Galaxy S8 vs. iPhone 7 Camera Shootout: Samsung Has the Edge

There's one age-old question that never seems to get resolved: What's better, Apple or Samsung? And now that Samsung's latest flagship phone, the Galaxy S8, has hit the market, the debate resumes, especially concerning each device's photo-taking skills.

To further muddy the waters, the Galaxy S8 features the same 12-megapixel sensor as the one in the Galaxy S7, but with some new software tweaks that improve image processing. To see how the S8 fares against Apple's top shooter, the iPhone 7 Plus, we took both out for multiple side-by-side comparisons.

Aside from the HDR comparison, (in which we turned HDR on for both cameras), every shot was taken in auto mode without adjusting any settings or using tap to focus. Overall, the Galaxy S8 came out on top, but by the slimmest of margins.

Bright Light/Landscape

In a gorgeous shot of some of NYC's fine spring weather, both phones did a good job of capturing that lovely dappled light as it fell through the trees. However, if you take a close look at the tree trunk on the right, the S8's pic is just a tad sharper than that from the iPhone 7 Plus. More importantly, if you look at the differences between light and dark patches on the grass, the green in the S8's pic looks richer, and you can see each verdant blade more clearly, regardless of how much shade there is.

The one area where the iPhone 7 Plus beats the S8 is on the pink flowers in the top left, where the iPhone 7 captured richer colors and features less blown out details than the S8.

Winner: Galaxy S8

Macro

When I shot a close-up of some flowers with each phone, I was surprised to see the results from the S8's camera. Recent Galaxy S cameras have established a reputation for capturing super bright and saturated colors, but what I got here looks muted and flat compared to the iPhone 7's photos. It's a shame, too, because if you zoom in a bit, the S8's pic is actually slightly sharper than the iPhone's. But that advantage isn't nearly enough to unsee those drab yellows and lifeless reds.

It's a little disconcerting to see the S8's image quality take a step back on a shot like this. It occurred consistently across a number of close-ups and may have something to do with the partially overcast light that day. In direct sunlight, we didn't notice nearly as much of a difference.

Winner: iPhone 7

MORE: Galaxy S8 Review: The Best Android Phone Will Only Get Better

HDR

If these shots were shown side by side, many people would not be able to immediately spot the difference. The iPhone 7 Plus' photo does a better job of capturing the color of the red bricks on the side of the building and sports a deeper blue on the sky in back.

Meanwhile, the S8's pic features slightly better contrast, as evidenced by the darker shades on the pavement in the foreground and better highlights on the reflections coming off the storefront window in the middle of the picture. This one is close enough for us to call it a draw.

Winner: Tie

Well-Lit Nighttime

While this isn't a true low-light shot, this picture of a sign at night with plenty of lights is a good situation for evaluating dynamic range, color and white balance. And across the board, the S8 comes out top.

The S8's pic doesn't have the yellowish tint on the sign that you see in the iPhone's photo; it has better dynamic range, as evidenced by less blown-out details under the lights next to the walkway, and colors are generally richer than what the iPhone delivered. In fact, the leaves on the trees in the background of the S8's pic feature significantly more detail, too.

Winner: Galaxy S8

Indoors Low-Light

Indoors at a nearby bar, the close race continues. If you look at the light shining behind the bottles, you can see that the iPhone 7's pic has more blown-out areas compared to the S8's image, which manages to preserve more details in the center of the frame.

Additionally, looking at the top shelf in the S8's photo, the shapes of glasses and reflections look significantly sharper than in the iPhone 7 Plus' shot.

Winner: Galaxy S8

Outdoors Low-Light

This photo is a good example of the S8's low-light prowess. Its photo is better-exposed than the iPhone 7's pic, which results in brighter colors.

The S8 also captured more fine details (like on the tractor's headlights) compared to the iPhone. And the S8's picture is a little less grainy.

Winner: Galaxy S8

Nighttime Cityscape

One of the things I really like about the iPhone 7 Plus' camera is its restraint when taking low-light photos. Sometimes, that results in pictures that are a little too dark, but other times, it's the right move, and in this shot across the Hudson River, it really shows.

The iPhone 7's pic features way fewer blown-out lights. Because its photo was shot as ISO-320 (versus ISO-1250 for the S8), the iPhone's image is considerably less noisy as well. Yes, the S8's photo has slightly richer colors, most noticeably on the pink lights in the upper right, and it might be a bit sharper, but its excessive noise makes the iPhone's photo the easy pick.

