iPhone X vs. Note 8 Camera Shootout: Why Apple Wins

Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 and Apple's iPhone X lead the way in mobile photography, each touting a pair of dual rear cameras and a slew of modes to capture that perfect shot.

In our overall comparison between the two phones, Apple's full-screen flagship narrowly pulled out an advantage over Samsung's phablet in a handful of photos. But we wanted to see how these powerhouses fared across a wider range of scenarios, so we took them out into the real world one more time to find out.

Apple iPhone X

Apple iPhone X

First, let's get the facts straight. The iPhone X features two 12-megapixel rear cameras: one wide-angle, and another telephoto. The wide-angle lens sports an f/1.8 aperture, while the telephoto lens is f/2.2. They can combine to enable 2x optical zoom and features such as Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting, which keep the subject crisp and in focus while blurring the background or manipulating ambient light.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

The Galaxy Note 8 has dual wide-angle and telephoto 12-MP cameras as well, but the apertures are slightly different: f/1.7 and f/2.4. The Samsung phone can also pull off 2x optical zoom and similar portrait-style images with its Live Focus feature. Live Focus operates similarly to Portrait Mode, though it allows you to adjust the background bokeh effect before and after the shot. The Note 8 also lets you capture separate exposures with both lenses simultaneously, thanks to Dual Capture mode.

Round 1: Fruit

We start with a picture of some produce at an outdoor market, and it's immediately clear that both phones do an excellent job of bringing out the vivid reds, oranges and yellows of the peaches and lemons in the foreground.

But look a little closer, and you'll see there's a tad more intensity to those hues in the iPhone's shot. The light hits the fruit in a much more noticeable way, too. Whereas the Note 8 kind of diffuses those specular highlights, the iPhone X lets them shine, so the luster and texture are more apparent.

Sharpness is another factor. Apple's handset maintains a crisp exposure stretching toward the fruit in the background, whereas the Note 8 keeps the area closer to the lens more detailed. To some extent, this comes down to the differences in the focal direction for each shot, but the iPhone X still appears to keep more of the image in clearer sight. The respective haziness of the "California Fruit" text on the Samsung phone's photo illustrates this.

MORE: Best Smartphone Cameras

But where the iPhone X really wins out is in how it renders the scene behind the fruit stand. The Note 8 can't rein in those highlights, so white-hot sunlight scorches the outside world. The iPhone X isn't perfect in this regard either, but at least you can discern the street sign and traffic light.

Winner: iPhone X

Round 2: Flowers

Right off the bat, it's easy to tell the iPhone X exhibits a warmer tint than the Note 8 in capturing this bouquet of flowers. And again, it's Apple that claims the larger area of focus, punchier colors, and more nuance in its highlights and lowlights. Observe the way the shadows of the sunflower petals play off each other in the iPhone's shot and how much easier it is to discern the small spots in the flower at the center.

That said, we'll chalk up the discrepancy in color balance to taste. The cooler tones of the Note 8's exposure seems truer to life to my eye, though there's no denying that the range of the iPhone's color gamut is impressive.

Winner: iPhone X

Round 3: Street

At the onset, it might seem like the iPhone X continues its reputation for deeper color here. And it certain places, it does — just look at the fiery red of the ambulance's siren. But then you turn to other aspects of the scene, and things even out. The Note 8's cooler cast favors a more verdant green on the side of the cafe in the park to the left, and a brighter blue sky.

There's also the issue of contrast. The iPhone X might provide the warmer scene, but it's more muted overall, with less separating the brightest and darkest sections of the shot. That's beneficial when it comes to making out the leaves in the depths of the trees to the right, for example, but it leads to an image that's just a little flatter than it maybe should be. However, the buildings in the Note 8's representation look absolutely whitewashed, which lets down the realism and lends it more of a stylized aesthetic.

Winner: Draw

Round 4: Portrait Mode and Live Focus

The iPhone's Portrait Mode and Samsung's Live Focus technology might operate similarly in theory, but they produced two very different images of my colleague Henry.

