When it comes to the best camera phones, you have three excellent options: the Pixel 7 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro, and Galaxy S22 Ultra. All three handsets are incredible in their own rights, but where smartphones still fall behind traditional DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is zoom.
All of these devices feature some kind of optical zoom from their telephoto lenses. The Pixel 7 Pro can go up to 5x, the iPhone 14 Pro to 3x, and the Galaxy S22 Ultra to 3x or 10x. Beyond those figures, each phone has a max digital zoom, where you lose significant photo quality as the handset tries to clean up the image.
The Pixel 7 Pro's digital zoom goes to 30x, the iPhone 14 Pro to 15x and the Galaxy S22 Ultra all the way up to 100x.
As you’ll see below in this Pixel 7 Pro vs. iPhone 14 Pro vs. Galaxy S22 Ultra zoom camera face-off, we took out all three phones to various scenes to put them to the test. Which one wins? Read on to find out.
Pixel 7 Pro vs. iPhone 14 Pro vs. Galaxy S22 Ultra: Trees in Fall
To kick this off, I stepped out into the beautiful Virginia autumn. As you can see, the colors are in full bloom with reds, oranges and greens, plus the blue of the sky in the background.
Pixel 7 Pro
At 3x, the Pixel 7 Pro is at the biggest disadvantage compared to the iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy S22 Ultra. Both of those phones have 3x optical zoom while the PIxel makes do with a hybrid digital-optical zoom using Google's Super Res Zoom technology.
Right away, I notice a loss of detail in the leaves where they sort of just melt together into a fuzzy mess. The pine tree off in the background looks especially bad. Even the tree to the left of the foreground doesn't look all that good. I think the Pixel lost at 3x. However, at 5x, where the phone's optical zoom comes in, is much clearer with richer colors. Higher zooms like 15x and 30x look just atrocious.
iPhone 14 Pro
At 3x, the iPhone 14 Pro comes in strong. Colors are incredibly vibrant, yet natural — Virginia has some bright autumns — and I like the crisp details. You can make out a lot of the individual leaves in the foreground while the background has some nice focus, too.
But consider the iPhone 14 Pro a dud when it comes to digital zoom. The 15x shot is so bad, I can't even describe it. It's blurry, it's fuzzy, and it's murky. The iPhone lacks any kind of high-zoom stabilization like the Pixel 7 Pro and Galaxy S22 Ultra, which shows in this image.
Galaxy S22 Ultra
Immediately, you can tell this is a Samsung photo. The Galaxy S22 Ultra boosted the color saturation and exposure compensation to create a quintessential autumn scene. The reds, yellows, and oranges practically pop out of the screen. Like the iPhone 14 Pro's 3x shot, the Galaxy S22 Ultra provided a picture with sharp focus on the trees in the foreground without overtly blurring the background.
At 10x, the Galaxy S22 Ultra remains strong since it also has a telephoto lens at that zoom level. The fence under the trees adds to the fantastical look, creating the illusion of a path through a forest. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is also the strongest at 15x.
The iPhone 14 Pro is out of the competition beyond 15x, so here's how the Pixel 7 Pro fares against the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Getting the images lined up exactly proved beyond the steadiness of my hands — even with both phones' AI-based stabilization at higher zooms — but you can get the general idea.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra wins by a landslide with far sharper detail. The Pixel's colors are faded and dull, while the S22 Ultra kept the richness of its earlier shots. With Samsung, you can still make out the distinction between some of the leaves, while Google smashed everything together into what looks like autumn leaf vomit.
And for fun, here's the same scene at the Galaxy S22 Ultra's 100x. This feature is more for bragging rights, because 100x digital zoom isn't worth much. Even though Samsung has some great telephoto strengths, this image isn't usable for anything.
It's hard to pick between the more demure iPhone 14 Pro image or the fantastical Galaxy S22 Ultra one. Both are quite different in their color calibrations, and I normally don't like the "Samsung effect," but I prefer the iPhone's 3x image.
Samsung, however, won the rest of the zoom contest for this scene, crushing the Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro at 15x and 30x.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Pixel 7 Pro vs. iPhone 14 Pro vs. Galaxy S22 Ultra: Child statue
With this oddly creepy child statue in New York City, you can start to make out the nest and wings. The Pixel once again leads us off.
Pixel 7 Pro
I found 10x to be the most interesting comparison from all three phones. The Pixel 7 Pro did a much better job here than with the trees, where it had to process a ton of detail and color. With the statue, 10x is a surprisingly clear image, even down to the bricks on the building in the background. I can easily make out the pieces of the nest.
