Meanwhile, the Google Pixel 4 is being billed as a quantum leap forward for Android-based smartphone photography. You’ve seen what Google can do with one lens. Now see what they can do with two. It adds a new machine learning-based white balancing, dual-exposure controls for more-nuanced HDR+ results, a wider-ranged portrait mode plus a new Night Sight mode that supports astrophotography.
You can check out our full review of the Pixel 4 here.
You can check out our full review of the iPhone 11 Pro here.
We took both devices out to Terrey Hills, NSW to see how they fare against one another in extremely low-light conditions and to give the Pixel’s exciting new Astro mode a proper test.
Please note that the website is going to compress the original images, so don’t take them pictures on the web-page as 100% true samples. This article is more interested in highlighting is just how each device works in low-light and how different the results are.
Smartphone Astrophotography 101
There are a few terms and conditions you’ll need to know before you can get the best out of the Google Pixel 4’s latest intriguing camera feature.
Firstly, you’ll need to go somewhere dark. Like, real dark. Google’s Night Sight tech ordinarily gets the best results in low-light, so it only makes sense that their Astro mode works the same way. We’d recommend getting staying away from the city to avoid light pollution and scouting out a few old-school stargazing spots. Most of our shots were taken around 9PM, well after the sun had gone down.
The other thing you’ll need is a tripod. The Pixel 4’s astrophotography mode won’t kick in until it detects that you’re looking at the sky and that the device itself is secured in a tripod.
We tried unsuccessfully to trick it. You may have more luck but the reality is that you’ll probably need some serious stabilization to get the results you want. If you need any recommendations, we have a lovely little guide to smartphone photography tech here that might help.
Once you’ve got everything set up and ready to go, the Google Pixel’s camera app will prompt you with a little pop-up asking if you’re ready to get you astrophotography on.
Tap on it and the phone will begin to take a long-exposure shot. This process should take about four minutes, so long as you don’t interfere with it or knock the tripod around, you should have a pretty cool images at the end of the process.
In contrast, the iPhone 11 Pro doesn’t feature a dedicated astrophotography setting. Instead Apple’s latest features an automatic night mode that kicks in when the camera detects that the environment is dark enough.
As with similar features found in Android devices like the Oppo Reno or Huawei P30 Pro, this basically takes a long exposure shot and then synthesizes a final result that better captures detail in low-light environments.
Handheld, the iPhone 11 Pro can take 3-second exposures. Secured via a tripod or other means and you can extend that to about thirty seconds. As a general rule, the longer the exposure, the more light the sensor is able to capture and the better the results.
Here are the results of our hands-on night-time session with the Google Pixel 4 XL and iPhone 11 Pro.
Pixel 4 XL vs iPhone 11 Pro: What do we think?
Given the Pixel’s specific capabilities, we expected it to sprint ahead of Apple’s triple-lens pro-grade smartphone but the race was much closer than we expected it to be.
While the fact that the Pixel 4 XL features a dedicated astrophotography mode does give it a significant leg up over Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro on that specific front, it’s hard to deny the clearer and more color-accurate results we encountered when it came to more mundane night shots.
In my opinion, the Pixel has the advantage when it comes to the skies but everything below the horizon belongs to the iPhone 11 Pro.
Of course, a big part of this is subjective. Take the below two images. Both look incredible - especially when you consider that both were taken using a smartphone - but which final result is the most desirable is extremely difficult to call. It honestly depends on the vibe you’re going for. Do you prefer a blue night sky or a grey/white one?
At the moment, the Pixel 4 can take photos that the iPhone 11 Pro simply can’t but, on the terrestrial fronts where it can compete, my gut feeling is that Apple's handset has the edge. Even if you do get a bit more noise, you also get more visibility and detail where the Pixel can sometimes only deliver darkness.