Google Pixel 8 Pro Camera Versus 40- and 50-Megapixel Mirrorless Cameras

The Google Pixel 8 Pro has a ton of camera features, including a whopping 50-megapixel sensor that allows raw and manual shooting, but how does it compare to mirrorless cameras, including one with a 50-megapixel medium format sensor? 

I've been using the Pixel 8 Pro as my main phone for about a month now, and I have to say that there is a lot to love about it. For this review, however, I am focusing on the camera features, specifically comparing the Pixel 8 Pro raw files to those from my various Fujifilm cameras. 

We’ve all been there. You’re going out with the family, or heading to an event like a concert, and although you want to bring your camera, you don't want to lug it along. If you bring it with you, it can be an inconvenience, especially if you have small children. If you leave it home, however, you most likely will regret not having it because your cell phone just doesn’t meet your standards for the quality of photos you want. And this is exactly where a cell phone with an amazing camera that has robust features can be the perfect fit. You don’t need to carry anything else with you, and you do not have to sacrifice image quality for convenience. The Google Pixel 8 Pro might be the phone that gives us the best of both worlds.

Fuji X-T4 and 35mm f/1.4

Lots of Manual Control

The Pixel 8 Pro has a ton of manual control for photographers, albeit with some limitations. For instance, the camera lets you control the shutter speed and the ISO, but not the aperture. You can, however, set manual white balance, and you can even manually focus if you wish to, and the phone has a built-in focus peaking mode to help. While I was at the pumpkin patch, I decided to take some photos in portrait mode, and when I got home, I discovered another limitation, which is that you can’t capture raw images while in the camera's built-in portrait mode. So, take note of this if you prefer to shoot in raw. In general, the phone gives you a lot of control, but it still lacks the ease of use and ability to truly control everything manually that you get with a mirrorless camera or DSLR. Setting the shutter speed and ISO from a touchscreen is still a bit of a hassle, but in the times that you might want to or need to do so, it’s nice to have this ability built right into your phone.

Google Pixel 8 Pro edited raw file

Fujifilm X-T5 and 35mm f/1.4

Low-Light Capability

I took a Fujifilm X-T5 and the Pixel 8 Pro with me to a gig at one of my favorite venues in New York. I also took a Genaray PortaBright Monolight continuous light and an Aputure Lantern Softbox with me so I could capture some portraits of my musician friends in between sets. I took photos outside on the street, using hard light for some of the images by fitting my light with a bare reflector and then a softer light when the Aputure dome was added. The lighting situation, which had a lot of deep blacks and quite a bit of contrast proved a challenge for the Pixel 8 Pro. In this situation, the phone struggled with rendering the deep blacks while not blowing out the highlights, although it still provided good results.

Google Pixel 8 Pro edited raw file

Fuji X-T5 and 35mm f/1.4

Studio Lighting

Finally, I snapped a few photos of my son using the Pixel 8 Pro and a Fujifilm GFX 50S II, a 50-megapixel medium format camera that has one of the highest quality sensors you can get today. I wanted to give the phone a chance in a controlled lighting environment as well as outside in the daytime and at night, since I expected there to be a lot of variation in its performance depending on the situation.

Fuji GFX 50s II and 35-70mm

Image taken with a Google Pixel 8 Pro
Image taken with a Google Pixel 8 Pro

AI Features

The Pixel 8 Pro offers a robust set of AI features. The phone can automatically delete people from the background of your image and even swap faces, if you take a series of images in a row, and create the "perfect" shot. As a professional photographer, though, these features don’t interest me so much because practically speaking, there is still a way to go before the technology can do a great job editing on its own. For instance, the masking is rough, so if a person is behind you in an image located over your shoulder, the phone will have trouble getting rid of them without cutting into your shoulder as well. Also, depending on how the background elements are situated, the results can be either good or not so good, with the camera leaving strange artifacts where the intrusive person or garbage can you removed used to be. Masking is an issue when using the camera in Portrait mode as well. In this mode, the camera creates fake bokeh to separate the subject from the background, but the edges of the subject, especially if they have a lot of hair with finely detailed edges, is not cleanly and has a smudgy look randomly around the hair and body edges.

