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Well, after a week of non-stop use and hundreds of photos, it's time four our OnePlus 9 Pro vs Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max camera comparison.
This really is the battle of the camera titans, as the OnePlus is fully equipped with four cameras on the back and one on the front. Take a closer look at the chart below to see the differences against the Galaxy and the iPhone:
The big change is a main camera on the OnePlus 9 Pro that is much wider than on the others at 23mm focal length against 24mm on the Galaxy and 26mm on iPhone. The ultra-wide camera, in contrast, is tighter and literally not quite as "ultra wide": 14mm on the OnePlus vs 13mm on the Galaxy and 13mm on the iPhone.
And of course, the Galaxy is the only one with a periscope style long-range zoom camera, but more on that later. Let's get to the photos, shall we?
All of our OnePlus 9 content:
When we speak about daytime photos on flagships currently, the discussion inevitably rolls to color science because really, most flagships these days capture great detail and similar dynamic range, and for the most part, photos appear great on all phones. Still, there are nuances with the said color science and here is the OnePlus 9 Pro take on colors: these are not quite natural colors, but instead have an added pop to them, just like iPhones and Galaxies. This is just the way people like seeing their photos and that's what companies are delivering. So the specifics of the 9 Pro is that greens are not quite as saturated, but blues are instead very inky and even more saturated than on the rest. I also think that the iPhone goes a bit overboard with contrast, while the OnePlus and Galaxy are much more reasonable.
Notice how in the shot above as in many others, the shadows are crushed on the iPhone, while on the other phones you have a lot more information in those shadowy areas.
The other thing that happens on the OnePlus 9 Pro is that the yellow tonalities are not as vibrant as on the other phones, and in this case, we do prefer the warmer look of the photos from the Galaxy and iPhone.
In other cases, however, this is actually a good thing as in the above photo the white wood appears yellow-ish on the Galaxy and the iPhone, but it stays white on the OnePlus for a more accurate color balance. Of course, these are subtle differences, and as we said, most times daylight photos from all three phones appear just great and you really have to nitpick to find differences.
When it comes to zooming, there is really no contest, the Galaxy wins this round, hands down. What's interesting is to see whether the OnePlus is better at zooming than the iPhone and at 10X zoom as the above image it definitely seems so.
And once again, even in low light, the Galaxy is far ahead of the competition in this regard.
However, at about 3X zoom, while the Galaxy once again comes out on top, the iPhone actually has much cleaner detail than the OnePlus.
Okay, this one is hilarious, but since OnePlus updated the firmware of our phone in the last minute, we didn't really have a chance to shoot many portrait shots. So in this case, the OnePlus decided to curiously turn me into a deer and on top of that blurs out my jacket and jeans, which is just hilarious. We bet this will not happen all the time, but it just goes to show that portrait mode is definitely more reliable on the Galaxy and iPhone.
And here is a wide portrait photo, where again the OnePlus has weirdly cut out a part of my head, which really kind of ruins the photo. The iPhone also has some artifacts here, and it's the Galaxy that gets it with almost no errors.
We like this picture because it is a good illustration of the different approaches to such low light captures. We have used the automatic capture (that is to say we haven't manually gone into the dedicated Nightscape mode on OnePlus or Night mode on the Galaxy), and it's evident that the Galaxy and especially iPhone by default have photos that are a lot brighter, but the thing is that this was during the night and it is actually the OnePlus that is showing the most realistic picture. It has clean detail and it best represent that "night" feeling of the shot.
Here is one more similar example, and again, the OnePlus captures the sharpest photo with most detail in this case.
The photo above is also interesting, notice how the iPhone gets the white balance completely wrong and the white columns of the building look yellow/greenish, and kind of ruins the photo, plus you have that excessive contrast. The Galaxy does a good job here, but it's the OnePlus that has a sharper detail once again, great job!
Above is just one more confirmation of the white balance issues on the iPhone. In this case it is a toss-up between the OnePlus and the Galaxy, the Galaxy does look brighter and more appealing but we would say that the OnePlus has a more realistic "night time" look.
In the next set of images with the Happy restaurant, you do get slightly brighter photos on the Galaxy and iPhone, but the OnePlus has again that true-to-life night time look and the sharpest detail.
But just to show that not everything is perfect always, take a look at this photo
If you have been following PhoneArena, you already know that Samsung's latest phones are capable of capturing incredibly good looking selfies in various conditions. So... can the OnePlus 9 Pro match that quality? In short, well... not quite. The first thing that we notice here is the much wider shot on the Galaxy and especially the iPhone, and that is super useful if you want to take a photo of a group of people. The iPhone and the Galaxy also have a close-up selfie mode if you just take a picture of yourself, and the OnePlus disappointingly lacks those options. But while all three selfies look fine, skin tones look pale and unnatural on the OnePlus (and way too orange on the iPhone).
In this next example, we see that often times selfies would turn out a bit overexposed from the OnePlus, and we would give a slight edge to the other two phones here.
In low light, there is really no contest, the Galaxy wins this easily as it's far ahead of others.
So... the ultra wide camera! OnePlus teased the hell out of it, and with such high expectations, it's also easy to be disappointed. But let's see. On the above shot, it's evident that this ultra-wide camera is the least wide among the three phones.
And the color differences from the main camera mostly hold true here with less saturated yellow tonalities, but overall, a pretty good looking shot.
It is in low light, however, that we see the true power of the ultra-wide camera on the OnePlus as it can capture even better photos than rivals.
In this second shot, we again prefer the OnePlus even though it's the iPhone that captures more light, but in this case it almost seems too much and makes it seem like the photo was taken during the day. The Galaxy is just way too dark on the other hand.
In this final example, we'd have to give it to the iPhone which captures the most light which makes this particular shot better.
So, has OnePlus has done it? Well, yes, kind of. For the most part, the new OnePlus 9 Pro is an outstanding camera and in certain situations it can beat the Galaxy and iPhone. In other cases, not quite. Portrait mode was particularly finnicky, and sometimes it would overexpose shots a bit, while in other cases it brought out detail in shadows that got crushed on others. But that's the nature of the camera game: it's hard to summarize thousands of photos in just a few sentences.
What matters for most users at the end of the day is that the OnePlus 9 Pro is a reliable camera phone that enters the big leagues, even if it falls just a bit short, and mostly breaks the cliché that OnePlus cannot make phones with great cameras. This one kind of is. It doesn't beat the Galaxy for zooming, but you probably didn't expect that. And in certain cases it loses to the iPhone. But for the most part it is never too far behind and sometimes, it's actually ahead.
So... now that you've seen the photos, do you have a favorite?