Does the Pixel 3a XL’s camera live up to the Pixel 3’s?
- The Pixel 3a XL uses the same 12-megapixel sensor as the Pixel 3, 3 XL and 3a.
- Google’s image processing smarts grant it impressive versatility.
- It’s one of the best cameraphones within the mid-range market as a result.
The 12.2-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture-toting Sony IMX363 sensor that Google has used on the Pixel 3a XL is the same as the one found across the rest of the Pixel 3 range. It’s a rather unassuming piece of hardware found in other phones like the Asus Zenfone 5 and Xiaomi Mi 8. It’s leveraged to decent effect but in Google’s hands, it’s outstanding, lending the 3a XL series camera credibility.
The Pixel 3a XL’s main camera works well in all manner of scenarios, creating shots that in blind tests, you’d be hard-pressed to pick out against the pricier Pixel 3.
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The main consideration here is speed but even this, as an issue, is negligible. Without the flagship internals and dedicated Pixel Visual Core that the full-fat Pixel 3s boast, image processing takes a little bit longer by comparison, but for most users’ this becomes a non-issue, the phone is far from slow when it comes to handling photos once you’ve pressed the shutter button.
Natural light: As you can see from the above samples, shots hold accurate colours, a pleasing natural bokeh, especially when shooting macro imagery, and offer impressive detail retention.
Artificial light: When light isn’t as abundant detail is the first thing to take a hit but these results still keep noise in check with impressive competence – not easy in the realm of more affordable phones.
Low light: When things get really dark the 3a XL’s sensor does start to struggle, with noise covering even the lighter areas of frame. However, so long as you’re working with relatively stationary subjects, Google’s astounding Night Sight feature will work its computational photography magic to render the same image as if it were taken in bright light and the results speak for themselves.
Night Sight: Off (left), on (right)
Portrait mode: The last standout talent of the Pixel 3a XL’s main camera is its portrait mode. It demonstrates impressive edge detection and a pleasing quality of background bokeh that you can enable or disable after the fact. The most impressive thing is that this is all achieved with the Pixel 3a XL’s single rear sensor – most of the competition use dual sensors to gauge depth, while the Pixel’s solution is to measure the distance between pixels and analyse handshake to discern foreground from background.
Portrait mode: Off (left), on (right)
Selfies: As for the front camera, despite nixing the notch and therefore adding more wiggle-room around the top edge of the display, the Pixel 3a XL loses the dual sensor arrangement found on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. Instead, the phone adopts a single front-facing sensor that works well in abundant lighting but doesn’t impress to the level of the phone’s rear sensor.
In high contrast situations, its dynamic range is clearly challenged, with noise and grain evident, even in bright shots. It’s even less capable than the rear snapper in low light and although Night Sight works on both sensors, the results are always best captured via the phone’s main 12-megapixel sensor.