Surprising winner in smartphone camera blind test!

Most smartphone cameras can now produce very good pictures. But which smartphone performs best when comparing the results?

Well-known tech-YouTuber Marques Brownlee, aka “MKBHD”, has now conducted a camera blind test with smartphones for the fourth year in a row. 16 current smartphones from well-known manufacturers – including Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi and Google – competed. atechbook summarizes and explains the results.

Blind camera test with current smartphones

Round 1

In four rounds, users on Instagram were able to vote for which of two pictures they thought was better. The pictures were only marked with letters or numbers, so the voting was blind. In the first round, the following smartphones competed against each other (the winners are marked in bold):

  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. ZTE Axon 30 Ultra
  • ASUS ROG Phone 5 vs. Lenovo Legion Duel
  • Sony Xperia Pro-i vs. Oppo Find X3 Pro.
  • Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra vs. OnePlus 9 Pro
  • Google Pixel 6 Pro vs. Google Pixel 5a
  • iPhone 13 Pro vs. Motorola Edge
  • ASUS Zenfone 8 vs. Xiaomi Poco X3 GT
  • Microsoft Surface Duo 2 vs. Realme GT

While the winners in the first round were by and large to be expected, one duel in particular stands out surprisingly. Because in a direct comparison, the Pixel 5a won over more users than the significantly more expensive flagship smartphone Google Pixel 6 Pro.

Round 2

In fact, the trend started by the Pixel 5a in the first round continues in the next round (winner highlighted in bold):

  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. ASUS ROG Phone 5
  • Sony Xperia Pro-i vs. OnePlus 9 Pro
  • Google Pixel 5a vs. Apple iPhone 13 Pro
  • ASUS Zenfone 8 vs . Realme GT

The respective cheaper model wins in all four duels. It is particularly remarkable that Apple’s flagship iPhone 13 Pro is already eliminated against the Google Pixel 5a, which is less than half as expensive. This illustrates how important software has become for smartphone photography. Even with the significantly inferior camera hardware, the Pixel 5a can produce images that appeal to a broader masses. Also not to be overlooked is the victory of the gaming smartphone ASUS ROG Phone 5 over Samsung’s best camera smartphone Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Round 3

There are now only four smartphones left in the semifinals, but the round hardly comes as a surprise. The OnePlus 9 Pro with its Hasselblad color-calibrated camera prevails over ASUS’ ROG Phone 5. The Pixel 5a continues its run, eliminating the Realme GT. In both cases, the eliminated have illuminated a red pool table too brightly and thus changed the hue too much. So, only the Pixel 5a and OnePlus 9 Pro remain.

Final round

In round four, the two finalists had to take a group picture with three people in front of a gray sky. While both smartphones took a good picture, the Google Pixel 5a wins the camera blind test with 75 percent of the votes. This is because although the OnePlus 9 Pro was able to produce a flatter color image with deep shadows, the Pixel 5a illuminates the faces better. Especially the dark skin tone of Brownlee himself is far better exposed and does not disappear in the shadows. That’s no surprise, as Google is the first smartphone manufacturer to work on making the camera more accurate in depicting dark skin tones.

Results of the camera blind test explained

Although surprising at first glance, the result of the camera blind test with this year’s smartphones is quite easy to explain. Brownlee draws the conclusion after four years of blind tests, in direct comparison in most cases the brighter photo. The sharpness of a photo is beside the point. That’s because even if a camera produces a sharper photo, that advantage is lost when posted on social media due to compression. However, the blind test is not a scientific test after all. Rather, the procedure is based on how it happens in real life: You take a photo and post it on social media – and not print it out to poster size.

Most people also take photos with just a click on the shutter button – without fine-tuning or post-processing. So it’s not about how well a smartphone can theoretically produce photos, but how good the automatic control of factors like HDR, white balance and saturation is.

Winners of the camera blind test not available in Germany

Unfortunately, the Pixel 5a has only been released in the US and Japan and is not supposed to come to Germany. The good news, however, is that it is virtually identical to the 2020 Pixel 4a 5G in terms of hardware and camera. All three sensors (wide-angle, ultra-wide-angle and selfie cam) are identical, and the chipset, storage size and RAM are also unchanged. The Pixel 5a has a slightly larger screen with 6.34 inches and a more generously sized battery with 4680 milliampere hours. Thus, those who own a Pixel 4a can be happy. Unfortunately, everyone else will be left empty-handed – the smartphone is no longer available in stores and can only be found on the secondary market.


Marques Brownlee: “The Blind Smartphone Camera Test 2021!” on YouTube.