The Samsung Galaxy S22 introduces a lot of camera improvements, particularly when it comes to the software used for processing the photos you take. One new feature in particular stands out, especially if you've come to love taking portrait shots featuring stylish background blurs that help your subject pop.
Samsung says its Galaxy S22 models all include an AI Stereo Depth Map, a feature that puts an AI algorithm to work separating your subject from the background of the photo. Using AI, Samsung hopes to better who's in the portrait, cutting down on those times that loose strands of hair get blurred into the background.
It's a welcome effort, considering how popular portrait shots have become. But will it be enough for the Galaxy S22 to beat the best camera phones at their own portrait game?
We decided to put Samsung's AI Stereo Depth Map to the test, pitting the Galaxy S22 against the iPhone 13 and Google Pixel 6 in a portrait photo face-off. All three phones are in the same price range — the Galaxy S22 and iPhone 13 cost an identical $799 while the Pixel 6 is $200 less — so it strikes as a fight among equals. We also included the $899 Motorola Edge Plus (2022).
We took all four phones and captured portrait shots in five different scenarios. Here's a look at how the portrait modes of the Galaxy S22, iPhone 13, Pixel 6 and Motorola Edge Plus compare and which phone is best to turn to when you want a shareable portrait shot of someone.
Test 1: Standard portrait, outside
In our first test, we went outside and took a regular portrait shot of a single subject — in this instance, my daughter standing in front of a Japanese maple tree. Click the arrows on the gallery below to rotate between different image samples.
The Galaxy S22's AI Stereo Depth Map pulls its weight here, cleanly separating my daughter from the surrounding scene. The Pixel 6 does a decent job, too, though some of her hair gets caught in the blur around the shot. The iPhone 13 does almost too good a job on separating my daughter from the background of the shot, adding a kind of halo effect near the top of her head.
I think the Motorola Edge Plus also does all right differentiating between subject and background, though there are streaks of the shot, particularly on the right side where there's no blur at all. (The Pixel 6 has this problem, too, on a smaller scale, with a spot in the upper right of the frame lacking a blur.) I'm chalking this up to sunlight breaking through the tree and confusing the Edge Plus' depth sensor.
The iPhone 13 does the best job with color, favoring a warm tone that calls out my daughter's eyes. The Pixel 6 is overly cool in my opinion. The Galaxy S22 probably offers the best balance between a stylish blur and good colors — I also like the way Samsung's portrait mode closes in on the subject, making for an actual portrait (even if it does force us to crop the photo more severely to keep the aspect ratio identical to the other photos featured here).
Winner: 1) Galaxy S22 2) iPhone 13 3) Pixel 6 4) Motorola Edge Plus
Test 2: Group portrait, indoors
We went inside to my mother-in-law's house for shot of my daughter and her oma. Squeezing two people into the shot proved to be a bit much for all four phones, which struggled in different ways to produce a good portrait.
The Pixel 6 is the best of the bunch, even if its colors are overly cool. But it offers the best contrast in subject and background, even though it made no attempt to blur the blanket draped on the couch. The iPhone 13 also struggled with the blur effect, only really blurring the upper left corner — the temperature's too warm as well. Motorola's phone has many of the same as the issues as the iPhone, but at least blurs more of the background on the left.
The Galaxy S22's effort is especially disappointing, as seems to have a hard time keeping both people focus. Part of my mother-in-law's face is getting caught up in the blur, as is her left shoulder. Maybe portrait mode means "One person only" for some of these phones.
Winner: 1) Pixel 6 2) Motorola Edge Plus 3) iPhone 13 4) Galaxy S22
Test 3: Night portrait, outdoors
The porch light outside my front door offered enough light to try out portrait mode after dark, though all four phones gave the resulting images a pretty warm cast. The worst offering comes from the Motorola Edge Plus, which yields some pretty harsh colors thanks to that minimal ambient lighting.
Both the iPhone 13 and Pixel 6 have the better efforts here, as the Galaxy S22's solution to the lack of light is to render everything behind my daughter pitch black. (This is partially a side effect of the S22's tendency to cut in closely on subjects in portrait mode, as it leaves out the street scene that's partially visible in the Pixel and iPhone shots.) In the end, the nod goes to the iPhone 13 here, as it produces a sharper-looking image where my daughter still manages to stand out.
I also tried turning off the porch light and trying to take a portrait shot in a low light setting. Neither the iPhone 13 nor the Motorola Edge would play along. The Galaxy S22 tried, but either I jiggled my hand during the long exposure or the mixture of portrait and night modes proved too much, as the resulting shot was a jittery blur. Only the Pixel 6 produced a credible Night Sight photo with a background blur, even if give my daughter a pinkish sheen, so give Google's phone a bonus point in this round.
Winner: 1) iPhone 13 2) Pixel 6 3) Galaxy S22 4) Motorola Edge Plus
Test 4: Selfie portrait, outdoors
Let's get a look at my grim countenance, with portrait mode turned on for the front cameras on all four phones.
The sunlight provided a challenge in this shot, where my face on the right is bathed in a beam of light. As a result, all four phones produced a halo effect to varying degrees. It's most pronounced on the Motorola Edge Plus, where the separation between me and the background looks fairly jagged. It's a shame, too, because I like how the bush behind me is still visible in that Motorola photo, even with the thorough blur.
Color turns out to be the deciding factor in this case, as the Pixel 6 finds the middle ground between the iPhone 13's overly ruddy skin tone and the Galaxy S22 yellowish tint. Perhaps the background blur that the Pixel puts in place is a little too stylish, but I think it makes for a very distinctive portrait. I give the iPhone 13 the edge over the Galaxy S22 because the former didn't smooth my face as noticeably as the S22 did.
Winner: 1) Pixel 6 2) iPhone 13 3) Galaxy S22 4) Motorola Edge Plus
Test 5: Selfie portrait, indoors
We took off the baseball cap and went indoors for our last portrait test — another selfie, this one indoors. The ample natural lighting in the room helped all four phones distinguish between me and the bookcase behind me, so again, the contest comes down to who handles color the best.
It's hard for me to separate the Pixel 6 and Galaxy S22 shot — both have a nice, balanced tone and a stylish blur behind me. I think the Galaxy S22 makes the separation between me and the bookshelf look a little more natural, and my skin appears smoother in the Pixel shot. Again, the iPhone chose to highlight the ruddiness of my complexion — not an inaccurate look, but not an appealing one either. The Motorola Edge Plus selfie is simply too muted.
Winner: 1) Galaxy S22 2) Pixel 6 3) iPhone 13 4) Motorola Edge Plus
Portrait mode verdict: Who wins?
Using a scoring system that awards 4 points for a first place win, three points for second, two for third and a single point for fourth, the Pixel 6 comes out on top. That seems fair, since it also won two categories and could have gotten a bonus point for its serviceable combination of Night Shift and portrait modes.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Galaxy S22||iPhone 13||Pixel 6||Motorola Edge Plus (2022)|
|Group portrait inside||1||2||4||3|
Like the Pixel 6, the Galaxy S22 also won two categories — the indoor selfie, and the outdoor single-person portrait. But its poor showing when trying to take a group portrait shot undermined its chances of winning. The iPhone 13 proved to be a pretty consistent performer — hence, its second-place finish overall. As for the Motorola Edge Plus, its depth sensor didn't really help the phone keep pace with its fellow flagships.
You're going to get solid portrait shots from the three top phones in this face-off. But Google's computation photography helps the Pixel 6 eke out a win as the best choice when it's time to apply a portrait effect to a photo.