If you have money to spend and want to buy a smartphone that is the best for photography, you basically have two choices.
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 follow tech news, you’ve probably seen countless examples of both.
But since the former is Android and the latter is iOS, and technical users tend to draw a line in the sand between the operating systems and stick to one of them, you rarely see people comparing their camera power.
And that’s a shame — it means people who call one or the other the “best camera phone” generally haven’t tested both. And if you’ve seen them together, it’s usually camera experts taking pictures of both and then analyzing them for years in a lab, disregarding the human factor.
So to set that straight, we needed a neutral party to make a ruling – and that’s where I come in handy. I’m not really fond of iPhones or Samsung Galaxy S Cell Phones – I prefer cell phones the way I do my beer, cheap and cheerful. So to see what a nicer photo experience was, I grabbed both phones and took them for a camera test around the canals near TechRadar’s London office.
A brief comparison of specifications
Before going into what I found in my camera review, I think I should briefly list the phone’s specs for those who don’t know.
|Camera type||iPhone 13 Pro Max||Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra|
|head||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||No||10MP f/4.9 230mm 10x zoom|
Standard photos? Too similar
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When I first started taking standard (1x) photos on both the iPhone and the Galaxy, I quickly noticed something, and by putting the photos on my PC and blowing them up to a larger size, it clearer.
For photos like this, the differences are basically small enough to be irrelevant. In any case, on my standard PC screen the colors look almost identical, the field of view is almost the same (albeit wider by a touch on the Samsung). And there are no major changes between the photos.
Sure, you can zoom in and point out small areas where there are minor differences – the balconies in the top left corner are a little overexposed on the Samsung, and the iPhone obviously loses detail when you start zooming in – but most people aren’t. they’re not going to do that, are they?
No, for snaps like this, both mobiles basically perform the same. So I had to get more artistic.
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I love a nice macro shot as much as the next person…but apparently Apple or Samsung don’t, otherwise they would have made taking close-up shots much easier.
You see, both use their ultra-wide cameras to shoot macro photography, and both automatically switch to these cameras when you hold the phone close to a subject. However, the results weren’t perfect either.
When I held the Galaxy S22 Ultra near these leaves, hoping to get the closest pair in focus and the rest of the leaves slightly out of focus with the background a nice puddle of blur, it took quite a bit of compulsion to make this happen. . I really had to hold the phone still and manually adjust the focus using the on-screen controls.
While it was annoying on the Galaxy, it was downright impossible on the iPhone. The device flickered seemingly randomly between the lenses when near the leaves, and there was no consistent way to get the right focus level or keep the phone in macro mode. And sometimes when this mode was activated, the completely wrong thing was in focus.
So the photos you see weren’t actually shot in macro mode purely because I couldn’t wrangle the iPhone well enough to make sure it would go well. Both phones lose points here (because neither has a dedicated macro camera like some other cellphones do), though the iPhone loses more.
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When I loaded these ultra-wide photos onto TechRadar’s website, I had to make sure I didn’t accidentally upload the same image twice – they’re nearly identical.
Both ultra-wide cameras have the same resolution and nearly the same field of view, 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 is more of the dock on the iPhone snap.
The lack of differences between the iPhone and Samsung here doesn’t tell me much – I don’t really like the look of ultra-wide photos – but it does mean that this section can be nice and short!
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Now we get to the good stuff – zoom.
Both the Samsung and Apple phones offer 3x optical zoom on their telephoto lens (although the Galaxy does have a second zoom camera, which we’ll get to later). But note that this doesn’t mean they zoom in the same amount – that’s 3x of their own respective ‘default’ modes.
Since the iPhone has a longer focal length for its main camera, that means 3x the zoom gets it further in than on the Samsung. The photos make this clear – you can’t see any of the clear skies on the Pro Max snap.
For the photo of this tree, the iPhone click works – it frames the branches well. However, when you zoom in, a strange iPhone problem crops up – 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 when it comes down to it, I’d 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 unfortunately Apple’s offering doesn’t go one step further.
Zoom in further
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As I mentioned before, I don’t like ultra-wide snaps – no, I like to use telephoto or periscope snappers to narrow the distance. And the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s camera power falls apart when you try anything beyond 3x zoom.
The phone’s max limit is 15x, and thanks to the 12MP sensor used on the telephoto camera, which is a bit low-resolution, 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 reach 10x optical zoom with its periscope camera and can go all the way to 100x digital zoom if you want to. It’s just much better for these types of photos.
Keep in mind that zoom photography isn’t just useful for capturing boats or animals that are far away. It’s also great for close-up shots of nearby pets or flowers at mid-range, as the focal length results in photos with a nice depth of field.
During my camera test, I regularly encountered subjects that I just couldn’t capture because the iPhone didn’t zoom in far enough. And in these circumstances, only the Galaxy could help.
To take off
This isn’t the end of all camera tests – I didn’t take pictures with other camera modes, or at night, or take selfies. But I wanted to recreate the kind of photography I would do on a normal day out.
Thanks to its zoom capabilities, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra quickly became my favorite for photos. It gave me the versatility I needed to switch from ultra wide angle to super zoom depending on what the subject needed.
The fact that the iPhone felt uncomfortable (thanks to its flat edges) and had a clunky camera app didn’t help either, but it’s really in the zoom department that Samsung stood out.
Hopefully Apple will learn a thing or two in time for the iPhone 14 launch – for a super-expensive phone, 3x optical zoom just isn’t enough.