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?

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52 Comments

1. pokharkarsaga

Posts: 556; Member since: Feb 23, 2012

Mate 30 pro is the low light winner.Iphone 11 pro & pixel 4 ranks second.There is no actual winner between two.

2. cmdacos

Posts: 4302; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Would love to see Huawei comparison for sure.

12. Victor.H

Posts: 1095; Member since: May 27, 2011

No point in making a comparison for a phone that's not on sale anywhere (except China I guess), but we'd definitely do one when it launches.

23. cmdacos

Posts: 4302; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Use P30 then

27. Techno4

Posts: 16; Member since: Jul 31, 2019

Will be in Europe from the 15th or so, will be good to see it against the other top devices.

37. virparam01

Posts: 21; Member since: Mar 04, 2012

I agree with the results, samsung night mode seems to be low on details . I don't remember much but when samsung launched the night mode and kept it automatic ,phonearena were one of the first to bash out that why to keep it on automatic,that is a stupid idea but now Apple does it and somehow it has become the holy grail of night modes... hilarious I personally feel user should always have a choice.

55. dazed1

Posts: 806; Member since: Jul 28, 2015

In what world does the Pixel 4 wins in the low light building photo? are you guys blind to see that the pixel photo is very blurry?

18. cpk8402

Posts: 3; Member since: Jun 04, 2008

yea, lets compare a phone thats barely available, that makes sense.

21. maherk

Posts: 6999; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Since this test is strictly about night mode, the Mate 30 Pro would've ended the test dead last. While the auto mode on P30 and Mate 30 Pro beats most of night modes out there, the night mode on these RYYB sensor equipped phones delivers an awful greenish pictures, and it's an issue that Huawei can't seem to find a fix for it. My old Mate 20 Pro's night mode was much more pleasing to the eye than my P30 Pro, which after few days of owning it, I never used the night mode on it.

26. Techno4

Posts: 16; Member since: Jul 31, 2019

Seen many test without this tint you keep going on about, none of these phones in the comparison come close to the mate 30 pro in low light it's has less noise and preserves more detail than these 3.

28. maherk

Posts: 6999; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Then you clearly haven't seen enough video comparisons as you claim. I owned the P30 Pro for 5 months, and I know what I'm talking about. Check XDA for more information about the inconsistent color science on the P30 Pro and Mate 30 Pro.

50. perry1234

Posts: 652; Member since: Aug 14, 2012

I second this opinion Maherk. RYYB sensors introduce their own set of problems. Not that the decision was wrong on Huawei's part, but the software needs to be up to the task to correct the possible issues (yellow-tint, green-tint etc.) Another thing I predict is that the Google Camera App will not have the same performance on this phone on sideloading because RYYB is a totally different ball game. The camera app was made keeping RGB sensors in mind, including all its software algorithms. Just a tidbit for those who were planning on sideloading Google Camera APK.

3. cmdacos

Posts: 4302; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Too bad there are so many hardware shortfalls with the Pixel as the camera is second to none for stills. Thank goodness for GCam

38. Georgio

Posts: 274; Member since: Nov 21, 2016

Samsung and apple have the biggest shortfalls ; their cameras are rubbish compared to pixel 4. Iphone also has another shortfall (ios) Samsung with that stupid skin and very slow updates. Those are real shortfalls!! That GCam will never be as good as the real camera from the pixel.

4. Nexus4lifes

Posts: 299; Member since: Feb 13, 2014

So Iphone 11 deep fused shoit is not working

7. Victor.H

Posts: 1095; Member since: May 27, 2011

I see that many people are confused. Deep Fusion is not supposed to work in low light or at night. It only works in medium light, for example when you are indoors during the day. Here is how it works:https://www.phonearena.com/news/Deep-Fusion-demo-before-and-after_id120022

17. cpk8402

Posts: 3; Member since: Jun 04, 2008

Well Deep Fusion isn't night mode. They are two different "modes" and any review or info about Deep Fusion states that.

5. dnomadic

Posts: 436; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

Interesting results, I typically side with the Pixel' here, I mostly sided with the iphone until we go pixel peeping. The good thing that I noticed, (since we don't dive that deep in viewing photos) is that high end phones from Google and Apple will consistently turn out awesome photos. Well done sir!

10. Victor.H

Posts: 1095; Member since: May 27, 2011

Thank you!

6. ironmarc89

Posts: 64; Member since: Jan 22, 2012

Here for the OnePlus 7T fan boys that talk about their hardware specs, but know their camera takes trash pics

8. JCASS889

Posts: 594; Member since: May 18, 2018

All iPhone pics have a yellowish hue to them...

25. CDexterWard

Posts: 92; Member since: Feb 05, 2018

Been like that for a while. I still have a iPhone X that I go back to occasionally and the pics are always overly warm. The default white balance is not, well, balanced for most everyday shots (my personal experience).

33. User123456789

Posts: 1084; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

That is why many phones have manual mode for you to adjust Wab according to the type of lighting around. Auto mode will never do job correctly at night.

41. Poptart2828

Posts: 458; Member since: Jan 23, 2018

I hate that yellow warmth that iPhones shoot. Yuck

9. nique0201

Posts: 63; Member since: Nov 28, 2011

Why is phone arena one of the only aight the Galaxy devices always perform not well in? It's like you all purposely use worse settings or sabotage the photos. Evey YouTube video they either win or down right tie. But when you all post they always come in last seems weird and this has been not just not but for like 6 generations .

11. Victor.H

Posts: 1095; Member since: May 27, 2011

It's a conspiracy, I'm telling ya.

19. peschiera

Posts: 51; Member since: Sep 17, 2017

Victor, no conspiracy. Specially you is the one that proves this on a regular basis. Your conspiracy answer does not explain the fact nique0201 mentioned.

51. perry1234

Posts: 652; Member since: Aug 14, 2012

Hahaha!

53. Deadeye

Posts: 131; Member since: Jul 26, 2019

There is no conspiracy, only your bias.

45. bitwiser

Posts: 27; Member since: Sep 28, 2018

I've owned every Samsung S series since the S4 and almost ever note. I've also owned every version of Pixel. Samsung like to soften photos when it detects people. I just always find the photos on Samsung subpar since owning a pixel. If you have never used pixel as your daily phone then you won't notice. But pixel is just consistently a better photo for photos. No review can show that.

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