Samsung Galaxy S10+ camera test vs iPhone XS, Pixel 3, and Nokia 9

We put the camera on the Galaxy S10+ to the test.

Credit: Dan Masaoka/IDG

Category 3: Exposure

The third category is exposure. Here we’ll be looking at dynamic range and how each camera chooses to expose for a scene.

exposure 1 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Checking out this construction site, we notice right away that the Nokia 9 is the flattest of the bunch. It has the most info in the shadows toward the bottom of the frame, but it doesn’t protect the highlights as well as the iPhone does on this sign here. Overall the Nokia 9 is a bit underexposed. The S10+ is the brightest, but it completely blows out the sign.

exposure 2 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

This street scene illustrates the differences even more, with the Pixel having the most contrast and Nokia being a bit underexposed and flat. The iPhone and S10+ are pretty similar, though Apple keeps those shadows pretty dark. The S10+’s shot looks washed-out, but in a good way for this scenario. For example, both the S10+ and Nokia images allow me to pump up as much contrast as I want when I go to post the photos on Instagram

exposure 3 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

This is where the processing of each camera is most apparent: in a high-contrast, back-lit scenario. The highlights are blown out in the S10+ and Nokia photos, while the Pixel and iPhone keep the exposure right where it needs to be in order to retain information. But the Pixel’s HDR is too aggressive and looks too processed, a trait in Google phones that I’ve never loved. The iPhone does the best here: It gives me editing flexibility and a well-balanced photo.

exposure 4 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

This next example is similar, but each phone fails to retain those highlights. That’s fine though, because I knew it would be a really hard scenario that forces the cameras to make a choice. Samsung seems to choose to keep Natalie properly exposed in all of these shots, regardless of what happens to the rest of the image. Nokia tries its hardest to keep the most dynamic range, which pleases the photographer in me, but this results in editing becoming a necessity, not a choice. But that iPhone photo has the best balance of contrast and dynamic range in mind.

exposure 5 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

I do really appreciate what Nokia is doing here by protecting hightlights and offering a flat image. Out of all of these photos, Nokia’s version is the closest to how I would capture this scene with a DSLR. The rest have a phone capture quality to them, while the Nokia feels unique and professional. But for the average user, it might be too dark.

exposure 6 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

This last example is interesting, as Natalie’s all-black outfit confuses Nokia into blowing out the sky in order to retain the shadows. I still prefer that to what happens in the Pixel’s photo, turning her into a black slab of nothingness.

exposure 7 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

If this category were defined as ‘most dynamic range,’ the Nokia would win hands down; but it’s more than that. There needs to be a balance between a flat and editable photo, and one that can be posted with minimal editing required. On top of that, the Nokia just tends to underexpose too often, which makes correction a necessity. On top of that, the five-sensor system doesn’t deliver on the promise of bringing in more light, which is most likely a failure of software tuning.

exposure 8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

So all in all, it’s the iPhone that does the best in most scenarios, providing enough information for editing, but a pleasing photo even without it. The S10+ isn’t too far behind, but its tendency to push exposure too high results in some problems. Finally, yhe Pixel’s results are still too highly processed for my taste. Apple’s iPhone XS wins the exposure category as well.

Category 4: Extra Features

The fourth and final category looks at extra features. Here we’ll go over some of the trademark features that set each phone apart.

I’m going to tackle this category a bit differently this time, and announce the winner up front and explain why. When I laid out all four phones in front of me and honestly asked myself which one I prefered to use and has the most features, it was the S10+.

When talking about lenses, sure, the Nokia 9 has five of them, but only one effective field of view. Meanwhile, the S10+ has three cameras dedicated to three different fields of view—the only one in this fight to do so.

By this point, fans of Last Cam Standing will know that I’m a huge fan of wide-angle lenses, and the one featured on the S10+ is great. The 123-degree field of view is wide enough to capture very large scenes with minimal distortion, and it’s f/2.2 lens is wide enough to let in plenty of light.

extra 1 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG
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Speaking of light, Samsung’s Night Mode just wasn’t as useful as the one found on the Pixel and never produced a widely better image over the standard shot. Luckily the S10+ is no slouch in the low light department even without Night Mode, so it’s not a huge knock. Maybe Samsung could do more in future software tuning.

extra 5 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG
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Even though Night Mode wasn’t that impressive, I was impressed by Live Focus—Samsung’s version of portrait mode. Out of all four phones, the S10+ delivered the best edge detection, even better than what Nokia offers with its unique five-camera setup. Samsung’s extra options, like Spin and Color Point, are way more fun than Apple’s Portrait lighting. I also appreciate that modes are available for the main wider lens, and not just limited to the telephoto lens. It offers more creative possibilities and ensures the best quality possible.

extra 6 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG
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All in all, Samsung’s camera app is easily the most robust and feature-rich. You can choose to hide unused camera modes, save RAW files when shooting in Pro mode, and export directly to Instagram if you want to. Add in the speed and reliability of the app itself, and it’s hard to find much fault.

I will say that the Scene Optimizer is nowhere near as powerful and useful as something like Huawei’s Master AI, and I will never use Bixby Vision, so it’s just taking up space on the screen. But those downsides are very minor gripes and don’t have an impact on how I used the app daily.

Not that the other phones don’t have great things going on for them, I just can’t say any of them are as reliable or feature-rich as what’s going on in the S10+. So yeah, Samsung’s Galaxy S10+ wins the extra features category.

Winner

With that, it’s time to crown a winner of this epic match-up! First, I do want to give a special award to the Nokia 9 Pureview. While I can’t recommend buying into this camera system, it does have flashes of brilliance and shows a promising future for multi-lens systems—especially for camera lovers. But if we’re talking about the best of the best available today, look no further than Apple’s iPhone XS!

This marks Apple’s first back-to-back win, and the longest streak it’s held in Last Cam Standing. The XS marks a very important turning point for Apple, and it’s thanks mainly to computational photography. The photos that come out of this camera are consistently sharp, feature plenty of dynamic range to play with, and look great even with minimal editing. Apple is at the top of its photography game right now, and is worthy of the crown.

But there will always be new and exciting Android phones to come out, like Huawei’s P30 Pro. Subscribe and tune in next time for more camera testing on Last Cam Standing.

iphonexs img e0079 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG
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Adam Patrick Murray

PC World (US online)
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