: Too dark pictures that aren’t representative of the scene and limited dynamic range that favour too much preserving highlights of bright scenes rather than keeping shadow detail.

The camera’s preservation of details however is excellent as it has among the best retention of textures of a lot of phones: Here Google just avoids any stupid smudging noise reduction algorithms as it’s simply not needed.

The thing is, the Pixel 3a isn’t really a flagship phone so our comparison here isn’t quite as fair. Yes Google does proclaim it has the same flagship camera, but I was never really of the opinion that the camera was all that good, particularly in daylight. Compared to what’s actually achieved by other devices in the same price-range, the Pixel 3a does offer excellent camera quality, although it’ll actually have tough competition from some phones from Asian vendors.

Battery Life - Great Camera - Low Light Evaluation
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  • Xex360 - Thursday, June 27, 2019 - link

    The weird is this supposedly mid range phone has more features than the more expensive one. Reply
  • beluga - Thursday, June 27, 2019 - link

    A series don't have wireless charging and not waterproof, both of which are important to me. Otherwise great phone. Reply
  • melgross - Thursday, June 27, 2019 - link

    Water resistant. Nothing is waterproof. Reply
  • philehidiot - Friday, June 28, 2019 - link

    I am water proof. Reply
  • Threska - Sunday, June 30, 2019 - link

    Toilet:"Then why are you leaking?" Reply
  • philehidiot - Saturday, July 6, 2019 - link

    I can say only this.

    Boom.
    Reply
  • Namisecond - Sunday, July 7, 2019 - link

    Would like to see you try and pass any of the IP ratings for water resistance...drowning = failure. Reply
  • Doku253 - Thursday, June 27, 2019 - link

    It has a headphone jack but the 3a's lack a 2nd front facing camera, IP rated water resistance, UFS storage specification, wireless charging, Pixel Visual Core, Spectral/Flicker sensor and free unlimted original quality photo backup that the higher priced Pixel 3's have. Reply
  • yacoub35 - Thursday, July 4, 2019 - link

    I would gladly trade Google no longer having a copy of all my personal photos for the addition of a headphone jack. Reply
  • edwpang - Friday, June 28, 2019 - link

    Yeah, I replaced my oneplus 3 with a Xiaomi Mix 2s a while back. The oneplus 3 was working except for broken display when I bought the new one. I kept going back to oneplus for the convenience of 3.5mm plug. With the new Mix 2s, I have to either use bluetooth or converter which I always have to look for when I need it. Bluetooth has the obvious drawback of battery life and also latency in 10s of milliseconds. I noticed this when I practise singing, I am seeing quarter note even half note delay when using bluetooth. Now the oneplus 3 is dead! Next time, I'll definitely keep this in mind. Reply

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