iPhone 13, Galaxy S22, Pixel 6 show Apple, Samsung, Google don’t take ultra-wide cameras seriously

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
iPhone 13, Galaxy S22, Pixel 6 show Apple, Samsung, Google don’t take ultra-wide cameras seriously
No drama, but the facts are as follows…

The ultra-wide-angle photo quality on iPhone 13, Galaxy S22, and Pixel 6 is rather disappointing. Sorry… everyone.

In fact, the ultra-wide-angle camera quality on Apple, Samsung, and Google's current flagships might not look too bad in isolation. However, phones like the OnePlus 10 Pro, Xiaomi 12 Pro, Huawei P50 Pro, and especially the Vivo X80 Pro show that The Big Three's UWA snappers leave a lot to be desired. Apart from that, the ultra-wide-angle cameras on iPhone 13, Galaxy S22, and Pixel 6 are also noticeably weaker than the lenses on Apple, Samsung, and Google's flagships.

All of this leaves me with the impression that the folks from Cupertino, Gangnam, and Mountain View don't care too much about their ultra-wide-angle cameras. And that's rather surprising because the majority of users and even tech enthusiasts seem to value the ultra-wide-angle camera more than the telephoto/zoom shooters on current flagships.

I vividly remember how tech nerds lost their mind when Google chose to go with a 2x zoom lens for the Pixel 4 (the first Google flagship with dual cameras) over an ultra-wide-angle lens, which was all the rage back in the day (thanks to LG). So, the general consensus is that "ultra-wide-angle cameras are more fun and useful than zoom cameras". But they often come with weaker sensors and, therefore, inferior photo quality. But it doesn't need to be that way...

So, let's take a look at a few samples that compare the ultra-wide-angle shooters of the iPhone 13, Samsung S22, and Pixel 6 to their main cameras...

As you can see, the first set of ultra-wide-angle photos don't look too bad, because we aren't inspecting them closely. The Night Mode images are good, but the ones without Night Mode showcase the raw capability of the primary and ultra-wide sensors on the iPhone 13 and Pixel 6, and the UWA cameras are losing badly.

The samples with the clock and backpack showcase the lack of detail in ultra-wide-angle photos in mixed lighting conditions (room light). The ultra-wide-angle cameras show a significant amount of noise, artefacts, and loss of detail.

I didn't have the Galaxy S22 with me, so I had to ask a colleague to take a few samples for me at the office. As you can see by the sunflower photo, the Galaxy's ultra-wide-angle snapper doesn't do much better than the Pixel and iPhone when it comes to mid-low light conditions. If I had to rank them, the Galaxy would take the first place, the Pixel would be second, and the iPhone would be last, which (unsurprisingly) coincides with their UWA camera sensor sizes.

The Vivo X80 Pro is far superior to the iPhone 13 Pro, Galaxy S22 Ultra, and Pixel 6 Pro when it comes to ultra-wide-angle photo quality

That being said, none of them hold a candle to the Vivo X80 Pro which runs circles around all three, as you can see in these samples (Night Mode OFF), taken by Ben Sin (XDA) and Danny Winget (YouTube). Vivo's phone features a 1/2-inch ultra-wide-angle camera sensor, which is much bigger than any of the ones used in Apple, Samsung and Google's phones.

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This doesn't only make it the best ultra-wide-angle snapper out there, but also brings it very close to the primary camera quality of the X80 Pro, which should be the case on all flagship phones, if you ask me...

For the record, the Vivo X80 Pro also has far superior HDR compared to all other phones on the market, so there's that. Also, in case you find the night photos coming from the Vivo to be a bit too bright (and they are), you can always dial back the brightness in editing. The same can't be said about the noise and lack of detail in the iPhone, Galaxy, and Pixel's images...

I love zoom cameras, but does focusing on them make Apple, Samsung, and Google forget about the ultra-wide-angle camera?

Optical zoom over an ultra-wide-angle camera any day of the week

I feel like it's important to mention that I don't think ultra-wide-angle cameras on phones are essential. Don't get me wrong - they are very nice to have and functional in the right scenarios, where you aren't working with too much space. However, 8/10 times you'd be able to step back and take a photo with a wider perspective by using your primary snapper. Unless you're a realtor who needs to make rooms appear bigger than they actually are.

On the other hand, zoom cameras are much more useful for things like portrait, street, architectural, and wildlife photography, making them more versatile and applicable in various use cases. Hence, I'll always have a bias toward them. It's not the first time I'm giving this example, but if I could choose whether to equip the vanilla versions of the Pixel and iPhone with only one additional camera, I wouldn't blink twice before picking a good telephoto lens (the Pixel 6 Pro's 4x camera would be perfect), instead of an UWA snapper.

It's important to note that the reason manufacturers choose UWA cameras instead of zoom lenses for their more affordable phones could be the price, and the fact that they are easier to implement in a multi-camera system. For example, they don't need autofocus, and OIS, unless they feature Macro Mode and gimbal stabilization (like on the Vivo X70 Pro).

iPhone 14, Galaxy S23, and Pixel 7 will need brand new ultra-wide-angle cameras

All that being said, I also think that if manufacturers (as big as Apple, Samsung, and Google) are going to continue pushing ultra-wide-angle cameras, they need to make them as good as possible. Preferably, as good as the competition's, and then even as good as the standard camera on their respective flagships.

I know this could be challenging, and I do realize that the iPhone's camera system happens to come close thanks to its uniform color profile, resolution, and smooth transitions across all three lenses. However… it's not enough.

Hardware also matters, and as of now, only Chinese phone-makers seem to make a real effort. As I mentioned, the Vivo X80 Pro uses a 1/2-inch ultra-wide-angle sensor, while the iPhone 13 has a 1/3.4-inch one. There's a big difference there. And this is unfortunate since Apple, Samsung and Google's phones certainly don't come cheap... Right?

So, let's not go with small UWA camera sensors, Big Three?

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