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 inches
    1334 x 750 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP (Single camera)
    5 MP front
  • Hardware Apple A9 APL0898, 2GB RAM
  • Storage 128GB, not expandable
  • Battery 1715 mAh
  • OS iOS 13.x
Galaxy S6
  • Display 5.1 inches
    2560 x 1440 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP (Single camera)
    5 MP front
  • Hardware Samsung Exynos 7 Octa, 3GB RAM
  • Storage 128GB, not expandable
  • Battery 2550 mAh
  • OS Android 7.0 Nougat
    Samsung TouchWiz UI

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94 Comments

96. avishekmukherjee

Posts: 362; Member since: Apr 09, 2015

Both phones are awesome

94. gigi3

Posts: 32; Member since: Aug 16, 2014

Meanwhile Lumia 1020 has 1/1.5" sensor size, meanwhile Lumia 950 has triple tone flash, Galaxy S6 (and many other phones) has OIS and LG V10 can shoot in RAW Format. "Megapixels ain't everything !"; Sorry, iFans , we knew that even before iPhone existed.

93. jameswilliam723

Posts: 5; Member since: Nov 13, 2015

Obviously 16MP camera wins over to 12MP cam. So compare anyone which are very similar.

89. DialtoneHumm

Posts: 28; Member since: Aug 28, 2015

Terrible article, writer needs to take off those apple colored glasses so that he can actually see the large difference the S6 won over 6s.

88. robocopvn

Posts: 504; Member since: Mar 10, 2010

really ? for all of the others tech-website camera review, they firmly claim that the camera of S6 smokes the IP6s =DDD

87. Xavier1415

Posts: 240; Member since: Feb 26, 2012

Soooo you make an article cause the latest iPhone camera sucks and this is your way to try to help it out? Sad sad sad iPhone camera sucks get over it. How can you even compare a 12 mega pixel to a 16. If the megapixel number didn't count then they should just put 5 megapixels in everybody's rear camera cause they don't matter obviously lol smdh stupid article. Ppl got mad about the 5 ultra pixels why but the numbers don't matter ok....right!!..... delete this dumb article.

75. Andrewtst

Posts: 697; Member since: Jan 25, 2009

This article is so fail where it is obvious S6 had much much better in details than 6s.

74. hanabi

Posts: 177; Member since: Oct 08, 2015

haha the article topic already suggests where PA's bias lies

73. obedchuni

Posts: 341; Member since: Jun 16, 2014

its iphone for me, true to life not over saturated of galaxy s6

71. bugsbunny00

Posts: 2267; Member since: Jun 07, 2013

both dont come close xperia Z5.

68. ZeljkoBoskovic

Posts: 3; Member since: Mar 21, 2013

Even though I found the article somewhat interesting, I couldn't resist to admire the location of where the photos were taken. Beograd or for the English speaking people Belgrade...Kalemegdanska tvrdjava, Cveta, Terasa, usce...FANTASTIC!!! Born and raised there, it wouldn't be any different if the author took the pictures with my first Nokia camera phone with less than 1 megapixel✅

65. EC112987

Posts: 1216; Member since: Nov 10, 2014

Picked up a edge plus and wow this phone is amazing. Love it over my N4

62. nahusiv

Posts: 100; Member since: Apr 20, 2015

i dont care if it is bigger or smaller, the s6 camera is better, period

61. jeroome86

Posts: 2314; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

Couldn't be happier with 6s Plus. A real Beast of a phone. Camera takes good enough pictures for me. Battery life. Wow. My Android phones would lose life just in stand bye mode. My co worker brags about how much better his G4 is. They make better use of screen ratio and that's it. Still use my Note 3 when I need the S- pen. It's been pretty good phone but this new Plus model is great. Love not seeing all the carrier bloat. Don't missed the constant questions do you want make this your default app. Then when I think I got it solve it asked me again. Ugh. Buy what you like. Like what you buy.

72. roscuthiii

Posts: 2383; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

"Like what you buy."??? I can agree totally with the buying what you like bit, but no one is beholden to just like something only because they bought it. Then again, I suppose that is the mentality of an iPhone user...

60. Khyron

Posts: 402; Member since: Sep 28, 2015

Biased article smell like apples's $$$ here

50. garciano unregistered

not sure why I read this I want my time back.

48. DRS1977

Posts: 681; Member since: May 27, 2015

PA, you lost, get over it. The 6S is a 10th place camera at best. Quit trying to make up articles to please Apple for your paychecks.

39. DirtyDan23

Posts: 280; Member since: Aug 12, 2014

Nifty

37. srgonu

Posts: 574; Member since: Feb 13, 2012

Why PA trying to prove 6s camera is good. Why not compare with nexus camera to prove your point mega pixels is not everything. You don't have to force 6s on to your readers. Just do a unbiased job and compare the same eco system if you want to prove mega pixel doesn't matter. By the way mega pixel count matters when you view image on a large screen. Of course it doesn't matter on small screens like phones.

55. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Because they love Apple. The iPhone 6S camera is good, but "good" isn't good enough anymore. What I am looking at is cost. the iPhone starts at $649, the S6 starts at $599. We already know it costs Apple less to make an iPhone vs Samsung and the S6. Apple just wants to capitalize on profits which the iFans love to brag about. Ok, stockwise they are the richest corporation on the planet. So, what are they doing with the money? Losing. Apple came first with better cameras, better displays and more. Why did they stop? Because people will keep buying even when better options exist and Apple will just upgrade gracefully. If the iPhone was running Android, the iPhone would have been beaten back in 2010 and that would have been the last we saw of it. If other OEM's had iOS, Apple would be reduced to a software company already. They have no incentive to do better as long as people keep buying. The only incentive would be a drastic drop in iPhone sales. I am talking a whole year of sales being 30% or more of the sales the previous year. Then they will wake up and try to do better. Apple with their money have no excuse to be releasing BS hardware. I miss owning an iPhone, but I'm not going to buy one as long as they keep charging premium prices for a mid-ranged model. Give me a phone equal to the S6 right now or better and Apple I will buy it. Sadly it's never gonna happen..EVER! That is fact! iPhone 7 specs? i.9GHZ CPU, 5/16MP camera, 2GB of RAM, one new gimmicky feature and maybe USB-Type C so people will run out an buy all new accessories again so Apple will make more money off licensing.

78. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

BS Hardware? then you clearly are a reverse fanboy here. As well, apple goes well beyond just the phone, its an ecosystem that is hard to replicate. Let me know when I can buy a phone from Motorola, walk into a Motorola location and replace my phone or get help. Believe it or not they pay people to man these stores. They are a different breed, whether it is good or bad, day in and out, dealing in the cell phone industry, apple comes out ahead for us more than any other OEM we deal with on a daily basis, calling Samsung for us is nearly worthless and they always try to pass the buck off. I can deal with 'ok/good' pictures when you get excellent service. However I don't own an iphone for personal every day usage, I rely on my Lumia for that, and did get it for the camera, that still to this day stands toe to toe with Android flagships.

90. k4ever

Posts: 240; Member since: Oct 08, 2014

Yes, he was right; the iPhone has BS hardware! It's funny that you couldn't counter his BS hardware with anything substantial defending the hardware. Instead, you pivoted to ecosystem and services; in other words even you know that iPhone has BS hardware. Apple's ecosystem sucks. It would be ok if Apple's ecosystem was light years ahead of Android or the rest of the competition. However, it is not. Only some of the apps look slightly better and you get a few games before everyone else. It is much easier to purchase, manage, and listen to music and movies on other platforms; Amazon MP3 and Spotify proved that. Apple's cloud services aren't even second rate, they are fourth behind Amazon, Google, and Microsoft; they are actually behind Microsoft on services. Does anyone even use Apple's software like Maps, Music, or productivity software? Not unless they want to drive off a bridge, delete their entire music library, miss out on important emails, or not have the ability to edit office files. Heck, every single Google App (GMail, Maps, Google Now, etc) is better than it's Apple/iOS counterpart. Then there is the hardware service. Yes, Apple Stores are cool if you happened to live by one. I have lived in some pretty big towns in the last 15 years and the nearest Apple Store was always 2-3 hour drive away. No use having good service if you can't get to it. Not all of us live in big cities and work as batistas in the local coffee shop. Apple makes mediocre hardware that they sell to you for a premium price. They hook you in with the illusion that you are getting what you paid for when all you are really getting is ripped off.

36. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

So basically the ifanboi writer is trying to explain why the S6 camera is so much better than the iPhone camera. We all know that Megapixel's aren't the whole story. The fact is the Samsung simply has better optics and the software works better too. 1.9 Aperture is better than 2.2 even if its a small difference. 16:9 aspect ration pictures look better. It is stupid to stop a camera at 4:3. I hate taking pics with the iPhone because it cuts off everything on the side, and blows up whatever is in view. The colors are always watched out too as you own picture reveal. In this case even if we are talking 4MP, its still better on an 8 minth old camera vs a newer one. We dont need an article of you revisiting the S6 vs iPhone 6S. The S6 simply has better optics no matter what reasons you claim otherwise. DEAL WITH IT! When the iPhone took better pictures than the competition, I praised it along with others. Now it not getting praised because their cameras aren't top dog anymore. Now that we have better cameras to compare wit, we can see just how terrible iPhone cameras actually are. Its easy for a good camera to beat a bad one, so in the old days Apple had the advantage it was beating crappy cameras. Those crappy options are now gone. Apple has to give its cameras better optics. People try to complain about the camera bumps on Samsung phones. Well those bumps mean larger better optics and results in far better pictures. When you use a stick and you hold an iPhone next to an S, you can see even on the display the photo is going to be better on the S6. The field of view being wider on the S6 helps it take better pictures. Props go to the S6 even if the fanboy writer just doesn't want to admit it.

77. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

I prefer 4:3 but that is all about personal choice.

33. PhoneCritic

Posts: 1382; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

Spin,Spin, Spin and more Spin. Please PA Just stop. and say what every other site has already confirm. The iPhone 6s camera is great but the GS6 and some others are better. Its that simple.

29. dimas

Posts: 3465; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

Though iphone's camera is good. There's also the price that buyers would consider. In a few months s6 will become cheaper while iphone will still be having their premium cost for a year to come. With more features and better technology plus the good battery optimization on top of a QHD display, I'd say S6 is still the winner.

28. Muayyad

Posts: 240; Member since: Oct 05, 2012

This article was brought to you by phone arena to make you think iPhone 6s takes the best pictures. But it doesn't.

32. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

Lol that's exactly what this article is. I wonder if the Apple PR team actually goes out and pays these websites or threaten to pull App,e stock from stores to get these favourable articles or these isheep voluntarily write thus dribble to support their chosen brand. One day there will be a huge documentary on this and I hope I am still alive to watch it. Instead of Enron the smartest guys in the room. It would be titled something like Apple, the politically correct cult or something similar.

26. jeroome86

Posts: 2314; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

S6 better? Yes iPhone camera? Still pretty good. A9 processor? Still the best.

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