Camera comparison: Samsung Galaxy S6 vs HTC One M9, Galaxy Note 4, iPhone 6


To say that the Samsung Galaxy S6 is a good phone would be an understatement. As anyone who has read our Galaxy S6 review knows, Samsung's new flagship phone is beautiful, powerful, and loaded to the brim with perks – all traits that rank it among the top handsets money can buy. This article, however, is about one particular feature of the Galaxy S6 – its camera. And boy, what a camera it is!

Just like the Galaxy S6 edge, the Samsung Galaxy S6 comes with a camera based on a Sony IMX240 sensor. It offers 16MP of resolution, optical image stabilization, and a wide, F1.9 aperture for superior low-light performance. Even if these specs can't impress you, the photos produced by the Galaxy S6 surely will. The phone takes great shots under most conditions – all you have to do is aim and press the shutter. 

But will the Samsung Galaxy S6 and its potent shooter beat three other high-ends in a camera comparison? That's what we're here to find out! We took the time to snap a bunch of photos in a variety of scenes using the Galaxy S6, the Galaxy Note 4, the HTC One M9, and the iPhone 6. At the end of the day, some phones were clearly standing ahead of the rest, but we won't spoil the fun by revealing the results so fast. Let's start by going over the images these phones produced and commenting on their quality. 

Note: The galleries below contain full-resolution photos which might take a while to load.

Scene 1 - Noon, broad daylight



Capturing a daytime scene like this one, where plenty of light is available, should be a piece of cake for any modern smartphone. Sure enough, all four contenders did a fine job, but imperfections in some of the images are present. The photo from the HTC One M9 has a noticeable greenish tint (and the black spot in the corner is my finger, sorry about that). Meanwhile, the iPhone is making the sky appear bluer than it actually is. The Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4 produce colors truer to reality. 

Furthermore, images from the S6 and Note 4 pack the most detail, as it becomes evident once we take a close look at 100% zoom. It is worth mentioning that the Galaxy Note 4 delivers the sharpest details, while the Galaxy S6 produces softer details in its images. This could be due to the latter's wider aperture, the software algorithms it uses, or a combination of both factors. Details in the iPhone 6's photos aren't quite as plentiful, which is expected given its 8MP camera resolution, but are sharp, clear, and definitely sufficient. As for the HTC One M9, its 20MP camera struggles to produce more details than the iPhone's shooter.

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/1644 exposure time, ISO40
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/1252 exposure time, ISO40
HTC One M9: 1/1543 exposure time, ISO50
iPhone 6: 1/2198 exposure time, ISO32


Scene 2 - Sunny morning



Pretty much all the comments we made above apply to the second set of images. Disappointingly, the image from the HTC One M9 is unnaturally greenish and not quite as sharp compared to other phones' photos. The iPhone 6 has produced a warmer image – not exactly natural in tone, but pleasing to the eye nonetheless. Once again, the best details and color fidelity can be seen in the photos from the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 4, with the latter producing a slightly sharper image overall.

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/1136 exposure time, ISO40
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/826 exposure time, ISO40
HTC One M9: 1/1221 exposure time, ISO50
iPhone 6: 1/1412 exposure time, ISO32



Scene 3 - Colorful daytime shot



At this point, we're not surprised to see that the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 4 deliver the best overall image quality. Colors are accurate and details are plentiful – what more could we ask for? In contrast, the HTC One M9 still seems to be struggling with nailing the white balance. As for the iPhone 6, the warmer yet comforting color tone is again present in its image.

On a related note, we seem to be witnessing a pattern in the settings set automatically by the four cameras – the iPhone 6 captures photos at faster shutter speeds compared to all three phones. As a result, the chance of motion blur appearing in moving objects is the lowest. In contrast, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 seems to be using the slowest shutter speeds out of the bunch.

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/858 exposure time, ISO40
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/616 exposure time, ISO40
HTC One M9: 1/929 exposure time, ISO50
iPhone 6: 1/989 exposure time, ISO32


Scene 4 - Colors



So far in this comparison, the HTC One M9 has been lagging behind its competitors. Most notably, its camera has been delivering poorer color accuracy, and details in images have been somewhat softer than what we'd expect out of a 20MP shooter. In this particular case, however, the quality of the M9's photo is on par with what its competitors produce. We're satisfied by both the colors its camera has captured and by the details preserved in the image.

