5 years of camera evolution: S7 Edge vs S21+

5 years of camera evolution: S7 Edge vs S21+
Have you ever thought about how much phone cameras have improved over the last 5 years? We know we did. 
We recently used a 5 year old device, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which is among one of the most impressive phones from back in the day. So we grabbed Samsung’s brand new phone from 2021, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ to see how it compares.


Starting with our old champ, it comes equipped with 2 cameras. One rear and one front shooter, simple as that.

So the rear camera is a 12MP sensor which was considered one of the best if not the best at the time of its release.

On the other side of the ring we have the brand new S21+. It comes equipped with 3 cameras on the back. You get a regular 12MP main sensor, then you have a 12MP ultrawide camera and a telephoto lens which is around 64MP since it does a hybrid zoom.

Deep dive

So we decided to go sightseeing and take a few photos while we're at it. Not that this was the best idea since the sun was out for us, but we still managed to take some good shots.

As soon as we started though, we immediately noticed the difference in photo processing that each phone delivers. The S7 Edge tends to look more natural whereas the S21+ is quite heavily processed. 

You can see that particularly in the inky blue color of the skies that appears more saturated than in real life on the newer phone. It’s not bad or good per se, it’s ok.

For the average person, that’s ok since it’s more of a preference, but if you want to squeeze more out of the brand new sensor, we’ve found that shooting in pro mode is more realistic, meaning that you capture what the sensor sees exactly, and then you can edit your RAW file to your liking. Like so:

Of course the heavy processing does bring an advantage and that is better HDR. Skies rarely look overexposed on the S21+ whereas the S7 Edge does quite worse in that regard. Pro mode doesn’t really shield you from such issues so you’ll have to manually compensate and edit for that.

One thing to note though. The S7 Edge is quite good in terms of sharpness, even 5 years later. It used to be criticized for that, but we think it looks good. You can see it in the nicely defined lines of the building right here.

The old timer is also not too far behind the S21+ here when you look at a pic of our colleague Vic. 

We’ve noticed that statues also in general come out pretty nicely.

But there is one new feature that all new devices sport and that is portrait mode. Now, the S7 Edge does come with something similar. It’s called selective focus, but it was mostly meant for flowers and the like since it prompts you to shoot an object from less than 20 inches away. So with close objects, it does amazing, but if you give it a human face or something farther away, it fails.

It simply can’t stand up to what the modern portrait mode on the S21 series can do. Look a bit closer and you’ll see that the bokeh type was also changed for a smoother one in newer devices whereas the old flagship tries to mimic a more imperfect lens. 

We're not sure if that was done intentionally or if it’s caused by accident.

One additional big detail here. Almost all new devices, including the S21+, come with more than a single camera sensor. In this case We’ve managed to take some nice zoomed photos and while the S7 Edge can zoom in too, it’s simply not as sharp as the 64MP dedicated sensor on the modern flagship.

You can clearly see how the body shape on this sculpture is not exactly up to snuff on the Edge.

Also, if that wasn’t enough, we can do ultrawide shots on new devices. The ultrawide camera is not exactly as sharp as the other lenses, but it does make for interesting compositions.

By the way, while taking photos out and about, we would sometimes accidentally press the record button and start making a video since it’s positioned really closely to the one for photos. 

That might be useful if you’re in a hurry to take a video, but most new devices also let you hold down the shutter button for taking a video if you want to. And in general, the UI on the S21+ also looks a bit more round and polished and, due to the phone being newer, is slightly more snappy.

Speaking of accidentally recording videos though, in terms of video performance, the S7 Edge used to be considered one of the best in that regard and it certainly holds up extremely well, but it’s not as stable as what the S21+ offers. There have also been some improvements in the microphone quality which helps when you want to record a more distant person speaking.

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Video stabilization, by the way, has also improved by a good margin. Here, on the S21+, we get a cross between optical and electronic image stabilization which does an amazing job. And when shooting at 4K 30fps on both devices, they do comparably in quality, but HDR is kind of worse on the S7 Edge and its stabilization is simply worse.

And just so we don’t forget, we did try the front facing cameras on both devices. And this is where we were most surprised. The S21+ is miles better than the S7 Edge. You can actually focus on your selfies and they are way sharper although a bit more zoomed in too.

The S7 lineup is also kind of weaker in terms of HDR when it comes to selfies. Video recording is also not great. It’s not bad, but you don’t get any sort of stabilization or anything. We tried even lowering down the video quality to 1080p, but that was a bust.

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One thing we should mention though. Changing from the front to the rear camera was quite annoying on the old flagship since we had to extend a finger all the way to the top of the display whereas most new devices have that option in the comfortable bottom.

So finally, let’s look at a place where phones have done the second best improvement over time. That’s night mode guys. And it’s phenomenal here.

If you needed anything remotely usable during the night, we would, hands down, go with a brand new device such as the Galaxy S21+. 

It simply manages to capture more light or, at the very least, less noise.

The wide and zoomed camera also do a terrific job and to top it off, video quality in the evening might not be something amazing on both the S7 Edge and S21+, but if we had to choose, the S21+ does a better job, even if it does bring in some weird artifacting.

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So then what do you guys think?

Does the S7 Edge’s camera still hold up astonishingly well or is it a relic of the past? We personally think it did well for a 5 year old phone, but we're pretty sure that there are some modern mid range devices which do as well or better than it.

The S21+ is certainly the S7 Edge’s grandson and future because at least to us, it managed to do better on almost every key point, even if it was a bit edgy with its photo processing.

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