- Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 takes excellent photos, but so does the GooglePixel 3, which has one of the best smartphone cameras of all time.
- Each phone’s camera does certain things better than the other.
- Flick through the photos below to see which phone takes photos you prefer to make the choice that’s right for you.
As any self-respecting tech journalist does, I took photos with the new Samsung Galaxy S10 to compare them to the greatest smartphone camera of all time: the Pixel 3.
As I took more and more photos with each phone, I started to realise that this couldn’t be a battle of which phone takes the best photos. They both take excellent photos, but each phone has different styles, and they each do certain things better than the other.
Google’s style is to give you contrast-y, natural photos that have a lot of depth, even if it means you don’t see every detail in darker areas. Samsung’s style is to brighten up the darker areas so that you can see pretty much every detail, which sounds great, but it can lead to a flat-looking photo.
Of note: I’m using the Pixel 3 XL and Galaxy S10 Plus for this comparison. The XL and the standard-size Pixel 3 have the exact same camera set-up; the S10 Plus and standard S10 have the same rear camera, but the S10 Plus has one extra selfie lens.
But enough talk – check out photos taken with the new Galaxy S10 Plus compared to the Pixel 3 XL:
Indoors in Grand Central Terminal, both phones take great photos.
The Pixel 3 likes to make things dark and contrast-y, which makes for richer colours and better depth. With that said, Pixel 3 photos can appear too dark at times, which makes details in darker areas harder to see.
The Galaxy S10 likes to make everything bright, which helps brings out details in darker areas. At the same time, the Galaxy S10’s image looks a little flatter than the Pixel 3’s because the colours aren’t quite as rich, and there’s less depth as a result.
Here’s a perfect example of what the Pixel 3’s camera likes to do, versus the Galaxy S10.
The Pixel 3’s camera makes for deep and rich colours at the cost of visible detail – or at least easy-to-see detail.
The Galaxy S10 adds a little vibrancy to the colours, and brightens everything up, which makes it easier to see the details. For this kind of setting or scenario where I want to capture details on my subject, I’d prefer the Galaxy S10.
And here’s a perfect illustration of what the Galaxy S10’s camera likes to do. Except here, it doesn’t quite work out.
The Galaxy S10 likes to make sure you easily see details by brightening everything up, but at the cost of depth and contrast. The photo above looks significantly flatter than the Pixel 3’s photo – the shadows on the bottles aren’t very obvious or defined in the S10’s photo, at least compared to the Pixel 3’s photo. It’s clear that the Pixel 3 is obsessed with keeping the shades and shadows cast by its subjects. In this case, the win goes to the Pixel 3.
This bottle shot and the previous basketball shot above show how even the best smartphone cameras don’t handle everything, at least for quick point-and-shoot style shooting.
This is an insanely hard test for each phone’s HDR, and it’s pretty clear which phone wins this round.
HDR (high dynamic range) is designed to brighten up darker areas to reveal detail by taking several photos at different exposures.
You’d think the Galaxy S10 would run away with this one, as it loves to brighten darker areas. But it couldn’t compete with the Pixel 3’s HDR.
It’s an insanely tough subject to capture with a smartphone camera, as the phones are trying to capture the deep purple skull against a bright light. And the skull’s colour itself is so deep and rich that it’s hard for a phone’s camera to capture its details on a good day when lights are shining on it.
But on an easier HDR shot, the Galaxy S10 wins.
Here, the Galaxy S10 manages to brighten up the rear-end of this Ronald McDonald art installation while maintaining the exposure in the background so it doesn’t blow out the Tesla store-front’s details across the street.
The Pixel 3 captured a good shot of the installation’s back and has better shadows, but it blew out the lighting of the Tesla store.
Here, the Galaxy S10 added way too many cool blue tones, which makes for an overly blue photo compared to the Pixel 3’s photo.
And the Galaxy S10 added some yellow tinting to this photo, whereas the Pixel 3’s colours are perfectly natural and accurate. (The Pixel 3’s photo is still quite dark, though.)
I prefer the overall colour of the Pixel 3 photo, but I like the detail on the totem pole that the Galaxy S10 captured. It just goes to show there is no perfect smartphone or smartphone camera.
The Pixel 3 absolutely destroyed the Galaxy S10 in this night shot.
The Pixel 3 uses Google’s software smarts with a feature called Night Sight for amazing night shots. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S10’s main camera has a variable aperture that’s designed to let in more light for night shots.