The iPhone X delivered a more realistic skin tone and a darker shade of red in Henry's hoodie. It also constrained the focus to his face, for a slightly more dramatic portrait feel. The Note 8, on the other hand, appears quite a bit blurrier as you zoom in. For Samsung's phone, I used the middle setting for background blur, though I could have increased or decreased the strength of the effect during or after shooting.

Interestingly, both phones tended to overexpose the background, blowing out the building in the distance.

Winner: iPhone X

Round 5: Outdoor Cafe

For this and the next example, I used 2x optical zoom on both phones. Each was a joy to shoot with — I didn't have to get nearly as close, and it really helped frame the shots perfectly.

Bearing that in mind, it's tough to pick a winner here. Each handset succeeds in different respects. The iPhone X again bumps up the saturation and keeps the buildings in the background in sharper, more vivid detail. You can actually discern the bricks and all the different shades of brown and gray in the iPhone's exposure, which cannot be said for the Note 8's photo.

MORE: iPhone X vs. Galaxy S8+ vs. Note 8 vs. LG V30 vs. Google Pixel 2 XL

But then you look at the foreground, and the Note 8 wins some points back with its improved low-light performance, particularly in the green walls and the trash can on the left. The cooler white balance is also a little more appropriate, given that the photo was taken on a cloudy day.

Winner: Draw

Round 6: Lego Dragon

Surprisingly, it's the iPhone X with the more washed-out capture this time around. The Note 8's colors don't get quite as intense, particularly when you look at the dragon's tongue, for example. But they're richer, and the bloom from the indoor lighting doesn't blow out quite the same way it does on Apple's device.

The iPhone's attempt looks more like it was taken with a smartphone, whereas the tone of the walls and the warmth of the light make Samsung's photo more closely resemble what a dedicated camera would produce.

Winner: Galaxy Note 8

Round 7: Bakery

When you compare these photos taken in a bakery, the iPhone's croissants simply look more delicious. The ridges are more prominent, the glaze is a darker shade of gold and even the tray below is more properly exposed, with the metal grating peeking through the deepest shadows of the image.

The Note 8 simply casts these sections into total darkness. The highlights are also kept in check on Apple's handset, as evidenced by the light reflecting off the countertop in the bottom right.

Winner: iPhone X

Round 8: Indoor Café (Low Light)

That brings us to our last comparison, where we see the Note 8 presents a sharper and warmer image that doesn't get overwhelmed by the lights above the cafe. Notice how much more of the menu board is visible through Samsung's cameras. If you zoom in, you can even see the text closer to the photographer is less blurry and easier to read than it is in the iPhone X's photo.

There are aspects to like about the iPhone's approach. The white balance here is definitely more accurate, and Apple's cameras manage to avoid the unnatural motion-blur-like effect noticeable on the far left and right of the frame, as well as the "Pick Up Here" sign hanging from the ceiling. But overall, the Samsung delivers the more eye-catching scene.

Winner: Galaxy Note 8

Overall Winner: iPhone X

The iPhone X may have won the majority of matchups, but this comparison simply reinforces how amazing the cameras are in both of these smartphones and how each has its own respective strengths. The iPhone's colors are routinely brighter and more saturated, but sometimes, the Samsung's more neutral white balance and deeper contrast favor the situation.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 iPhone XGalaxy Note 8
FruitRow 1 - Cell 2
FlowersRow 2 - Cell 2
PortraitRow 4 - Cell 2
Outdoor Café
Lego DragonRow 6 - Cell 1
BakeryRow 7 - Cell 2
Indoor CaféRow 8 - Cell 1
iPhone X

It's a case-by-case basis, but if you're fortunate enough to shoot with either of these phones, you should feel confident that neither will let you down. The iPhone X is just a bit more consistently impressive, earning it the win here.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Adam Ismail is a staff writer at Jalopnik and previously worked on Tom's Guide covering smartphones, car tech and gaming. His love for all things mobile began with the original Motorola Droid; since then he’s owned a variety of Android and iOS-powered handsets, refusing to stay loyal to one platform. His work has also appeared on Digital Trends and GTPlanet. When he’s not fiddling with the latest devices, he’s at an indie pop show, recording a podcast or playing Sega Dreamcast.