The Galaxy S9's Camera Is Great, But The Pixel 2's Is Better

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ may look a lot like last year's Galaxy S8+, but there's at least one big improvement: the cameras. The new Super Speed Dual Pixel camera is designed to let in 28 percent more light than the S8's shooter, and its aperture automatically adjusts from f/1.5 to f/2.4 depending on lighting conditions. 

But how does Samsung's latest flagship compare to our favorite smartphone cameras — the ones on the iPhone X and the Google Pixel 2 XL? We put all three phones through a 14-round test to see which was the best. For each round, the winner received 3 points, second place got 2 points and third place earned 1 point.

As it turns out, the Pixel 2 XL performed so well in this mega face-off, we are now naming it our top camera phone overall.

Archway

This archway outside our office has a lot of light and dark areas, making it a challenge for the phones to capture both exposures accurately. Here, the Galaxy S9+'s photo was the best lit, even if the bricks were on the yellow side. The iPhone X's colors looked more natural.

When we zoomed in on the medallions on the ceiling, the photo from the S9+ was the sharpest; it also showed the most details in the stones in the background. The Pixel 2 XL underexposed the ceiling, but the floor was the best exposed of the three. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #1: Archway
1st place:
Galaxy S9+
2nd place:
iPhone X
3rd place:
Pixel 2 XL

Chrysler Building

This photo of the Chrysler Building with Grand Central in the middle ground also presented lighting challenges. Here, we preferred the Pixel 2 XL's photo, as it most accurately captured the actual scene, while conveying the most "atmosphere." Although the sky wasn't as blue as it was in the iPhone X's photo, it was deeper than it was in the photo from the S9+. The one redeeming aspect of the S9+'s photo was that the center of the scene was brighter than the others. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #2: Chrysler Building
1st place:
Pixel 2 XL
2nd place:
iPhone X
3rd place:
Galaxy S9+

Bar (no flash)

Many of us take photos of our friends in bars, restaurants and other places where the lighting isn't ideal. The Pixel 2 XL's camera made the most of a bad situation, evenly illuminating the entire scene, albeit with a yellowish cast.

The photo from the S9+ was a touch sharper, as you can see in the tumbler in the foreground, but Samsung's camera blew out the lights on the bar, as well as the bottles in the background. The iPhone X's photo was much darker than both. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #3: Bar (no flash)
1st place:
Pixel 2 XL
2nd place:
Galaxy S9+
3rd place:
iPhone X

Bar (flash)

We then activated the flash on all three cameras to see how they would do with a little assistance. Again, the Pixel 2 XL beat out the S9+ and the iPhone X. Its photo was evenly lit throughout, capturing all of us accurately while maintaining the ambiance of the bar's lighting.

The iPhone's flash lit up only Sherri; the background was completely dark. The S9+ did somewhat better, but the background was much darker than it was in the Pixel's photo. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #4: Bar (flash)
1st place:
Pixel 2 XL
2nd place:
Galaxy S9+
3rd place:
iPhone X

Outdoor portrait

For this photo, we used Portrait mode on each rear camera to see how well they took my picture.

The iPhone X's photo turned out the best. My face was properly exposed, and there was the right amount of background blur, though part of my hat got caught up in it. The Pixel 2 XL's blurring (which is done using the processor, not a second lens, as with the iPhone and S9+) was overly aggressive, getting too much of my hat, and my face looked pretty rough. The S9+ did the best when isolating me against the background, but it blew out half of my face. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #5: Outdoor portrait
1st place:
iPhone X
2nd place: Pixel 2 XL
3rd place: Galaxy S9+

Dessert

Who hasn't taken a photo of a particularly mouth-watering dessert? All three phones did a pretty good job of capturing this raspberry torte, but we gave the nod to the iPhone X's photo because the gold plate was richer, and the overall photo was somewhat warmer.

The S9+'s photo looked a bit pale, while the Pixel's lacked pop. The Pixel's photo also had the shallowest depth of field, which is good or bad, depending on your preference. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #6: Dessert
1st place:
iPhone X
2nd place:
Galaxy S9+
3rd place:
Pixel 2 XL

Fruit

In this pastiche of plums and other assorted fruit, we liked the Pixel 2 XL's photo the best, as it came the closest to replicating the orange in the persimmons in the foreground. However, the Pixel's image was a bit dark, and lacked the vibrancy and pop of the plums in the S9+'s photo. The iPhone X completely blew out the fruit in the foreground and background. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #7: Fruit
1st place:
Pixel 2 XL
2nd place:
Galaxy S9+
3rd place:
iPhone X

Graffiti door

We couldn't pass up a chance to photograph this colorful door. Here, the iPhone X's photo was the best. Not only were the colors the most saturated, but it offered the best contrast — the teeth of one caricature were the whitest. The S9+ came in last, as the colors in its photo were the palest of the three. The Pixel 2 XL's photo had more color than the S9+'s photo, but it felt dull. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #8: Graffiti door
1st place:
iPhone X
2nd place: Pixel 2 XL
3rd place: Galaxy S9+

Grand Central kiosk

The inside of Grand Central Terminal is another popular spot for photos, even though it presents some challenges, with its dark, vaulted ceiling and bright light streaming in from the windows.

