Best smartphone telephoto camera: iPhone X vs Galaxy Note 8

The iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8 are two of the hottest smartphones of 2017. Being the cream of the crop of the efforts of Apple and Samsung, the iPhone X and Galaxy Note 8 have a lot going on for them. Bezel-less design? Check. Awesome displays? Check. Super-fast hardware? Check. Dual cameras with great performance and new modes? Double check!

As you probably already know, both the iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8 are each rocking an oh-so-trendy dual-cam setup that combines a regular wide-angle shooter with a "telephoto" camera for lossless optical zoom. Both cameras are capable of achieving roughly x2 optical magnification and both are similarly spec'd, but the question is, as always, which one is better in practice? We've already seen the Note 8 outperform the iPhone 8 Plus when it comes to zoom in one of our previous camera shootouts, but the iPhone X sports a new telephoto lens with a wider aperture (f/2.4 vs f/2.8 on the 8 Plus), which more closely matches that of the Note 8 (also f/2.4). On paper, at least.

But as we all know, "on paper" is often times not good enough in practice, so, with that said, let's see which phone does optical magnification better: the iPhone X or the Galaxy Note 8? It was a cloudy day when we went out to shoot these samples, which is never good for taking good-looking photos, but it is not a big deal when it comes to camera tests. In fact, it can help showcase which camera has better dynamic range, since getting a lively image in flat light is not exactly easy. But either way, since we are comparing just the telephoto cameras of the iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8, we will also be paying a lot of attention to how much detail the two are able to resolve, both in daylight—albeit on a cloudy day—and in low-light as well.

Scene 1

The clock tower at the railway station was a good subject to test out the cameras' dynamic range. Since it was backlit (by whatever little sun light there was), I thought both phones would use their respective HDR modes to achieve better results—or to properly expose the tower, at least—but neither of them shot in HDR! And although both were set to meter for the tower, the results are, as you can see, not perfect. In both photos, the clock tower is way too dark. However, we can still see that the iPhone shot has a better dynamic range, with the sky popping nicely with more pronounced highlights, whereas the Note 8 photo looks a bit duller and darker. However, let's take a closer look at the two:

Zooming in, we can see Samsung's smart noise reduction algorithms at play. Evenly colored areas in the Note 8 photo look cleaner and less noisy than they do in iPhone X shot. Furthermore, the Note 8 seems to be doing a better job at preserving details, as evident from the stones that line the building's edges. Notice how in the iPhone X photo, a great deal of the crevices covering these stones have been all but washed away, while they are more clear-cut in the Note 8 shot.

Scene 2

This scene is similar to the previous one, in terms of lighting at least, and the results are similar as well. Again, the iPhone X produces a slightly brighter and punchier image. Colors are very similar between the two, but the iPhone manages to pull out more detail from the sky, water, and the ship's figurehead. However, when examining the two images from up close, it again becomes evident that the Note 8 photo is a tad sharper, albeit not by much this time around. As we've said before, this is due to Samsung's smart noise suppression and unsharp mask algorithms.

Scene 3

This is a close one. Both phones do a similar job here and are pretty much spot-on this time around. Aside from some slight differences in color, what we've already said about the two previous scenes holds true here as well. However, it might be worth nothing that the bright slit between clouds is a bit blown-out in the iPhone shot, whereas it looks alright in the Note 8 photo.

Scene 4

This is another close one. Just like in Scene 4, both phones handle WB similarly, but the iPhone manages to pull slightly ahead by demonstrating a greater exposure range and micro-contrast. Notice how the highlights on the building, as well as the driveway leading to it, are more pronounced in the iPhone X photo, which creates the illusion of greater depth. Same goes for the sky – it's looks almost completely flat and uniformly gray in the Note 8 photo, while in the iPhone X shot it looks more natural, with better separation between highlights and shadows.

Scene 5 

Now here's where it gets interesting, low-light photography! As you probably already know, when there's not enough light, both the iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8 use their main, wide-angle cameras exclusively, due to the larger apertures (f/1.7 on the Note 8 vs f/1.8 on the iPhone X). This means that, rather than relying on lossless optical zoom, both employ digital magnification instead, which is not nearly as good as what the telephoto cameras can produce. But still, the zoom button is always there, at the bottom of their screens, enticing you to use it, no matter how dark it may be. So, let's see how both fare in low-light:

Since the iPhone X and Note 8 had very different auto white balance readings in this scene, we are including the combined color histograms for both shots. 