At 5x, it's even better with the Hard Rock sign in the foreground, giving a distinct punk-ish sense to the picture. But even at 15x, the Pixel 7 Pro still maintains its footing with the statue pretty crisp.
iPhone 14 Pro
At 10x, the iPhone 14 Pro Max definitely shows some issues at the seams. The photo overall feels dull, like a lot of the color drained from it. It's also a bit blurrier than the Pixel 7 Pro's attempt, which could come down to, again, the iPhone's poor stabilization at higher zooms. But the statue itself is still clearly visible, including the details in the child's face.
At 5x, the iPhone does a decent job, but I think the Pixel 7 Pro has the stronger shot. Still, the iPhone 14 Pro Max did well considering its optical zoom tops out at 3x. Apple's phone falters at 15x with a fuzzy, blurry image that looks bad with a loss of detail and focus.
Galaxy S22 Ultra
The Galaxy S22 Ultra tops out this scene comparison. At 10x, Samsung wins without a doubt. It comes down to the 10x telephoto lens which gives the phone a serious leg up over its competition. Everything about this picture is crisp and sharp. There's a richness here that makes the image feel more lively despite the lack of colors in the buildings.
Samsung continues to best the Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max at 15x, too. Some of the bricks in the background get a bit noisy, but the subject remains clear to my eye.
As before, the iPhone is out at 15x, so here's the statue at 30x with the Pixel 7 Pro and Galaxy S22 Ultra. And yet again, Samsung wins. My first thought is that the Galaxy has richer colors and sharper focus, while the Pixel's attempt looks drab and utterly lifeless. Super Res Zoom did not come through in this case, at not least not enough to come close to the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Finally, here's the statue at 100x. As you might expect, we lose a lot of detail and focus here, partially due to the photographer's natural unsteadiness. Even so, I'm surprised how well I can make out the statue and nest. Impressive.
Since this comparison primarily focused on 10x, I give the win to the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It looks a lot livelier with strong focus and great colors. The iPhone 14 Pro Max is definitely my least favorite, and the Pixel 7 Pro isn't too bad. But next to the Galaxy S22 Ultra, I like both images a lot less.
Winner: Galaxy S22 Ultra
Pixel 7 Pro vs. iPhone 14 Pro vs. Galaxy S22 Ultra: Chrysler Building
The Chrysler Building stands off in the distance, somewhat hard to see at 2x. All three phones will have to get as close as possible while maintaining the detail. Let's see how they did.
Pixel 7 Pro
At 3x, the Pixel 7 Pro captured a surprising amount of detail and clarity, though I see some fuzziness in the building left of center. However, the focal points of the shot, the Chrysler Building and the flag, look fantastic. The sky is a vibrant blue, and I love the reflections in the glass windows. The Chrysler Building is still a little ways off, but you can make it out very well.
Things get clearer at 5x. Colors look accurate and the wider focus helps with a less noisy shot. Even 10x still looks pretty good. At 15x and 30x, however, the Pixel 7 Pro starts to fumble. But the phone did a lot better with this scene than the trees and child statue.
iPhone 14 Pro
At 3x, the iPhone 14 Pro Max ought to enjoy a clear lead over the Pixel 7 Pro across the board with its optical zoom. But here in this example, I think the Pixel wins out in terms of colors and brightness. The iPhone's shot has sharper focus as you might expect, but it has a greenish tinge that I find unpleasant to look at.
At 5x and 10x, the iPhone 14 Pro Max really starts to wither. The loss of detail combined with the extra noise in both photos certainly strike me as nothing short of ugly.
Galaxy S22 Ultra
The Galaxy S22 Ultra's 3x picture looks very nice, if but a bit saturated. It's crystal clear and sharp with solid brightness. I have few complaints about this one. The Chrysler Building stands tall in the background while the red flag in the foreground catches your eye. I also noticed the reflections off to the left, too.
At 5x, the Chrysler Building looks a little bit fuzzier and flatter. This image loses some depth, which I find interesting. But the Galaxy S22 Ultra regains some ground at 10x. It easily beats the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Pixel 7 Pro.
At 15x, the iPhone 14 Pro Max performed laughably bad. The Galaxy S22 Ultra wipes the floor with it at this zoom level. I have very little else to say on this comparison.
At here's the Chrysler Building at the Galaxy S22 Ultra's 100x. It's obviously not a good image, despite its impressiveness. As with the other 100x photos from Samsung, this one is more for show than for anything practical.
At 3x, the Chrysler Building looks great in all three examples, but I favor the Pixel 7 Pro surprisingly. I like how much brighter the building is in the background, as well as the more natural color palette. But the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a close second, while the iPhone 14 Pro looks dimmer in third place.
