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17 Dec 2021

Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro review: can Google's cameras out-snap the opposition?

Google has upped its game with the new Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. But with rivals truly impressing in the camera stakes, we look at whether it can still compete in 2021
Google Pixel 6 and Pro

The release of the Google Pixel 6 is the latest flagship smartphone range to come to the market, rounding off the biggest 2021 smartphone releases.

It features Pixel's most advanced cameras with some flashy new features, but while Google previously led the line in camera technology, competing with the flagships of Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi in today's market is no easy feat.

Read on to find out if undercutting the price of its competitors in the 6 series really represents value for money.

Browse some of the best mobile phones from our tests, or see how much you could save with our round-up of the best mobile phone deals.

Premium smartphone cameras at a glance

Take a look at how Google's new cameras compare to key rivals from Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi.

ModelPriceMain cameraMain camera videoSelfie cameraSelfie camera video
Google Pixel 6£59950Mp (wide), 12Mp (ultra-wide)4K (60fps)8Mp (wide)1080p (30fps)
Google Pixel 6 Pro£84950Mp (wide), 48Mp (telephoto), 12Mp (ultra-wide)4K (60fps)11.1Mp (ultrawide)4K (30fps)
iPhone 13£77912Mp (wide), 12Mp (ultra-wide)4K (60fps)12Mp (wide)4K (60fps)
iPhone 13 Pro£94912Mp (wide), 12Mp (telephoto), 12Mp (ultra-wide)4K (60fps)12Mp (wide)4K (60fps)
Samsung Galaxy S21£76912Mp (wide), 64Mp (telephoto), 12Mp (ultra-wide)8K (24fps)10Mp (wide)4K (60fps)
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra£1,149108Mp (wide), 10Mp (periscope telephoto), 10Mp (telephoto), 12Mp (ultra-wide)8K (24fps)40Mp (wide)4K (60fps)
Xiaomi Mi 11£749108Mp (wide), 13Mp (ultra-wide), 5Mp (macro)8K (30fps)20Mp (wide)1080p (60fps)

Google Pixel 6 (£599) - the cheapest flagship

The Google Pixel 6 has two cameras on the rear of the phone with up to 7x digital zoom. The camera system has a bigger sensor than the Pixel 5, claiming to get you more colour, detail and light in your pictures. It also has an ultra-wide lens to capture a wider view, and a couple of cool features and modes to decrease any blurs and heighten the detail. The camera technology isn't advanced as the flagships from Apple, Samsung or Xiaomi, but perhaps this is expected with the cheaper price.

Other features include the Google Tensor - the first chip made by Google itself, which should bring you a smoother and more efficient experience than ever before (up to 80% faster than the Pixel 5, according to Google). Google claims that the 4,614mAh battery should last you all day, and the phone is built with the toughest Gorilla Glass yet for 2x better scratch resistance and it has IP68 protection.

Google has announced five years of security updates for the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, to protect your privacy and keep your phone for longer. These all suggest it's a phone that should last you a long time. Find out if it lives up to all these claims in our full Google Pixel 6 review.

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Google Pixel 6 Pro (£849) - Google's best cameras

The Pixel 6 Pro has a few minor differences over the Pixel 6. These start with the cameras: there is an extra telephoto lens for up to 20x digital zoom, which vastly improves the quality of your zoomed-in pictures and videos. The selfie camera is an ultrawide lens, rather than the Pixel 6's wide lens, to give your pictures more scope.

Outside the cameras, the Pro has a larger 6.7-inch screen with 3,120 x 1,440 resolution, which might suit those who will be using the phone for long periods of time. But with the same battery as in the Pixel 6, will it cope trying to power the processor and high-resolution screen? Find out this and more in our expert Google Pixel 6 Pro review.

iPhone 13 (£779) and iPhone 13 Pro (£949) - Cinematic mode headlines camera revamp

Apple iPhone 13 and 13 Pro

In the iPhone 13 series, the number and size of the cameras hasn't changed from the 12, but we saw some sophisticated new camera features. The wide-angle camera's extra sensor claims to capture 47% more light to improve the detail of your pictures, especially in low-light conditions. Photographic styles can be personalised to your taste and saved for easy access. With these, you can boost or mute colours while keeping skin tones natural. The cinematic mode could be a game-changer in smartphones.

