One of the delightful surprises that came with the Pixel 3a last year was its camera. Unlike so many smartphone manufacturers, Google didn't opt to somehow make the imaging experience on its budget phone worse: the photos it took were exactly like those shot on the premium Pixel 3 and 3 XL, phone costing twice as much. As a result, the 3a took photos better than many $1000 flagships. With the Pixel 4a, Google hasn't messed with that formula. The new budget Pixel snaps shots that look every bit like those from its far more expensive siblings, and will make anything this side of an iPhone 11 Pro jealous.

First, let's look at the photos. In all examples, Pixel 4 is on the left, Pixel 4a is on the right. Both were shooting in auto mode, and shots were taken within moments of one another. For more about the camera itself, be sure to check out our review.

Comparison gallery

Now for the zoom comparisons. All of the below were shot at 7x zoom. Pixel 4 XL on the left, Pixel 4a on the right.

Analysis

I am not a professional photographer, but looking at the non-zoomed photos, I see one possible difference coming through: the Pixel 4a leans less into the yellow end of the color spectrum, maybe. The 4 XL images, as a result, look a bit more yellow when put side by side.

The 4 XL makes golds, oranges, and bright yellows "pop" a bit more than the 4a—sometimes. It's so subtle that I expect you may not even notice it on your smartphone screen — I had to blow these up on my monitor to be sure I wasn't seeing something that wasn't there, but in my opinion, that's the real difference. Even then, though, it's not always true: in the first comparison photo, the 4a is decidedly more yellow, for whatever reason. And in the Golden Bay Fence sign photo, the dirty golden yellow of the bridge is essentially identical between the two. In terms of almost everything else though, it's a wash. The look and feel of the photos is incredibly similar, to the point that no one would be able to reliably tell which phone took what photo outside of this highly controlled context.

On the zoom photos, obviously things are different. The Pixel 4's dedicated telephoto makes a huge difference in terms of how well those details are resolved, and it's no contest: the Pixel 4a doesn't come close to doing as good a job. But, it still does a much better job than any other digital zoom implementation I've seen, and I would say some of those photos would actually look better than those snapped by dedicated telephoto lenses on phones with inferior photo processing. Google is just that good at this.

All in all, though, there are no surprises when it comes to the Pixel 4a's camera. It's every bit the shooter the Pixel 4 was, minus that enhanced zoom capability. Which is to say: it's probably still the best everyday smartphone camera (for still images, at least) on the market. For a $350 phone, that's pretty incredible.

Read our full review of the Pixel 4a here.