Note 10+ vs Huawei P30 Pro vs Pixel 3 vs iPhone XS Max: LOW LIGHT Camera Comparison
There is a new competitor in the smartphone camera race: the Galaxy Note 10+ is the first flagship phone by Samsung that comes with Night Mode built in the camera app and it introduces some improvements over the Galaxy S10+ for a more refined camera experience.
But how does it do in the most challenging conditions for any smartphone camera: in low light?
To understand how capable the Galaxy Note 10+ is in low light, we compare it directly against the best camera phones out there: the Google Pixel 3, the Huawei P30 Pro and the popular iPhone XS Max.
It's interesting that except from the aging iPhone, all the phones in this comparison have embraced the idea for a separate Night mode, plus some of the phones apply novel technology to squeeze much more light out of a nearly pitch-black photo. See all those differences and learn which phone does best at night right below.
Photo 1: Absolute darkness
The new Galaxy Note 10+ might have a ton of fancy features and options, but we wanted to start this comparison by just using the auto settings, using the default photo mode and we picked a place that we would normally not even think to photograph: a pitch black corner of the street. This is probably the most challenging scenario for any camera: there was so little light that it was hard to see for our paltry human vision. Interestingly, one phone stood out here: the Huawei P30 Pro managed to magically bring out light out of this pitch black environment and captured clearly the best-looking photo here.
All other phones captured different shades of dark (much like what our eyes were seeing). This was a very interesting test: we have to say once again that we would not usually even think of taking a picture in such pitch-black darkness, so we're impressed that the Huawei P30 Pro is able to capture these seemingly impossible conditions.
Photo 2: Auto vs Night Mode
Next up, it was time to try out the Night Mode and see what results you get on different phones.
The thing you should know about the Galaxy Note 10+ is that using Night Mode on it is an exercise in patience as a single shot takes a long while to capture. In comparison, the Nightsight on the Pixel takes just a second to process a shot, while it takes much longer on the Note 10+ (and on the P30 Pro for that matter). The iPhone lacks a Night mode, so it could not quite match the competition here.
On all phones, Night Mode captures an image with more light and more color that looks better, but at the same time this improvement comes at the expense of detail which is artificially oversharpened and not quite as pleasing.
It's hard to say which phone captures the best picture in this case, but one thing that is noticeable is that colors on the Huawei appear much colder than on others.
Photo 3: Neon Lights
This was an interesting shot because neon lights give a night shot unique character. We were surprised with the way the Huawei P30 Pro handled the neon signs: it basically failed to properly portray the reddish color of the sign and had less detail than the rest.
The best picture here is the one shot by the Google Pixel: it has the best dynamic range, deep colors, very good amount of detail and just looks great. The Galaxy and the iPhone captured very similar looking shots, just slightly less impressive than the Pixel.
Photo 4: Moonlit Coastline
The moonlit coastline was really quite the sight that night and we were excited that with these phones we could capture a scene that probably a couple of years ago would have looked like one blurry mess on a photo.
We feel that using Night Mode contributed to making this image a bit better, but it also showed how Night Mode can look a bit like an overkill. Especially on the Galaxy Note and Google Pixel here, colors look downright cartoonish and overly exaggerated. We'd say that the iPhone captured the least amount of detail and light in this photo, and it's clearly the least exciting picture here, then we'd rank the Galaxy and the Pixel, while the Huawei P30 Pro actually looks like the most balanced photo in this case.
Photo 5: The Road
Night Mode in this last scene made a subtle contribution to the image and we have to recognize that the Galaxy Note 10+ in this case is able to capture a very nice looking photo with pleasing colors. On the Huawei P30 Pro, colors look ghostly and way too cold, so much so as to reduce the appeal of the photo. The Pixel goes in the other extreme: its colors are extremely oversaturated and look cartoonish. Finally, the iPhone in all of the pictures including this one appears darker than the rest. We wish Apple found a way to let more light in to give night photos more appeal. For all else, the iPhone has a great amount of detail, but it's just not capable of capturing enough light at night.
It's time to sum things up and look at the total score and (drumroll) the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ wins this one narrowly. It's followed closely by the Huawei P30 Pro and the Google Pixel 3. The iPhone XS Max is far behind these three phones when it comes to low light capabilities.
What stands behind these scores, however, is what truly matters: the Galaxy Note 10+ is at number one because it is able to strike the right balance of features, it has pleasing colors, it has night mode and it has a versatile array of cameras. We were, however, annoyed by how long it takes to capture a Night Mode photo on the Note and then how long it takes to process this photo, both definitely very annoying if you shoot a lot of photos at night.
The Huawei P30 Pro might come in second in this comparison, but in some cases it is clearly unmatched: just look at that first picture in pitch black condition where it is able to capture a ton of light without using any Night mode, just press the shutter button and you get an amazing photo when all others fail. Would you start taking pictures at pitch black conditions regularly? We don't think so, but you might as well try now that a phone can do that.
The Google Pixel 3 is another great performer at night. The once unmatched Pixel now finally has some worthy rivals and we can start to see the areas where Google can and should improve. Namely, the colors which are always very oversaturated, overblown to the point of looking cartoonish. For all else, this is an excellent performer and the most pleasing one to use as its Nightscape mode is the fastest of them all.
The iPhone XS Max deservedly scores last in this elite company. It lacks the light-gathering capabilities of the rest and Apple does not offer a Night Mode to salvage things. We are looking forward to big improvements in those areas coming soon.
And this rounds up our low-light comparison of the top dogs when it comes to camera quality. Which one is your personal favorite and why? We are looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section below.