Image taken with a Google Pixel 8 Pro
Image taken with a Google Pixel 8 Pro

Mostly Excellent Results

First and foremost, I must say that the images from the Pixel 8 Pro are excellent and show how far phones have come as tools for photography and serious photographers. The camera takes a raw and JPEG file simultaneously when set to raw, so there is always a JPEG for when you don’t want to mess around with editing raw files. The raw files straight out of the phone are very flat, so you should expect to do quite a bit of editing if you choose to shoot in raw. I was impressed with the raw files in a number of ways. First, the Pixel 8 Pro produces very sharp images, which hold their own even when compared to a mirrorless camera. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the images have an excellent amount of dynamic range. For instance, in the photo of my bandmate Jesse in his Halloween costume, the image as captured by the phone had half of his face blown out, with zero detail. I was shocked at how much of that detail I was able to get back by lowering the highlights slider in Capture One. The raw files certainly gave me a lot to work with, although, as I mentioned, I did have to do quite a bit of editing.

The biggest criticism I can level against the Pixel 8 Pro is regarding colors. Comparing it to Fujifilm cameras, I was not at all surprised that the colors were more pleasing and skin tones more accurate from the Fuji cameras. In my nighttime scene, the Pixel 8 Pro tended towards warm tones, although this was a tricky lighting situation since I had a daylight balanced continuous light mixed with the nighttime lighting in Queens.

Can You Leave The Camera At Home?

The biggest praise I can give the Pixel 8 Pro as a camera is this. After using it on a number of occasions side by side with some of my favorite mirrorless cameras, I can see myself leaving a bulky digital camera at home and using the phone instead without feeling like it's a huge compromise. The shooting experience itself, although still not as fun as a mirrorless or DSLR camera, offers a lot to love, and the raw image quality gives us photographers the ability to continue to create stellar images without lugging the camera along. The Pixel 8 Pro is perfect for those times when I want to enjoy a day out with the family, or go to a ball game, or walk around the city, but I don't want to drag along a camera. This is the first cell phone for which I can say that is true.

Pete Coco's picture

Pete Coco is a portrait photographer and musician based in New York. When not performing as a jazz bassist, Pete can be found in his studio working with a wide range of clients, although is passion is creating unique portraits of other musicians and artists.

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Being a nerdy IT person for a living I really enjoy the comparison articles on this subject. I don't own a medium-format camera so that is another curiosity. Coincidentally we had a beautiful day today so we went out on a long hike and I brought the S23 Ultra, a Pixel 6 Pro and the a7R IV with a 20mm f/1.8 lens to take comparison photos of the late autumn colors against a blue sky. I did not take RAW photos, though, nothing to do proper postprocessing with. This was more an exercise in comparing unedited output. Anyway, thanks for the article and assessment.

Remember when shooting jpg the phone in particular is doing a ton of image processing for you deciding on all the things one would have control of in apps like Lightroom. Phones can even perform and mimic optical adjustment like dof. All in phone. Cameras when shooting in jpg do a similar job. So these images you took were far from unedited. All you can say is you didn’t do any editing.

This is why I took raw files as well. It was really interesting to see how flat the raw files looked compared to the cooked jpegs. But in reality, if I'm out with my family and want a few snaps, I don't want to deal with raws, not even with my camera. It's nice to have so many options though.

With how far the comparison images are scaled down, the issues and artifacts from the smartphone camera are effectively hidden. The thing is even for social media, people don't scale images down that far.

With that in mind, if you plan to use the smartphone image in a any way that needs even 4000X3000 resolution, the images do not hold up, and that can be seen in full res images from reviews that provide the full res images.

Fair point. In my video I show side by side views of the photos in Capture One. They hold up better than I thought they would.

According to Dxo the Pixel Pro 8 is 4th in terms of their tests when it comes to camera phones with iPhone pro max at no. 1. Though I’m sure the real world difference is paper thin. How it compares to cameras totally depends on what genre and level of photography you actually do.
For casual snaps phones are fine. The limitation is always going to be the tiny tiny sensor and lens combo. While my iPhone 15 pro max says it’s lens is f1.8 it in the real word it’s equivalent roughly to around f22 or so. Portrait mode with its blurry background is all done by the iPhone Photo engine and not the laws of optics. The photo of the Chipmunk is what one would expect from a rank amateur so using a modest camera or phone will make no difference. Neither the Pixel pro nor iPhone will be replacing cameras with 600mm lenses and auto tracking anytime soon. Where the comparisons are more meaningful are, in my opinion, not in photo performance but in video performance. Here video equipped phones especially those that can shoot in log. Put the Blackmagic app on your iphone and you have a pretty semi serious and stealthy video camera that can shoot pretty decent log video. It reminded me of the feeling of putting Magic lantern on my 5Dmk2. I’m not saying it’s going to take market share from actual video cameras but for some situations where the presence of a video camera may cause a problem the phone is a great alternative. Video can be more forgiving than still images as the video aesthetic is very different from one of the still image. When it comes to phones the words are convenient but limited. For certain genres like street or possibly event they could be fine. For the casual snapper there is little need to buy a camera and I’m sure sales of these lower end cameras will be hit.
To conclude high end phone cameras are fine but limited and will never replace dedicated cameras for the more demanding and specialised areas of photography. That is unless Apple or Samsung rewrite the laws of physics.

