OnePlus 6 vs Samsung Galaxy S9+ vs iPhone X vs Google Pixel 2 XL Portrait Mode Comparison

OnePlus 6 vs Samsung Galaxy S9+ vs iPhone X vs Google Pixel 2 XL Portrait Mode Comparison
Portrait mode, the newest addition to smartphone cameras that allows you to take pictures with a blurred background, just like on a DSLR camera, has taken the world by a storm.

Ever since Apple announced that it is adding Portrait Mode in the iPhone 7 Plus nearly two years ago, other companies have been rushing to bring the feature to their phones: the Samsung Galaxy S9+ was the first Galaxy S phone with a dedicated portrait shooting mode, the Google Pixel 2 series added it via software updates and now, the newest OnePlus 6 also has the feature.

But which phones takes the best-looking portrait shots? After all, some phones use a secondary, "telephoto" camera to get a more flattering perspective, others rely on the regular software, some use AI and deep research and on the list goes. But what will really determine which phone has the best camera for portrait shots will be... the photos themselves! That's why we took a bunch of pictures and look at them in closer detail below. Read on.

1. First take


From the very first image, you can easily see that there are some big differences in how well some phones separate your subject from the background, a key feature for a natural-looking portrait shot.

The OnePlus 6 has quite big problems in this first scene: it just could not properly separate my beautiful model from the background and there are cropping artifacts near the hand and an improperly applied blur that eats up a big part of the face. The Galaxy S9+ captures a much brighter and cheerful image and is able to do an almost perfect job with very few areas that are not properly separate (around the elbow). The iPhone X offers very similar results to the OnePlus 6 as both feature similar color reproduction and even similar errors in judgment about our model and the background. Finally, the Google Pixel 2 XL is clearly the worst of the bunch. It seems completely incapable of properly understanding what should be blurred and what should be in focus and the photo it took is a complete mess of blurry areas in random places. First round winner? The Galaxy S9+, by a long shot.


2: Balcony


In our second shot, we have a full-body shot, which may prove even more challenging for these phones. How did they do?

The OnePlus does a good job here: the colors are very nice in a subtle, balanced way, the separation of the model from the background is fairly accurate with some slight artifacts, and the blur gradually increases as you look towards the horizon. Interestingly, the feet of our model are out of focus on the OnePlus, which might be a bit of an overkill. The Galaxy S9 again performs incredibly well: you have nearly perfect separation of the model from the background, everything is in sharp focus, colors are very pleasing and it's just an admirable shot. The iPhone X comes up with very strong, overstated colors with a lot of contrast and this is a look that we don't really like much in portraits. Everything is a bit darker as well, but the X separates the model well from the background and the image turns out okay. And then, the Pixel 2 XL is just tragic here. Once again, it seems completely unable to understand where is our model and where does the background starts. It has blurred big parts of the model, has disappointingly low level of detail and its picture just does not look good.

Winner: Galaxy S9+, but this time trailed closer by the OnePlus 6.


3: A Green Background


We see similar trends in the third scene, this time against a green background. Take a look at the photos to see the little details.


4: By the Sea


In the fourth image, we can once again see the same trends: a very good photo from the OnePlus, but still some slight issues with cropping artifacts, an excellent image with pleasing colors and a bright, cheerful tonality from the Galaxy, a likable, but slightly overly contrasty photo from the iPhone and a sorely disappointing portrait from the Pixel with no detail and poor understanding of model and background.


5: A Windy Day


Lastly, we took this picture in a windy spot where the wind would play crazy games with the hair of our model. Properly focusing on the flying bits of hair is 'mission impossible' for software, so we did not expect that any phone would do a perfect job. And of course, we were not surprised.

But still, we got decent photos, this time from all phones, even from the poorly performing Pixel 2 XL (it still had most issues of all, though). Take a look at the photos below.


One more curious thing: file size!


Another interesting little detail that we noticed while we were looking through the pictures is the sheer size of them. It was the Samsung Galaxy S9+ portrait shots (Live Focus) that stood out the most with their huge file size: while the average size of a portrait shot on the other three phones varied from around 2MB to 3MB, the average size of a shot from the S9+ weighed in at a whopping 12MB!

With modern phones having a ton of storage this is not really a dealbreaker, but still a curious detail to keep in mind. This could be due to the fact that you can later change the focus of an image with the Galaxy, a feature that other phones do not support, but it really results in much bigger file sizes.

Final words


So... which phone takes the best portrait photos?

While for other phone comparisons, we have had some very close calls, for portrait shots, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ stands tall above the competition. Samsung has really built an incredibly versatile photo camera. It has very pleasing colors with a balanced look and soft skin tones, it is able to accurately tell model from background and everything on its screen looks amazing.

The OnePlus 6 and the iPhone X are the two runner-ups. We were surprised by how well the OnePlus 6 did. OnePlus has really stepped up its game and we love the colors, and the 6 seems to have the highest amount of resolved detail in portraits. Good job, OnePlus! The iPhone, which started it all for portrait mode, captures good looking images, but has some catching up to do with the separation between model and background, and its strongly stated colors and contrasted look are similar to an Instagram feature and are not always flattering for portrait shots.

Finally, the Google Pixel 2 XL is the big loser here. This phone just can't tell our model from the background and produced the worst photos in all five scenes.

With this in mind, summer is around the corner and it's time to get those phone cameras out and shooting. If you pick the right phone, it might even replace a dedicated camera for those summer portrait photos.

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48 Comments

1. libra89

Posts: 2155; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

I'm surprised that the Pixel 2 XL did so bad.

