Google Pixel 6 Pro vs Vivo X70 Pro Plus: The two best camera phones of 2021
I have the luxury and privilege of testing a lot of smartphones. Obviously, I get my hands on the iPhones and Samsung Galaxies and OnePluses of the world, but because I’m based in Hong Kong in Southern China, I have access to obscure Asian releases too, like the Royole FlexPai 2 or the Leica Leitz 1. It would not be hyperbole to say I have got my hands on every relevant smartphone released this year. And so when I say the Vivo X70 Pro Plus was the best camera phone I tested a few weeks ago, I really meant it. Because my points of reference aren’t just the usual two or three phones from Apple and Samsung. Instead, I’m referencing, like, a dozen flagships, from Apple and Samsung … plus Sony, Xiaomi, Huawei, Honor, OPPO, OnePlus, Meizu, Leica, Motorola, Sharp, Microsoft, Lenovo, and ZTE.
But even at the time of me writing the Vivo piece, I added the caveat that a major challenger was coming — the Google Pixel 6 Pro. And now, after finally getting my hands on the Pixel 6 Pro and putting its camera through the paces, I can say the Pixel 6 series lives up to the hype and is deserving of the special status I had awarded it beforehand.
But is the Google Pixel 6 Pro better than the Vivo X70 Pro Plus? That’s what we’re going to find out in this piece. Whatever the case, I’m spoiling this much now: while the Galaxy S21 Ultra still has the most versatile camera system, in terms of snapping photos that consistently look great in all conditions, the Google Pixel 6 Pro and Vivo X70 Pro Plus get my vote as the two best cameras on a smartphone.
Click to expand: Google Pixel 6 Pro and Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Specifications
Google Pixel 6 Pro and Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Specifications
|Specifications||Google Pixel 6 Pro||Vivo X70 Pro Plus|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Google Tensor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888+|
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Optical in-display fingerprint reader||Opticall in-display fingerprint reader|
|Audio||Stereo speakers||Stereo speakers|
|Software||Android 12||Android 12 with FunTouch OS 12 on top|
|Other Features||Dual physical SIM||Dual physical SIM or Dual eSIM support|
About this review: This camera review was written after testing an XDA-purchased Google Pixel 6 Pro and a Vivo X70 Pro Plus on loan from Vivo for nearly two weeks. Google did provide XDA with a Pixel 6 Pro review unit, but it’s with my colleague Adam Conway in Ireland and was not used for this review. Neither Google nor Vivo had any inputs into the content of this camera shootout and comparison.
Google Pixel 6 Pro vs Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Main camera
Part of the reason there had been some pre-release excitement for the Pixel 6 Pro was because it was known that Google was finally upgrading its main camera hardware to the same Samsung ISOCELL GN1 sensor that had been used to great effect by several Chinese brands, most notably being Vivo. The GN1 is a strong 50MP sensor with a large 1/1.31-inch sensor, which helps it take in more light and shallower depth-of-field. However, Google and Vivo apply these sensors to different optics.
On the Pixel 6 Pro, the GN1 sensor is paired with an f/1.9 aperture and a noticeably tighter crop of roughly 25mm. Vivo, on the other hand, goes with a faster f/1.6 aperture (which further helps light intake, but in return, you lose shutter speed flexibility) and a wider field-of-view closer to 22mm equivalent. Vivo’s camera also gains another supposed hardware boost in that its lens is coated with Zeiss’ T-coating.
Each phone also uses a new, custom-built “brain” to interpret information captured by these sensors. On the Pixel 6 Pro, we have the Tensor, an entire full-blown SoC, while on the X70 Pro Plus, Vivo built a custom image signal processor (ISP) chip to accompany the Snapdragon 888+ SoC.
But enough technical talk, let’s get to the photos.
Main Camera, Well-lit Scenes: Colors, Dynamic Range, Sharpness
This first scene has a lot of color and texture and from these samples, we can already see differences in how the two phones handle color. Vivo’s shot has punchier, livelier colors, but it’s artificially dialed up — the scene more closely resembled Pixel’s shot. However, from afar, the X70 Pro Plus’ shot looks a bit more visually appealing to my eyes, with stronger contrast (the umbrella’s colors really pop, and then right underneath it are deeper shadows than in the Pixel’s shot).
