iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S24 Ultra camera face-off — which flagship could win?

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S24 Ultra camera faceoff
(Image credit: Future)

People would agree that cameras are what separates the good phones from the best phones. That’s what makes an iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S24 Ultra camera face-off intriguing on so many levels, thanks in part to how they could be in line for the best camera phones around when they’re officially released.

Apple’s Wonderlust event is full steam ahead now that the September 12 date is official, and it's where we’ll most likely be introduced to its iPhone 15 lineup — including the highest-end model of the bunch in the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Whether Apple decides to call it that, or perhaps switch the name to the iPhone 15 Ultra moniker, there’s no denying that this high-end phone is going to be accompanied by new cameras that could help it dethrone the Galaxy S23 Ultra, the current camera phone king.

We know that we’re still a good while away from the launch of the Galaxy S24 Ultra, which is typically held in February each year. Nevertheless, Samsung doesn’t intend on letting the competition come anywhere close to what its flagship phones have to offer with their cameras. The Galaxy S24 Ultra is no exception, and with plenty of leaks ahead of next year's launch, there’s enough detail for a proper comparison.

In this iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S24 Ultra camera face-off, we’ll dial into more of those details to give you a better idea of how their cameras stack up.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S24 Ultra: Rumored camera specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
iPhone 15 Pro MaxGalaxy S24 Ultra
Main camera48-megapixel main200-megapixel main
Ultrawide camera12-megapixel ultrawide12-megapixel ultrawide
Telephoto camera12-megapixel telephoto50-megapixel telephoto
Selfie camera12-megapixel12-megapixel
ChipsetA17 BionicSnapdragon 8 Gen 3

Without diving into all of the nitty gritty details, it’s worth pointing out that the Galaxy S24 Ultra could change up its arrangement so that it’s a triple camera system versus the quadruple setup in the current S23 Ultra. That’s because the new tipped to feature a totally new variable telephoto lens, which would do away with separate telephoto cameras. 

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S24 Ultra: Main camera

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The most widely used camera in a smartphone is its main camera, due how it typically delivers the sharpest results and can make even the darkest setting turn out bright and full of detail. Even though the iPhone 15 Pro Max is expected to keep its main camera at 48MP, the more intriguing rumor centers around an upgraded sensor in Apple's phone.

Most notably, the iPhone 15 Pro Max could be packing a new "state-of-the-art" camera sensor that’s nearly an inch across — a Sony IMX903. The sensor is believed to measure in at 1/1.4-inch (about 0.87-inches), which is roughly 11% larger than the current iPhone 14 Pro Max’s 1/1.28-inch (0.78 inches) IMX803 sensor.

So what does this mean? Well, the new "three-stacked" sensor would result in sharper images, brighter colors, and inherently improved low-light performance. We’ve seen how the iPhone 14 Pro Max trailed the other cameras we tested in our astrophotography comparison, so having a larger sensor with increased light sensitivity could help boost the iPhone 15 Pro Max's performance in a bigger way.

Conversely, there are fewer details around what Samsung could have in store for the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s main camera. The current Galaxy S23 Ultra is already packing an astounding 200MP camera, which we should expect at the very least with the S24 Ultra.

However, one rumor suggests that the Galaxy S24 Ultra will be accompanied by an actual 1-inch sensor. We’re not talking about nearly an inch, but an actual 1-inch sensor much like the one found in the Xiaomi 13 Ultra. This would undoubtedly be a substantial upgrade to boost the Samsung phone's low-light sensitivity, seeing that larger sensors draw in more light — and subsequently produce sharper details without being softened by noise.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S24 Ultra: Wide angle camera

Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max used as a b-roll camera to the Panasonic Lumix S5 mirrorless camera.

(Image credit: Future)

A lot of the attention paid to camera phones usually focuses on the main cameras, but we suspect that the secondary wide angle cameras should benefit from the new camera sensors. Beyond how they would inherently gain the same improvements as their respective main cameras, such as increased clarity and higher dynamic range, the only unknown is if Apple or Samsung will change up their field of views.