11. sgodsell

Posts: 6654; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

The rest of the world has said how great the Pixels portrait mode is, there was lots of other tests with the iPhone X, iPhone 7, and 8 plus, S9, S8, and others and Pixels with portrait mode comparisons. Those tests showed how the Pixels portrait mode would always win.

30. Penny

Posts: 1844; Member since: Feb 04, 2011

Because the separation is more software dependent than the competitors (no second lens), it is more prone to being confused by the background. Basically, how well all of these phones perform in portrait mode is contextually dependent, but I would say even moreso for the Pixel 2 than the rest.

34. Finalflash

Posts: 4062; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

Well firstly, it's Vlad and his gf again so you have to take the results with a giant dose of salt cause he is the biggest Apple camera fanboy on the site. Second, they all suck, proving once again that portrait mode is a gimmick on phones. I don't know if anyone is buying phones based on portrait mode capabilities, but they're idiots if they are.

44. Penny

Posts: 1844; Member since: Feb 04, 2011

I wouldn't know, but yeah, he definitely did single out the Pixel 2 to trash more than necessary. Sure, point out its flaws and that it is flawed, but you can tell when biases creep in based on the language used to describe.

19. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

S9+ colors are god awful. It's so unrealistic and a pain to look at. I don't know why PA promote photos those look like completely edited by Photoshop to those that are very true to life... If I want I'll add a filter and edit the photo. In my opinion iPhone X gave the most pleasing, detailed and realistic looking photos among all these cameras.

21. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

BTW where are all those Pixel fanboys who say "A single Camera can produce true to life portrait mode photos with Google's AI" ???? L for them idiots.

2. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3088; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

The lady wins.

3. RevolutionA

Posts: 389; Member since: Sep 30, 2017

The leader is leader. iPhone X

4. RebelwithoutaClue

Posts: 5473; Member since: Apr 05, 2013

Of course, you would say that. But given the fact, the test was poorly executed (most shots weren't even from the same angle) it's hard to say which phone was the clear winner. Only thing was clear, the very obvious loser (Pixel 2 XL).

5. NateDiaz

Posts: 1082; Member since: Mar 03, 2018

Chill brother, iPhone X is the clear winner.

12. BullDozer

Posts: 145; Member since: Dec 18, 2015

Lolz. IFlopX was merely runner up. Hard time to compete with much cheaper Oneplus. S9 took first position like Galaxy phones before.

22. RebelwithoutaClue

Posts: 5473; Member since: Apr 05, 2013

Guess Phone arena seems to differ with your opinion. A site who has been accused of being Apple biased. Only a true blind fanboy will think iPhone won clearly

26. TechSceptic

Posts: 1156; Member since: Feb 05, 2018

It didn't win at all, did you even read the article? The Galaxy S9+ was the clear winner, as it took significantly better pictures than every other phone, including the iPhone X. The iPhone X wasn't even close to the Galaxy S9. You're beyond delusional, when you actually deny the results of the comparison, because it wasn't "your brand" that won.

25. TechSceptic

Posts: 1156; Member since: Feb 05, 2018

This article literally proves that the Iphone X isn't even in the running for the best portrait taker, as the Galaxy S9 was clearly taking much better pictures, as the author said themselves. You're literally denying the actual results of this whole comparison. I think this shows the level of delusion that some people have, when it comes to their "brand loyalty", when they go so far as to say simply deny the actual results and conclusion.

35. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1091; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

Please the iPhone X still makes the pics too damn yellow, makes it look unnatural. Mind you the Galaxy S9+ was worse.

6. J2017

Posts: 69; Member since: Oct 25, 2017

Why is the Huawei P20 pro not in this comparison?

36. yalokiy

Posts: 866; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

+1. I wish P20 Pro was included in the test as well. Perhaps it would fare better than S9+, who knows?

7. wabajak13

Posts: 53; Member since: Jan 02, 2018

My $200 7X takes portrait shots just as convincing as any of these. Plus I can focus after the fact unlike half of these.

14. sgodsell

Posts: 6654; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

The S9 can do the same.

8. sissy246

Posts: 6907; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

LMAO The s9+ kicks a$$ Suck it up buttercups, lol Your iPhone X was not the winner.

9. Ninetysix

Posts: 2931; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

Congratulations!

42. whatev

Posts: 2087; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

Congrats! Suddenly you don’t see yourself ugly or fat when you look at the mirror and you feel more secure about your decisions and personality and you feel like you’re winning an Oscar

10. CreeDiddy

Posts: 2102; Member since: Nov 04, 2011

Yep...not being biased, but the X won...

13. sissy246

Posts: 6907; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

OMG, you all believe what PA says as long as iPhone wins, but when clearly the iPhone doesn't win and even PA says the s9+ did a better job all the sudden PA is wrong., LOL

37. yalokiy

Posts: 866; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

...but just being blind?

15. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

Bokeh of Pixel is ridiculous. Part of the pics has more blur than other parts. Does any one them costumize the blur like Sony phones like direction and amount?

16. sissy246

Posts: 6907; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

Ok, it all boil's down to, they are all very capable cameras and do very good jobs. You want pro pictures use a real DSLR camera.

17. PhoneCritic

Posts: 1337; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

Wait am I missing something here - "the Samsung Galaxy S9+was the first Galaxy S phone with a dedicated portrait shooting mode," I thought the Note 8 was the first galaxy with live focus shot ( Portrait mode). What have I been using these past three months on my Note 8? PA a correction is needed here.

18. ezfidel

Posts: 61; Member since: Dec 25, 2012

All of them portrait mode pictures sucked. The subject is too far away! Her whole damn body is in the picture. No phones portrait mode feature is designed to take them kind of shots.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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