While slow motion video isn't exactly a new thing in smartphones—we've had that as early as the LG Viewty in the 2007/2008 stretch—it has been trending up ever since Apple put its weight behind the feature with the iPhone 5s. Virtually all flagship and high-end smartphones today offer the special shooting mode today.
As a concept, slow motion video needs no introduction. We've all seen various clips showcasing the minute detail of a water-filled balloon bursting, or a cheetah about to snap its jaws on a gazelle. In most cases, however, these have been shot with high-end, dedicated gear, which can shoot video at frame rates in the hundred of thousands. With the two most popular smartphones on the planet—the iPhone 6s and Galaxy S7—the cap is set at 240 frames per second, or FPS for short. That's still more than enough for consumer-grade videos, however, so we were curious as to whether either of the two is superior than the other in this particular area. So we put them head to head.
If you're shooting at 240FPS, both devices will automatically limit their resolution to 720 x 1280 pixels, which isn't crazy high in today's world, but still sufficiently detailed for most use-case scenarios. And if you're ready to sacrifice on frame rate, with the iPhone 6s you can go down to 120FPS, but 1080 x 1920 pixels, for a lesser slow motion effect, but higher resolution. You can't do that on the Galaxy S7.
Before we get judgy, here's a mash-up of slow-mo clips we shot for the occasion:
Alright, so time to get technical and a little more analytical. First off, it's worth pointing out that both devices play back slow motion clips at 30 frames per second, and clips have a comparable bit rate at close to 9,000kbps. On the audio side of things, however, the iPhone 6s has the edge, with a 187kbps/44KHz audio, while the Galaxy S7 retains less information (127kbps), but samples at 48KHz. On paper, that means better audio coming out of the iPhone 6s, and in this case, we like what we hear better as well (especially noticeable during the Jenga tower segment).
Technical specifications aside, let's talk about the actual image quality. First off, playback appears to be equally smooth with both devices. In terms of image quality, however, we have some notable differences. For example, as with stills, Samsung goes for a much more noticeable sharpening effect, while the image of the iPhone 6s is much softer. Sharpening often leads people to mistakenly believe that images that otherwise offer comparable level of depth are superior than softer ones. In this case, however, sharpening or no sharpening, the Galaxy S7 offers notably better video quality than the iPhone 6s, and with far less yellow tinging.
The Galaxy S7 is superior in other areas, too. For example, slow motion clips aren't nearly as noisy on the Galaxy S7, and it's obvious that the significantly wider, f/1.7 lens lets a bit more light in than the f/2.2 one on the iPhone 6s—especially indoors. Given how footage at such high frame rates tends to be considerably darker than if you were taking normal video at, say 1080p or 4K resolution, this puts the Galaxy S7 in an advantageous position. But that's not all.
Slow motion video editing interface with the Galaxy S7 (left) and iPhone 6s (right).
Due to limitations that Apple put on the software—whether knowingly or not—we actually had to spend quite some time before we figured out how to export slow motion clips from the iPhone 6s to our computers, without a loss in detail. No, you can't e-mail them nor send them through iMessage—they'll be mercilessly compressed—and if you try to download them directly from the phone's storage, they'll be played back as a normal video sans the slow motion effect. The only workaround that we know of and that doesn't involve the purchase of an app is to use the free iMovie app from Apple to import the clips and then export them manually. It's a bit of a headache, but at least there's a way—it just means that the Galaxy S7 scores better on user experience, as with Samsung's device it's a simple drag-and-drop operation.
Finally, on the editing front, we have a near perfect tie. Both devices let you trim the footage and set a start and end manually, along with the ability to only slow down specific parts of the footage. The only plus on the S7's side is the ability to mute the footage if you're so inclined.
Our verdict? The Galaxy S7 has this, by a mile.