In this photo of the kiosk in the center of the station, the Pixel 2 XL did the best job of not overexposing the illuminated letters in the foreground, the Tiffany clock or the window in the background. It also gave the brass fixtures a nice golden hue. The S9+ and the iPhone X tied for second place — we liked the richer colors of the iPhone's photo, but it had more trouble than the S9+ with the illuminated lettering. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #9: Grand Central kiosk
1st place:
Pixel 2 XL
2nd place:
iPhone X, Galaxy S9+ (tie)

Grand Central ceiling

Next, we pointed the phones to the heavens to capture the station's ceiling of constellations. All three phones had trouble with the sunlight coming through the windows, but the S9+ handled the tricky lighting best. There are fewer hotspots of light on the stone columns, and the ceiling is the brightest in all three photos. The Pegasus constellation, as well as the stonework, is the sharpest in the S9+'s photo, too. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #10: Grand Central ceiling
1st place:
Galaxy S9+
2nd place:
Pixel 2 XL
3rd place:
iPhone X

Skating rink

Bryant Park puts up a temporary skating rink during the winter months, and the contrast between the ice, the skaters and the surrounding buildings makes for a great photo challenge. We liked the iPhone X's photo the most, as the skater's red jacket looked the best. The Pixel 2 XL's shot was our second favorite, followed by the photo from the S9+. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #11: Skating rink
1st place:
iPhone X
2nd place: Pixel 2 XL
3rd place: Galaxy S9+

Lion

Standing guard outside the main branch of the New York Public Library are two stone lions. This photo tested how well the phones' cameras dealt with lens flare, as well as a dark foreground. We liked the contrast and detail in the Pixel 2 XL's photo, and while there was some lens flare, it wasn't too distracting.

The S9+'s photo was the brightest of the three, with the least amount of lens flare, but it lacked the detail and contrast of the Pixel's photo. The iPhone X's lens flare was too distracting. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #12: Lion
1st place:
Pixel 2 XL
2nd place:
Galaxy S9+
3rd place:
iPhone X

Indoor painting

As with the graffiti door, the iPhone X did the best here, coming closest to matching the actual painting's colors. However, the S9+'s photo was pleasingly bright. The Pixel's photo looked dingy. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #13: Indoor painting
1st place:
iPhone X
2nd place:
Galaxy S9+
3rd place:
Pixel 2 XL

Trees

In this photo of an arboreal walkway, the iPhone X performed the best; the sky was the bluest, and it captured the scene more accurately than the others. The Pixel 2 XL was our next favorite, while the S9+ came in last. Its sky was the palest, and the color of the building in the background which is green in real life had more of a blue tint. View full-size image

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandRound #14: Trees
1st place:
iPhone X
2nd place: Pixel 2 XL
3rd place: Galaxy S9+

Overall Winner: Google Pixel 2 XL

The Google Pixel 2 XL came out on top, for its superior low-light performance, as well as other scenes, such as shots of trees and skyscrapers. The iPhone X was close behind, as it performed the best when taking portraits outdoors, and snapping images of food and artwork. The Galaxy S9+ came in last; it excelled in only a few circumstances and came in third in many others.

Overall Rankings
1st place: Google Pixel 2 XL (31 points)
2nd place: Apple iPhone X (29 points)

3rd place: Samsung Galaxy S9+ (25 points)

Google Pixel 2 XLGoogle Pixel 2 XLCredit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide

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  • Brad_53
    I don't like your scoring system because a narrow loss is the same as being trounced. For example, the Pixel XL deserves more than 4 points over the iPhone X for those two Bar shots.
  • avshmu
    Somebody didn't hear about DxOMark, or having trouble understanding what they wrote.
    In any case, he doesn't let the facts get in the way.
    Here are the results of the professionals:
    Samsung Galaxy 9+ comes first, followed by the Pixel 2. That leaves the iPhone (notch) X in the thirds place.
    Game over. Try again?
  • samarx
    I agree, I personally know people who own the iphone 10.....they concede that the Pixel 2 XL is so much better than their phone. Don't really understand why the iphone is even tested, it is such an average phone. Samsung Note 8 camera is also so much better than the iphone 10.
  • gear1420
    I've got. 5 million views of my old phones camera shots on Google, I have an HTC10, with a great low light camera that blew everything away 3 years ago. I'm going with the Galaxy 9 this time around.
  • mocsabkcid
    I am sorry but I don't agree with your summary. Yes, the Pixel has a great camera as does the IPhone X, but comparing all of the same photos, both thumbnail and full size, the S9 Plus was the winner to my eye (very close I will admit, but it edged out the Pixel and beat the Iphone by a tad as well). In the end, I think these photo comparisons are very difficult to judge as everyone has their own perception of what looks best in given circumstances.
  • springdale
    How the hell there are no nightshots?
  • samanthaleviosa
    I really like the time that was put into providing hi-res images of these devices side-by-side so we can judge for our own tastes. I also feel like you put a lot more time into controlling variables and cropping to get as similar of a shot on each phone as possible, a lot of reviews I've seen haven't done that. This does help me feel better about sticking with the s9 because the differences are so minimal and seem to vary based on situations and personal preference.
  • mahck
    I'm mostly good with the scoring except for the portrait mode. I think the order should be reversed. Yes the GS9 overexposed the face but it was doing that pretty consistently and you can adjust exposure manually if you don't like the choice the phone makes.

    This was a test of portrait mode. The primary job is to isolate the subject and blur the background. The GS9 was the only phone that didn't make a complete mess of things. That's something I can't fix by adjusting the capture settings and my biggest gripe with simulated depth of field that phones are doing today. If it has clumsy blur artifacts it makes the picture a total fail.
  • grafikrbc