Shootout: Samsung S10 vs Apple iPhone
A LONG time ago in a galaxy far, far away (two years ago in the Galaxy S8, to be precise), smartphones had just two cameras.
You could choose the camera on the front of the phone to take a photo of yourself, or the camera on the back of the phone to take a photo of someone else.
That is as complicated as smartphone photography got.
But with its 10th anniversary smartphone, Samsung is massively ramping up your photography options.
Its new flagship phone, out tomorrow, comes with five cameras in total: two on the front of the device, and a choice of three on the back, each with a different focal length.
And, of course, that's in addition to:
- an invisible, ultrasonic fingerprint sensor;
- an AMOLED, 6.4-inch, Infinity-O display;
- a Wireless Powershare feature for charging items placed on the back of the phone;
- and up to one terabyte of storage and 12GB RAM for extra power.
But as cameras are often the one feature to rule smartphone choice, we've put the lenses inside the Samsung Galaxy S10+ to the test.
In four experiments, we've tested the cameras in the new $1499 smartphone on high dynamic range, landscape photography, lowlight situations, and focal length.
And to help you make the right smartphone choice, we've pitted Samsung's new top model against the Apple iPhone XS Max, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and the Google Pixel 3 XL.
If you don't trust our judgment, you can use the sliders below to judge for yourself.
TEST ONE: HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE
There are plenty of pixels inside each camera on the back of the Galaxy S10+ - the ultra-wide camera packs in 16 megapixels, while the other two boast 12 - but any photographer knows it's how you use them that counts.
Samsung promises to make the most of them by using a neural processing unit to automatically recognise what's in front of it, choosing one of 30 scenes, and using the best settings accordingly.
Scenes range from the expected, such as people, cat, and food, to the highly specific waterslide, drink, and vehicle.
But Apple's top model iPhone, the XS Max, also uses artificial intelligence to deliver the right treatment of highlights and shadows in its Smart HDR mode.
This is why we chose a sunset, one of the most challenging light conditions, for a HDR shootout.
While both smartphones did an admirable job of capturing the sunset without blowing out highlights, the Galaxy S10+ captured the most detail (see the clouds), chose the best white balance (see the pink), and the most subtle hues.
TEST TWO: LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY
In the Google Android market, flagship phones from Samsung and Huawei are natural rivals.
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro also features three rear cameras with different reaches, and with greater resolution.
To test the pair, we pointed them at greenery and Brisbane's city skyline to find out which could balance the two scenes.
This is a win with an asterisk. If this was a test of zoom power, Huawei's model would have claimed the title.
Its telephoto lens features a 5x zoom (equivalent to 80mm) and could make the skyscrapers loom larger in the frame.
For landscape photography and just a better image, however, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ is the obvious winner.
It avoided the over-sharpened appearance of the Huawei photograph, chose the correct white balance, and produced vibrant though not unnatural colours.
TEST THREE: LOWLIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
The best thing about smartphone cameras is they're everywhere, which is why it's important that they can photograph almost everything.
Lowlight photography is particularly important when you want to capture a night out, prove you really did see a celebrity, or just capture a black cat.
We chose to pit Samsung's flagship against the might of Google's Pixel 3 XL for this test because, while it has just one camera, it employs artificial intelligence to make the most of that camera.
You can't tell by how bright they look, but both of these photographs were captured in a very dimly lit corner of an old warehouse.
Both smartphones proved thoroughly capable of capturing the scene so you can inspect finer details not obvious to the naked eye.
The Pixel 3 does a slightly better job of artificially lightening the scene, though, and without obvious noise.
Settings reveal it used a smaller aperture to take the shot and a higher ISO, but compensated for this with superior image processing to get the final result.
TEST FOUR: SAMSUNG WIDE VS SAMSUNG ZOOM
While comparing this phone to its rivals is important, some potential smartphone buyers will just want to know whether it's worth buying a device with three lens options.
To test this, we employed the Galaxy S10+ ultra-wide lens and compared it to the standard wide-lens option.
WINNER: THREE CAMERAS
Having the option to choose from three cameras, without any loss of quality, is a big deal.
It gives smartphone photographers many more options when composing a picture, and guiding the viewer around it.
You can decide whether to make San Francisco's City Hall building loom large in your photo, or show the entire scene around it.
Photographers used to selecting the right lens for the job should appreciate these choices most of all, as they'll know how to uses them to change the viewer's perspective.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S10+ VERDICT
Samsung's Galaxy S10+ scored equal first place for its smartphone camera with noted camera-rating agency DxOMark, and for good reason.
The five cameras inside this phone are capable of delivering stunning images that you might not suspect came from a smartphone at all.
While no phone camera can offer the same quality and flexibility of a full-frame camera sensor - that "pro-grade" photography claim might be slightly overstated - having three lenses with which to play brings it closer to par with advanced compact cameras.
Samsung's new cameras don't win every test, as our lowlight shootout proved, but anyone looking for a capable, pocketable camera should consider it.