Both the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Galaxy S23 Ultra offer 12MPl ultrawide cameras with 120-degree field of views. There hasn’t been any sort of indication whether Samsung and Apple will be changing them up on future phones, but it would only benefit them to at least increase their field of view for wider coverage.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S24 Ultra: Telephoto camera

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra back cameras

(Image credit: Future)

Flagship phones are defined by their telephoto lenses, and it’s the area we’re certain to find the toughest fight. Apple has long trailed its rivals in this area, but a new 12-megapixel periscope telephoto camera is reportedly in store for the iPhone 15 Pro Max / iPhone 15 Ultra, and that improvement could really change things.

That’s because the zoom capabilities are rumored to jump to a 6x optical zoom, which is double the current iPhone 14 Pro Max’s 3x telephoto range. Even though there are smartphones with better telephoto cameras, another rumor paints that the iPhone 15 Pro Max could offer as much as a 10x zoom.

Then again, this is an area that Samsung has specialized in for a long time — but the phone maker actually might lean on a different implementation for the Galaxy S24 Ultra's telephoto camera. Specifically, the Galaxy S24 Ultra could lean on a variable folded telephoto lens that would effectively combine the 3x and 10x zoom lenses on the S23 Ultra. This would eliminate the separation and could give users even more fluidity while zooming.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S24 Ultra: Video capture

Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max used as a b-roll camera to the Panasonic Lumix S5 mirrorless camera.

(Image credit: Future)

While both phones are expected to capture outstanding photos, we anticipate that they won’t disappoint with video either — more so when you think about the utility of how they cover all the range.

Video enthusiasts would probably gravitate toward the Galaxy S24 Ultra for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we suspect that video recording resolution will top out at 8K resolution at 30fps. Whether or not the Galaxy S24 Ultra uses the the upcoming Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 silicon or not, it could increase the phone’s slow motion speed at the very least.

Unfortunately, Apple has never been about having the highest video capture resolution or fastest frame rates in its iPhones. The iPhone 14 Pro Max tops out at 4K 60fps, which is the standard among flagships — but still a far cry from the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 8K resolution. The Bionic A17 chip could potentially achieve 8K capture with Apple ProRes, seeing how leaked benchmark tests allege it’s a processing powerhouse.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S24 Ultra: Camera software

Astrophotography with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.

(Image credit: Future)

Apple has slowly made the iPhone appealing for enthusiasts that want greater control for their compositions. We’ve seen that within how Apple added a few parameters that could be adjusted in the iPhone’s camera app, like exposure compensation, RAW files, and aperture adjustment in portrait mode.

Despite these small rollouts, the iPhone is still missing proper manual controls — something we can only hope to change with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Considering how it’s tapped to feature some of the biggest camera upgrades in years, it would be great if the iPhone 15 Pro Max could be accompanied by a revamped camera interface complete with manual controls for photos and video.

This is exactly why the Galaxy S23 Ultra is so popular among videographers and enthusiasts. We anticipate the Galaxy S24 Ultra to follow suit with its robust set of shooting modes and controls, so the company doesn’t need to do a whole lot new because it’s already established itself for having one of the best camera software around.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S24 Ultra cameras: Outlook

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs iPhone 14 Pro Max back

(Image credit: Future)

There’s already a lot of interest in an iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S24 Ultra camera face-off. It would appear as though Apple’s trying to bridge the gap in the telephoto range to match its rivals, but it’ll be interesting to see if the new camera hardware accompanying the iPhone 15 Pro Max / iPhone 15 Ultra are enough to overthrow Samsung off the top spot in our best camera phones list.

Even if it turns out that Apple succeeds in achieving this, its reign would probably be short because the Galaxy S24 Ultra is expected to be announced near the start of 2024. As we near that time frame, you can almost guarantee we’ll have a more concrete idea about its new cameras.

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John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.