Night Mode Camera Comparison: Pixel 4 XL Night Sight vs iPhone 11 Pro Max vs Galaxy Note 10+

Night Mode Camera Comparison: Pixel 4 XL Night Sight vs iPhone 11 Pro Max vs Galaxy Note 10+
Which phone takes the best pictures at night?

In the past couple of years, that seems to be the billion dollar questions in the smartphone game as manufacturers have all come up with different takes on the "Night Mode" concept. Just recently, the iPhone 11 Pro Max was the last to join the party with its own take on the feature, finally catching up to the competition, but now the new Pixel 4 XL is out and it comes with improvements, plus the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ is also in the mix with its own Night Mode feature.

So what is this feature, how does it work and what difference does it make?

Let's take a look at the photos...

Scene 1


Without Night Mode


With Night Mode Enabled


This first scene is a prime example of a situation where Night Mode makes a big impact on the picture: there are no lights around and everything appeared pretty dark in real life. Night Mode takes a longer exposure that allows for more light to come in and it brings out color and detail you simply cannot see when using the regular shooting mode.

We would give the Pixel a slight preference because it has a bit more depth in terms of color, while the iPhone is a close second that delivers a good amount of detail but has a slight yellow cast.

Details Crop


To better understand the picture, you have to look up close and this is where differences start to really show. The Pixel and iPhone have a comparable amount of detail, we would say that the iPhone resolves detail a little bit better, but the big takeaway is that the Galaxy is the big loser in this scene as detail looks mushy and not as sharp as on the other two phones.

Score:
Pixel 4 XL: 8.5
iPhone 11 Pro Max: 8

Scene 2


Without Night Mode


With Night Mode Enabled



In this photo, we really see one thing: the Galaxy Night mode doesn't do a good job and captures a way too dark photo. The other two work out quite nicely, but you can see the way the iPhone captures a very yellow-ish image, which is the wrong white balance for the photo. The colors on the Pixel look way nicer and more accurate to reality.

Details Crop



Up close, you see a comparable level of detail on the iPhone and the Pixel, and we would give the iPhone a slight preference purely in terms of detail. The Galaxy is again a distant third in this round.

Score:
Pixel 4 XL: 8
iPhone 11 Pro Max: 7
Galaxy Note 10+: 5

Scene 3


Without Night Mode


With Night Mode Enabled



Here, you see that using Night Mode also has some obvious benefits: you have more light and more color, and it's an overall better picture than the regular one.

The iPhone again goes with a yellow overcast to the whole picture, which is more of a downside than an advantage, while the Pixel maintains a proper white balance. The image from the Galaxy is also quite decent, but you will see that it loses to others when you take a closer peek.

Details Crop



Up-close, the Galaxy looks like an oil painting: detail is mushy and not well defined, while the other two phones do a good job.

Score:
Pixel 4 XL: 8
iPhone 11 Pro Max: 8
Galaxy Note 10+: 7

Scene 4


Without Night Mode


With Night Mode Enabled



Another picture that looks better with Night Mode on and it's about time we mentioned the convenience of having this mode kick in automatically on the iPhone. You have to enable it manually on the other phones and you may forget or hesitate, and it's overall a bit of a chore, so we are definitely very happy with the Apple approach for this.

Details Crop



Here, we notice something else: the iPhone has a good amount of detail for the subjects in the photo, but when you look at large spots of the same color like here with the sky, there is a lot of noise there. This is something that the Pixel successfully keeps in check. The Galaxy is again a step or two behind the others: it features an overall darker image without that much resolved detail.

Score:
Pixel 4 XL: 8
iPhone 11 Pro Max: 7.5
Galaxy Note 10+: 7

Scene 5


Without Night Mode


With Night Mode Enabled



In this photo, you notice that Night mode doesn't make a huge difference and the improvements from it are moderate, but we would still say they are noticeable. This is the thing with Night mode: it works best when there is almost no light, and when you do have some light, you might not even need it. That's why we love having it automatically turn on and off on the iPhone. On the other phones, we are never quite certain whether a scene really needs to be shot with the Night mode on, or whether it will look just fine as a regular shot. These doubts usually result in a lot of wasted time and a bunch of duplicate photos in our photo gallery.

Details Crop



Up close, the Galaxy once again ranks far behind the other two. We would say that the iPhone manages to do a slightly better job with detail than the Pixel, but the overall color reproduction is still skewed towards the yellow tones too much and this deducts some points in the final iPhone score.

Score:
Pixel 4 XL: 8
iPhone 11 Pro Max: 7
Galaxy Note 10+: 7

Scene 6


Without Night Mode



With Night Mode Enabled



In this example, the Night Mode doesn't make that much of a difference on the Pixel, but works wonders on the iPhone and the Galaxy Note. Here especially you see the ghostly yellow-green tint of the iPhone, nothing close to reality. The other two phones do a much better job with white balance.

Details Crop



The same story repeats here with detail: the Pixel and iPhone do relatively well, but the iPhone has a lot of noise in the skies and gets a slightly lower score for that, while the Note is just bad.

Score:
Pixel 4 XL: 8
iPhone 11 Pro Max: 5.5
Galaxy Note 10+: 7

Conclusion and Final Score



It's time to draw the proverbial line in the sand, and say some words in conclusion.

But before that, let's look at the...

Final Score:
Pixel 4 XL: 48.5
iPhone 11 Pro Max: 42.5
Galaxy Note 10+: 40.5

And the Pixel 4 XL is the winner by a big margin. Its Night Sight captures images with excellent white balance, good amount of detail, and clear of excess noise. It's truly the best phone for night time photography. There is, however, one major wish on our part before we hand it the crown: Google should really take a page off of Apple's book and make Night Sight automatic. Even us, reviewers, are not sure when is the best time to use Night Sight and when a regular photo would do just as well, and it's a constant process of guessing and taking two or three shots of the same thing. That's tiring and takes away from the pleasure of taking pictures with the phone. With that in mind, the Pixel still is clearly ahead of the competition this year again.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max takes the second place and it has a great showing. This is the first iPhone with Night Mode and while Apple was last to this game, it also does it the right way: all automatic, without forcing the user to guess when they should use this mode. Images, however, leave some room for improvement: the biggest drawback is the consistently wrong white balance. All the images have yellow tonality and colors are all skewed towards those colors.

The Galaxy Note 10+ came in last in this comparison and the reason for that is that the quality of the images is not as good. The big issue is the amount of detail, which noticeably worse than on the other two, but also some images turned out way too dark and not on par with the others. But there is another big issue that we did not even mention: Night Mode on the Note takes way too long, you have no indication as to how long you need to hold the phone steady and it's just not a user-friendly solution.

What are your thoughts about these pictures?

Related phones

Pixel 4 XL
  • Display 6.3 inches
    3040 x 1440 pixels
  • Camera 12.2 MP (Dual camera)
    8 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6GB RAM
  • Storage 64GB, not expandable
  • Battery 3700 mAh
  • OS Android 10
iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • Display 6.5 inches
    2688 x 1242 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP (Triple camera)
    12 MP front
  • Hardware Apple A13 Bionic, 4GB RAM
  • Storage 64GB, not expandable
  • Battery 3969 mAh
  • OS iOS 13.x
Galaxy Note10+
  • Display 6.8 inches
    3040 x 1440 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP (Quad camera)
    10 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 12GB RAM
  • Storage 256GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 4300 mAh
  • OS Android 10
    Samsung One UI

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