We’re well into the second half of 2019, and that means that we’re seeing a whole bunch of high-end flagship smartphones launch from pretty much all of the major manufacturers. Samsung has their Galaxy Note 10+, Huawei’s got the Mate 30 Pro, and Apple is championed by their new iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. And, pretty much all of them claim to have the best camera on any smartphone.
But really, who has the best smartphone camera? Well, there’s only one way to find out. It’s time for one of our camera comparisons! This round, we’ll be pitting the flagships from three of the biggest smartphone makers in the world.
Obviously, that means we’ve got Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10+, Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro and Apple’s iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro Max. With these four phones, we’ll be testing them in these categories:
- Low light
The shots were all taken with the camera settings that you get right out of the box. The only tweaks we made was to turn off the beauty settings for the selfie photos on both the Android smartphones. In the case of the Galaxy Note 10+ and Mate 30 Pro, their AI scene recognition was left on because that’s what you get with the phones out of the box. With that out of the way, let’s begin.
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SCENE 1: Details in daylight
The first scene is all about seeing how well these smartphones capture colour and detail in good lighting. Perhaps to nobody’s surprise, all the phones performed pretty well. However, it’s interesting to note that there’s a moire effect on the air conditioner’s grilles in the Mate 30 Pro’s photo, which is peculiar. If we were to look at sharpness, however, I have to give the edge to both the iPhones in this test. They’ve also got the most accurate shade of purple to my eyes, so they’re the clear winners here.
What I like–and, perhaps shouldn’t be surprised of–is the fact that the iPhones both produce a remarkably similar image despite the fact that one device sports a “Pro” moniker. Again, I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising since they share the same cameras, but it’s still nice to see considering the variance between Android devices despite sporting similar hardware.
SCENE 2: Low light & Night Mode
This scene is to test low light performance. For context, this is what the scene looked like to our eyes on the day (captured on the Sony A7 III).
Because all four smartphones feature a dedicated Night Mode, we took two photos of the scene for each handset. One with night mode turned on and one with night mode turned off.
This was surprisingly hard to pick a winner for. For starters, the iPhones turned out a pretty darn good image considering it’s Apple’s first stab at Night Mode. It looks fairly true to life with a rather natural-looking colour palette. The Galaxy Note 10+, while having a slight green tint to the image, has probably the best balance of sharpening and noise reduction of the four smartphones here today.
On the other hand, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro produces a very cool image but is also a little too aggressive on the noise reduction, causing the image to lose quite a lot of fine detail. I think with a little editing, the Mate 30 Pro’s image would turn out to be my favourite, but if I had to choose a photo to post to social media straight out of camera, I’m going to have to go with the iPhones. But, I’m pleasantly surprised at how close these phones are in terms of quality–a great sign for low light smartphone photography moving forward.
SCENE 3: Zoom
Now, it’s time to take a look at the zooming. For this test, we set each of the phones up in the same location and took the same scene while zooming in on the subject. We took photos at each of the smartphone’s preset zoom ranges, and finally a photo at the phone’s max zoom.
Once again, we see a big difference in philosophy between the Android and iOS devices. For both the Galaxy Note 10+ and Mate 30 Pro, you’re getting a much punchier image due to the advent of their respective scene enhancement software features. But, I’m also glad that the images aren’t actually that far from the actual scene on the day. It just has a little more life in it.
On the other hand, the iPhones very clearly exposed for the sky here. Their images retain way more detail in the clouds but the whole image is a touch more desaturated than the scene was to my eyes. I am quite disappointed in the iPhones’ image quality at the edges, however. I’m surprised at the amount of sharpening that’s going on in this image, and how actually unsharp the photo looks despite of it.
One interesting thing to note here is that the Mate 30 Pro has a narrower field of view than the others, and uses a 3:2 aspect ratio instead. Despite this, and the warmer tone, I must say that the Mate 30 Pro has the best image to me.
Moving to the wide camera, we see a lot of the same colour characteristics, but we also see the iPhones get a significant improvement in image quality. There’s less sharpening going on and the image looks much cleaner, while retaining a lot of the detail in the sky.
