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Camera Wars: iPhone 6s Plus vs Galaxy Note 5 vs Nexus 6P

A good camera is one of the top selling points of any modern smartphone, and if you want something that will do a great job capturing those memories, you'll want the best tool for the job. Today's flagships boast larger and higher-res sensors, along with improved low-light performance, so you can snap away whether it's night or day.

Our field of competitors included:

Note that the megapixel count, which tells you how sharp the pictures taken can look, is only one camera specification that's worth paying attention to. The pixel size and aperture also matter. Larger pixels can capture more light, resulting in less noise and higher-quality images. The smaller the aperture number, the wider the lens can open, meaning it can create a shallower depth of field (blurred background) that makes pictures look better.

However, specs tell only part of the story. You need to take these phones out into the field. Or let someone else do it, like Tom's Guide. We evaluated the photos from five cameras in a variety of common shooting situations to determine which camera is the best.

Round 1: Daylight Landscape

All five phones we tested did well in this round, but the clear leaders were the iPhone 6s Plus and the Nexus 6P. My shots of buildings in the Madison Square Park area with all cameras were sharp, detailed and bright. 

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

The Moto X Pure's image had an odd green cast, while the Galaxy Note 5's image was pale. The LG G4 delivered the most accurate hues on the building in the center of the image, but lacked the rich colors and contrast of the iPhone 6s Plus and the Nexus 6P. 

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

Between the iPhone and the Nexus, Google's handset ultimately lost as its picture was much darker. The iPhone 6s Plus' image has the best colors, brightness and contrast of the lot, making it the clear winner.

Winner: iPhone 6s Plus

MORE: These Smartphones Can Replace a Compact Camera

Round 2: Daylight Portrait

A shot of two of my colleagues on a rooftop varied significantly across the phones we tested. The Moto X Pure and the LG G4 immediately fell behind, due to some blurry details and uneven exposure.

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

The iPhone 6s Plus, the Nexus 6P and the Galaxy Note 5 were a close match, all capturing good detail and color of buildings in the background. But it's in the faces of my colleagues that the strongest phone shone.

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

The Nexus 6P made my lovely co-workers' faces look burnt, and while the iPhone and Galaxy were similar in skin tone, the Galaxy retained more detail.

Winner: Galaxy Note 5

Round 3: Low-Light Landscape and Detail

I snapped pics of the darkened seats before a concert at the Barclays Center, and the competition was close. While I easily eliminated the Moto X Pure and the LG G4 for a lack of clarity and too much noise, respectively, I had a harder time with the Note 5, the iPhone and the Nexus.

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

The iPhone 6s Plus had the best contrast levels and good detail, but it was too dark and blue. The Note 5 was also very sharp, but the image had a light blue cast. When we compared the shots against one taken with a Canon Rebel T6s DSLR, and my memory of the scene, the Nexus 6P was the closest in terms of color.

Winner: Nexus 6P

Round 4: Low-Light Portrait and Color

I photographed my friend standing in front of a colorful display in a fairly dark room lit from below by spotlights, which is a challenging situation. All the cameras were fairly accurate in reproducing the graffiti colors, but the Nexus 6P and the iPhone 6s Plus were darker than the rest.

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

That's not a bad thing, though, since the Note 5, the Moto X Pure and the LG G4's pictures were all slightly overexposed and hazy.

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

The Nexus 6P captured the houndstooth-check pattern on my friend's jacket, as well as the rough texture of the wall, and kept everything in focus. However, the iPhone more accurately reproduced the hue of my friend's skin as well as the purple bus on the wall behind her.

Winner: iPhone 6s Plus

Round 5: Selfie

This was the round with the most drastic differences between the five phones. The Note 5 had a white haze, the LG G4 made us look burned, while the Nexus 6P showed me looking dangerously jaundiced. 

Photo: Amazon

Photo: Amazon

The Moto X Pure made my co-workers and me look fairer than we actually are. My skin tone was most accurately captured by the iPhone 6s Plus' front camera.

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

Photo: Cherlynn Low/Tom's Guide

Winner: iPhone 6s Plus

Overall Winner: iPhone 6s Plus

All the phones we tested were solid shooters, but the iPhone 6s Plus and the Nexus 6P pulled ahead of the rest. Proving that megapixels aren't the only thing that matter about cameras, the 21-MP Moto X Pure often delivered the poorest images. Because of an odd cast or a blue tint that we often saw with the Note 5, the competition eventually came down to the iPhone and the Nexus. It was neck-and-neck between the two, until the deciding round: selfies.

With good clarity, vibrant and accurate colors, as well as excellent low-light performance, the iPhone 6s Plus consistently produced great shots. It was also one of the faster cameras tested, while the Nexus was sometimes slow to shoot. Those looking for the best smartphone camera around will find it in the iPhone 6s Plus.