Galaxy S23 Ultra vs iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Pixel 7 Pro Camera Comparison!
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra brings a big upgrade to the camera system with a brand new 200-megapixel main shooter that we didn't even think was possible, but what are the benefits of having a 200 megapixel camera on your phone and is the S23 Ultra actually a better camera than the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Google's Pixel 7 Pro?
In this camera comparison, we go over the main camera, the ultra-wide one and the one area where the Galaxy can't be beat - the telephoto cameras! Yes, the S23 Ultra still comes with two telephoto cameras, a 3X shooter and the familiar 10X zoom one, so it has that extra zoom reach that other phones don't.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves and take a look at the images first!
The ultra-wide camera and the telephoto shooter do not seem to have changed at least in terms of hardware, but we do get that new slightly larger 200 megapixel main camera sensor and interestingly, Samsung switches from a 40MP front camera to a 12-megapixel one.
Main Camera: Samsung sticks with the familiar warm, saturated colors
Pick your favorite color processing
In broad daylight, all three phones capture good looking photos, but each one has its own character. The Galaxy goes for warmer and more saturated colors than the other two and it's the least realistic of the three. The iPhone favors a brighter exposure and has colder greens. The Pixel often goes for a darker exposure with very muted colors and extreme dynamic range as you can see that it has the most color in the skies.
Once again, we see the preference for warmer colors on the Galaxy. My sweater which is white appears yellowish on the Samsung phone. The iPhone has the more realistic white balance and overall colors, while the Pixel once again has this noticeably darker photo with muted colors.
One issue we noticed with the Galaxy S23 Ultra is that in cloudy weather practically all of the photos we captured had a blue tint to them. Notice the richer colors on the iPhone in this shot.
Detail: Galaxy has artificial oversharpening, but not as excessive as the iPhone
The Pixel wins this round
In our iPhone 14 Pro Max review, we noticed for the first time very aggressive over-sharpening applied to the photos, more than on most other phones. This remains an issue months after the release.
The Galaxy, however, also amps up sharpness and while it is not as extreme as on the iPhone, you will notice halos around tree branches and other small contrasting objects in photos. These kinds of artifacts give photos a "smartphone" look, and we're not saying this in a good way.
The Pixel does not suffer from that issue.
Low Light: Noticeable improvements for Samsung
Samsung enters the big leagues in night photography
All three phones recognize when it's dark and would automatically expose longer to capture more light. We measured that all three phones typically take somewhere between 3 and 4 seconds for night shots and we didn't see a significant difference in speed at night.
You do have a dedicated Night Mode on all three phones, but you don't really need to use it as the automatic settings usually produce a practically identical result. Only in extremely dark conditions, the Night Mode can give you an extra long exposure and slightly brighter picture.
In this first shot, you can notice both the Galaxy and the iPhone are affected by the nearby light and produce a warmer photo, while the Pixel captures a more accurate white balance. The excessive oversharpening on the iPhone, however, makes its photo appear slightly artificial and if you blow up the image, you will notice a lot more noise in the skies. Plus, the color of the skies is not quite realistic on the iPhone. The Galaxy captures the cleanest detail, while Pixel has the least amount of detail in this shot, but because of the white balance advantage, we actually prefer it here.
Here is a crop from a different picture to illustrate the huge improvements in detail with this new sensor. The Galaxy has a natural look, the iPhone has once again artificially oversharpened the detail, and the Pixel looks almost blurry in comparison, it captures far less detail at night.
In this second photo, the Galaxy did a great job of capturing the natural colors of this night landscape photo, while the Pixel produced an unrealistic inky blue colors for the skies and the iPhone was a bit off as well. With clean detail, the Galaxy has the best picture here.
Overall, "nightography" on the Galaxy has indeed improved, especially when you look at the photos on a bigger screen where you can notice the resolved detail. All three are in the same league, but we think the Galaxy has the upper hand right now.
Ultra-wide: Software changes
No huge changes here
The typical Samsung colors are even more amplified when you take photos with the ultra-wide camera. If you dig this look, you will like the ready-to-share snaps that you get, but it can also be overwhelming at times. The iPhone strikes a balance here, and the Pixel once again captures a noticeably darker photo.
In low light, the Galaxy often captures a photo that looks "processed". In the case above, you can see a bit of a halo around my body on the Galaxy, as if someone has processed the image brightening me more than the background. The other two phones look more natural. The iPhone goes for a darker and noisier shot, with quite a bit of vignetting, so we'd take the Pixel which looks most natural, even if not as punchy as the Galaxy.
Telephoto & Zoom: Galaxy is best during the day, Pixel can zoom even in lower light
The Pixel surprised us with zoom quality on a cloudy day
At 3X zoom, the iPhone and the Galaxy use their native lenses and capture more detail than the Pixel.
At 5X zoom, however, the Pixel periscope camera kicks in and you notice that it grabs a much cleaner photo than the other two.
At 10X zoom, the Galaxy should take the lead, but we see that on this cloudy day, its slower aperture doesn't allow enough light in and the Pixel actually outdoes it. Of course, in bright light, the 10X camera on the Galaxy will capture a cleaner shot, but unfortunately we weren't lucky with the weather for this camera comparison.
Portrait Mode: Now works well even at night on the Galaxy
Galaxy has the best quality but lacks a 2X zoom mode
The S23 Ultra only improves upon the already impressive Portrait Mode from the previous model. It has incredible subject separation, pleasing soft detail and most portraits we took with it looked better than the iPhone. The Pixel is not really in the same league with portraits, it has huge issues with detail, down to the point where this mode seems completely broken on the phone.
Thanks to a better sensor and improved processing, for the first time we see actually good-looking night time portraits. The phone that captures them is the Galaxy. It is once again way above the competition in this.
Selfies: One step forward, one step back
A tie between the iPhone and Galaxy
The S23 Ultra uses a 12MP selfie camera, which is a downgrade from the 40MP shooter we used to have previously. And we are on the fence about selfie quality. The S22 series used to have the best selfies in the industry, and this new model can sometimes look better, but sometimes it doesn't.
In this first picture, we prefer the brighter exposure and more accurate white balance on the iPhone. The Pixel captures the widest group selfies which is great, but it dials up the contrast which results in very moody shots that don't feel as good as the other two phones.
And sometimes, in good light, all three phones can look pretty similar.
We noticed that the issue with white balance in cloudy conditions carries over to the selfie camera too. This is something that we hope Samsung can deal with in a future update.
(Image Credit - PhoneArena)
So which one is the camera phone so far in 2023? The Galaxy S23 Ultra, the iPhone 14 Pro Max, or the Pixel 7 Pro?
Such a complex question can be answered in only one way: with a nice and long table of all the pros and cons for each camera!
So there you have it!
We know you wanted a one definite winner, so let us know, do you want to see a score attached to each of these phones to help you make the best decision?
And which phone do you think takes the best pictures? Let us know in the comments below!