CNET reviewer Lynn La has already concluded that "the Pixel 4A raises the bar for how good a budget phone's camera can be." Big words, and no surprise, given that this $350 phone's 12.2-megapixel camera can take the sort of shots you'd expect to see from phones more than twice the price. But how does the camera on this budget Pixel compare with that of its more expensive sibling, the Pixel 4 XL? To find out, I grabbed both phones and headed out around Edinburgh and some of Scotland's prettiest spots.
In these first shots, both phones have done a superb job of capturing the scenes and there's very little difference between them. It's unsurprising, given that the phones have the same main 12.2-megapixel sensor. While there are some tiny differences in white balance in some pictures (which can likely be put down to changes in the natural light between shots), the overall exposures and the clarity, focus and color balances look superb on all images.
Again, these images are barely distinguishable from one another, with superb handling of the bright sky, vibrant colors and pin-sharp focus. It's extremely impressive from the 4A, given its significantly lower price.
This scene was more challenging, with a bright area in the sky behind and deeper shadows in the boats and water in the foreground. Even so, both the Pixel 4A and Pixel 4 XL have taken great images, using the auto HDR modes to balance the scene beautifully, resulting in even exposures overall.
Pixel 4A vs. Pixel 4 XL in low light
Taken using the standard shooting mode (rather than the specific night mode), these images show a more noticeable difference between the phones. The Pixel 4A's shot has more of an orange cast to it and is a touch darker, particularly around the book hiding away in the center of the frame. The 4 XL's shot also appears to have marginally less image noise.
Switching to the 'Night Sight' mode, things are different again. The images are brighter, clearer and with much less image noise. They're both great images, particularly given that almost the only light in the room was coming from the small candle in the shot. This time however, the Pixel 4 XL's shot seems to have an overly-orange cast, while the 4A's image looks more natural.
Pixel 4A vs. Pixel 4 XL: Which does better selfies?
While both phones have 8-megapixel front-facing cameras, to me, the difference is clearer in these test shots. The Pixel 4 XL's image is slightly wider, capturing more of the scene around me. It's also a touch brighter -- particularly on my face -- which I think looks better overall. Admittedly, there's not a massive difference, and both phones have done a great job of balancing the bright blue sky behind me.
Pixel 4A vs. Pixel 4 XL Zoom
One of the key hardware differences between the two camera setups is that the Pixel 4 XL has a second telephoto lens on the back that provides 2x zoom. The Pixel 4A has just a single camera, so any zooming it can achieve will be entirely digital and will therefore result in a loss in quality. However, Google boasts that the phone has something called Super Res Zoom that essentially tries to add back in some of the details lost by cropping.
At 2x zoom, both images look great -- or at least they do when viewed in full on a screen, or on your phone. The Pixel 4A may be digitally zooming in but the image is still packed with detail and would look perfectly fine on Facebook or Instagram.
At 3.5x zoom, the Pixel 4 XL's head start in having a 2x optical zoom starts to become more apparent, with sharper details around the leaves. Even so, you have to look closely at the details to really notice the difference -- again, for a quick Instagram snap, the detail should be more than sufficient.
Going up to 7x zoom, neither image is exactly pin-sharp, but the Pixel 4 XL does have noticeable more definition in the fine details than can be seen from the Pixel 4A.
Neither phone is any challenge to phones like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or the Huawei P40 Pro Plus, which have massive optical zooms that let them get close up on tiny details with little loss in quality. However, the 2x zoom on the Pixel 4 XL is handy and does let you zoom in farther without sacrificing as many fine details. Whether that's enough to justify the significantly higher price is up to you.
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