But zoom in to 100% and pixel peep, we can see the Pixel’s shot is sharper, more detailed.
We can see that the limes and clear plastic bags are sharper in Pixel’s shot, while Vivo’s shot also has noticeable noise and grain near the telephone. And while the tree leaves are greener in Vivo’s shot, the Pixel’s shot displays its texture in greater detail.
Moving to another scene, the trend continues: the Vivo X70 Pro Plus’ colors pop a bit more, but the Pixel’s shot is sharper if you zoom in and examine. The Pixel’s shot is also cooler — Vivo’s shot has more accurate white balance.
The next set is a scene with some contrast, as most of the shot is indoors but part of it is exposed to a window with sunlight coming in from the side.
We can see the X70 Pro Plus’ shot exposes the outside bright lights a bit better.
One strong feature of the GN1 sensor is its shallow depth-of-field, which means there’s a very aesthetically pleasing bokeh that separates a subject/object from the background.
Once again, the difference in the red color on the Nike sneakers is jarring. While Vivo’s shot really makes the shoes pop, the colors on the actual shoe are resembled better by the Pixel’s shot.
The focus dropoff is natural — because it’s real bokeh — and on point for both phones.
Vivo’s ability to find better balance in scenes with contrast becomes more apparent when we move to more challenging high contrast scenes.
The above set is a good example of several things mentioned earlier: Vivo’s noticeably wider framing; the Zeiss T-coating which helps reduce lens flare (notice the sun is less blown out); and Vivo’s tendency to make colors appear bolder and more vivid. Another trend I’ve noticed from testing the Pixel 6 Pro for nearly two weeks is Google likes to aim for a cooler tone, which is noticeable here, as Vivo’s shot is noticeably warmer — aka more yellow.
And maybe because this shot has so much going on — and from so far away — Google’s previous advantages in retaining better details have been rendered a non-factor here. If we pixel peep, both shots show roughly the same level of sharpness, except the Pixel’s shot is much noisier.
Below is another high contrast scene and once again, Vivo’s shot has noticeably bolder colors, with brighter shadows. But also just like the above set, zooming in no longer reveals a sharper Pixel image.
Below are more samples I’ve captured if you want to examine more.
Main Camera, Low light scenes: Light intake, Dynamic range, Noise, and Sharpness
The X70 Pro Plus’ faster f/1.6 aperture allows it to take in more light naturally than the Pixel’s f/1.9 aperture, however, Google balances this out by using night mode more aggressively and automatically — in fact, taking low light photos with the Pixel often requires waiting up to three to four seconds (unless you go out of your way to turn off Night Sight), while Vivo’s night mode (the automatic one, at least) never takes longer than two seconds at most. But we can see that because of Google’s heavier use of software assistance (night mode), it can produce a “brighter” shot. But is this always a good thing?
For example, in this above set, taken on an elevated train platform shortly after sunset in Bangkok, we can see the trees on the right side and the street below, are noticeably better illuminated, but Vivo’s image shows greater contrast, which in this scene works in its favor. The Pixel’s shot almost doesn’t feel like a night shot at all.
And if we zoom in to pixel peep, Google’s previous superior sharpness advantage has all but disappeared. Instead the Pixel’s shot is noisier, with signs of over-processing. This shot is almost a clear win for Vivo.
In this next set, again we see the Vivo X70 Pro Plus’ shot has more vivid colors. Pay attention to the neon-light drenched train track and the trees at the park, they look punchier in Vivo’s image.
Zooming in and we can again see Vivo’s shot exhibits less noise and is slightly sharper.
Below are shots that once again show the awesome natural bokeh produced by the GN1 sensor — these are not portrait shots, just straightforward point-and-shoots. To be honest, the Pixel’s shot looks great in a vacuum and would impress 99% of the users, but if you compare it side-by-side against the X70 Pro Plus’ shot, in my opinion, the Vivo looks better. The superior bokeh creates stronger background separation between the lantern and the skyscrapers, the fire inside the lantern is better exposed (this is likely due to the Zeiss T-coating) and the plant in front of the lantern is sharper and punchier too.
