iPhone 8 Plus vs Pixel 2: Which phone records better video? – CNET

The Google Pixel 2 and iPhone 8 Plus both take really good still photos. So let’s see how well they shoot video. The iPhone 8 Plus’s camera is an improvement over the 7 Plus, but whether or not it’s worth the extra cost will depend on your needs.

I found the biggest differences between these Pixel 2 and 8 Plus came down to stabilization, and how they perform in low light.

We took them to Pier 39 in San Francisco to test the cameras in a range of situations. Phones were mounted on a handheld rig so the camera lenses could sit close together and helped make the field of view as similar as possible. All footage was filmed in the default camera apps on automatic exposures at 1080/30p, except for the 4K and slow-motion tests.  

Now Playing: Watch this: iPhone 8 Plus vs. Pixel 2 video camera shootout

As with any comparison, it’s important to remember that a lot of these findings are subjective and come down to what you like.

Exposure, color and autofocus

Both phones do a great job of accurately exposing the video image, especially in daylight. Colors on the Pixel 2 can look slightly more saturated than the iPhone.

In the screengrab from the video below, colors look more true to life on the iPhone. But in some situations like the boat clip from the video included in this article, the exposure and color rendition is so similar between the two phones it’s actually hard to tell the images apart.

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That aquarium awning definitely did not look that blue in real life (Pixel on the left, iPhone on the right).

Screenshot by Lexy Savvides/CNET

The Pixel 2 adjusts exposure quickly on the fly when lighting conditions change — like moving from indoors to outdoors. The iPhone takes longer to shift.

Moving a subject in and out of the frame to test autofocus is also a win for the Pixel 2’s “dual-pixel” phase detection AF system. The focus shifts incredibly quickly from one subject to another, but because it’s so quick, it can look quite dramatic and causes a “wobbling” effect in the frame as the camera seeks focus.

The iPhone’s “focus pixels” phase detection AF is not immune to this effect either, but because the focus shifts more slowly and smoothly, the overall effect is more cinematic.

Stabilization

The iPhone has optical stabilization in the wide lens and a separate system called cinematic video stabilization that’s designed to make shots look smooth, as if they were filmed on a rig. The Pixel 2 uses a combination of optical and electronic stabilization on its single lens camera. Google calls this fused stabilization (read more about how exactly this system works in this article).

Digital or electronic stabilization can often produce a “Jell-O” effect on parts of the image. The Pixel 2 shows some of this effect, but overall, the stabilization system compensates well for walking motion and shots are smooth. It can, however, look a little robotic and hyper-real.

But if you record a lot of footage while walking or moving around, the Pixel 2’s video is more watchable than the iPhone’s, which can look jerky.

Front-facing video

Selfie lovers, this one goes to the Pixel 2. Video from the front-facing camera has a more even exposure and it retains more detail in the highlight areas than the same shot on the iPhone.

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You can see how the iPhone (right) blows out all those highlight details behind me compared to the Pixel’s even exposure (left).

Screenshot by Lexy Savvides/CNET

But the iPhone has more contrast to the image from the front-facing camera, which might be more flattering depending on your preference.

Audio

Neither phone does terribly well when it comes to recording audio. The Pixel 2’s playback sounds more flat than the same track recorded on the iPhone. Whether that’s voice or music, the Pixel 2’s audio sounds more “tinny.” The iPhone’s audio sounds more clear with more depth.

In our earlier video comparison between the iPhone and the Galaxy Note 8, it was the Note 8 that recorded better-sounding audio. Music and voices recorded on the Note 8 sound more like a true stereo recording when listening to playback in headphones.

Slow motion

Like the Note 8, the Pixel 2 can only record in its slowest frame rate (240fps) at a reduced resolution of 720p. The iPhone records at 1080p.

The Pixel 2’s slow-motion image looks much more washed out than the iPhone’s, and it dramatically overexposed when I filmed Frisco Fred doing his fire juggling.

Testing again in less challenging lighting conditions in the shade, the iPhone image appears to retain more detail in each frame during the slo-mo effect compared to the Pixel 2.

4K recording

Both phones can film in 4K resolution, but the Pixel 2 tops out at 30fps (the same as the Note 8). The iPhone can reach 60fps. 4K video from both phones looks impressive and doesn’t have any different characteristics to video filmed in other resolutions. (Apart from Apple‘s cinematic video stabilization that’s only active at 1080p and 720p resolutions, rather than 4K.)

The iPhone also uses Apple’s new image and video compression format HEVC (H.265) that theoretically should make larger files like 4K video use less storage. The Pixel 2 encodes in H.264. Read more about HEVC in this article

Low light

This is where the phones show the biggest differences. Walking through the low-light Mirror Maze on Pier 39, the video image on the Pixel 2 appears far more noisy (or grainy) than on the iPhone. Details start to look smudgy when comparing the two images side by side.

The exposure is brighter on the Pixel 2 than the iPhone and as a result there’s more visible noise. It’s hard to see at a reduced resolution, so click to enlarge this screengrab.

Screenshot by Lexy Savvides/CNET

Both phones are able to keep the white balance accurate when the lights change color, but the Pixel 2’s image is less pleasing to watch because of the noise.

Final thoughts

Last year’s original Pixel XL phone struggled to keep up with the iPhone 7 Plus for video recording. This year, it’s harder to separate the Pixel 2 and iPhone 8 Plus.

If you record lots of video while walking, or film fast-moving kids and pets, the Pixel 2’s fused stabilization makes a huge difference to how watchable that footage will be. The iPhone does a better job in low light situations.

The benefits of having a dual camera on the iPhone (rather than the single lens on the Pixel 2) really only come into play for video if you want to use the iPhone’s 2x optical zoom during recording. But even then, that telephoto lens is not stabilized so you’ll need to hold it steady or mount it on a tripod.

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