Google’s Pixel 4a and Apple’s iPhone SE have very similar camera specs, but computational photography gives one a decisive win.
The flagship Google Pixel is known for its computational photography prowess, but some may wonder how its budget model, the Pixel 4a, compares to Apple’s low-cost iPhone SE. Comparing the camera specifications and the special functions of the camera apps can help you decide which is the best smartphone for taking photos and selfies.
The first feature phones, which included physical buttons for dialing, sometimes had cameras, but the quality was so poor that most early photos would be considered unusable by modern standards. Most use the point-and-shoot camera when looking to take a photo to share with others or save for later viewing. Apple may have started the modern smartphone revolution when it launched the first iPhone in 2007 with its 2-megapixel rear camera without a front camera, but it was Google that brought the world of computational photography to mobile phones with its first Pixel. in 2013.
Google It sells two strikingly different models of its budget smartphone, the Pixel 4a 5G costs $ 499 and includes two rear cameras. The lower-cost model, priced at $ 349, is more like the iPhone SE, which starts at $ 399. From Apple The budget phone has a single rear camera, a 12-megapixel wide-angle with f / 1.8 aperture. It has good optical image stabilization which is generally mentioned in regards to video recording, but it also allows for sharper photographs. As there is no telephoto camera, the user must rely on a digital zoom, which allows up to 5x scaling, but does little to improve the image. It is better to get physically close when using digital zoom. Google’s Pixel 4a has similar, but slightly better, camera hardware for the rear camera with a 12.2-megapixel resolution, optical stabilization, and a brighter f / 1.7 aperture. This same advantage is shown in the selfie camera, with the iPhone SE’s 7-megapixel front camera at f / 2.2 lagging behind the Pixel 4a’s 8-megapixel camera and a larger f / 2.0 aperture. The slight edge in specs wouldn’t make much of a difference, but the magic happens in the software.
Google Computational Photography
The Pixel 4a builds on four generations of improvements to the Google Camera app, after the Pixel 4, and the budget model has access to the same software features as the flagship Pixel 5. Google’s legendary ‘Night Sight’ mode that enables bright and colorful colors. Photos in low light are included. Digital zoom uses ‘Super Res Zoom’ processing to provide more detail and eliminate pixelization. The ‘Dual Exposure Controls’ allow users to set light and dark values independently and preview the shot before taking the photo. Google’s ‘HDR Plus’ makes the most of every image and the portrait mode is remarkably reliable even though only one camera is used to determine depth and choose which part of the image to blur.
Apple has already developed the software to enable good computational photography. The iPhone 11’s camera app allows for ‘Night Mode’ and its wide-angle camera has the same specs as the iPhone SE, but this budget model doesn’t allow for enhanced low-light photos. The iPhone SE even has the same A13 processor as the iPhone 11, so it’s not the lack of processing power that’s holding this model back either. Also missing ‘Deep Fusion’, which sharpens and enhances images taken in good lighting. Perhaps Apple simply withheld those features as an incentive to upgrade. Whatever the reason, photos taken with the iPhone SE don’t compare well to the quality produced by Google’s inexpensive Pixel 4a.
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