Winner: iPhone 7

MORE: iPhone 7 Review: Great Upgrades, But One is Greater

Selfies

With an 8-megapixel cam in front, the S8's selfie shooter has a slightly higher resolution than the 7-MP one on the iPhone 7. However, that doesn't really come into play. Instead, other differences between the two cameras hold greater weight.

The S8's selfie cam has a wider angle, which is good for capturing multiple people, but its shots look too smooth for my taste. It's like the camera's beauty mode is never truly off, even when the slider is set to zero. My vote goes to the iPhone 7's shot, which sports richer colors and sharper details.

Winner: iPhone 7

Video

While both phones are capable of capturing 4K video at 30 fps, each one has its strengths and weaknesses. The iPhone's video is smoother and less prone to the wobble that many smartphone videos (including the S8) suffer from.

iPhone 7 Plus 4K Video Sample

However, the S8's audio is clearer, which for better or worse, lets you more easily hear the voices of nearby pedestrians and trucks driving behind, and the footage is marginally more well-exposed.

Winner: Tie

Samsung Galaxy S8 4K Video Sample

Overall Winner: Galaxy S8

With a final score of four rounds for the S8 versus three for the iPhone 7, the Samsung's Galaxy S8 wins this flagship camera showdown. In bright light, these cameras are essentially equal, though S8's pics are usually a tiny bit sharper and more colorful than the iPhone 7's photos (aside from the close-up shot). However, where the S8 pulls ahead is at night, where it won three out of four low-light categories. For those thinking about getting an S8, though, it will be important to learn how to use phone's pro mode, so you can dial back the ISO at night for clearer, less grainy shots.

Perhaps the real takeaway is how good the top smartphones cameras are. Anyone would be happy to have either the S8 or the iPhone 7 in their pocket, which means it's important to realize the strengths and weaknesses of each camera. The S8 is generally a better shooter at night than the iPhone 7, and its photo are usually slighter sharper and bit more colorful. However, the iPhone 7 offers a more detailed and realistic selfie cam, produces consistent and accurate results across a wide variety of scenarios, and boasts some of the smoothest 4K video capture around. Then there are the bonus features, like the 7 Plus' dual cams, which makes this device a go-to for smartphone portrait photographers or those who want a true optical zoom.

Overall, though, the S8 is our preferred all-around shooter, even if it's just by a smidge.

Photo credit: Sam Rutherford/Tom's Guide

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  • Mark_340
    As someone who owns a s7, was this payed for by Samsung, because the iPhone photos looked better in nearly all of them.
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  • Neutral President
    One thing I noticed was how consistent the iPhone photographs were across all shooting situations.

    With the Samsung, some shoots seemed overly warm, others had a slight blue-green cast. Looking at the outdoor shot with the grass, and the low-light outdoor shot, I had a hard time believing that Samsung hadn't applied some HDR processing. You normally don't see that much detail in the shadows AND the highlights without combining multiple exposures.

    Overall, I'd say Samsung has done an admirable job, but they're not quite there. The inconsistency and "over-processed" feel to many of the photos is not what I look for in a camera. I prefer more even exposure, consistent colour, and neutral shading that I can tweak in post-processing myself.
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  • Gureey
    Are u high, no they didn't. iPhone has generaly superior cams but this round goes to Samsung; until ofcourse iPhone7s/8/X.
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  • danieleran
    No mention of iOS having accurate color management and calibrated Wide Color P3, which Android lacks?
    That explains in part why the "beauty mode" and random oversaturated nature of Samsung's pics are so inconsistent. Apple controls the hardware and the OS. Samsung doesn't.
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  • perfections100
    Its Galaxy S8 vs iPhone 7 Plus.....You keep mentioning iPhone 7 this is actually misleading as there is huge difference between iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 plus camera isnt it!
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  • DHJ 82
    Tom''s Guide. The place to go to for a biased pro iPhone comparison. This review doesn't look anything like all other reviews all-day clearly us made to look the S8 less good. It would be too much of an embarrassment otherwise, like in the Krystal Key comparison:

    https://youtu.be/E7oa9EIcppA
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  • perterpanel
    I disagree - all pictures except the low light ones look better to me.

    iPhone looks better !
    With a less quality camera. Well done Apple.

    I own a samsung S6 and i am fine with everything .
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  • DHJ 82
    Anonymous said:
    I disagree - all pictures except the low light ones look better to me.

    iPhone looks better !
    With a less quality camera. Well done Apple.

    I own a samsung S6 and i am fine with everything .
    0
  • DHJ 82
    Guess you didn't watch the link I provided, otherwise you wouldn't say this.
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  • Birgit_2
    This was just no test at all. Subject, lighting crop should be all identical.
    0