Camera comparison: the 12MP iPhone 6s vs the 16MP Galaxy S6, or why megapixels aren't all that matters in a camera


There are many technical specs and features that can be associated with a digital camera – its aperture, focal length, pixel and sensor size, auto-focusing tech, lack or presence of image stabilization, and the list goes on and on. Having these into account, an experienced photographer should be able to determine whether a given camera setup suits their needs. To the average consumer, however, a camera's megapixel count is still the figure that most strongly correlates with image quality. The more megapixels a camera has, the better the images it produces, or at least that's the general assumption consumers still hold on to. But in actuality, the matter is a tad more complicated.

We're not saying that megapixels and their number don't matter. Of course they do. But judging a camera's potential solely by its megapixel count can be misleading. An ideal example of that would be a comparison between the iPhone 6s and the Samsung Galaxy S6. The former has a 12MP camera, while the latter has a 16MP one. That's 33% more pixels packed inside the Galaxy S6's sensor, meaning that its photos should be noticeably more detailed than the iPhone's, right? Well, not necessarily. 

Getting the full picture


A variable that rarely gets mentioned in a smartphone's camera specs is the sensor's native aspect ratio. That's the proportional relationship between the width and the height of the pixel array of the image sensor – the iPhone's camera shoots 12MP photos at 4032 by 3024 pixels for an aspect ratio of 4:3, while the Galaxy S6 takes 16MP images at 5312 by 2988 pixels, which equates to an aspect ratio of 16:9. Here's how these figures and proportions look when visualized: 



As it becomes clear from the graphic above, the cameras on the iPhone 6s and the Galaxy S6 shouldn't be all that different when it comes to resolution and image detail. Yes, the Galaxy S6 does have an advantage of 4 megapixels over the iPhone 6s, but these are taken up by the additional width of the frame. The height of the images produced by the two phones is nearly identical, standing at about 3000 pixels. In other words, the extra pixels that the Galaxy S6 has at its disposal produce a wider image, not necessarily a more detailed one, and if we were to take identical crops of images produced by the two phones' cameras, they should look very, very similar at 100% zoom.

But the rabbit hole goes even deeper


The visualization above isn't perfect, as we haven't taken the two cameras' focal lengths into account. Focal length, expressed in millimeters (mm), goes hand in hand with the horizontal and vertical viewing angles of the camera – a smaller focal length translates to a wider viewing angle and vice versa. But to keep things simple, we've chosen to ignore this variable as it makes a very small difference in our case. The iPhone 6s and Galaxy S6's cameras have focal lengths of 29mm and 28mm respectively.

Another factor that we've skipped is that the two sensors pick up different areas of all the light entering the sensor. To get a better understanding of what we mean, take a look at the graphic below. The black circle represents the area illuminated by the light entering the camera. Note that the area has a circular shape because the camera's lenses are, you know, circular. But the image sensor is a rectangle. It produces rectangular images that we view on rectangular screens. This brings us back to aspect ratio and how it affects images. In our particular case, the Galaxy S6 produces wider images, while the iPhone 6s has a wider vertical field of view, all because of the difference in aspect ratios between the two sensors.


A look at real-life photo samples


Now seems like a fine time to leave theory aside and have a look at some real-life photo samples. In the slideshow below you'll see three pairs of images taken with the iPhone 6s and the Galaxy S6 under identical conditions. In addition to the full-resolution images, we've also included crops at 100% zoom to demonstrate that there's barely any difference in the amount of detail captured by the two cameras. And when there is, it is caused by the two cameras' sharpening and image processing algorithms, not by the difference in megapixel count. At the same time, the full-resolution images demonstrate the difference in the two cameras' horizontal and vertical angles of view caused by their differing aspect ratios – the phenomenon we highlighted above. Feel free to zoom in on those to explore and compare the quality of details captured by the two cameras.

Please note that the slideshow contains full-resolution images that might take a while to load.


Conclusion


Megapixels are not all that matters in a camera – that's the one thing we hope you'll walk away with after reading this article. Clearly, in the case with the iPhone 6s and the Galaxy S6, the latter's 33% higher megapixel count does not result in a dramatic difference in detail quality. There's barely any difference at all, as the above photos confirm, and when there is, it is because other factors come into play, not because one camera has more megapixels than the other. This serves as a reminder that cameras are complex systems. Assessing two cameras' qualities by comparing a single specification could be misleading and plain wrong, regardless of what a sales representative or a company's marketing department wants you to believe. At the end of the day, the best method to tell if one camera is really better than another remains a comparison between the images produced by the two. And trusting what your eyes like better, of course, instead of weighing figures side by side.

Related phones

iPhone 6s
  • Display 4.7" 750 x 1334 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 5 MP front
  • Processor Apple A9 APL0898, Dual-core, 1840 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 1715 mAh(14h 3G talk time)
Galaxy S6
  • Display 5.1" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 5 MP front
  • Processor Samsung Exynos 7 Octa, Octa-core, 2100 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 2550 mAh(23h 3G talk time)

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94 Comments

1. hafini_27

Posts: 950; Member since: Oct 31, 2013

You don't say?

14. techandbeers

Posts: 110; Member since: Nov 02, 2015

Right lol this was a topic like 3 years ago before people knew about sensor size and camera processing.

30. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

This is just a stupid article period. I mean the whole premise of don't judge by the numbers is ruined when he says they're of the same quality but the S6 captures a wider aspect ratio. If quality is the same then obviously the more pixels are better.

40. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Same quality but much more is included in the picture. Most ppl have wide screen not ( TV , smartphone , tablet , pc ect ) So a wide picture is better. 4/3 is very oldschool but still used.

59. Fellwalker

Posts: 538; Member since: Apr 04, 2014

It depends what you are photographing. If you've got a building thenn16:9 will often cut off the top, unless you turn the phone sideways when you miss the edges of the building.

69. technitude

Posts: 263; Member since: Dec 19, 2013

??? That would assume that you have the same megapixels for both ratios. >> You don't, 16x9 at 16 megapixels converted to a 4x3 shot is equal to 12 megapixels. In algebra: 4x3 = 12x9. So both Samsung (16x9 @ 16mp) and Apple (12x9 @ 12mp) are producing the same dots per inch. It is just that Samsung offers wide shots and Apple does not, at that exact clarity level. You don't lose top or bottom, you just gain width.

2. jesus_sheep

Posts: 279; Member since: Apr 18, 2015

The s6 beats the 6s in every way hands down.

3. android8

Posts: 23; Member since: Aug 07, 2012

Even the sample picture shows this. S6 has better details than 6s.

27. Nathillien unregistered

Exactly and not only S6 but 10 other phones as well:http://www.dxomark.com/Mobiles

80. bucky

Posts: 3785; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

Lol boy, you guys find a site not in favour of the iPhone and really love it all of a sudden. Nobody has ever posted anything here about dxo before but this year, you can't go to a comment section without it.

82. Shocky unregistered

It's a well know site we've been referring to for years, get over it. The 6S camera just isn't as good as many hoped it would be, less detail and the familiar yellow filter Apple love so much.

31. McLTE

Posts: 922; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

Very little difference in detail? Are you kidding me???? There is a significant difference in detail, especially the flowers and church!!!! I love how the writer waves his hand at the image process algorithms that the phones have, stating that it's the only difference. The truth is - you have NO idea what the image software is doing. If you were able to discern exactly what each phone is doing, then modify them both to do it the SAME - then we could talk about the difference between sensors. This article is also totally rediculous from the standpoint of comparing cameras of such similar sensor sizes. 12MP to 16MP is not a dramatic difference. Compare 6 to 12 to 20+ and show us where it matteres - LOW LIGHT. PA - where you can come to enjoy shoddy writing time and time again.

46. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

Mark my words, S7 will come with a 16-20mp sensor.

54. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

20MP at the least.

56. JohnK

Posts: 117; Member since: Mar 03, 2015

Maybe dual rear cam

64. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

I hope its 16MP with a larger 1/2 inch sensor. Though most likely touted to go with that amazingly small 20MP camera setup, the 1/2 sensor will go great to low light images.

58. crzykiller

Posts: 86; Member since: Jan 03, 2015

The CPU/GPU combo of the iphone 6s completely annihilates the Exnyons 7420, especially the GPU. Other than that the 6s sucks bad

83. Shocky unregistered

The CPU in Exynos 7420 is faster overall, the A9 is only faster if the developers are lazy and don't multi-thread their applications, which all good developers do. The GPU in the iPhone 6s is a beast though, no arguments there.

63. Ahovking

Posts: 711; Member since: Feb 03, 2015

Oh and is that why the 6S beats the s6 on the blind Camera comparison on both PA and Android Authority? Please its clear the majority of both IOS and android user prefer iPhone photos.

66. NoToFanboys

Posts: 3231; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

because people choose what is more "pleasing" in their eyes, that doesn't necessarily mean better (look at the past AMOLED displays for example). And oh, look at that over-sharpening.

67. Ahovking

Posts: 711; Member since: Feb 03, 2015

Oh? like android offers more features compared to IOS but that doesn't necessarily mean better OS?

70. NoToFanboys

Posts: 3231; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

Nice try, but I ain't gonna defend android, you thought I was a fandroid? LOL I don't get apple fanboys like you, If someone disagrees with you you automatically attack android as if that person is a fandroid.

76. tiger28

Posts: 8; Member since: Jul 27, 2013

Please send the link for the android authority comparison because i can only see the comparison for the note 5 and the 6s

91. Ahovking

Posts: 711; Member since: Feb 03, 2015

http://www.androidauthority.com/blind-camera-shootout-winner-650299/ The iPhone was chosen by a community of mostly android users as the better camera.

84. Shocky unregistered

They weren't really blind comparisons , I'm not sure it's even possible on enthusiasts as we know the noticeable characteristics of each camera. As a result it was fairly easy to figure out which one was which, especially easy with AA as a quick look at the file information would identify which was which.

4. sipha

Posts: 440; Member since: May 12, 2012

Then why didn't you do this article when the iPhone only had 8MP??

9. TSMan2

Posts: 363; Member since: Aug 20, 2015

Everything must be done , Apple to be supported. You must not even think that GS6 is better than iPhone 6s even it is. Don't you dare !

79. almostdone

Posts: 448; Member since: Sep 25, 2012

There are so many ABL (Apple Butt Licking) sites around they try everything to please Apple.

5. manojmcn

Posts: 634; Member since: Jul 16, 2015

Click bait. Instigate Apple vs Sammy crowd. This will be the pattern for the next few months till next set of flagships get released.

11. TSMan2

Posts: 363; Member since: Aug 20, 2015

Not just click bait. More like backing Apple(again). But why didn't they make this article iPone 6 vs iPhone 6s to make their point, to prove than 6s is not better camera than iPhone 6?

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