With Dolby Vision HDR, it is meant to create professional-looking videos with storytelling techniques by automatically changing the depth effects and the focus of your video. Sensor-shift image stabilisation is included, so you won't have to worry about taking pictures or videos just with your hand, because minor shakings shouldn't show up. Apple claims that you won't be making compromises with the selfie camera too where you can use all these extras.

The iPhone 13 Pro has the most advanced cameras from Apple with all the features from the iPhone 13 plus some exciting additions. It has an extra telephoto camera on the rear of the phone to improve the quality of zooming in and out, even in night mode. The ultra-wide camera can focus at just 2cm for high-level detail and is meant to capture 92% more light.

Want to find out more? Check out our independent iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro reviews.

Samsung Galaxy S21 (£769) and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (£1,149) - AI stabilisation for the smartest videos

Early in 2021, Samsung released the S21 series. They are some of the most expensive smartphones on the market with the most advanced cameras.

On both models, you can film in 8K, which is the highest resolution in a Samsung phone. It has AI stabilisation to stop any shaky videos and all the extras you would expect like portrait, selfie and night modes. It has a massive 30x digital zoom and even lets you shoot with the front and rear cameras at the same time. Director's View video allows you to switch between the cameras while shooting for different perspectives.

The S21 Ultra has all of these features plus more. It has larger pixels that supposedly absorb more light to improve the quality of your images. Its main wide camera has a huge 108 megapixels, and the two telephoto cameras have up to 10x zoom capabilities. A Bright Night sensor is included to improve the quality in images in low and dark lighting, too.

To find out more about these flagships, read our full Samsung S21 and S21 Ultra reviews.

Xiaomi Mi 11 (£749) and Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra (£1,199) - serious contenders

Xiaomi Mi 11 and Ultra

Perhaps more famous for high spec cheap phones, XIaomi also has expensive flagships that it chucks all the bells and whistles at. The camera setup on the Xiaomi Mi 11 is impressive on paper. It has three on the rear of the phone including a 108Mp wide camera and 6x zoom. Xiaomi states that the Mi 11 is made for film lovers, with cutting edge cinematic software.

You can record videos in 8K and spend ages editing your videos with eight cinematic filters. For photos, the night mode enhances light and reduces over exposure, and AI Erase 2.0 allows you to remove objects or people from the background of your pictures.

The Mi 11 Ultra includes a telephoto lens for impressive zoom capabilities and sharper portrait mode. It also has an Ultra Night Photos algorithm for Xiaomi's best pictures in very low light and a super-large sensor for the best focus. The inclusion of the ultra-wide lens with 48Mp means your shots can include more in view.

Read the Xiaomi Mi 11 and Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra reviews to find out if this series is for you.

How we test mobile phone camera quality

Smartphone cameras

In our reviews, cameras make up 20% of the overall score.

We approach our camera test to answer this question: will this mobile phone be able to capture the perfect shot?

The question is simple but it is a particularly technical test, as camera quality can vary hugely depending on the environment that the phone is in. That's why we test every handset in 10 different shooting environments and measure them against a variety of criteria. For example, we use mannequins of different skin shades to see how well the camera picks up all skin tones, and shoot different objects to see how well the camera picks up texture and detail.

Taking photos is only one part of how well a camera performs. We also look at how well a phone captures videos, and how well the image stabiliser works, so you know whether your phone will capture clips with the same high quality as its videos.

Find out more about how we test our mobile phones or go to our mobile phone reviews to start browsing.