Since the iPhone 11 doesn’t have a dedicated telephoto camera, it wasn’t included in this test. Huawei, on the other hand, features both a 3x optical zoom and a 5x hybrid lossless zoom option on their Mate 30 Pro. And I have to say, the results are very impressive. Both images are plenty good enough for stuff like social media, and the images are just really clean, if a little on the warm side.
Both the iPhone 11 Pro Max and Galaxy Note 10+ feature 2x optical telephoto cameras and although they’re pretty comparable with each other, I just don’t think they can compete with the Mate 30 Pro in both reach and clarity. Huawei easily takes the win here.
I mean, it’s pretty clear which phone is the winner here. When it comes to clarity, I think the Mate 30 Pro, Galaxy Note 10+ and iPhone 11 Pro Max are pretty comparable. But, when you consider the difference in reach, the Mate 30 Pro clearly pulls ahead of its competition. The iPhone 11…well, let’s not talk about that. It does serve as a great demonstration of the difference between a 5x lossless vs a 5x lossy zoom, however.
SCENE 4: Portrait
Right off the bat, you may already notice that the iPhone 11’s portrait photo doesn’t look like the others. That’s because the iPhone 11 isn’t capable of taking portrait photos using its telephoto camera. So, to match the framing, I repositioned my subject a little closer to the camera. Because of this, you can see that his proportions are also a little different, and far less flattering, if you ask me.
That being said, iPhone 11 captures the most detail, with the iPhone 11 Pro Max a close second. The Mate 30 Pro, however, totally bombed the portrait test. If we’re looking at edge detection, they all did OK, except for the fact that none of the phones could correctly trace around Hanif’s cowlick.
Switching to a wide portrait, the results are pretty much the same, with the Mate 30 Pro absolutely bombing this test. Not only is Hanif’s skin tone wrong, but the entire image looks almost like it’s out of focus, which is disappointing. The Note 10+ puts up a good fight here with surprisingly good edge detection, but I think in both the telephoto and wide portrait, the iPhone 11 Pro Max does the best job here.
That said, all the phones weren’t able to correctly blur the gaps between Hanif’s fingers and his legs, so they look quite awkwardly cut out compared to the rest of the image.
I would like to add a side mention because Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro also gives you the option to take a 3x telephoto portrait which does a nice job of compressing the background even more, but the colours and clarity are still completely off here.
SCENE 5: Bonus selfie
Here’s a quick selfie test too. One thing I found rather frustrating was that even though I turned all beautification off on the Note 10+ and Mate 30 Pro, the final image still looks like there’s some lingering beautification. For this test, I definitely prefer the brutal honesty that the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max’s selfie shooter can produce. That’s the face I look at every morning, and that’s me, and that’s my skin tone. And for someone like me, I think that’s the most important thing I want a selfie shooter to capture.
So, what did we learn here today? Well, for starters, I think that Apple really stepped up their photography game with the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max. These are the best-performing iPhones that I think we’ve had on our camera comparisons–and we’ve done a whole bunch of these.
There are other things I don’t like about the new iPhone’s camera app (especially that stupid wide-angle preview thing in the viewfinder) but it’s hard to argue with the results.
On top of that, I’m also glad that Apple has finally caved and added a Night Mode feature to their 2019 iPhone roster–and a darn good one at that. I would have liked the option to force it to turn on regardless of the lighting situation, however. For something that comes with a “Pro” suffix to it, I find it perplexing that they have one of their best new camera features gated behind automation.
Still, it’s not like Samsung and Huawei have been slacking. I’d say that they’ve got better ultra-wide cameras, and in Huawei’s case, one of the best zooming solutions you can fit in your pocket. And that’s not even their “Super Zoom” smartphone. We’re still seeing a distinct identity in the way these phones process images, with the Androids preferring a little more punch in their photos so you can post them straight out of camera. But I’ve also noticed that the iPhones seem to have also added a little more punch to their own photos though they’re still noticeably more neutral–preferring realism to a fabricated view of reality.
Whether you like that or not is something only you have the answer to. But, for the purpose of this test, I have to say that my winner is the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The iPhone 11 does an excellent job with these photos too, but the versatility afforded to you by the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s telephoto camera is just too good to give up.