In this high-contrast sunrise shot below, we can see the Pixel’s night mode once again pulling in more light. I took these shots at the same time so it’s interesting to see how Tensor and V1 interpreted the color of the rising sun differently. Vivo’s shot has that strong contrast vibe that fits the scene, but if you care about highlighting what’s on the table — you can actually see my Sony camera on the table in the Pixel’s shot — perhaps the Pixel shot is preferred?
Below is a less extreme (aka easier) night shot, and we see both phones are evenly matched.
Zooming in, the Pixel’s shot is sharper in the center, which is important here, as it highlights the Thai temple better.
And more low light samples are below.
From the above samples — and dozens more I’ve snapped that I don’t have room to share here — I think the general theme is that Vivo’s shot always has that extra oomph in colors and fidelity in almost every scene, but the Pixel can capture images with greater detail if the lighting is good. In low light or challenging conditions, however, I think I prefer Vivo’s shot in almost every case.
Main camera: Video
The Vivo X70 Pro Plus can shoot up to 8k/30, while the Pixel 6 Pro maxes out at 4k/60. But most people will probably prefer to shoot in 4k/30, so that’s the standard I used for the side-by-side tests. We can see both phones have excellent stabilization, particularly during the day. At night, the Pixel’s videos can get a bit noisy, but otherwise, stabilization, colors, and dynamic range are all on point. Vivo’s night footage, however, looks better. But in terms of audio recording, I find Vivo’s mics to be too sensitive, taking in too much street noise, while the Pixel 6 Pro seems to apply a bit of noise cancellation to cancel out the noisy Bangkok streets.
Still, just superb video performance from both phones. Android video recording is catching up to the iPhone.
Google Pixel 6 Pro vs Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Ultra-wide Camera
The first thing to note here is that the Google Pixel’s 12MP ultra-wide camera barely qualifies as an ultra-wide — it only has a field-of-view of 114 degrees, and in every sample below you’ll see the framing is noticeably tighter than the Vivo X70 Pro Plus’ 120-plus degree field-of-view. Both brands also take opposing approaches in how it brings in light. Vivo chooses to go with a more pixel-dense sensor — 48MP — and then use pixel binning to essentially collect four pixels’ worth of data into one. Google, meanwhile, sticks with a 12MP sensor with a larger micron pixel size (1.8). Generally, the Pixel’s ultra-wide can take in more light, but in return, there’s also more noise.
Vivo’s ultra-wide is also built into a micro-gimbal that Vivo has been using in its last couple of flagships, although you’ll only notice the difference if you’re filming on-the-go videos (which we will cover a few sections down).
Ultra-wide camera, well-lit scenes: Dynamic Range and Sharpness
This first set above recycles the trends mentioned earlier — the Pixel’s shot has a cooler tone, Vivo’s shot exposes the sun a bit better. Both of these are excellent ultra-wide shots that capture the sweeping cityscape, but Vivo’s shot is wider.
There’s not much point in pixel peeling ultra-wide shots, but for the sake of nitpicking, we will do it here.
And yeah… the Pixel’s ultra-wide is a blotchy, noisy mess if you examine closely. This is where the X70 Pro Plus’ more pixel-dense sensor really benefits its images.
In this next set, we can see the significant difference in field-of-view. Vivo’s shot makes the structure look elongated, with slightly distorted angles that we have come to expect from an ultra-wide. The Pixel’s shot here barely looks like an ultra-wide. Still, excellent colors and details in both shots.
This shot below was captured in a challenging scene: I was standing in shading while shooting directly into the mid-afternoon sun, and part of the lighting is blocked by a Christmas tree. And this is where the Vivo X70 Pro Plus’ jaw-dropping HDR kicks in and managed to perfectly expose the entire scene, while the Pixel completely blows out the sky.
The Pixel’s shot blew out the sky so badly that I initially thought it was a one-time bug. So I captured another ultra-wide shot and the results were the same.
