If you have the money to spend and want to buy a top-notch smartphone for photography, you basically have two options.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max are both good choices – they top our list of the best camera phones, and if you keep up with the tech news, you’ll likely see countless samples of both.
However, given that the former is Android and the latter is iOS, and that tech users tend to draw a line in the sand between operating systems and stick to one, you rarely see people comparing their camera prowess. face to face.
And that’s a shame – it means people who call one or the other the ‘best camera phone’ have generally not tested both. And when you see them together, it’s usually from camera experts who take pictures of both and spend years analyzing them in a lab, without considering the human factor.
So to fix that, we needed a neutral party to make a decision – and that’s where I come in. I really don’t like iPhones very much or Samsung Galaxy S phones – I prefer phones like my beer, cheap and cheerful. So, to see what was a more fun photography experience, I grabbed both phones and took them for a camera test around the canals near ‘s London office.
A brief spec comparison
Before I dive into what I found in my camera test, I feel I should briefly list the phones’ specs for people who don’t know.
|camera type||iPhone 13 Pro Max||Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra|
|Main||12MP f/1.5 26mm||180MP f/1.8 23mm|
|ultra wide||12MP f/1.8 13mm 130 degrees||12MP f/2.2 13mm 120 degrees|
|telephoto||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? Very similar
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When I started taking standard photos (1x) on iPhone and Galaxy, I noticed something quickly, and putting the photos on my PC and enlarging them to a larger size made it clearer.
For photos like these, the differences are basically small enough to be irrelevant. At least on my standard PC screen, the colors look almost identical, the field of view is almost the same (although wider with a touch on the Samsung). And there are no big changes between the photos.
Sure, you can zoom in and point to small areas where there are slight discrepancies – the balconies in the top left are a little overexposed on the Samsung, and the iPhone clearly loses detail once you start zooming in – but most people are. won’t do that are they?
No, for snaps like this, both phones basically perform the same. So I needed to be more artistic.
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I like a nice macro shot as much as the next person… but apparently neither Apple nor Samsung do, or they would have made close-up shots much easier.
You see, they both use their ultra-wide cameras to take macro shots, and they both automatically switch to them when you place your phone close to a subject. However, the results were not perfect either.
When I held the Galaxy S22 Ultra close to these sheets, hoping to get the focus closer and the rest of the sheets slightly out of focus with the background a nice puddle of blur, it took a lot of coercion to make that happen. I had to hold the phone really still and manually adjust the focus using the onscreen controls.
While it was annoying on the Galaxy, it was absolutely impossible on the iPhone. The device flickered between its lenses seemingly randomly when close to leaves, and there was no consistent way to get the right level of focus or keep the phone in macro mode. And sometimes, when this mode was triggered, the completely wrong thing was in focus.
So the images you see aren’t actually taken in macro mode, purely because I couldn’t handle the iPhone well enough to make sure it worked properly. Both phones lose points here (since neither has a dedicated macro camera like some other phones do), although the iPhone loses more.
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When I uploaded these ultra-wide images to the website, I had to double-check that I hadn’t accidentally uploaded the same image twice – they are nearly identical.
Both ultra-wide cameras have the same resolution and nearly the same field of view, the colors look basically the same, and there’s no noticeable difference in distortion between the two. In fact, the main way you can tell they are different photos is that there’s more of the dock in the iPhone snap.
The lack of differences between the iPhone and Samsung here doesn’t mean much to me – I really don’t like the look of ultra-wide images – but it does mean this section can be nice and short!
Zooming in a little
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Now we come to the good stuff – zoom.
Both Samsung and Apple phones offer 3x optical zoom on their telephoto lenses (although the Galaxy is sure to have a second zoom camera, which we’ll see later). But note that this doesn’t mean they zoom in by the same amount – it’s 3x of their respective ‘standard’ modes.
Since the iPhone has a longer focal length for its main camera, that means 3x its zoom gets you closer than the Samsung. The images make that clear – you can’t see any clear skies on the Pro Max snap.
For the photo of this tree, the iPhone snap works – it frames the branches well. However, when you zoom in, a strange little iPhone thing appears – look at the house on the left. It’s strangely yellowed on the Pro Max snap, more so than the S22 Ultra shot (and compared to the real house).
So there are good and bad things about both snaps, although if the push came to push, I would have to pick the iPhone 13 snap as my favorite. If this were the end of the camera test, there would be a clear winner – but sadly, Apple’s offerings don’t go further.
Zooming in even further
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As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like ultra-wide snaps – no, I love using telephoto or periscope snappers to close the distance. And the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s camera prowess comes crashing down when you try anything beyond 3x zoom.
The phone’s cap is 15x, and thanks to the 12MP sensor used in the telephoto camera being a bit low-res, getting close to that zoom level results in pixelated snaps (since digital zoom is basically cropping).
Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra – it can go up to 10x optical zoom with its periscope camera, and it can go up to 100x digital zoom if you want. It’s just far superior for this type of image.
Keep in mind that zoom photography is not just useful for capturing boats or animals that are far away. It’s also great for close-up shots of close-up pets or flowers at a medium distance, as the focal length results in photos with a lovely depth of field.
In my camera test, I often came across subjects that I just couldn’t capture because the iPhone didn’t zoom in enough. And in those circumstances, only the Galaxy could help.
This isn’t the end goal of camera testing – I didn’t capture using other camera modes, or at night, or take selfies. But I wanted to mimic the kind of photography I would do on a normal day.
Thanks to its zooming prowess, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra quickly became my favorite for photos. This gave me the versatility I needed to switch from ultra-wide to super-zoom, depending on what the subject needed.
The fact that the iPhone felt uncomfortable to use (thanks to its flat edges) and it had a cumbersome camera app didn’t help either, but it’s really in the zoom department that Samsung excelled.
Fortunately, Apple learns a thing or two in time for the iPhone 14’s launch – for a super expensive phone, 3x optical zoom isn’t enough.