As far as detail is concerned, both phones fare similarly, with the Note 8 having an edge in some areas of the image, such as the foliage, and the iPhone X performing better in others, such as the facade of the building. Moving on to color, things are drastically different here. The Note 8 has managed to nail a closer-to-life palette, while the iPhone's colors are way too cool.

Scene 6

In this scene, the Note 8 produces a brighter, livelier image, that's richer in detail when viewed from up close. Of course, neither manages to achieve the sharpness that true optical magnification would be able to deliver, but as we've already said, both phones are at this point shooting with their main cameras and using digital zoom. The Galaxy Note 8 is capable of delivering a somewhat sharper result, again courtesy of its unsharp masking and noise reduction algorithms.


It really isn't easy picking a winner between the iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8 when it comes to cameras. The iPhone has a smarter, well-ballanced HDR mode that is capable of making photos pop without oversaturating colors or cranking up the clarity to 11. The Galaxy Note 8, on the other hand, makes use of some pretty darn clever software post-processing that's capable of ironing out noise in uniformly colored areas while preserving detail where it's needed. But all of this comes down to the software running on the phones. As far as raw camera performance is concerned, both are neck and neck. The iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus were held back by the narrower apertures on their telephoto cameras, but now with the iPhone X, Apple is able to match Samsung in this area. If the performance of the telephoto camera is of great importance to you, both the iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8 are excellent performers and you won't be regretting your choice, no matter which one you pick.


Related phones

iPhone X
  • Display 5.8" 1125 x 2436 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 7 MP front
  • Processor Apple A11 Bionic, Hexa-core, 2390 MHz
  • Storage 256 GB
  • Battery 2716 mAh(21h 3G talk time)
Galaxy Note 8
  • Display 6.3" 1440 x 2960 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Octa-core, 2350 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3300 mAh(22h talk time)



1. antifanboyism

Posts: 57; Member since: Jun 20, 2017

scene 5 of iphone looks surreal

4. afrohoxha

Posts: 258; Member since: Mar 13, 2014

Literally. Because it makes the sky ( or clouds) blue in the dark. Note 8 more natural in that scene

13. cmdacos

Posts: 4256; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Yep. Never witnessed blue sky at night, myself! lol

72. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

I guess it depend on hemisphere, dark blue sky (and cloud) is common here, sky here could look dark-blueish even on midnight, especially on winter. and grayish color in warmer night

53. MrShazam

Posts: 987; Member since: Jun 22, 2017

Actually, that photo is also taken by the iPhone X. I downloaded the full res photos and checked their properties, scenes 1 to 5 are ALL taken by the iPhone X, only in scene 6 is the Note 8 labeled photo actually taken by the Note 8. This is a prime example of the presstitute extremes authors of this site to to put their divine fruity at an unfair advantage. Dr. Phil, you reading this? This is what trojan_horse what talking about, and it got him banned without him doing any trolling. Guessing the same will soon happen to my account after pointing out this scandal.

56. MrShazam

Posts: 987; Member since: Jun 22, 2017

Also in scene 6, the iPhome X labelled photo was taken by the Note 8. Every comparison on this site is worthless, including their blind camera comparisons.

57. Milen_Y

Posts: 114; Member since: Jun 09, 2016

So you used some browser extension to download all the images from the page without permission and are now proclaiming that the "full-res" photos are almost all from the iPhone X? First off, I'm surprised you weren't able to tell by the resolution of the images that these are actually scaled-down versions optimised for faster loading. Because, if I upload the full-res images, people then complain that they are slow to load. But anyway, the EXIF info that you're seeing is completely wrong and irrelevant and here's why. You see, when I do camera comparisons, I often use these neat sliders for the 100% crops. In order to do this, I have to pick my images and open them in Photoshop. From then, I do my best to carefully align them and choose my crops so that the images won't shift when you're using the slider later on. Then, as we always do, I have to scale down the images for faster loading. However, even when you have your photos as different layers in Photoshop and save each layer as a separate image, they will all take the EXIF info from the photo that's been imported as the background layer. In other words, if you take a photo from the iPhone X, import it in Photoshop, then drop a Note 8 photo on top of it, and then save both layers as separate images, they'll both show EXIF data from the iPhone. Anyway, since the tinfoil hats are tight today, I will be uploading the original images on Google Drive shortly. Cheers!

