OnePlus 6 vs Galaxy S9+ vs Pixel 2 XL: low-light camera comparison

OnePlus 6 vs Galaxy S9+ vs Pixel 2 XL: low-light camera comparison

If it wasn't clear by now, we've long welcomed OnePlus into the premiere league. And this means that despite the phone's considerably lower cost compared to most top smartphones out there, we've found ourselves consistently stacking it up against the best out there. One of the last remaining bases to cover for OnePlus has been the camera. Not that it's been bad all this time, but let's just say it wasn't quite on the same level as the shooters found on the latest iPhone or Galaxy S.

So, the OnePlus 6 actually turned out to be quite the big deal. Sure, the company increased the price of its new model once again, but so did most other manufacturers out there, and in comparison, the OP6 still comes off as a value offering. This new model is interesting, though. It has a brand new design, with an all-screen front, and the beefiest chipset available for Android phones. It also has a new, 16 MP camera with bigger sensor and wide aperture. The expectation is that these characteristics should allow it to take some pretty good photos in low-light situations. So far, we've tested the OnePlus 6's camera in terms of normal, daylight images (performed quite well), and portrait photos (did fairly well). Now is the time to take a close look at its camera's low-light / night-time capabilities. To do that, we're going to pit it against the two best Android cameraphones: the Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL.

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Here's what we're going to do. For each of the five scenes below, we'll be giving out scores (1-10, 10 being max), and then we'll see at the end which model managed to accumulate the most points.


Scene 1

In this first scene, the OnePlus 6 demonstrates a remarkable ability to nail the natural color balance. This observation mostly holds true for much of the remaining scenes. In contrast, both the Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL swing towards a warmer aesthetic, but while things remain pretty tolerable in the photo from the Galaxy S9, the Pixel 2 XL proves to be a tad too extreme in its preference for warmth here.

The great news is all three phones produce an equally terrific level of detail, with no clear winner. This is a strong start for the OnePlus 6, let's see if it'll manage to keep it up!

points awarded

Fine Dining

Scene 2

Here, we see all three contenders on a more equal footing. The Pixel 2 XL has oversharpened the picture a bit (or the other two have dialed the noise-reduction better), but this scene is also where its HDR efforts have paid off – if you look at the leftmost edge of the shot, the trees there are only illuminated well on the Pixel 2's picture – not that this particular detail matters too much here, but still. Aside from that, there isn't any meaningful difference here between the three camera heroes. Which, again, is a great result for the OnePlus 6 – remember, it's the one that has to prove it can play with the big boys here. And so far, so good for OnePlus. The Galaxy S9+ has come up with a strong picture, but it hasn't done much to differentiate itself. If there's anything we could complain about here, it's that neither of the three managed to pull a satisfactory level of detail in this scenario. Look closely at the people in the diner, and you'll see all kinds of blocky, heavily pixelized shapes. Let's continue!

Fun at Night

Scene 3

We're bundling the next two scenes together, because they are of similar character. With the usual disclaimer that all three seem to be doing fine, let's get nitpicking! The Galaxy S9+ can show us something the other two can't here, and that's a more spacial color reproduction. Unlike it, the OnePlus 6 and Pixel 2 XL seem be leaning a bit too much into the yellow domain. That's especially true for the Pixel 2 XL, which tends to overdo this mistake in its attempt to sugarcoat the image. If you look closely, the Pixel 2 XL is also the noisiest of the bunch, with the OnePlus 6 and Galaxy S9+ going for a cleaner photo without significant sacrifice in details.

Haunted Mansion

Scene 4

Welcome to the Haunted Mansion, heroes! Oh, what twisted perils await inside...

For our cameraphone heroes, the perils here mostly have to do with insufficient light and some dynamic areas that can be tricky to not over- or under-expose. This time, the OnePlus 6 does an interesting thing and cranks up the sharpness, so if you view the photo in actual size and from up close, you'll notice there's quite a bit of noise in there. However, if you stick with a smaller, social media-grade size and quality, this actually works in favor of the OP6, as the photo has come out really nice and sharp. The Galaxy S9+, on the other hand, proposes a more balanced approach to sharpness and noise here, and also saturates the colors a little more. The Pixel 2 XL, again in its effort to sweeten the scene, pumps up the exposure a bit more, but the resulting over-HDR effect doesn't really serve the scene too well. It's also quite soft.


Scene 5

Our journey ends at a place where we could finally have some real food. Before we could get to unpacking the cheeseburgers, though, we had to take a few shots of the night-time exterior. We tend to prefer the Galaxy S9+'s and Pixel 2 XL's photos here, as they just manage to reveal more of the building. With the OnePlus 6, the scene absolutely looks fine, but we don't like how one side of the building is so dark. That problem doesn't exist with the other two. The Pixel 2 XL once again swings for a slightly yellowish tone, but it's OK here as it isn't too drastic.

Final scores

It's been a heated match-up this one, and we think we can walk out with a couple of interesting takeaways. One is that OnePlus largely seems to have caught up with the big fellas in the camera game. If it can go toe to toe like this with the GS9+ and Pixel 2 XL in nighttime, then we have to congratulate those guys for a job well done! The second one is that if you want a great picture even in the most challenging conditions, the Galaxy S9 continues to be a very safe bet – the quality and consistency you'll be able to get out of this Samsung camera is remarkable, and possibly second to none at this time. The Pixel 2 XL is, of course, great as well, but it's a bit too much into sugarcoating things, and we don't know what's up with that yellow tint it put on almost everything this time.

OnePlus, though! The OP 6 proves that 'never settle' is indeed still the mood in the company, and we can't be happier to see them go toe to toe with the best Android cameras so ably. And as we say that, you can hear champagne bottles start popping over in Shenzhen.

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