OnePlus has always offered high-spec devices without the flagship price tag, but now the company is upping both its prices and the quality of its cameras. Google’s Pixel phones, on the other hand, started off expensive and with amazing camera software; the company is now letting that technology trickle down to less expensive models. So which does it better: the souped-up OnePlus 7 Pro or the pared-down Pixel 3A?

You can’t take a photo without opening the app, so let’s talk about specs and speed, before we get to quality.

The OnePlus has a snappy Snapdragon 855 processor. The 3A has a mid-range Snapdragon 670 and lacks Google’s custom Pixel Visual Core processor, meaning it does image processing on the main CPU and GPU, which can be a bit slower.

The Pixel’s camera app is good and easy to navigate, but it defaults back to the standard, rear camera every time it opens, regardless of what you were last using. It’s more frustrating than I thought it would be, especially when it’s dark outside and I just want to be continuously shooting in Night Sight mode. You have to navigate to the “more” section to enable it every time you open the app. If it is dark enough, the app will prompt you to use Night Sight, but that doesn’t happen every time.

OnePlus’ app defaults to whatever camera setting you were last using. For instance, if you last took a selfie when you opened the app, it will pop up the selfie camera next time you go to take a photo. The only time this isn’t true is when using the rear cameras — with these, the app will default to the standard lens every time (as opposed to the wide or telephoto). I really like that you can swipe up on any of the camera choices along the bottom to reach all your photo options. On the Pixel’s photo app, you have to swipe to the last column.

On the OnePlus 7, you have the pop-up 16 megapixel f/2 selfie camera on the front. Then there are three rear cameras:

  1. an 8 megapixel f/2.4 telephoto
  2. a 16 megapixel f/2.2 wide angle,
  3. a standard 48 megapixel (scaled down to 12 megapixels when not using Pro mode) f/1.6 lens.

The Pixel 3A has two cameras: one 8-megapixel f/2 selfie camera on the front and one 12.2-megapixel f/1.8 lens on the back.

All right, let’s get to the photos.

When using the front-facing cameras, I found that the OnePlus generally fills in shadows, brightens the image, and smooths out absolutely everything more than the Pixel, even with beauty mode turned off. There’s no escaping the smoothing! The Pixel, on the other hand, doesn’t smooth faces, leaving pores exposed for all to see. Although it isn’t always as flattering, I prefer more detail to artificial makeup.

Front-facing camera: OnePlus 7 Pro (left), Pixel 3A (right)

Both cameras have a front-facing portrait mode, Although I like the Pixel’s selfie camera for general use, its selfie portraits put way too much blur on the background. On both devices, the portrait cut-out is equally inaccurate. It’ll look fine for instagram, but you’re not going to fool anyone into thinking it was taken with a DSLR.

Front-facing camera, portrait mode: OnePlus 7 Pro (left), Pixel 3A (right)

Around back, the OnePlus does have the Pixel beat in terms of lens hardware, and I’m a sucker for wide angle. So when it comes to buildings or flowers, the competition gets sticky. There is something far more epic about a subject when you have that super wide lens, and this is where OnePlus’ extra hardware really comes in handy.

The wide angle lens is amazing. I found myself using it all the time, especially in New York City where everything is both cramped and profound. On the edges of the frame, details fall apart and warp, but that’s not a deal breaker — it’s s better than having no wide angle lens at all. The telephoto lens is really sharp too, and it certainly delivers way more detail than digitally zooming on the Pixel. If you are using the Pixel’s superzoom for anything more than a laugh at how much it looks an oil paint filter… stop.

Telephoto lens OnePlus 7 Pro (left), 3x zoom Pixel 3A (right)

Those extra lenses allow the OnePlus to shine in landscapes, and it does really well at keeping the whites white. The Pixel, on the other hand, leans blue.

But the OnePlus also exposes just a bit more than the Pixel. That can be good in some situations, such as in the subway; but it’s bad when the shot is high contrast, like a sunset.

OnePlus 7 Pro (left), Pixel 3A (right)

When it comes to night photography, there’s no denying the Pixel’s “Night Sight” is better than OnePlus’ “Nightscape”. The Pixel does a really nice job of keeping the details intact while smoothing a solid color, such as the sky, producing an overall brighter, more balanced photo. It does take a few seconds longer to take the photo, but for the clarity it provides, I think that’s okay.

Nightscape OnePlus 7 Pro (left), Night Sight Pixel 3A (right)

Looking at the main cameras alone, the Pixel far surpasses the OnePlus in almost every lighting condition. But in the grand scheme of life it’s really hard to ignore the versatility those extra lenses — the telephoto and wide angle — give you. So it comes down to what you value more and what you do with your photos. OnePlus provides versatility and more perspectives, but lacks the image quality Google provides. Tune into the full video review for even more examples and video tests.



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