Galaxy S10 vs Pixel 3 Camera Shootout: Which Phone Wins?

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and S10+ both combine three lenses on the rear for one of the most sophisticated camera systems we’ve ever witnessed in a smartphone. Add in a supercharged Scene Optimizer mode powered by artificial intelligence, and a new feature called Best Shot that aims to help you take better photos in real time, Samsung’s latest cameras are smarter than ever before, too.

But how do they compare to the single-lens rear camera on the back of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL? Google’s flagships are our favorite camera phones at the moment for their ability to capture incredibly lifelike shots, as well as their power when shooting in the dark.

To find out how Samsung’s camera efforts stack up, we took an S10+ and a Pixel 3 and hit the streets of San Francisco for a little photography tour following Samsung’s Unpacked event. Here are the results of our smartphone camera face-off:

Portrait

The weakest link in the Galaxy S9’s photo repertoire was definitely its Live Photo mode, which routinely turned in hazy shallow depth-of-field portraits with muddy bokeh and overexposed highlights. But from this particular comparison with the Pixel 3, we can clearly see Samsung has stepped up its portrait game with the S10+.

The Galaxy handset certainly has the brightness advantage, with the shadows in our colleague Mark’s face not being quite as dark and pronounced as they are through the single lens of Google’s flagship. Mark’s details are also sharper all around with the S10+, which is especially evident in the fabric of his jacket.

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The Pixel 3’s shot is a fair bit darker by comparison, and without a complementary wide-angle lens like the S10+ has, the resulting shot from Google’s phone is a bit more cut in, with less of the background being visible in the frame. Some users may prefer that, as it helps really embed the subject in their surroundings. Conversely, the more pulled-back perspective of the S10+ really makes Mark pop out of this San Francisco scene.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S10/S10+

Group Portrait (with Bokeh)

Samsung’s cameras have had a tendency to blow out subjects in bright sunlight, and that unfortunate trend continues here with this shot of my colleagues Mike and Sherri in Bryant Park.

Winner: Google Pixel 3/3 XL

Group Portrait (No Bokeh)

We wanted to see how well the Galaxy S10 Plus and Pixel 3 could handle a bright background with sun and subjects in the foreground in shadow. Samsung’s camera once again delivered a brighter image, but in this case it’s mostly welcome, as the subjects pop more in the photo.

On the other hand, the Pixel 3’s image has more contrast, and the colors are more saturated and less washed out across the board, from the green shrubs to the yellow cabs.

Winner: Draw

Outdoor Shot: Hats

If the S10+ favors brighter shots, then the Pixel 3 has a tendency to punch up vivid colors. The hues in some of these knitted hats are a tad too extreme, especially with respect to pinks and reds. Then again, because Google’s phone doesn’t punch up those highlights quite as much, it doesn’t blow out certain aspects of the frame like the S10+ does — look at the sky in the background or the facade of the building in the background at the top right.

Overall, though, the S10+ gets more about the scene right. If you zoom in, the S10’s shot hits the finer details, like the weave in the hats, with greater sharpness, and the less vivid but still striking color is a bit more in-tune with what our eyes see.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S10/S10+

Indoor Shot: Cupcake

At first glance, the S10+ provides a shot that seems more presentable overall, with significantly lighter shadows. But as you zoom in, it becomes clear that the Pixel 3 has a significant advantage in terms of sharpness — particularly evident in the texture of the icing on top of the cupcake.

The white balance is also vastly different in both photos, with the Pixel 3’s rendition coming off with less of a yellow cast, the paper beneath the cupcake being more of a straight pink and the whipped cream taking on a more mocha-toned appearance. Neither shot may be perfect, but Google’s handset definitely captured the more accurate shot here.

Winner: Google Pixel 3/3 XL

Low-Light Shot

The Galaxy S10 Plus has a low-light feature that’s part of its Scene Optimizer AI. Called Bright Night, it’s designed to be an answer to the Pixel 3’s Night Sight mode. The results are pretty straightforward.

While the S10 Plus’ shot is fairly bright for what was a very dark room, the Pixel 3 produced a more vibrant red in the cabinet and you can make out more of the spaceship and the clock. The S10 Plus did a better job keeping the tools in the background in focus. Both took photos that were a lot brighter than what the iPhone XS Max could muster.

Winner: Google Pixel 3/3 XL

Selfie

While the rear cameras have the same setup on the Galaxy S10 and S10+, things change when you move up front. In addition to the 10-MP selfie cam, the S10+ adds a second lens — a depth sensor that lets the phone capture selfies with background bokeh that is a bit more accurate and refined than with one lens alone. (We’ll see how the single-lens Galaxy S10 handles selfies once we get our hands on that phone.)

As we can see here, the S10+ result looks a bit too smoothed out and overprocessed. The blur behind Mark looks pretty good, though it’s so strong it creeps up into the foreground in an unnatural way. The whole frame also has a greenish tint to it, that simply present on the Pixel 3’s attempt. Add to that the way the S10+ glosses over details in Mark’s sin, clothes and hair, and the Galaxy’s effort here ends up resembling an overzealous — though still technically impressive — Photoshop job.

Winner: Google Pixel 3/3 XL

Overall Winner: Google Pixel 3/3 XL

Galaxy S10+Pixel 3
Portrait
Group Portrait (Bokeh)
Group Portrait (No Bokeh)
Outdoor Shot (Hats)
Indoor Shot (Cupcakes)
Low-Light Shot
Self-Portrait
Final Result35

Samsung has certainly come a very long way with the Galaxy S10’s photography skills. For one, we’re thrilled to see a flagship smartphone from Samsung that finally gets portraits right. And the S10+’s consistency in delivering well-exposed shots is something Google could certainly learn from as it develops the Pixel 4 for release later this year.

However, the S10 doesn’t appear to be quite as versatile as Google’s effort when things get dark, and sometimes Samsung’s post-processing goes a bit farther than it should. For that reason, the Pixel 3 and 3 XL remain the best camera phones — though the S10 can still churn out some of the finest photography we’ve ever seen from a smartphone.

Credit: Tom's Guide