Galaxy S10+ and iPhone XS Max have 2x tele-cameras, the OnePlus 7 Pro comes with 3x optical zoom (although some argue that's not entirely true) and the Huawei P30 Pro takes it up a notch with its 5x tele-camera.To see what the advantages and disadvantages of these higher magnification lenses are, we decided to see how some of the most popular flagship phones right now fare against each other with a short zoom comparison. From the four contenders we chose, the Samsung
To let every phone in the lineup shine, we took pictures at 2x, 3x, 5x and 10x zoom. To give each phone two opportunities to do its best, we have two 2x scenes, two 3x and one with 5x and 10x each. We'll give each photo a score from 1 to 10 and the total sum of the scores from the six scenes will give us the winner in this comparison. To keep things simpler, we won't be focusing on exposure, color reproduction and so on as much as we'll be looking at things related to the zoom: loss of detail, noise, sharpness.
Reading at the office
The Galaxy S10+ noticeably outperforms the competition in this scene. While in the crop the colored letters aren't very smooth, overall it has kept the details in the shirt and face without almost any artifacts. The background looks pretty good as well.
The iPhone comes second, but not by much. The straight lines are visibly pixelated and the skin of the face is very noisy.
The OnePlus is very close to the iPhone but there are some more issues with its picture. The contrast and sharpening are too much and when you look up close, you see all kinds of imperfections.
Despite the beauty mode on the P30 Pro being turned off, there is some major smoothening going on. The shirt looks like it's been ironed and the skin is straight-up airbrushed. Even from afar it doesn't look good at all.
The Samsung flagship is also the clear winner in this scene. Not only are there extra details in the petals, but moving to the leaves of the flower you see it captured a tremendous amount there as well.
At first glance the iPhone photo looks slightly worse than the OnePlus, but a closer look reveals that Apple's device did a better job with the objects that are off-center.
With the OnePlus, we see a bit of noise between the petals and their lines aren't as clean. The rose leaves are smudged and while they're not the center of attention, context is important as well.
With the P30 Pro there's a lot of smoothening going on and overall the picture is not great. It outperforms the OnePlus in some regards but falls behind in others, so we think it deserves the same score.
Relaxing in the park
The S10+ photo looks almost as if you've applied a "stylize" filter on it. Not much detail around the smartphone but at least there's no noise either.
The same can't be said for the iPhone, however. It might fool you if you're looking at the photo on a smaller scale, but at 100% you see a ton of noise and all sorts of artifacts.
Unsurprisingly, with it's 3x optical zoom the OnePlus 7 Pro outperforms the other phones in this scene. The phone's display, the tree bark and the hair all have superior details over the rest of the lineup. There are some minor issues with noise but it is still the best picture from the bunch.
We see a reoccurring theme with the P30 Pro and that is oversmoothening. The hair is a blurry mess, the shirt has been treated as well and even the tree bark hasn't been spared. At least on the phone's display there's a bit more detail than there is on the Galaxy and the iPhone.
Grand theft retro
Whether it is because of the different lightning conditions or the fact that the main object is further away, it's not clear, but for this scene the phones are performing almost equally well. However, the S10+ seems to be a step above the iPhone once more.
Although last by score, the results here are so close some might prefer the iPhone's photo over some of the others. But after a thorough examination of the photos we concluded the iPhone is slightly behind the others.
While this scene should favor the OnePlus once again, this time it's not really standing out much. The image is sharper but in certain areas it's actually oversharpened and looks pixelated.
Somewhat surprisingly, Huawei's camera algorithms handled this scene a lot better than previous once and the phone's picture looks to be the best of the four.
Getting on board
Despite the task becoming quite challenging, the S10+ is neck a neck with the "zoomier" phones of the lineup. Although there's some loss of detail in the hair and the watch, for example, the photo looks clean and is pleasant to look at even in larger size.
The iPhone's woes are only worsening at 5x zoom. Tons of graining on almost any surface that has any sort of color gradient to it means this phone's software isn't doing a very good job at utilizing the data from the sensors when it comes to digital zoom.
Colors not being the focus of this comparison, we're giving the OnePlus 7 Pro a score slightly higher than the Galaxy S10+ for the extra details it has in its photo. The superiority of the OnePlus is especially noticeable when you take a close look at the mast and all the cables and ropes around it.
The moment the P30 Pro has been waiting for! And it's not disappointing. The photo looks nice and crisp as it should be since there's no digital magnification involved in this one. The details on the ropes, the shirt, the watch and pretty much everything else put the P30 Pro in a league of its own.
Considering the Galaxy only has a 2x tele-camera to work with, the 10x photo looks decent, even at full size. The software has removed most of the graining and noise, but that also makes the photo look a bit blurry.
If you don't look at the iPhone photo at 100% it looks somewhat comparable to the others, but a more thorough observation reveals what you might expect: noise, smudged lines and pixelization. Still, it doesn't look as bad as the 5x photo, so we gave the score a bump.
Despite having only 3x zoom, the OnePlus manages to gather a lot of details in the 10x picture. You can relatively easy distinguish the numbers on the car's license plate. The trees in the background also look sharper.
Another opportunity for the P30 Pro to flex its muscles. The hybrid zoom looks great and at 100% you can clearly see the numbers on the car that's even further away. The dynamic range is not as good as that of some of the other three phones, but that's probably not something you're interested in when taking a 10x zoom photo.
We're not grading this last set of photos to avoid skewing the results in favor of the P30 Pro, but we thought it would be interesting to show another example with objects even further away in the distance. The building you see in the 100% crops is about 1.5 miles away from where we stood. The advantage goes to the Huawei's flagship once again, but the OnePlus 7 Pro manages to squeeze out a lot from its 3x zoom camera. But now, let's take a look at the overall scores!
Galaxy S10+: 44
A somewhat surprising result, but the consistency of the Galaxy S10+ throughout the stages gave it the edge in this competition, beating the OnePlus 7 Pro by a mere half a point. It seems optics alone aren't enough to give you great results, you also need good software to iron out the kinks. Speaking of optics, while we saw some great performance from the P30 Pro at long distances, we also saw some really poor shots from up close, for which there is no excuse when it comes to flagships. And then there is the iPhone XS Max. Zoom is definitely not its strong suit. Disappointing results from the most expensive phone in the lineup.
Some might argue that since this is a zoom comparison then the P30 Pro should definitely be king. And we saw that is indeed the case for the higher zoom levels. However, during daily use, such long-distance shots are quite a rare occurrence, unless you're really into that kind of stuff. And whenever you do take a 5x or 10x photo, chances are it will be more for the novelty of it rather than creating a photographic masterpiece. So for most people, it makes sense to go for the phone with the best overall performing camera, which in this case is that of the Galaxy S10+.