Galaxy S10+ vs Pixel 3 vs iPhone XS: NIGHT camera comparison
Samsung's next big, the Galaxy S10+, is here. Well... at least for a few lucky journalists out there who got to use one a couple of weeks ahead of the official launch.
We were among those lucky few and one of the first things that we wanted to test in detail was the camera performance: the Galaxy S10+ is a big upgrade purely physically as it now features three cameras on its back, as well as two on the front for a total of 5 shooters.
On the back of the S10+, for the first time on a flagship Samsung phone, you can now find a new ultra-wide angle camera in addition to the familiar main rear camera and the 2x telephoto zoom camera. Up front, you've got a main selfie shooter and a secondary front camera that gathers depth information (notice that the secondary camera is not used for wide-angle selfies as on other phones like the Pixel 3 series).
And since we all know that these cameras will probably do a stellar job during the day, we focused on the one thing where the performance still needs improvement: NIGHT-time photography.
And what better way to learn about camera performance than to compare the Galaxy S10+ against the reigning low-light camera champion, the Google Pixel 3, as well as the popular iPhone XS, to give you some perspective. So... is the Galaxy S10+ raising the bar in terms of low-light photos? And can it beat the best current phones out there? Let's find out.
No phone can match Google Pixel's incredible Night Sight
We kick off this comparison with an extreme scenario: this building had no lights turned on it and it was the middle of the night, so it was very dark outside. Not the perfect conditions for any camera, let alone a smartphone.
We, however, know that there is one smartphone that had raised the bar for such kind of extreme photography and we were wondering whether the new Galaxy S10 had an answer to that phone. We're talking about the Google Pixel 3 and its Night Scape mode, of course.
Good news is that the new Galaxy is able to pull a lot more from this dark scene than the Apple iPhone XS. In this case, the iPhone captured the most realistic-looking photo, but we'd argue that this is one case where we don't want realism, we want to be able to see what's being photographed! Still, the Galaxy S10+ clearly has no good answer for the Pixel's Night Sight mode. The image on the Galaxy has a lot more noise and does not look as good.
And we have one more example to show you how far ahead Google's Night Scape mode is in such extreme conditions:
You can see how the Pixel magically pulls out light, color and detail to give you a photo that almost looks magical if you compare it with our paltry human night vision.
Again, the Galaxy pulls more light from this scene than the iPhone, but it also has a lot of noise and is no match for the Pixel.
And since Night Sight also works with the front camera, you can get a usable selfie in all sorts of conditions with the Google Pixel 3. Can the Galaxy S10+ match that?
Summing it up, those extreme candle-lit type of shots are definitely not suitable for pictures unless you have the Google Pixel 3. The Galaxy S10+ pulls out more light than most rivals, but there is still too much nosie and it's just no match for Google's Night Scape magic.
Night Photos and the neon lights
When you have some light around, the differences between these three are not that huge
What about taking pictures at night when you actually have at least some lights, so, you know, you yourself can see what you are photographing?
The Galaxy is a jump forward in this scenario as it captures more light than the iPhone XS, but again, you then have the Google Pixel 3 with its Night Sight mode that is so fast and easy to use, and that gives you so much more in terms of colors and exposure.
After taking hundreds of photos with the Pixel, we would say that it almost never hurts taking a photo using Night Sight instead of the regular mode. In fact, we would often use Night Sigth even during the day because it gives that extra dynamic range to an image. The extra second that it takes for the phone to capture the photo with this mode is definitely well worth it.
Next up, here is a picture of yours truly, chilling with a glass of wine after taking a bunch of photos on this rather windy night.
We took a couple of shots, but in such dark conditions it was clearly hard for the phones to find my face and focus correctly, and the Galaxy and Pixel photos look blurry.
The Apple iPhone XS actually did best in nailing the focus, but it also noticeably underexposed the shot.
We would say that none of these phones did a great job in this particular scene. Still, you can see the vivid colors of the Pixel that look good, but are not quite realistic. The iPhone has the most true-to-life image when it comes to colors and even exposure, while the Galaxy holds the middle ground between the Pixel's vivid look and the iPhone's hyper-realistic shot.
Next up, here is a photo that we took without the Night Scape mode on the Google Pixel 3. In this much better illuminated night shot, the differences between the three phones are quite subtle:
The Galaxy S10+ does a fairly good job with both the colors and those hard-to-capture, vivid neon signs. The iPhone captures the more toned down picture and it has just a bit of a trouble with the brightest sign on the left side of the photo. The Pixel has the most saturated photo, but also the best dynamic range and this is the photo that impresses most at first sight.
The New Ultra-wide camera
It can give you photos you cannot get with most others
The Galaxy S10+ now also has a third, ultra-wide angle camera that the Pixel and the iPhone lack. And while the Pixel can kind of make do with the lack of a telephoto camera, there is no way to match the look you get with an ultra-wide angle camera.
While the quality on this ultra-wide angle camera is not quite as great as on the main Galaxy S10+ camera, you are able to get some incredible shots with it. Take a look at the picture below: there was a wall so we could not get further away from the bar, so it was impossible to capture the whole shot on the iPhone and the Pixel, while the Galaxy captured a very memorable picture.
However, you should know that in extreme low light conditions, the ultra-wide angle camera is of almost no use. It's simply not able to capture as much light as the main camera on the Galaxy S10+.
Software remains king
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is an evolutionary better camera that captures more light at night than its predecessors. We found the camera on the S10+ to be also fast and reliable, with an intuitive and convenient interface. Most importantly, the Galaxy probably has the best-looking screen that we have ever seen on a smartphone and this screen brings photos to life in an impressive fashion.
When you have some light available, as you would most of the time, the differences between the Galaxy, iPhone and Pixel are not that striking, and all three phones capture good-looking photos. The Pixel, however, captures the most light, the widest dynamic range and its images generally look better to a varying degree.
At extreme low-light conditions, the Galaxy S10+ is no match for the Pixel with its Night Sight. In fact, no phone is. The Galaxy has a built-in night mode that automatically kicks off in extreme low-light conditions, but that takes a very long while to capture a photo and the results are not as good. The Google Pixel 3 on the other hand takes just a second to capture Night Sight photos, and the results you get with it have far less noise. In extreme low-light, the Apple iPhone XS captures far less light than the Galaxy or the Pixel, and you cannot get very usable photos from it.
In conclusion, if you are looking for the best phone for night photos, that would still be the Google Pixel 3.
The Galaxy S10+, however, brings enough improvements in our view to pull ahead of the iPhone XS at night, and that's a great achievement on its own.