This year, Google finally used a new sensor in the Pixel 6 series. Giving us a massive upgrade from the five-year old 12-megapixel main sensor that was used since the Pixel 2. To a new 50-megapixel sensor on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. They also added in a 48-megapixel telephoto, and kept the same 12-megapixel ultra-wide from last year.
That’s great and all, but how does the new camera sensor compare to the Pixel 5. Well we took the Pixel 5 and Pixel 6 Pro and did a quick comparison of the two phones. If you’re not a photographer, you probably won’t notice many differences here. But you will likely notice that the color science in the Pixel 6 Pro is actually a bit better than the Pixel 5. As it shows more true-to-life colors than the Pixel 5. Which we already thought was really good.
- Editor’s Note: In all of these comparisons, the Pixel 5 is first, followed by Pixel 6 Pro.
Indoor, low-light camera samples
Indoors, we noticed that the Pixel 6 Pro would default to using Night Sight a lot more often than the Pixel 5 did. Which is fine, for things that aren’t moving like kids and pets. But for things that move, Night Sight isn’t that great to use. These pictures were taken without Night Sight.
In this first set of pictures, the Pixel 5 is a bit darker than the Pixel 6 Pro. Also the colors are darker than real life. While the Pixel 6 Pro does an excellent job of capturing the correct colors. It also offers better depth of field, with the Bokeh effect looking more natural. While the Pixel 5 looks a lot more noisy in the background. It’s worth mentioning that there was not a lot of light in this scene, so the noise on the Pixel 5 is not a surprise.
Now, in this next set of images, you will see that the Pixel 5 is brighter. But, it also has a lot more noise in the background, along with the colors being a bit brighter than they are in real life. The Pixel 6 Pro is darker, but it does a better job with edge detection, and keeping the colors true-to-life. That is what you want from a smartphone camera. You don’t want it to be very vibrant and look fake, like a number of Samsung phones tend to do.
This next camera sample is in brighter light, and pretty tough to notice a difference between the two. If you look closely at the wall in the background, you can see more noise in the Pixel 5’s photo. But both are very good, given the relative lack of lighting here. There’s more here than in the first two samples, but it’s far from “perfect” lighting.
Rounding out our indoor camera samples here, we have one with a relatively interesting color palette. This is a sign on a blue door. This camera sample is also very similar to each other. But the Pixel 6 Pro does show a bit more detail in the paint (and the terrible paint job here).
Moving outdoors, we took a few different camera samples here. Including some portrait mode, ultra-wide and telephoto samples.
First up, is a picture of a tree. This is without portrait mode, but you can see the depth of field on the Pixel 6 Pro going to work. There is also more noise in the Pixel 5’s image here. But overall, both of these are really good images, for a smartphone.
Next, we did a photo in portrait mode of a leaf on that tree from the last photo. Now these photos do not line up perfectly, because it was windy outside. So it looks like the Pixel 6 Pro’s image was further away than the Pixel 5. But it was pretty close. The Pixel 6 Pro does a better job with edge detection here, which is really great to see. Again, the Bokeh isn’t as noisy as on the Pixel 5.
Here’s a second portrait mode sample, of an outdoor grill. Again the Pixel 5 and Pixel 6 Pro look like they were different distances. That really comes down to the different focal lengths, 26mm on the Pixel 6 Pro vs 27mm on the Pixel 5. Which is a very small difference, but it can make a difference. So on this grill, both did a great job with edge detection. But the Pixel 6 also kept the bottom portion of the picture in focus, instead of blurring it. This allows it to look more natural, in my opinion.
Ultra-wide and Telephoto
Next up is ultra-wide and telephoto samples. Ultrawide is a bit different here, as the Pixel 5 is .6 (2.22mm) and Pixel 6 Pro is .7 (2.35mm). So the Pixel 5 will be just a tad bit wider.
These sensors are mostly the same, both 12-megapixel sensors, so you don’t see a lot of differences here. But the Pixel 6 Pro is a bit lighter. And I prefer the Pixel 5’s over the Pixel 6 Pro’s here.
For the telephoto test, we tested telephoto using the main sensor on both. Even though the Pixel 6 Pro has a telephoto camera, we did not think it was fair to test that versus the Pixel 5’s non-telephoto camera. So we’re looking at 2x on the Pixel 5 or about 4.38mm. And also 2x on the Pixel 6 Pro, but it comes in at 6.81mm. So it’s a bit closer than the Pixel 5.
To be honest, I was not really impressed with either of these shots. I feel like if you’re going to do telephoto on the Pixel 6 Pro, you should use the actual telephoto lens and do 4x optical zoom. Or shoot at the regular focal length and crop after you take the image.
One last telephoto shot here from the Pixel 5 and Pixel 6 Pro. This is of some leaves on the ground. The Pixel 6 Pro here is surprisingly more vibrant and saturated than the Pixel 5. But this does look more true to life than the Pixel 5 does. And just an overall better picture. Again, these were both at 2x.
So what’s the verdict?
There’s no doubt that the Pixel 6 Pro camera is a nice upgrade over the Pixel 5. But it’s not as much night and day as you might expect. Sure there’s more detail in the Pixel 6 Pro’s shots here, but for the most part, the pictures look very similar. Now that is not surprising, since both use the same color science and post-processing software from Google.
Though, I was pretty impressed with the Pixel 6 Pro camera. It works really well, and provides some shots that are a bit vibrant, but they aren’t overly done like Samsung’s smartphones tend to be. The fact that you can take photos in low-light with the Pixel 6 Pro and get little to no noise out of this sensor is pretty impressive. However, that is also due to there being a much larger sensor on the back of the phone.
While the Pixel 6 Pro camera is pretty good, I’m excited for the Pixel 7. I’m excited to see what Google can do with another year of R&D on Computational Photography with these new sensors. We’ve seen the magic Google worked with the old 12-megapixel sensor which was about five years old when it got put in the Pixel 5. And I’m hoping for similar with the Pixel 7 next year.