Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs iPhone 14 Pro Max: How the cameras are stacking up

Image of a leaked render of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
(Image credit: OnLeaks/SmartPrix)

Tips for the camera specs of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra keep popping up. Case in point, The Elec (opens in new tab) reports its supply chain sources have new suppliers pegged to provide the Galaxy S23 Ultra with folded zoom modules and an ultra-wide camera module.

A switch in supplier could mean more hardware capabilities of these rear cameras, though the sensor resolutions are expected to stick at 10 megapixels and 12MP, respectively.

This information, combined with the repeat rumors that the Galaxy S23 Ultra will use a 200MP sensor for its main camera, tapping into a custom version of Samsung’s latest ISOCELL sensor, gives us a decent picture of what cameras the next top flagship in the Galaxy family could sport. In short, we’re looking at a 200MP main camera, 12MP ultrawide, dual 10MP telephoto cameras offering 3x and 10x optical zoom and a 10MP selfie camera. 

Pretty solid specs. But with the Black Friday deals already taking place, and the Galaxy S23 Ultra not coming until around February time, you may be tempted to buy a new phone today. That phone could be the iPhone 14 Pro Max, given it tops our list as the best phone you can buy today and our best camera phone list. 

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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: Rumored differences
Header Cell - Column 0 Galaxy S23 Ultra (rumored)iPhone 14 Pro Max
Main camera200MP, 0.64um, ƒ/1.7, 1/1.3" 48 MP, ƒ/1.8, 1/1.28"
Ultrawide camera12MP, ƒ/2.212MP, ƒ/2.2, 1/2.55"
Telephoto camera10MP, ƒ//2.4,10x telephoto, 10MP, ƒ/2.4, 3x telephoto 12MP, ƒ/2.8, 1/3.5", 3x
Front-facing camera40MP, ƒ/2.2 or 10MP 12MP, ƒ/1.9, 1/3.6"

As you can see from the above table, specs wise the Galaxy S23 Ultra will have the iPhone 14 Pro Max beat. When it comes to stuffing megapixels into cameras, Samsung has long had the edge over Apple’s iPhones.

It was only with the iPhone 14 Pro range that Apple finally moved on from a longstanding 12MP main camera and bumped things up to 48MP. Though we can tell you that the 48MP ProRAW iPhone 14 Pro shots are pretty amazing based on our testing. 

But do megapixel counts really matter? Well, yes and no. Snap a photo on the Galaxy S22 Ultra and take a look at the information for it in Google Photos and you’ll be served up a 12MP image. You can switch to full 108MP in the camera app though. 

By default, Samsung uses a technique called pixel binning to condense a megapixel-flush image into a more manageable photo. Essentially, AI is used to collate all the data from a high-resolution sensor and do its best to create an impressive but less storage hungry photo. Apple does exactly the same with the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max, though you can shoot in full 48MP mode if you opt for the ProRaw setting. 

Pixel processing

(Image credit: OnLeaks/SmartPrix)

The crux of all this is that it’s down to how well an AI and image signal processor (ISP) computes all the information from a camera sensor to deliver the best photo possible. 

From our testing and general thoughts, Apple and Google lead the charge here with the iPhone 14 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro, respectively. Samsung comes in a close third. But arguably its computational photography still needs more work to battle the top two picks in our best camera phones list.

Going from a 108 megapixel sensor to a 200MP one in the Galaxy S23 Ultra could be the answer, as effectively the main camera would be able to capture more information and thus feed the AI and ISP more data to work with. And that could result in crisper, more detailed and better balanced images in terms of color, dynamic range and low-light performance.

Interestingly, some rumors have claimed the Galaxy S23 Ultra will use pixel binning to create 50MP main images by default. If the image processing is sound on such snaps, then Samsung could start to usher in a new default standard to replace the 12MP photos that are commonplace across iOS and Android.

Of course, Apple sets a high bar with the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s 48MP main camera and its computational photography, showing that more pixels isn’t necessarily best; comparatively, the Pixel 7 Pro uses a 50MP main camera.

And iPhones have long been the reigning champions of smartphone video capture. So that’s another area Samsung will need to button up if the Galaxy S23 Ultra is to be crowned the best phone. Currently, the Galaxy S22 range has a lot of video features but the actual resulting footage doesn’t stand up to videos produced by the iPhone 14 range or indeed the older iPhone 13 models.

Zoom king

Image of leaked renders of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

(Image credit: OnLeaks/SmartPrix)

Telephoto photography is one area that Samsung beats the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the Google Pixel 7 Pro. While the latter two phones have a smart 2x zoom which uses cropping on the main camera to provide small zoom without a loss in quality, the Galaxy S22 Ultra dominates at longer ranges. 

The Pixel 7 Pro offers a 5x optical zoom and 30x Super Res Zoom (digital), while the iPhone 14 Pro series packs a 3x telephoto lens and maxes out at 15x digital zoom. With a 3x and 10x telephoto options, the Galaxy S22 Ultra lets you really punch into a scene, and you can go all the way up to 100x with the Space Zoom. 

We’re expecting the Galaxy S23 Ultra to stick with the zooming option of its predecessor. But with a new camera supplier reportedly in the mix, we could see some hardware tweaks, say a better lens covering to cut out glare or aberrations, further cementing the Galaxy Ultra phone’s as the zoom king.

On the ultrawide camera side, it looks like business as usual for the Galaxy S23 Ultra, with it tipped to use a 12MP sensor. That’s on par with the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Pixel 6 Pro. But in my experience, Galaxy phones don’t always produce the best ultra-wide shots, especially on dark, gray days, with details getting smudged when you punch into an image. There’s definitely scope for Samsung to brush up its computational photography here.

If Samsung could also nail sensor fusion, whereby multiple rear cameras are used together to deliver detailed and clear photos, then we could be looking at a very exciting rear camera setup on the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Things might not be so rosy on the selfie side, as a rumor has the Galaxy S23 Ultra tipped to use a 10MP front-facing camera. That would be a big downgrade on the 40MP camera used on the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It’s worth noting that this isn’t necessarily the most robust rumor. But on top of that it could mean Samsung is opting to use a new front-facing camera, and that could come with a sensor that's better at handling things like skin tones even if the resolution takes a hit.

In our iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra face-off, the new iPhone come out on top when it came to selfie shots. So Samsung still has room to improve here with the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Galaxy S23 camera outlook

And that’s the overall story. Samsung has everything to play for with the Galaxy S23 Ultra on the camera front. That’s not to say the Galaxy S22 Ultra isn’t excellent at smartphone photography — it is — I’d just not buy it for its cameras alone; for that i”d probably pick the Pixel 7 Pro (I love Google’s image rendering) and then the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

But with a 200MP sensor, a new chipset, and an already killer design and S Pen functionality, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is looking very promising indeed. And I’m excited to see what Samsung can do with it — we’ve just got to wait a couple of months. 

In the meantime check out why I made the swap from Android to iPhone; maybe the Galaxy S23 Ultra will pull me back.

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.