Phones in this sub-$500 price range usually skip a telephoto/zoom lens, and typically only have a dual rear camera system consisting of a wide and an ultra-wide shooter. The iPhone SE is even more limited as it comes with just one camera on its back (it lacks the ultra-wide one).
You can see that the Galaxy has two additional cameras, a 5MP macro and a 5MP depth one. Those cameras are not of much use and you really shouldn’t count on them. Sure, it might be nice to capture the occasional macro shot, but you could probably get a similar result just using the main cameras.
Pixel and iPhone are tied for the lead, while the Galaxy has some issues
During the day, you have the perfect conditions for each camera with plentiful light and tons of colors around.
Browsing through the photos, you immediately notice a few trends. The images from the Galaxy stand out from the rest, but not in the best way: they consistently turn out way too vivid, as if someone over at Samsung forgot to turn off that vivid slider and it went into overdrive. Occasionally, highlights are burned out and the image lacks in dynamic range compared to the Pixel and the iPhone. Most of the time, photos from the A53 are good enough, but rarely amazing.
The Pixel and iPhone are both excellent, with pleasing colors and excellent dynamic range. Picking one over the other is mostly about your personal preference in color. We would bet on the Pixel, but we can see how some people might prefer the colors out 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 strips it away from one important superpower that the other two phones have, and in most of the photos, the Pixel and the Galaxy do a much better job at night.
iPhone doesn’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 come in handy in tight spaces. However, the quality out 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 do it better
With no telephoto lens, you rely on digital zoom when you want to see some detail far away from you. Look closer at the above images and you can see just a bit more detail on the photo from the Galaxy, but neither of these pictures is 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 below $500 rarely have a telephoto camera, and our three devices here fall in this category as well.
Still, the Pixel and Galaxy have a zoomed-in view for portraits using digital zoom, but you do lose in terms of quality. The iPhone can only capture wide portrait mode photos, and it is also the most capricious of the bunch, and you have to be very patient to get the effect to work and you have to be very close to your subject.
If you oblige to its requirements, though, we think that the iPhone captures the most impressive photos with consistently beautiful colors and a proper separation of the subject from the background. The Galaxy is a close second, while the Pixel unfortunately lacks the detail and portrait mode on it feels least useful.
Samsung has the winning recipe
While the Pixel and the Galaxy both offer you a choice between a wide and a close-up view for selfies, the iPhone SE only has one view which kind of falls in the middle.
The race is really close as selfies from all three phones look quite 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, however, the Pixel 6a is the only one that is able to illuminate my face and capture a decent selfie, while the Galaxy and the iPhone capture an extremely dark picture that is really of no use.
As you can see from the images above, each of the phones has its own set of advantages and weaknesses, which makes it so tricky to pronounce a winner in these camera comparisons.
Still, we feel that this time around, the Pixel 6a consistently brings more to the table than the other two, and it just exceeds expectations from what you can get out of a budget phone. With excellent dynamic range, mostly pleasing colors, and the best low-light performance, it is the most well-rounded phone in this bunch.
So this leaves the Galaxy A53 in the third spot. The Galaxy is a popular phone for a good reason, but it often burns the highlights in photos, plus it tends to oversaturate colors to the extreme. It’s a decent camera, but not quite the best you can get at this price point.