Phones in this sub-$500 price range usually skip a telephoto/zoom lens and usually only have a dual camera system on the back consisting of a wide-angle lens and an ultra-wide-angle lens. The iPhone SE is even more limited in that it only has one camera on the back (the ultra-wide one is missing).
You can see that the Galaxy has two additional cameras, a 5MP macro and a 5MP depth camera. Those cameras are not much use and you should not really count on them. Sure, it can be fun to take a macro shot every now and then, but you could probably get a similar result using just the main cameras.
Pixel and iPhone are equal for the lead, while the Galaxy has some problems
During the day you have the perfect conditions for any camera with abundant light and tons of colors all around.
Scrolling through the photos, you immediately notice a few trends. The Galaxy’s images stand out from the crowd, but not in the best way: they keep getting way too vibrant, as if someone at Samsung forgot to turn off that vibrant slider and it’s going into overdrive. Occasionally highlights are burnt out and the image is missing in dynamic range compared to the Pixel and iPhone. Usually photos of the A53 are good enough, but rarely great.
The Pixel and iPhone are both excellent, with pleasing colors and excellent dynamic range. Choosing one over the other is usually about your personal preference in color. We’d bet on the Pixel, but we can see how some people prefer the colors of the iPhone SE.
Pixel takes the lead, iPhone struggles without night mode
In low light, the lack of a night mode on the iPhone removes it from an important superpower that the other two phones have, and in most photos the Pixel and the Galaxy do much better at night.
iPhone won’t even play this round
Having an ultra-wide camera can be a huge convenience, and the fact that it’s not available on the iPhone is a big disappointment. Out of the other two phones, the Galaxy has the wider field of view, which can be useful in tight spaces. However, the quality of the ultra-wide camera on the Pixel is superior, another win for the new Google phone.
All three phones rely on digital zoom, but the Galaxy seems to be doing better
Without a telephoto lens, you rely on digital zoom if you want to see details far away. Look at the images above and you can see just a little more detail in the photo of the Galaxy, but none of these photos are particularly impressive.
Pixels have always struggled with portrait mode
A 2X-3X telephoto camera is crucial for good portrait mode photos, as those are the preferred focal lengths for such shots. Unfortunately, phones under $500 rarely have a telephoto camera, and our three devices here fall into this category as well.
Still, the Pixel and Galaxy have a zoomed-in view for portraits with digital zoom, but you do lose quality. The iPhone can only take wide portrait shots, and it’s also the most erratic of the bunch, and you have to be very patient for the effect to work and you have to be very close to your subject.
However, if you meet its requirements, we think the iPhone takes the most impressive photos with consistently beautiful colors and good separation of the subject from the background. The Galaxy is a close second, while the Pixel unfortunately lacks the detail and portrait mode which is the least useful.
Samsung has the winning recipe
While the Pixel and Galaxy both give you a choice between a wide and close-up view for selfies, the iPhone SE only has one view that falls in the middle.
The race is very close as selfies from all three phones look pretty good, but during the day we have to give it to the Galaxy, which captures the most pleasing colors and has a good amount of detail (but again, the other two are very close ). In low light, though, the Pixel 6a is the only one that can illuminate my face and take a decent selfie, while the Galaxy and iPhone take an extremely dark photo that’s really useless.
As you can see from the images above, each of the phones has its own advantages and weaknesses, which is what makes it so difficult to pronounce a winner in these camera comparisons.
Still, we feel that the Pixel 6a consistently brings more to the table than the other two this time around, and it simply exceeds expectations of what you can get out of a budget phone. With excellent dynamic range, mostly pleasing colors and best low light performance, this is the most complete phone in this bunch.
So this leaves the Galaxy A53 in third place. The Galaxy is a popular phone for a reason, but it often burns out the highlights in photos, and it has a tendency to oversaturate colors to the extreme. It’s a good camera, but not quite the best you can get for this price.