As for the Samsung Galaxy S6, its camera performs well as always. However, details in the photo from the Galaxy Note 4 appear more natural if we take a closer look, presumably due to a higher level of sharpness used. Interestingly, both phones' cameras have failed to capture the brightest areas on the flowers' petals – we're talking about the white patches seen if you take a close look at the images. In contrast, the latter imperfection isn't present in the photo from the iPhone 6, which is a great performer all-around, as usual. 

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/470 exposure time, ISO40
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/356 exposure time, ISO40
HTC One M9: 1/528 exposure time, ISO50
iPhone 6: 1/608 exposure time, ISO32


Scene 5 - High contrast



This is a scene testing the ability of the phones and their cameras to deal with high-contrast situations. One image stands out – that from the iPhone 6. Only Apple's smartphone has managed to reproduce the blue color of the sky somewhat faithfully, while all others have overexposed it. In this respect, the HTC One M9 has done the poorest job, as evident from the brightest area of its image, where tree branches are lost in the flood of light.

That aside, we see that all four cameras have managed to preserve a decent amount of detail in shaded areas, which is a good thing. The high-contrast look of the scene has been preserved faithfully enough, without being exaggerated. 

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/816 exposure time, ISO40
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/652 exposure time, ISO40
HTC One M9: 1/802 exposure time, ISO50
iPhone 6: 1/1319 exposure time, ISO32



Scene 6 - Close-up



And here's a close-up. Overall, all but the HTC One M9 have done a great job in this particular situation. Upon taking a closer look, we see plenty of details at the focus point in every image, but when it comes to color accuracy, HTC's flagship has once again failed to reproduce the scene faithfully. Also, its image appears to be a tad underexposed. 

There's a fair amount of bokeh in all images. It is created by the cameras' wide, fixed apertures, standing at F2.2 for the iPhone 6, Galaxy Note 4, and One M9 and F1.9 for the Galaxy S6. Of course, these cameras can't deliver the gorgeous bokeh effect achieved by DSLR cameras, but what they do produce is sufficient to make close objects stand out.

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/1888 exposure time, ISO40
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/1472 exposure time, ISO40
HTC One M9: 1/2210 exposure time, ISO50
iPhone 6: 1/3049 exposure time, ISO32



Scene 7 - Outdoor portrait



All of the smartphones that we're testing can recognize faces when taking images. This aids them in adjusting the focus and exposure properly on the subject. We're wondering if this has anything to do with the color tones seen in the iPhone 6's photo, but even if it doesn't, we do like what we see. In the image shot by the iPhone 6, shadows and highlights are handled in a way that produces even skin tones, with as little overexposed areas as possible. On the other hand, the rest of the gang have gone for a more contrasty look in their images, and rightfully so as the scene did naturally contain quite a lot of bright and dark areas. 

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/342 exposure time, ISO40
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/284 exposure time, ISO40
HTC One M9: 1/359 exposure time, ISO50
iPhone 6: 1/460 exposure time, ISO32



Scene 8 - Indoor, moderate light



This scene is set in a moderately lit room, as you can probably tell by the relatively slower shutter speeds used by all cameras. Surprisingly, the HTC One M9 has managed to capture the most accurate colors of the bunch. The two Galaxies have gone for a colder, duller color representation while the iPhone 6 has achieved the opposite by delivering warmer whites and boosting the color saturation artificially. All four images are sufficiently detailed, but they look the best in the shots by the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 4. 

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/30 exposure time, ISO80
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/30 exposure time, ISO100
HTC One M9: 1/50 exposure time, ISO160
iPhone 6: 1/30 exposure time, ISO50



Scene 9 - Indoor, moderate light (also, hats)



Here's another scene where lighting conditions were rather challenging. All four phones did pretty well overall, producing clear and detailed images despite the lack of a strong light source. The Galaxy S6, however, produced a slightly warmer image while the HTC One M9 added that familiar greenish tone to its picture. The Note 4 and iPhone 6 did best as far as overall image presentation is concerned. 

