Samsung Galaxy S8+ vs Apple iPhone 7 Plus vs Google Pixel: camera comparison

“Which flagship smartphone do you think will come out on top?”

The Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ (first impressions) flagships are finally here and they are undoubtedly gorgeous thanks to the all new Infinity display up front. However, unlike Samsung’s flagship smartphone launches in the past, this time around the Chaebol was mostly tight lipped about the cameras inside the Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8+. Samsung spent a mere two minutes at the global launch talking about the new and improved front cameras with autofocus and Snapchat-like filters. That’s it.

But don’t worry, thanks to the new, more powerful SoC inside the phones, Samsung has actually managed to improve the performance of the rear camera, which now uses a 12MP Sony IMX333 or ISOCELL S5K2L2 sensor depending on the region. Attached to this sensor is a f/1.7 aperture lens. Essentially, the software now takes multiple photos in the background (we don’t know how many exactly) and stitches them together for better, crisper details. This is similar to what the Google Pixel does with its heavy-handed HDR+ software processing.

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Okay, enough specs talk. We recently got the Galaxy S8+ for review, and compared its cameras with the ones on the Apple iPhone 7 Plus (review) and the Google Pixel (review). In this comparison, we are doling out points for each category, which will make it easier for us to get to a final tally and determine the overall winner. Here’s how it works: the winner in the category gets 15 points, the runners up gets 10, and the second runner up ends up with 5 points. We will add up the points in each category. 

So, stop guessing and read on to find out which one comes out on top.

(P.S. Click on the image if you want to view a full resolution sample.)

Daylight (wide)

In this test we shot two areas close to our office in Gurgaon, India. The weather was dull and there was no sign of the sun while testing. In both the shots, the Galaxy S8+ tends to boost colours and over-sharpens the image; a trend you will notice in all the images going forward. Take a look at the Galaxy S8+’s reproduction of the blue building in the first image, for example. The colours are extremely inaccurate but it looks the most attractive no doubt. Quite evidently, this camera has been tuned to please the end consumers. However, as far as this comparison is concerned we’d rather pick the Pixel’s shot over the Galaxy S8’s for its more accurate colour reproduction.

The iPhone 7 Plus’ colour reproduction was, while fairly accurate, a little too dull for our taste. The Pixel’s image was warmer and more pleasing to the eye. As far as retaining details are concerned, both the Pixel and the Galaxy S8+ were neck-to-neck and we cannot really pick a clear winner there. The iPhone 7 Plus was a laggard in this regard. The Pixel wins the first round with the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 7 Plus following suit, respectively.

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Samsung Galaxy S8+ samples

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Google Pixel samples

iPhone_wide_2 iPhone_wide_3

Apple iPhone 7 Plus samples

The scores so far

Samsung Galaxy S8: 10
Google Pixel: 15
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 5

HDR

The HDR test was a closely-fought contest between the Pixel and the Galaxy S8+. Once again, the iPhone 7 Plus’ image looked very dull, so it is out of the race really. The Pixel offers more accurate colour reproduction but the Galaxy S8+ clearly brings out a lot of details in the highlights and shadows, therefore improving the dynamic range. In fact, the Galaxy S8+’s non-HDR shot itself offers a decent dynamic range and the result is on par with Pixel’s HDR shot. Note that we shot using the HDR+ On mode on the Pixel and not HDR+ Auto. In case you are wondering why, there is a clear difference in output image. The Samsung Galaxy S8+ wins this round. Note that the one on the left is the non-HDR sample whereas the one on the right is the HDR sample. Also, don’t forget on the image to check it in full resolution else you won’t spot the minute differences.

s8_nonHDR s8_HDR

Samsung Galaxy S8+ samples

pixel_nonHDR pixel_HDR

Google Pixel samples

iPhone_nonHDR iPhone_HDR

Apple iPhone 7 Plus sample

The scores so far

Samsung Galaxy S8+: 25
Google Pixel: 25
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 10

Daylight (close-up)

We had a tough time evaluating this one. One thing we noticed clearly is the Samsung Galaxy S8+’s shot of the hose and the surrounding fauna was clearly over sharpened; the image looked really unnatural. We really liked the iPhone 7 Plus’ muted colours in this one because it was the most natural of the lot. However, it lacked in details and was soft around the edges too. In comparison, the Google Pixel botches up the red, making it look pinkish, but the reproduction of minute details is very impressive, and it is not over sharpened like the Galaxy S8+’s image. Overall, we went with the Pixel’s shot as the best one considering it offers more details.

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Samsung Galaxy S8+ sample

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Google Pixel sample

iPhone_closeup

Apple iPhone 7 Plus sample

The scores so far

Samsung Galaxy S8+: 30
Google Pixel: 40
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 20

Macro

In this shot of a yellow flower, the iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t capture the details of the stigma inside the flower as well as the Google Pixel or the Samsung Galaxy S8+. If you observe closely, you will notice that Samsung’s camera algorithm adds way too much sharpening to the pollens and it looks rather unnatural. The Pixel’s reproduction of the pollen is much more pleasing to the eye in comparison. The details around the petals are much more pronounced and clean on the Galaxy S8+ but the Pixel is not far behind. As far as the white balance is concerned, the Pixel’s software decided to go for a warmer tone whereas the Galaxy S8+’s image was very cool. We prefer the warmer colour temperature. Overall, we think the Pixel wins this round and the Galaxy S8+ comes in second.