Fair points. I agree, it's never going to replace a camera. But for the days I don't want to bring my camera, I find this phone to be a nice compromise.

You have to do a lot of RAW editing to save those flat shots from the phone. And even then highlights blow out. The images are okay, but not really good. You even bring a professional light to the scene to shoot with a smartphone? Really?

Bringing a light to shoot photos at night on a dark street - with a camera and phone? Yes, I know, it's scandalous. Next time I will bring a Nikon F so I can be legitimate.

I know it's a comparison, but do you really need to resolve individual eye lashes like that?

I didn't resolve any eyelashes. Whatever you think I did in post only happened in your mind.

16:18 you even mentioned the eye lashes.

It was a generic plural you and not singular you. There is really not that much difference, unless one is super critical.

Ah I see what you are saying. I'm completely with you on this but for a comparison I think it is worth mentioning. In reality, yes it really is silly. Apologies for the salty reply lol

In bright sunlight, the screen was easy to use. I was surprised by this as well. What's strange is that for viewing photos it's definitely not as bright and constrasty as my old iPhone.

Until phones can do apertures that allow sunstars I’m not impressed. I hate the way sunsets look on cell phones.

You may want to try doing a pinhole through some aluminum foil and holding that over the lens, that might give you the very small aperture that'll give you the sunstars.

I have a pixel 8 pro, am trying to learn the camera, but weird things happen. Sometimes it "just takes a photo" sometimes it seems to spend a couple seconds capturing many images to stitch, and it seems to have something to do with whether or not it is in "pro" mode.
I also did some comparisons between the JPEGs and the raw files, and the raw files seemed to have a lot of motion blur in some areas.
Is there a simple written manual describing what each of the functions do, and what the side effects are?

Interesting article...especially comparing it to Fuji's (which I own and love).

I'm interested in the Pixel 8 Pro mainly because of my disappointment with the 7a handling of Raw files. The 7a has a digital zoom which can be handy when you are too far away (like shooting a beautiful moon over the NY skyline from Jersey City) and so I shot with the digital zoom, only to find that the RAW files are not the entire non-zoomed area, but are cropped to the zoomed in area just like the JPEGs. That doesn't seem very "RAW"ish to me. So I think I may need to buy a phone with a real telephoto/zoom if I want to leave my Fuji X-S10 camera at home (I was at a wedding in Jersey City, decided it would be an inconvenience to bring it.)

So I'm curious if they repeated that weird behavior on the 8 series?

Also, I assume you realize (at least for the 7 series) that the high resolution sensor of the Pixel is not what you get in any case--you get a pixel binned version, even in RAW, so effectively, much lower resolution than they claim for the sensor. (I can accept that for better quality, but it's not made clear in various resolution claims.)

they unlocked full 50/48MP JPEGs and RAWs on the P8P only
If you are interested in photography get the pro. the pro mode menu adds manual control for iso, shutter speed, focus, lens, white balance on top of the existing exposure and "shadows" (HDR)

"Setting the shutter speed and ISO from a touchscreen is still a bit of a hassle..."

To say the least. And wait, I thought "hassle" was the reason for not "lugging" a camera?

Oh and remember "ergonomics"? That used to be big. But I guess no one cares anymore... just give me AI and an "awesomeness" slider.

I have the pixel 8 pro. Also had the 7 pro and the 6 pro which was really the first pixel that shot (for me) good images. I use it all the time for BTS and some landscape images when on the go.

On a 6 inch screen content consumers will love the results. Shoot raw and jpg with some auto and some pro mode.

If you dive into the raw mode and expect to edit images to match a [DM]SLR you will be disappointed.

Pushing raw pixels hard in PS is a lot easier with a real full format camera (I shoot mostly with a D850).

My kids have iphone pro and pro max (thank god they are now at an age where they buy them themselves lol) so we are always comparing results. Image wise the 8 pro vs 15 pro max is pretty level... pixel wins some and the pro max wins some. Video wise the apple is still better but I am not a video person so really don't care.

Price wise I always wait 6-8 weeks after release and then pickup the latest pixel pro 20-30% under listprice here in Germany.

I have the 512GB model and use it as a secondary temp backup system after a days shooting... SD card -> notebook -> 2x SSD -> pixel 8 pro... notebook and pixel 8 pro both use SyncThing and sync to one of my servers back at the office/home in realtime... brilliant way to never loose any data from a shooting and you get your own private cloud for free :-).