If you have money to burn and want to buy a smartphone that’s at the top of its league for photography, you basically have two options.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max are both good options – they top our list of the best camera phones, and if you’ve been following the tech news, you’ve probably seen countless examples of both.
Given that the former is Android and the latter is iOS, and that tech users tend to draw a line between operating systems and stick to one, you rarely see people directly comparing their camera prowess.
And that’s a shame – it means people who call one or the other the “best camera phone” generally haven’t tested both. And when you’ve seen them together, it’s usually by camera experts who took pictures of both and then analyzed them forever in a lab, disregarding the human factor.
To rectify that, we needed a neutral party to make a decision – and that’s where I come in. I don’t really care much for iPhones or Samsung Galaxy S Cell Phones – I prefer cell phones like my beer, cheap and cheerful. To see which photo experience was more enjoyable, I grabbed both phones and took them to a camera test through the canals near TechRadar’s London office.
A quick spec comparison
Before I dive into what I found in my camera review, I should briefly list the phone’s specs for people who don’t know.
|camera type||iPhone 13 Pro max||Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra|
|Mainly||12MP f/1.5 26mm||180MP f/1.8 23mm|
|Extra wide||12MP f/1.8 13mm 130 degrees||12MP f/2.2 13mm 120 degrees|
|tele||12MP f/2.8 77mm 3x zoom||10MP f/2.4 70mm 3x zoom|
|periscope||none||10MP f/4.9 230mm 10x zoom|
default images? Too similar
When I started taking standard pictures (1x) on both iPhone and Galaxy I quickly noticed something and when I put the pictures on my PC and enlarged them to a larger size it became clearer.
In such images, the differences are basically small enough to be irrelevant. At least on my standard PC display, the colors look nearly identical, the field of view is almost the same (although it’s a touch wider on the Samsung). And there are no big changes between the pictures.
Sure, you can zoom in and point to tiny areas where there’s slight variation – the top-left balconies are a bit overexposed on the Samsung, and the iPhone loses a lot of detail when you start zooming – but most people aren’t They won’t do that, will they?
No, when it comes to snapshots like this, both phones basically work the same. So I had to get more artistic.
I like a nice macro shot as much as the next person… but apparently neither Apple nor Samsung, or they would have made close-up photography that much easier.
You see, both use their ultra-wide cameras to take macro shots, and both automatically switch to those when you bring the phone close to a subject. However, the results for both were not perfect.
When I held the Galaxy S22 Ultra close to these leaves hoping to get the next few leaves in focus and the rest of the leaves slightly out of focus with the background being a nice puddle of blur, it took quite a bit of force to do this to reach . I had to hold the phone very still and manually adjust the focus using the onscreen controls.
While it was annoying on the Galaxy, it was downright impossible on the iPhone. The device would flicker between the lenses seemingly randomly when near the leaves, and there was no consistent way to get the right focus or keep the phone in macro mode. And sometimes when this mode triggered, the focus was on the completely wrong thing.
So the images you see weren’t actually taken in macro mode just because I couldn’t move the iPhone well enough to make sure it was working properly. Both phones lose points here (as neither has a dedicated macro camera like some other phones), although the iPhone loses more.
When I uploaded these ultra-wide images to TechRadar’s website, I had to double-check that I hadn’t accidentally uploaded the same image twice—they’re nearly identical.
Both ultra-wide cameras have the same resolution and almost the same field of view, the colors basically look the same and there is no noticeable difference in distortion between the two. In fact, the main way you can tell they’re different images at all is because there’s more of the dock on the iPhone snap.
The lack of differences between the iPhone and Samsung here doesn’t mean much to me – I don’t really like the look of ultrawide images – but it does mean this section can be nice and short!
Zoom in a bit
Now for the good stuff – Zoom.
Both the Samsung and Apple phones offer 3x optical zoom on their telephoto lens (although the Galaxy admittedly has a second zoom camera, which we’ll get to later). Note, however, that this doesn’t mean they zoom by the same amount – that’s 3x their own respective “standard” modes.
Since the iPhone has a longer focal length for its main camera, that means the 3x zoom gets it in further than the Samsung. The images make this clear – there’s nothing to be seen of the clear sky on the Pro Max snap.
For the image of this tree, the iPhone snapshot works – it frames the branches well. However, if you zoom in, a strange iPhone nickle rises – look at the house on the left. It’s oddly yellowish on the Pro Max snap, more so than on the S22 Ultra shot (and compared to the real house).
So there are good and bad things about both snaps, but if push comes to shove, I’d have to pick the iPhone 13 snap as my favorite. If this were the end of the camera review there would be a clear winner – but unfortunately Apple’s offerings don’t go the extra mile.
Zoom in further
As I mentioned before, I don’t like ultra-wide snaps – no, I love using telephoto or periscope snaps to reduce the distance. And the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s camera performance falls apart when you try anything other than 3x zoom.
The phone’s maximum limit is 15x, and since the telephoto camera’s 12-megapixel sensor is a bit low-res, going anywhere near that zoom level results in pixelated snaps (since digital zoom is basically a crop).
Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra – it can achieve 10x optical zoom with its periscope camera and 100x digital zoom if you want it. It’s just so much better for this type of image.
Remember that zoom photography isn’t just useful for capturing distant boats or animals. It’s also great for close-ups of close-up pets or medium-distance flowers, as the focal length results in snaps with a nice depth of field.
During my camera test, I kept coming across subjects that I just couldn’t capture because the iPhone didn’t zoom in far enough. And under these circumstances, only the Galaxy could help.
This isn’t the be-all and end-all of the camera tests – I didn’t shoot with other camera modes or at night or take selfies. But I wanted to emulate the type of photography I would take on a normal day trip.
Thanks to its zoom capabilities, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra quickly became my go-to for pictures. It gave me the versatility I needed to switch from ultra wide to super zoom depending on the needs of the subject.
The fact that the iPhone felt uncomfortable (thanks to its flat edges) and had a fiddly camera app didn’t help either, but the Samsung really stood out in the Zoom department.
Hopefully Apple will learn a thing or two in time for the iPhone 14 launch – for a super expensive phone the 3x optical zoom just isn’t enough.
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