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Samsung Galaxy S8+ sample

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Google Pixel sample

iPhone_macro

Apple iPhone 7 Plus sample

The scores so far

Samsung Galaxy S8+: 40
Google Pixel: 55
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 30

Low light

This is where things start getting interesting. The Samsung Galaxy S8+ wins the low light battle comfortably. We think we can attribute it to the wonderful multi stack processing happening in the background. It does a really great job of capturing some incredible details and reins in the noise by a great margin when compared directly with the samples captured by the Google Pixel and the iPhone 7 Plus. In fact, the Google Pixel’s shot was extremely noisy because the camera tends to go for a higher ISO rating while shooting a low light image. We went ahead and shot the same scene with HDR+ set to Auto and it reduced the noise to quite an extent, but the noise levels were still persistent. Quite evidently, the Samsung camera comes out on top here. 

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Samsung Galaxy S8+ sample

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Google Pixel sample

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Apple iPhone 7 Plus sample

The scores so far

Samsung Galaxy S8+: 55
Google Pixel: 65
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 35

Low light (with flash)

In our flash test, the iPhone 7 Plus’ flash module tends to cast a heavy shadow in the background in an attempt to illuminate the subject. It looks rather harsh and unpleasant. The flash modules inside the Pixel and the Galaxy S8+ actually illuminated the entire scene and the lighting was pretty even too. However, the Pixel’s image once again suffered from a pinkish tinge. We think the Galaxy S8+ wins this round.

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Samsung Galaxy S8+ sample

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Google Pixel sample

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Apple iPhone 7 Plus sample

The scores so far

Samsung Galaxy S8+: 70
Google Pixel: 75
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 40

Selfies

In selfies, the Samsung Galaxy S8+’s front camera comes out on top thanks to the fact that it portrays accurate facial colour tones and offers better details in good lighting conditions. The Pixel once again struggles with colour temperature and tends to make the faces look pinker than usual. The iPhone’s front camera captures warmer images and even the images don’t look as detailed. Once again, the Galaxy S8+ comes out on top.

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Samsung Galaxy S8+ samples

pixel_selfie_1 pixel_selfie_2

Google Pixel samples

iphone_7_plus_1 iphone_7_plus_2

Apple iPhone 7 Plus samples

The scores so far

Samsung Galaxy S8+: 85
Google Pixel: 85
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 45

Selfies (night)

This one’s takes a complete 180-degree turn in terms of results. The iPhone’s low light selfies have noise but they retain the details and the colours are close to natural too. Moreover, the iPhone’s screen flash does a phenomenally good job of throwing light at your face and illuminating it well. The Galaxy S8+ captures soft details but the screen flash is much better than the Pixel’s and therefore it edges Google’s phone in this round to secure the second spot.

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Samsung Galaxy S8+ samples

pixel_selfie_low_light_1 pixel_selfie_low_light_2

Google Pixel samples

iphone_7_plus_night_selfie_2 iphone_7_plus_night_selfie_1

Apple iPhone 7 Plus samples

The scores so far

Samsung Galaxy S8: 95
Google Pixel: 90
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 60

Video (4K)

Okay here’s the thing, Apple’s OIS system is magical. We took the same footage using all the three phones and walked along a path with the phone held in our hand. The Pixel and the Galaxy S8+ struggled with stabilising the video, whereas the iPhone did an exemplary job. The difference is extremely obvious. As far as colour reproduction and dynamic range of the video footages is concerned, both – the Pixel and the Galaxy S8+ – were much better overall. We’d still give this round to the iPhone 7 Plus for capturing stunning looking footage. But, do note that only the Galaxy S8+ captured stereo audio, which catapulted it to the second spot.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ sample

Google Pixel sample

Apple iPhone 7 Plus sample

The scores so far

Samsung Galaxy S8+: 105
Google Pixel: 95
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 75

Video (slow motion)

We were surprised by our final outcome in this test. We expected the iPhone 7 Plus to beat the Pixel and the Galaxy S8+ considering how Apple was the first to 240fps slow-motion video party. However, the Galaxy S8+ 240fps 720p footage was much better than the other two, though slightly underexposed.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ sample

Google Pixel sample

Apple iPhone 7 Plus sample

The scores so far

Samsung Galaxy S8+: 120
Google Pixel: 100
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 85

Extra features

In this round, we are going to give the iPhone 7 Plus some brownie points for including the secondary telephoto lens on the rear, which can be used to capture shots with an additional depth-of-field and 2x optical zoom. Yes, the Galaxy S8+ offers a ton of shooting modes and even Snapchat-like filters but all that can be installed on the Pixel and the iPhone 7 Plus as well using third-party apps.

The final scores

Samsung Galaxy S8+: 130
Google Pixel: 105
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 100

Phew! That was quite a contest but in the end the Samsung Galaxy S8+ emerged triumphant. The Google Pixel’s camera still holds up really well and competes tooth-and-nail with the Galaxy S8+. However, the Galaxy S8’s wonderful low light performance helps it edge past the performance of the individual camera modules inside the Google Pixel and the Apple iPhone 7 Plus. There is no doubt that you get a second camera on the iPhone 7 Plus, and while it is an advantage for Apple aficionados it is quite evident that the Cupertino giant needs to up its game come September to beat the Samsung Galaxy S8+’s camera. All said and done, whichever phone you pick up, you are not going to be really disappointed with the camera performance.

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