It’s pretty clear which method works best – there’s absolutely no competition here whatsoever.
Just to prove that the Pixel 3’s Night Sight mode wasn’t a fluke on the previous photo, here’s another test.
The Galaxy S10 has an entire lens dedicated for 2x zoom, which should make zooming up to 10x look better. The Pixel 3, on the other hand, zooms in without a dedicated zoomed lens, and it doesn’t quite zoom as far, but looks just as good as the S10’s dedicated zoomed lens.
The Pixel 3 doesn’t zoom quite as far as the S10 and its dedicated 2x zoomed lens. Still, I was expecting a little more clarity and sharpness at the S10’s maximum 10x zooming.
It’s amazing what the Pixel 3 can achieve with only a single camera and without a dedicated zoomed lens.
Sure, the Galaxy S10’s zooming isn’t that impressive, but the S10 has an ultra-wide camera, which is pretty great, and it’s something the Pixel 3 can’t fake with software.
I’ve been using the S10’s ultra-wide camera quite a bit since I got the review unit, and I wish every phone had an ultra-wide camera. Ultra-wide-angle photos are something that not even Google can fake with software on the Pixel 3, and the lack of an ultra-wide-angle camera on the Pixel 3 is especially noticeable after using the Galaxy S10.
The Galaxy S10’s ultra-wide camera isn’t perfect, as it creates a fish-eye effect where details around the edges bow in towards the center on the photo. But it’s better than not having an ultra-wide camera, which lets you capture significantly more detail of where you are while taking a photo. Above, you get a much better idea of where I’m standing compared to the regular photo from the Pixel 3.
Just watch out for your fingers in the shot (like mine on the bottom left) when using the Galaxy S10’s ultra-wide-angle camera.
Let’s move on to selfies. I’d say the Galaxy S10 will make you look better, while the Pixel 3 takes more natural-looking selfies.
With that said, I’m looking directly at each phones’ screen for both selfies, and I’m noticeably looking towards the left on the Galaxy S10’s selfie because its selfie camera is off-center compared to most selfie cameras.
The Galaxy S10’s slightly wider selfie mode is a joke compared to the Pixel 3’s ultra-wide selfie camera.
Samsung wasted a glaring opportunity to give the Galaxy S10 Plus an ultra-wide selfie camera. The second selfie camera on the S10 Plus is purely used for depth-sensing, which is meant to make for better portrait mode shots. And while the Galaxy S10does offer a slightly wider selfie mode, it’s barely wider than the regular selfie mode.
The Pixel 3 has a second ultra-wide selfie camera that actually makes a difference, and it allows you to fit a lot more of your friends, family, or scenery in the shot.
I have to note, however, that the Galaxy S10 captures the brilliant yellow colour of my fancy new ski jacket much more accurately than the Pixel 3.
For portrait modes, the Pixel 3 does a better job of cropping me against the blurry background.
Despite the secondary selfie lens on the Galaxy S10 Plus that’s dedicated to taking better portrait mode shots, the Pixel 3 does a better job of keeping all the details in the foreground in focus against the blurry background.
The Galaxy S10 Plus does decently well until you get to my side parting towards the top of my head, where there’s a noticeable chunk of hair missing compared to the Pixel 3’s portrait mode shot. The Galaxy S10 also blurred out some of my hair on the top my head towards the center-right.
Of note: The Galaxy S10’s portrait mode selfie has a slightly green tint to it, but you’d never really notice it unless you’re directly comparing photos like I am.
So, who’s the winner?
It’s impossible to factually state that one phone’s camera – or cameras -is better than the other here. Each phone does certain things better than the other that might appeal to different people. Both take great shots that anyone would be happy with. But it comes down to what you value:
- Do you value deep, rich, and more natural shots where subjects aren’t brightened up for the sake of visibility? If so, you’d prefer the Pixel 3.
- If you’d rather see everything in the shot but sacrifice depth, the Galaxy S10 is for you.
- Do you take a lot of night shots? Pixel 3, no brainer.
- Do you want to capture as much of the setting you’re in as you possibly can? The Galaxy S10 and its ultra-wide camera is better for that.
- Do you want to include more of your friends, family, or scenery in selfies? The Pixel 3 and its ultra-wide selfie camera will do the trick.
- Do you like to take photos of subjects that are far away? The Galaxy S10 technically wins this, as it can zoom farther than the Pixel 3.