Apple and Samsung are at the top of the smartphone food chain and have been for years. Now, their two current flagship phones, the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 13 Pro Max, are currently dominating the market. Right now, these two phones' cameras are two of the best out there; however, which one is better? Let's compare these two cameras and see which one is best for you.
Samsung Galaxy S21 & iPhone 13 Pro Max Camera Specs
The camera specs don't tell the whole story, but they're still nice to know.
Galaxy S21 Ultra
108 megapixels | f/1.8 aperture | 24mm field of view | 1/1.33" sensor size | .8 micron pixel size
12 megapixels | f/2.2 aperture | 13mm field of view | 1/2.55" sensor size | 1.4-micron pixel size
3X telephoto camera:
10 megapixels | f/2.4 aperture | 72mm field of view | 1/3.24" sensor size | 1.22-micron pixel size
10x periscope telephoto camera:
10 megapixels | f/4.9 aperture | 240mm field of view | 1/3.24" sensor size | 1.22-micron pixel size
40 megapixels | f/2.2 aperture | 26mm field of view | 1/2.8" sensor size | .7 micron pixel size
iPhone 13 Pro Max
12 megapixels | f/1.5 aperture | 26mm field of view | .9 micron pixel size
12 megapixels | f/1.8 aperture | 13mm field of view
3X telephoto camera:
12 megapixels | f/2.8 aperture | 77mm field of view |
12 megapixels | f/1.5 aperture | 26mm field of view | Sensor size not given | .9 micron pixel size
1. Main Cameras
Smartphones come out with multiple sensors nowadays, but the main sensor is the most important one. It's the sensor that you take the most pictures with, and it's the one that the manufacturers put the most effort into.
The sensors on the two cameras are both different and the same. The iPhone 13 Pro Max's main camera has a 12-megapixel sensor, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 108-megapixel sensor. However, the Galaxy's camera uses a process called pixel-binning, where each group of nine pixels is combined into one pixel. This essentially makes this a 12-megapixel sensor.
Across the board, based on numerous comparisons, both main camera sensors seem to perform similarly. However, both cameras one-up each other in certain situations when it comes to exposure and contrast. As for color reproduction, history repeats itself as Samsung leans toward punchy and vibrant colors, while Apple aims for more accurate colors.
Samsung has one persistent issue with its camera, however. The phone tends to over-sharpen the images to a noticeable degree. This is where the camera emphasizes all of the edges in the photo to make it appear sharper. For the most part, users won't really notice it, but on closer examination, they'll be able to see sort of a halo effect over the picture.
2. Ultrawide Cameras
Ultrawide cameras have been a mainstay in smartphone camera technology for a while, and both Samsung and Apple added ultrawide cameras to their phones. Performance on both phones, like with the main cameras, is very similar.
More often than not, the iPhone will deliver just a bit more contrast than the Galaxy phone. The added contrast helps with the overall aesthetic of the images, but it can also cause the iPhone's image to lose some details in the shadows.
3. Macro Photography
As for macro, there's a bit of a trade-off between the phones. Both phones use their ultrawide cameras as a macro lens, but the iPhone can get as close as 2mm to the subject, whereas the Galaxy can get about 3-4mm. However, the Galaxy's images typically come out a bit sharper than the iPhone's photos.
4. Zoom Photography
Both phones have the ability to zoom, but the Galaxy S21 Ultra actually has two zoom lenses. When it comes to pure zooming power, the Galaxy comes out on top, being able to zoom up to 10x optically; the iPhone maxes out at 3x. This means that the Galaxy can zoom in much closer to the subject with minimal quality drop.
That's not the full story, however. Pictures taken from the iPhone at 3x zoom tend to look better than the Galaxy's photos at 3x zoom.
5. Low Light Photography
A true test of a phone's camera is taking pictures in the dark. Both cameras do very well with their respective night modes. They can both brighten up dark environments, but the iPhone is definitely working some sort of magic.
Images from the Galaxy's photos look great with the iPhone just one step behind; however, the Galaxy's camera exposes for 10 seconds, while the iPhone's is automatically set to expose for three seconds. However, when the iPhone exposes for the full 10 seconds, it winds up blowing the Galaxy S21 out of the water with much brighter and more detailed photos.
Apple has always been the king of smartphone video, and this trend continues with the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Both phones are pretty much neck-and-neck in this category, but the iPhone pulls just a bit more dynamic range, exposing better in extreme lighting conditions. The iPhone is better at capturing details in low-light conditions.
Both cameras come packed with exciting extra features. The iPhone 13 Pro Max has its new feature where it automatically shifts the focus between subjects, a cinematic mode, which blurs the background, and HDR recording. The Galaxy S21 Ultra has 8K video recording, 960fps slo-mo recording at 720p, and it also has a mode where it blurs the background.
No camera comparison would be complete without a selfie camera comparison. Both cameras perform almost identically despite the difference in resolution. The iPhone has a 12-megapixel selfie camera, and the Galaxy has a 40-megapixel camera.
It All Boils Down to Opinion
There isn't really a clear winner in this competition, as both the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 13 Pro Max have stellar cameras. If you care more about nighttime photography, video, and higher contrast, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is for you. If you care about zooming closer to subjects, more detail for cropping, and portraits, then the Galaxy S21 Ultra is for you. Either way, you slice it, you'll be spending a lot of money but getting your money's worth.