Winner: Pixel 7 Pro
Pixel 7 Pro vs. iPhone 14 Pro vs. Galaxy S22 Ultra: Flag
This final zoom comparison is of this flag across a courtyard. The above image is at 3x to give you an idea of what the scene looks like.
Pixel 7 Pro
Drawing comparisons to the Galaxy S22 Ultra, the Pixel 7 Pro performed admirably at 10x. The image surprised me with its clarity and sharpness. Its colors remain natural without losing life, the details are the building beyond the flag draw the eye, and you can make out the fold in the flag itself. It's a pretty shot.
At 5x, the image gets a lot less interesting, though it remains solid with its dynamic range and crisp details. Focus stays sharp, too. At 15x, the Pixel 7 Pro continues to perform well. In fact, it seems Super Res Zoom handles this simpler scene better than anything else prior.
iPhone 14 Pro
I really don't like the iPhone 14 Pro Max's attempt to shoot this flag at 10x. It looks washed out, blurry, and over-brightened. The details in the sculptures on the wall behind the flag alone redeem this image somewhat. But this performance puts the iPhone behind the Pixel.
At 5x, the blurriness is far reduced, but I think the colors and brightness still seem a bit off. I can't quite put my finger on it, like the picture lost some dynamic range. And at 15x, the iPhone 14 Pro Max becomes untenable in this scenario, except that it seemed to correct the colors and brightness. With the narrower focus, maybe the phone struggled less to calculate for everything.
Galaxy S22 Ultra
For the Galaxy S22 Ultra, this flag scene proved the most difficult out of all these comparisons so far. Look at this 10x shot, where the phone should be stronger than the Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. That is not the case. The colors look overblown and oversaturated, such that the flag looks horribly unnatural. But the details on the building and even the flag's reflection look great.
At 5x, the Galaxy S22 Ultra struggled with exposure, making for a washed out picture. And at 15x, the problems from 10x persist. It looks grossly oversaturated.
And yet, the Galaxy S22 Ultra makes up some ground at 30x against the Pixel 7 Pro. Here we can see Google's max zoom lose a lot of detail and color, while the Galaxy maintains a lot of those. A lot of the oversaturation from earlier fades away to make for a more natural image. I'm impressed with its sharpness, too.
And here's that flag at 100x. Yep, it's blurry, fuzzy, and color-challenged, but I'm no less amazed that you can still see the folds in the flag. 100x might be mostly pointless, but I find it very cool nonetheless.
So who raked in the win on this last comparison? I think the Pixel 7 Pro stole the show. Not only does it have sharp focus like the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but it easily bests Samsung and the iPhone 14 Pro Max with color accuracy and brightness.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra went way too far on the saturation while the iPhone struggled to do anything worthwhile but make something blurry and bland.
Winner: Pixel 7 Pro
How We Tested
Tom's Guide Content Director Mark Spoonauer and I tried to keep these tests simple. We stood in the same spots for each scene and lined up the shots with each phones as best as we could.
I took images at 1x, 2x, 3x, 5x, 10x, 15x, 30x, and 100x just to get a solid spread of samples for my analysis, even though I didn't include all of those here. My methodology in this article was to present the most interesting findings, which amounted to 3x, 5x, 10x, 15x, and 30x for the most part.
In the end, none of these phones truly excel at zoom photography, but the Galaxy S22 Ultra generally does the best at higher zoom levels. (We happen to think that zoom capability is one of the best features Samsung included in the Galaxy S22 lineup.) However, in the examples chosen here — the trees at 3x, the child statue at 10x, the Chrysler Building at 3x and the flag at 10x — the Pixel 7 Pro comes out on top.
Throughout this process, I found that Google's Super Res Zoom did a lot better in situations where the scene is simpler. In variable scenarios where there are lots of colors, depth ranges, and things to focus on, such as the trees, the technology struggles to compensate for the problems with digital zoom.
But where things are simpler, such as with the flag, Super Res Zoom does a great job with dynamic range, sharpness, and depth. Google taking a page out of Samsung's book, the AI-based stabilization at high zoom, helps a ton, a feature that Apple sorely needs to adopt.
The iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max struggled here except with the main tree comparison, where the scene was at 3x, the phone's max optical zoom. Otherwise, Apple is far behind both Google and Samsung when it comes to telephoto performance.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra is certainly more impressive in a lot of the situations we saw, and in many of the ones we didn't include here, but the Pixel 7 Pro proved more consistent across the board. Sure, it floundered with the trees, but it made up for it with the Chrysler Building and flag.