Pixel smartphones have long been known for having great cameras, mostly due to Google’s computational photography chops rather than the best hardware. The newly available for pre-order Google Pixel 6a is Google’s latest mid-range smartphone which once again does not have the best camera hardware but hopes to produce Google Pixel quality images with what it does have.
We published a full review of the Pixel 6a on Friday. This review aims to go in a bit deeper detail with respect to the camera and see how well it compares to its predecessors.
The rear camera setup includes a startlingly-old 12MP main camera – the IMX363 – but is paired with the same 12MP ultrawide camera that appears in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro – the IMX386. It is strange for Google to continue to use the IMX363 as the main camera given the upgrade that the 6 and 6 Pro received. They have been using the IMX363 for several years now so it is definitely dated, but there’s no denying the results they’ve managed to achieve from it over all these generations.
For Google, when a lot of their camera results rely on computational photography, their algorithms for such have been tweaked to a fine degree on these sensors, hence the choice to use them for so long. They know what it does, how it behaves under certain conditions and how they can correct it with AI etc.
The front camera is an 8MP IMX355 which is disappointing given most manufacturers in the mid-range are going down the 16MP path now, although I’m not sure I’ve ever said “I wish I had more megapixels in that selfie.”
As stated above, for Google the camera is as much about its software than its hardware. The Pixel 6a arrives with most of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro AI camera software thanks to its Tensor chipset onboard. As such you do get Real Tone colour processing, Magic Eraser and Face Unblur all of which can be incredibly useful.
On a day to day basis though you do get a top quality camera which performs at the top of the pack for the mid-range, although Google need to be careful with the outdated hardware in the coming years – the competitors are coming, and coming fast.
I took the Pixel 6a out and around in Melbourne, shooting various landmarks and comparing the results to the same images taken with the Pixel 6 Pro and the Pixel 5. The Pixel 6 Pro has the same ultrawide camera but a newer main camera whereas the Pixel 5 has the same main camera but an older ultrawide camera.
As you can see above the Pixel 6a performs extremely well, outclassing the Pixel 5 on wider angled shots, albeit only slightly but it does fall short of the overall quality of the Pixel 6 Pro. This is not surprising given the much newer hardware onboard and should be expected given the Pixel 6 Pro costs more than twice as much.
Even then, the Pixel 6a shows a surprisingly large amount of detail and its zooming, even without a dedicated telephoto lens, produces some decent images in good light. This is most likely due to Google’s SuperRes Zoom AI software but I would be careful zooming too much on the 6a as its quality dropped at higher zoom amounts.
Compared to a camera in a phone $150 cheaper, the OPPO Reno8 Lite 5G, the Pixel 6a blew it away in image quality – better detail, better colour reproduction and overall a much more pleasing image.
Magic Eraser performs as well as it does on the Pixel 6 Pro – it’s all in the software – and the examples are amazing. Keep in mind though that it is purely software so you can remove people from images taken on a non-Pixel phone, just open the photo on a Pixel phone to get the option.
So where does the Google Pixel 6a fit in?
The Google Pixel 6a offers an amazing camera at a mid-range price. Although it would have been nice to see a 6 at the start of the price, $749 is still a decent price for a great little phone that offers some impressive camera chops. Compared to the Pixel 5, the Pixel 6a offers a better camera with the newer ultra-wide lens and even aside from the camera, the Pixel 6a looks better, feels better in the hand and is a much better phone full stop.
As seen in the examples above, the camera produces some good looking pics, with very little effort. The detail is all there is a variety of lighting conditions and the colour reproduction is near perfect to what the eye can see. Night Mode is far and away better than all other night camera software on the market in the mid-range.
Once again, the Google Pixel provides one of the best imaging experiences available. This time the Pixel 6a, even with outdated hardware, captures images that are pleasing to the eye and not overblown with colour or exposure in a variety of lighting conditions.
If you want a mid-range phone with the best camera quality then the Google Pixel 6a is the one to go for. If you have a Pixel 5, the Pixel 6a will offer you a decent upgrade with the camera on the 6a outperforming the 5. The Pixel 6 Pro is still that step above but at twice the price, are the pictures twice as good as on the 6a? If not zooming, then they are comparable on the 6a which says it all.
If you don’t want to spend over $1,500 for a smartphone but still want to produce great images then the Pixel 6a is for you. For more information and the full Google Pixel 6a review head over to Dan’s review here.