iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Google Pixel 8 Pro: 5x telephoto shootout

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Google Pixel 8 Pro: 5x telephoto shootout


iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Google Pixel 8 Pro: 5x zoom comparison
Just how good is the iPhone's new 5x zoom?
Graphics: Rajesh

The iPhone 15 Pro Max utilizes Apple’s most impressive photographic tech yet, but it’s not the first smartphone with a 5x telephoto camera. In the Android world, you will find several phones with 5x to 10x optical zoom.

Only Samsung’s and Google’s devices deliver image quality capable of competing with Apple’s best. Only Google’s Pixel lineup directly competes with the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 5x optical shooter. (Samsung is ahead of the competition with its 10x periscope lens.)

So which 5x zoom is the best? See our side-by-side comparison shots to see how the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 5x tetraprism zoom stacks up against the Google Pixel 8 Pro.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Google Pixel 8 Pro: 5x camera comparison

Apple’s quest to turn the iPhone into the ultimate everyday camera relies on a complicated mix of advanced hardware and sophisticated software. (Apple exec Phil Schiller once dubbed the iPhone’s software capabilities “computational photography mad science.”) The Pro models in particular deliver photographic quality that’s good enough to shoot feature films — and Apple events.

This year, the iPhone 15 Pro Max boasts exclusive hardware that delivers Apple’s most powerful zoom photos and videos yet. (The regular iPhone 15 Pro uses a 3x telephoto lens like last year’s model). Here’s how the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s new 5x telephoto lens compares to the flagship phone made by Apple’s chief rival.

Table of contents: iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Google Pixel 8 Pro

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Google Pixel 8 Pro: 5x telephoto specs

If you strictly go by specs, you might think the Google Pixel 8 Pro and the iPhone 15 Pro Max offer similar telephoto cameras. But that’s not the case. Even apart from the difference in resolution, the two telephoto shooters are very different. The table below highlights the similarities and differences.

Specs iPhone 15 Pro Max Google Pixel 8 Pro
Telephoto camera resolution 12MP 48MP
Pixel size 1.12µm 0.7µm
Focal length 120mm 112mm
Aperture F/2.8 F/2.8
Optical Image Stabilization Sensor-shift Yes

As the specs table shows, the Google Pixel 8 Pro packs a higher-resolution (48MP) sensor (though the Pixel uses pixel binning to deliver more detailed 12MP photos). Apple’s optical image stabilization is superior, though, as the iPhone 15 Pro Max offers sensor-shift stabilization, which is more effective than regular OIS.

Another interesting difference is that the iPhone’s telephoto camera has a slightly longer reach of 120mm versus the Pixel 8 Pro’s 112mm. However, the slightly longer zoom range is unlikely to have any impact in real use.

Comparison photos: Which phone takes superior zoom pictures?

Now let’s compare some actual images I shot using an iPhone 15 Pro Max and a Google Pixel 8 Pro. I tried to capture the exact same photos with the two different cameras. (Drag the slider bar in the center of the image sets left or right to see the full images.)

First, let’s start with some easy shots. Telephoto cameras excel when there’s plenty of light available, allowing them to capture more details. In all the scenes below, barring the slight difference in color temperatures, each of the two phones did a great job. The iPhone almost always went for a warmer tone, while the Pixel captured a cooler shot. If you start pixel peeping, you might notice the Pixel 8 Pro captured a wee bit more detail.

The iPhone’s photo has a warmer temperature here, while the Pixel 8 Pro’s picture feels slightly underexposed.

The Pixel 8 Pro’s shot here is much cleaner than the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s. Google’s phone also did a better job with dynamic range, as the dark area under the metro skywalk is not clearly visible in the iPhone’s photo.

In the below pictures, both phones did a great job of capturing the hotel building. But what’s immediately noticeable is that the iPhone 15 Pro Max captured a warmer photo. And if you zoom in, you will notice the Pixel 8 Pro’s photo is less noisy than the iPhone’s. It captures slightly more details, but it’s not a substantial gap.

Nighttime images: With and without Night mode

For the next scene, I used Night mode, which allows certain iPhone models to capture stunning low-light imagery on the two phones, and Night Sight (Google’s equivalent tech for augmenting nighttime shots). Using these modes means the phones keep their shutters open longer to take in more light. So, the capture time takes longer, but the results prove impressive.

In the iPhone 15 Pro Max shot, the sky appears a lot brighter than it does in reality. And again, as is typical with iPhone photos, the image’s temperature is on the warmer side. The Pixel 8 Pro photo looks darker in comparison. And while it might represent the scene more accurately, the details fall short of those in the iPhone image.

Without Night mode, however, the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s telephoto shooter falls slightly behind the Pixel 8 Pro’s for nighttime shots. In the iPhone photo, you can see more noise. The details also lag behind the Pixel’s picture.

Bear in mind just how beautifully both phones capture these sorts of nighttime telephoto shots. It’s impressive to see how far smartphone cameras have come — and what the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 5x optical shooter can help you capture. The below scene was captured with the help of Night mode and Night Sight, and the iPhone’s software trickery once again trumped the Pixel’s. Barring the warmer tone, the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s shot also looks less noisy and delivers more details.

During my test shots, I noticed the iPhone keeps its Night mode active for longer than the Pixel 8 Pro does, which probably explains why Apple’s phone was able to capture better low-light shots despite its smaller sensor.

The telephoto camera battle has just begun

Before crowning a winner, it’s important to appreciate the stunning photos captured by the 5x telephoto cameras of both the Google Pixel 8 Pro and the iPhone 15 Pro Max. If you are an average user, you are unlikely to complain about pictures captured using either phone.

But if you want a winner, the Pixel 8 Pro maintains a slight edge in daytime and low-light shots, thanks to its ability to capture pictures with less noise, more details and better dynamic range. Apple trumps Google’s phone when Night mode is enabled, but that’s for more challenging low-light situations.

Purely from a telephoto viewpoint, the Pixel 8 Pro possesses a 5x shooter that’s superior to the one in the iPhone 15 Pro Max.


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