iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Pixel 7 Pro — zoom camera shootout

Google Pixel 7 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro Max and Galaxy S23 Ultra camera shown held in one hand
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple is making a big deal about the tetraprism lens in the iPhone 15 Pro Max. For the first time, you get a 5x optical zoom on an iPhone, which is a pretty big leap from the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s 3x zoom. 

In fact, the regular iPhone 15 Pro remains stuck at 3x zoom, as the Pro Max has an exclusive on this new telephoto lens. The iPhone 15 Pro Max also supports a 25x digital zoom, compared to 15x on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. In contrast, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra packs dual telephoto zoom lenses at 3x and 10x along with a 100x digital zoom while the Google Pixel 7 Pro has a 5x telephoto zoom and up to 30x digital zoom.

So which is the best camera phone when it comes to zooming in? To find out, I took all three phones out for a shooting session and picked four subjects. In each case I took a 5x zoom photo with each device and then a 25x zoom to compare against the max range the iPhone 15 Pro Max can deliver. Here’s the results.

Zoom test 1: Fountain

iPhone 15 Pro Max (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I started our testing by shooting the Bryant Park fountain from across the park. As you can see in the 1x view, it’s very hard to see the fountain at all at first, so it’s impressive that all three can get you so close.

At 5x zoom, I prefer the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s shot, as it makes the patch of sunlight pop more and the fountain looks fairly sharp as you zoom in. The bottom of the fountain looks splotchy in the Galaxy S23 Ultra shot, and the Pixel 7 Pro photo is a bit dark overall. I do like how the flowers look in the foreground of the Pixel 7 Pro’s effort, though.

At 25x zoom, the Galaxy S23 Ultra pulls ahead. The color is off, but you get a brighter and crisper shot of the fountain, and you can more easily make out the letters on the surrounding signs. The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s photo is certainly sharper than the Pixel 7 Pro, especially in the water, but it’s a clear second place here.

Zoom test 2: Statue

Galaxy S23 Ultra (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

For this zoom test, I turned my attention to the William Cullen Bryant statue, and the Pixel 7 Pro makes the best first impression at 5x zoom.

The statue itself is brightest through Google’s camera, and it’s my favorite shot. The iPhone 15 Pro Max gives us the most definition in the surrounding columns and a nice even exposure with a good amount of detail in the robe.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra has a good amount of contrast and the statue certainly pops, but there’s something that seems artificial about its output here.

At 25x zoom Samsung flips the script. Its shot of the text on the statue is remarkably sharp. The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s result looks a bit fuzzy by comparison and the Pixel 7 Pro’s pic really struggles to capture the letters clearly.

Zoom test 3: Flowers

iPhone 15 Pro Max (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Next up, I turned all three cameras on the beautiful Bryant Park cafe, attempting to capture the flowers that drape over the top of the restaurant. 

At 5x zoom I give a slight edge to the Pixel 7 Pro over the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Yes, the Galaxy S23 Ultra produces the brightest photo, but the color tone is on the yellow side and some of the flowers get blown out as a result. The Pixel 7 Pro’s image delivers punchier greens than the iPhone, and the white flowers look a bit crisper.

Once we get to 25x Samsung pulls way ahead once again. The flowers look amazingly detailed compared to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, whose shot has a ton of noise. The Pixel 7 Pro comes in a solid second place, although it’s worth noting that we had to shoot a couple of times to get this pic because the zoom was so shaky.

Zoom test 4: Flag

iPhone 15 Pro Max (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

For our last zoom camera test, we captured this building across the street from Bryant Park, focusing on an American flag. Once again the Galaxy S23 Ultra delivers the brightest photo at 5x zoom but the building is overexposed compared to what we saw. 

It’s a close call between the iPhone 15 Pro Max and Pixel 7 Pro here. I prefer the warmer color profile from the iPhone, which makes the trees in the foreground pop more. But as you zoom in, the Pixel 7 Pro delivers sharper text on the canopy and a crisper flag.

Our 25x zoom shots couldn’t provide a direct comparison as the flag was blowing in the wind. However, based on what we can see in these images I’d say the iPhone 15 Pro Max hands in a last-place finish. There’s just too much noise at its max zoom level. 

The Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro are very close in terms of detail but the red and white stripes look a bit crisper through the Samsung lens and blue around the stars pops more. 

iPhone 15 Pro Max: Zoom shootout scorecard

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Overall, the iPhone 15 Pro Max definitely has a good 5x optical zoom, but its digital zoom is lacking compared to the Galaxy S23 Ultra. We added up all the scores based on our testing, awarding 3 points for a first-place finish in each round. The second-place finisher got 2 points and last place gets 1 point. 

Swipe to scroll horizontally
iPhone 15 Pro MaxGalaxy S23 UltraPixel 7 Pro
Fountain 5x 312
Fountain 25x 231
Statue 5x 213
Statue 25x 231
Flowers 5x 213
Flowers 25x 132
Flag 5x 323
Flag 25x 132

When you add it all up, the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro both beat the iPhone 15 Pro Max, but the biggest gap comes at 25x zoom. The iPhone won a couple of 5x zoom rounds, but the Pixel 7 Pro took three of those rounds. And at 25x zoom, the Galaxy S23 Ultra won every single comparison. 

The bottom line is that the iPhone 15 Pro Max is much improved since our last camera zoom shootout with the iPhone 14 Pro Max, but it’s clearly not the best when you want to really zoom in from afar. And with the Galaxy S24 Ultra and the Pixel 8 Pro both on the way, the competition is only going to get better. 

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Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.