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/25 exposure time, ISO100
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/24 exposure time, ISO125
HTC One M9: 1/33 exposure time, ISO160
iPhone 6: 1/30 exposure time, ISO80



Scene 10 - Indoor, low light, flash on



And here's what happens when the four handsets use their LED lights in low light. The photo from the Samsung Galaxy S6 stands out with its accurate colors and rich details, but it also suffers from the strongest vignetting effect. Still, it appears to be the best image overall. The HTC One M9 delivers accurate colors and the most even lighting, but details are seriously lacking, likely smeared due to high ISO combined with aggressive noise reduction algorithms. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone 6 provide us with highly-detailed images, but color accuracy is somewhat off – their images have a cold, purplish tone to them. 

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/24 exposure time, ISO125
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/24 exposure time, ISO200
HTC One M9: 1/10 exposure time, ISO500
iPhone 6: 1/17 exposure time, ISO125



Scene 11 - Evening, low light



The lights get even dimmer in this scene captured after sunset. We must say that the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 4 have produced the most faithful images – detailed, representing lighting and the hues in the sky very close to what they looked in real life. The iPhone 6 also performed well in this particular scene, although it has added a slight boost to the saturation in its image. As for the HTC One M9, we're disappointed to see that color accuracy is once again off-balance and details are soft, as if the image is out of focus. Seriously, even the iPhone 6 delivers better details in this scene despite having "just" 8MP to work with.

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/25 exposure time, ISO200
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/25 exposure time, ISO250
HTC One M9: 1/17 exposure time, ISO200
iPhone 6: 1/33 exposure time, ISO250



Scene 12 - Night



And before we end this camera comparison with our conclusion, here's another low-light situation. Once again, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 4 have captured the finest details in their images thanks to their high-res sensors, but the iPhone 6 performs nearly as well in this respect. Unfortunately, the HTC One M9 is proving to be quite unreliable in darker scenes. Its photo is blurry, as if it is out of focus, and contains no fine detail whatsoever.

Image EXIF data:
Samsung Galaxy S6: 1/17 exposure time, ISO200
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: 1/12 exposure time, ISO250
HTC One M9: 1/14 exposure time, ISO250
iPhone 6: 1/20 exposure time, ISO250



Conclusion


For the longest time, Samsung's flagship phones have been known for their outstanding cameras, and the Galaxy S6 proudly follows in the footsteps of its predecessors. The phone's snapper is fast, easy to use, and produces photos of near-immaculate quality. It isn't perfect, of course, but it gets quite close to that point, as our testing goes to show.

Since the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is similar to the Galaxy S6 in terms of camera hardware, it comes as no surprise that the two produce images of near-identical quality. As a matter of fact, the Note 4, despite being an "older" model, has the potential to deliver sharper, clearer details in well-lit scenes. On the other hand, the Note 4's shooter is slower to launch and it lacks the refined camera UI found on the Galaxy S6. Furthermore, the Galaxy S6 can be seen as more reliable in low light since its camera can achieve faster shutter speeds compared to the Note 4.

The iPhone 6 is, as always, an excellent shooter overall. Its camera launches in an instant and its images pack plenty of detail given their resolution of 8MP. Furthermore, we noticed that the iPhone manages to maintain relatively fast shutter speeds under all circumstances. This reduces the chance of motion blur ending up in the image. If there's one thing that isn't top-notch with the iPhone's camera, that would be color accuracy, but at the same time, we have to admit that the slightly skewed colors in the iPhone's photos do look mostly pleasing to the eye.

And then there's the HTC One M9 with its hit-or-miss camera. While its UI is rich in modes and settings, the actual image quality is average at best given the handset's flagship status. Color accuracy, for example, is rather inconsistent – some images look awesome, others are greenish in tone. Details are also disappointingly poor unless you're shooting from up close. Seriously, in some of the shots above, the iPhone's 8MP camera produces better detail than the M9's 20MP shooter. And if that's not enough, the One M9 struggles in low light. 

TL;DR: The Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 4 steal the show, while the camera on the iPhone 6 is nearly as good. The HTC One M9, however, lags behind with its hit-or-miss camera. 


Software versions of the phones used in the comparison:
Samsung Galaxy S6: Android 5.0.2; Build number LRX22G.G920FXXU1AOCV
Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Android 5.0.1; Build number LRX22C.N910FXXU1BOB4
HTC One M9: Android 5.0.2; Software number: 1.32.401.15
iPhone 6: iOS 8.3 (12F70)

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58 Comments

1. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

with the note 4 and s6 looking pretty much the same i cant see how you score one higher than the other. besides you already did a blind camera comparison and we the community voted the s6 and lumia 930 as the best camera phones available today (not including the g4)

5. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

The 930 is a beast.

7. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

true true

9. bachir8k

Posts: 153; Member since: Feb 25, 2013

IMO I find the S6 better than the Note4 in the above pictures idk for others, and I just wish PA when they include iphone to the comparison to scale down the S6 photo for example by 50% and then compare it to the photo from iphone.

14. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

the note 4 has software that shape the pictures so the photos taken with it are enhanced and the s6 doesn't have this which is better because it produces more realistic photos compared to the note four's more artificial ones. IMO the s6 is better.

53. Tuxedo

Posts: 356; Member since: Mar 19, 2013

All digital cameras have software to do image processing. The question is how much processing is done and how effective it is in capturing the actual scene.

38. joeytaylor

Posts: 957; Member since: Feb 28, 2015

Why scale down the s6

47. bachir8k

Posts: 153; Member since: Feb 25, 2013

details will double and get sharper when you scale it to 8MB

10. tury694

Posts: 167; Member since: Aug 25, 2014

What a joke. Let us just pretend that the iphone 6 is even on the same level as the note 4, S6, and 930.

11. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

But it almost is so what's your point?

20. Simona unregistered

well parena AGAIN on purpose didn't include huawei P8 bcos it wud outperform all these phones.. But they cannot do such shame to "flag ship" phones can they ? :-)

23. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Out perform lol. Okay.

27. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

The p8 does take good photos but it cant out perform the s6 note 4 or lumia 930.

34. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

If you have one feel free to post some pics (like the one in your avatar preferably) and we'll be the judge.

39. LGisgood

Posts: 833; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

LG G4 is the new cameraphone of the year!

8. hung2900

Posts: 966; Member since: Mar 02, 2012

Sorry PA, but I have to say the writer is a little bit amateur. The "details" on Note 4 is atually partly due to the aggression sharpening agorithm, followed by noise reduction. It's not hard tp find some scene that the details are mushy due to the over processing. Processing on GS6 is much maturer, balacing details and noise without artifacts.

31. thegeneral7010

Posts: 437; Member since: Dec 10, 2014

every tech site said that the note 4 is giving better photos than s6 not only PA check GSMarena

24. TheAsh

Posts: 43; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

No actually there's difference between them. Even there's difference between S6 and S6 edge.

2. itsdeepak4u2000

Posts: 3718; Member since: Nov 03, 2012

Note 4 is the best phone from Sammy.

21. torr310

Posts: 1670; Member since: Oct 27, 2011

From the pictures above: Note 4 > iPhone 6 > S6 > M9 I couldn't believe it's so easy to tell but was ignored.

32. BaffledTruffle

Posts: 523; Member since: Dec 07, 2013

iPhone 6 over the S6, and it was easy to tell?! Blasphemy!

3. KENTOZ

Posts: 86; Member since: Apr 03, 2015

Where is Xperia Z3 PA???

4. KENTOZ

Posts: 86; Member since: Apr 03, 2015

Xperia Z3 :FTW"

18. fuhrer

Posts: 39; Member since: Apr 29, 2013

For The Weirdos

6. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

No need to include it. Honestly speaking, it'll lose to the iPhone 6.

13. Settings

Posts: 2943; Member since: Jul 02, 2014

They're using Sony sensors for a consolation.

43. gaming64 unregistered

Yeah but they design their own algorithms.

12. alaw.14

Posts: 426; Member since: Sep 10, 2013

Dxomark rated the galaxy s6 edge as the best camera phone beating the ip6 and 6 plus.http://www.dxomark.com/Phones/Samsung-Galaxy-​S6-Edge-review-Top-ranking-Smartphone-has-the-Edge Even the galaxy note 4 beat the iphones and is in 2nd place.http://www.dxomark.com/Phones/Samsung-Galaxy​-Note-4-review-Hitting-the-right-Note-for-image-qu​ality

15. Neros

Posts: 1016; Member since: Dec 19, 2014

Sorry, but iphone is a bit too high 7.5 would be more acceptable. You can clearly see how it lacks details in close-ups. If you want to compare details after 100% zoom then please zoom iph to about 130% to get similar crop or zoom other phones to 75% and then see which has more details.

16. Rick_Deckard

Posts: 27; Member since: Oct 31, 2014

Joke... What a shame... M8.1 has failed... lol

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

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