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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra just got beat by iPhone 12 Pro Max — here’s how

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
(Image credit: Future)

“Well that’s odd!” is our reaction to camera experts DxOMark scoring the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s camera lower than that of its predecessor, the Galaxy S20 Ultra

We say that’s strange, as in our Galaxy S21 Ultra review we concluded that it delivers mostly stellar photographs. Yet the Galaxy S21 Ultra got an overall DxOMark score of 121 compared to its predecessor’s score of 126.  

Breaking the DxOMark score down, the Galaxy S21 Ultra got a photo score of 128, 76 for its zoom photography and 98 for its video capture. DxOMark noted that the S21 Ultra does a lot of good things when it comes to smartphone photography, but it has room to improve given it comes with “top-end camera specifications.” 

DxOMark praised the Galaxy S21 Ultra for delivering photos with accurate target exposure and decent dynamic range, as well as colors that look “nice” and skin tones that are “pleasant.” But it critiqued the S21 Ultra for HDR that could be a little unstable and slow autofocus in low-light and high-contrast photography. It also noted the S21 Ultra has a loss of detail when it comes to indoor and low-light shots. 

Falling behind iPhone 12 Pro Max

Overall, DxOMark noted that the Galaxy S21 Ultra lags behind not only the Galaxy S20 Ultra in its testing, but also the Huawei Mate 40 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro Max and even the iPhone 11 Pro Max

“There is no doubt the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is an exciting device with a powerful chipset and impressive display,” DxOMark concluded. “If camera is a priority there are currently a number of better options to pick from, but there is hope that Samsung might be able to fix some of the issues identified in this review with a firmware update and thus reduce the gap between the S21 Ultra 5G and top-ranked devices.” 

Now it’s worth noting that thanks to the software and algorithms that sit behind smartphone cameras, each presents different results in a variety of conditions. A shot on a Google Pixel 5 might trounce the Samsung Galaxy S21, but in others both might lag behind the iPhone 12, only to then beat Apple’s handset in other tests. 

DxOMark does back its findings with lab testing, but ultimately deciding what smartphone camera results you prefer will be a matter of taste. This writer, for instance, really likes the contrast the Pixel 5 delivers in its main camera shots, but also enjoys the vibrant images of a Galaxy S21 and the sumptuous details captured by an iPhone 12. 

In short, you can’t go can’t really go wrong with high-end smartphone cameras these days. And for what it’s worth, we have the Galaxy S21 Ultra in the second position on our best camera phones list.  

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer is U.K. 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.