Here’s the thing, if I capture this exact same scene with the main camera, the Pixel’s Tensor can intelligently analyze the shot and produce a much better-balanced shot, as can be seen below.
Ultra-wide Camera, Low light scenes: Light intake, Noise and Sharpness
Here we see the Pixel 6 Pro’s ultra-wide producing a brighter, but tighter, image. If we zoom in, we can see that in the center of the shot, the Pixel’s image is much sharper, but then the edges, particularly the parts in shadows, are completely noisy.
Another low light cityscape shot shows a brighter, but noisier Pixel shot compared to a wider, but dimmer, Vivo shot.
Ultra-wide camera: Video
Both phones’ ultra-wide camera captures great videos during the day, with Google’s videos showing punchier colors and slightly superior electronic image stabilization. But when we move to night videos, particularly with extreme movement, then Vivo’s superior hardware pulls away, with footage that shows less noise, better sharpness, and has better stabilization due to the addition of the gimbal.
Google Pixel 6 Pro vs Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Zoom lens
Another upgrade Google gave to the Pixel 6 Pro is the adoption of the Periscope zoom camera, a 48MP shooter that bins down to output 12MP shots with 4x optical zoom. Vivo’s X70 Pro Plus, on the other hand, has an 8MP, 5x Periscope zoom along with a secondary 12MP 2x telephoto zoom. Using two zoom lenses to cover both short and long focal range was something pioneered by Huawei (with the P40 Pro Plus) and adopted by Samsung earlier this year. Vivo’s approach is odd, however, as the two lenses cover only 2x and 5x range — Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra covers 3x and 10x, which seems more practical.
Regardless, the X70 Pro Plus does technically have a more versatile zoom system than the Pixel, which only has one optical zoom range — everything else is a digital zoom. But for the most part, I prefer the 4x optical shots of the Pixel 6 Pro over the 5x shots of the X70 Pro Plus, even if it’s not a direct 1:1 comparison.
The Pixel Periscope’s noticeably larger 1/2-inch sensor (compared to Vivo Periscope’s 1/4.4-inch takes in more light, and in a reverse of the main camera, the Tensor seems to produce more vibrant colors than the V1.
Zoom lens: 2x (for portraits)
In my opinion, a 2x zoom telephoto zoom lens doesn’t serve much use because it doesn’t get close enough to something that I can’t already see clearly (I frequently use 5x lenses to read street signs or coffee shop menus from afar), and if I really wanted a tighter frame of a subject, a mere 3-4 steps forward would already simulate the same framing. It just seems wasteful to have a dedicated lens for just 2x. But if you really don’t want to move and get a tighter framing, which is more ideal for portraits, then the X70 Pro Plus’ 2x lens can capture portraits that are closer to a traditional portrait focal length than the Pixel 6 Pro, which shoots portraits with its main camera (because 4x zoom is too close), and then digitally crop in. But as I said, I can easily just take 3-4 steps forward and get a similar framing so it doesn’t really matter to me.
Zoom lens: Video
Google’s lead extends over to video, because the Pixel 6 Pro can switch between lenses on the fly in the middle of filming, while the X70 Pro Plus cannot. This means if I zoom up to 4x with the Pixel, the Periscope camera kicks in, on the Vivo, zooming to 5x just results in a digital crop and it clearly looks soft on details.
Google Pixel 6 Pro vs Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Selfie Camera
For selfies, the Pixel 6 Pro packs an 11.1MP f/2.2 front-facing camera, while the X70 Pro Plus uses a 32MP f/2.5 camera that outputs an 8MP binned image. Both selfie cameras produce pleasing selfies, can handle dynamic range about equally well, and both phone’s portrait mode produces artificial bokeh with accurate edge detection that can be customized after the shot too.
As is almost always the case with Asian brands, Vivo’s selfies consistently whitens my skin, while the Pixel 6 Pro presents my skin tone in its more natural tone. Just based on this, I’m giving the win to Google, because I’m tired of the colorism implied by Chinese and Korean phone brands that seem to believe “paler skin looks better.”