60. Peacetoall unregistered

great response sir

63. MrShazam

Posts: 987; Member since: Jun 22, 2017

See post #62

62. MrShazam

Posts: 987; Member since: Jun 22, 2017

Hahahahaha, keep trying presstitute, you ain't fooling this computer literate. For the few who were actually mislead into believing your blatant BS, here are the original images, not the scaled down ones you get via browser right-click: As for those who aren't aware of how this was checked, here's a gif clearly demonstrating the propaganda: Saved this article for future reference.

64. Milen_Y

Posts: 114; Member since: Jun 09, 2016

Wow, you are beautifully proving my point! You just linked images that are 1200 x 1600. Do you seriously believe these are "full-res"? Both the iPhone X and the Note 8 have 12MP main cameras and are capable of shooting at 3024 x 4032. You are cracking me up and making a fool out of yourself in the process. The original images have all been uploaded to Google Drive and are available at the end of the article. I already explained why the EXIF data is wrong, you might want to actually read the explanation (tl;dr - because I have to scale them down so that they load faster.) I do find it funny how you made a gif that proves my point even further, though. Lol. Also, what's your point here, exactly? Even if your crazy conspiracy theory is true, what would be the point in taking all the photos with the iPhone X and then calling it a close one? Is the Note 8 not capable enough, in your opinion, to actually compete with the iPhone? Also, I suggest that you edit out the derogatory language from your post if you don't want it removed.

67. firebird820

Posts: 157; Member since: Jan 01, 2017

In the GIF you can clearly tell that you typed "Apple" and "iPhone X" because when you move your cursor over it a box forms over it and the way the cursor is shaped means you can type there and edit it. If you're actually trying to fool someone with this, I feel sorry for you.

71. MrShazam

Posts: 987; Member since: Jun 22, 2017

Why don't you download the pictures from the article and see it for yourself. Either way the author already gave a logical explanation in post #57, missed it before replying...

2. Tythas

Posts: 38; Member since: Jul 30, 2015

I'd say the iPhone X is the clear winner, here.

33. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

That's obvious, isn't it?? LOL iPhone X is clearly the best camera on the smartphone market right now!!!

65. ColinW

Posts: 412; Member since: Jun 04, 2014

How do you come to that conclusion after looking at the many picture and video comparisons and taking into account the iPhones inferior camera software? The iPhone while good, overall still not the best camera and is let down by poor mono sound on its video.

3. cnour

Posts: 2305; Member since: Sep 11, 2014

iPhone X is destroying Note 8. I really did not think that at this point iPhone X is better. Thanks phonearena, you made my day.

38. jacky899

Posts: 431; Member since: May 16, 2017

Iphone X definitely captueres more detail than the Note 8 in both telephoto and normal camera.

69. firebird820

Posts: 157; Member since: Jan 01, 2017

Well then either you didn't look at the pictures or you need glasses

68. firebird820

Posts: 157; Member since: Jan 01, 2017

How is it destroying the Note8? They said it was a tie.

7. Hollowmost

Posts: 424; Member since: Oct 10, 2017

iPhone X isn't twins , masks and family friendly ..

24. whatev

Posts: 2319; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

English please...

8. twens

Posts: 1180; Member since: Feb 25, 2012

All I see if slight color differences. Both not bad

10. cocoy

Posts: 460; Member since: Oct 30, 2015

I'll choose the camera of note 8 than the iPhone for a very simple and practical reason. Note 8 has manual mode while you have no room iPhone X to tweak the ISO, WB and EXPOSURE.

12. Milen_Y

Posts: 114; Member since: Jun 09, 2016

This is a valid point!

51. Bixby

Posts: 11; Member since: Jan 27, 2017

What were you thinking Milan? All scenes are by iphone x except last scene, which are by note 8. Dude, your credibility just went down. Not cool at all.

58. Milen_Y

Posts: 114; Member since: Jun 09, 2016

It was the lizard people, man! Refer to comment 57.

36. Well-Manicured-Man

Posts: 702; Member since: Jun 16, 2015

Isn’t there an App in the App Store that does that? Such an App doesn’t cost much.

41. toosmoove

Posts: 914; Member since: Sep 28, 2017

Key word is app. That's an extra step that you have to take vs it's already being part of the Note 8's camera.

11. GdgetXpert1337

Posts: 117; Member since: Oct 31, 2017

Iphone X win, it got bes rating by dxomark for taking still

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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