If you have money to burn and want to buy a smartphone that is leading the way in photography, you basically have two options.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max are both great options—they top our list of the best camera phones, and if you follow tech news, you’re likely to see countless samples of both phones.
However, given that the former is Android and the latter is iOS, and tech users tend to draw a line between operating systems and stick with one, you rarely see people comparing their camera prowess head-to-head.
It’s a shame — it means that people who call one or the other “the best camera phone” usually haven’t tested both. When you see them together, it’s usually from a camera expert who takes a picture on both and spends a long time in the lab analyzing it, regardless of the human factor.
So to rectify this, we need a neutral party to rule – that’s where I come in. I really don’t like the iPhone very much or Samsung Galaxy S phone – I prefer my phone as much as I drink beer, cheap and good. So, to see which photo experience was more fun, I grabbed two phones and ran a camera test around a canal near TechRadar’s London offices.
Brief Specification Comparison
Before diving into what I found in my camera tests, I felt I should briefly list the phone’s specs for those who don’t know.
|camera type||iPhone 13 Pro||Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra|
|main||12MP f/1.5 26mm||180MP f/1.8 23mm|
|super wide||12MP f/1.8 13mm 130 degrees||12MP f/2.2 13mm 120 degrees|
|telephoto||12MP f/2.8 77mm 3x zoom||10MP f/2.4 70mm 3x zoom|
|periscope||not any||10MP f/4.9 230mm 10x zoom|
Standard picture?so similar
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When I first started taking standard (1x) photos on the iPhone and Galaxy, I quickly noticed something and took the photos on my PC and enlarged them to a larger size to make them sharper.
For pictures like this, the difference is basically so small that it doesn’t matter. At least on my standard PC monitor, the colors look almost the same, and the field of view is almost the same (though the touch is wider on the Samsung). And there aren’t any huge changes between pictures.
Sure, you can zoom in and point to tiny areas where there are subtle differences – the balcony on the top left is a little overexposed on Samsung, and the iPhone obviously loses detail when you start zooming in – but most people don’t they don’t do that?
No, for a snapshot like this, the performance of both phones is basically the same. So I need to be more artistic.
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I love nice macro images as much as the next guy…but apparently neither Apple nor Samsung, otherwise they would make it a lot easier to take close-up photos.
You see, both use the ultra-wide camera to take macro photos, and both automatically switch to those photos when you bring the phone close to the subject. However, the results of both were not perfect.
When I put the Galaxy S22 Ultra near these leaves, hoping to get the closest few in focus, while the rest of the leaves were slightly out of focus, the background was a nice blurry puddle, and it took me a lot of effort To do this. I have to actually hold the phone and use the onscreen controls to manually adjust the focus.
While this is annoying on the Galaxy, it’s completely impossible on the iPhone. The device flickers randomly between its shots when getting close to leaves, and there’s no consistent way to get the right level of focus or keep the phone in macro mode. Sometimes when this modal does fire, the completely wrong thing is in focus.
So the image you’re seeing wasn’t actually taken in macro mode, purely because I can’t handle the iPhone well enough to make sure it’s getting the shot right. Both phones lose points here (as neither has a dedicated macro camera, like some other phones do), although the iPhone loses more.
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When I load these ultrawide images to TechRadar’s site, I need to double-check that I’m not accidentally uploading the same image twice – they’re nearly identical.
The two ultra-wide-angle cameras have the same resolution, nearly the same field of view, and colors look basically the same, with no noticeable difference in distortion between the two. In fact, the main way you can tell they are different pictures is that there are more docks on the iPhone snap.
The difference between the iPhone and Samsung in this regard doesn’t make much sense to me – I’m not a big fan of the look of an ultra-wide picture – but it does mean the part can be nice and short!
zoom in a bit
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Now we come to the good stuff – zoom.
Both Samsung and Apple’s telephoto lenses offer 3x optical zoom (although the Galaxy has a second zoom camera, which we’ll get to later). Note, however, that this doesn’t mean they are scaled up by the same amount – that’s 3 times their respective “standard” modes.
Because the iPhone’s main camera has a longer focal length, that means its 3x zoom is farther than Samsung’s. The pictures make this clear – you won’t see any non-cloudy skies on the Pro Max snapshots.
For this photo of the tree, the iPhone snapshot works fine – it frames the branches nicely. However, when you zoom in, a weird iPhone glitch rears its head – look at the house on the left. The Pro Max’s photo is more yellowish than the S22 Ultra’s photo (compared to the real house).
So both snaps are good and bad, but if it’s imminent, I’ll have to pick the iPhone 13’s snap as my favorite. If this were the end of the camera test, it would be a clear winner – but unfortunately, Apple’s offering didn’t go the extra mile.
zoom in further
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As I mentioned before, I don’t like ultra-wide snaps – no, I like to use telephoto or periscope snaps to zoom in. The camera prowess of the iPhone 13 Pro Max crumbles when you try anything other than 3x zoom.
The phone’s maximum limit is 15x, and due to the somewhat low resolution of the 12MP sensor used on the telephoto camera, anywhere near that zoom level will result in pixelated snapshots (since digital zoom is basically a crop).
Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra – its periscope camera can go up to 10x optical zoom, and it can go all the way up to 100x digital zoom if you want. For this kind of picture, it’s far superior.
Remember, zoom photography isn’t just for capturing distant boats or animals. It’s also great for close-up shots of pets or flowers near mid-range, as the focal length produces snapshots with a lovely depth of field.
In my camera tests, I often encountered subjects that I couldn’t capture because the iPhone wasn’t zooming in far enough. In this case, only the Galaxy can help.
That’s not all and nothing of the camera test – I didn’t shoot with any other camera modes, neither at night nor for selfies. But I wanted to mimic the kind of photography I usually shoot when I’m out and about.
Thanks to its zoom capabilities, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra quickly became my go-to for photography. It gave me the versatility I needed to switch from ultra-wide to ultra-zoom, depending on the needs of the subject.
It doesn’t help that the iPhone feels uncomfortable to use (due to its flat edges) and has a cumbersome camera app, but Samsung does stand out in the zoom department.
Hopefully Apple will learn a thing or two in time for the iPhone 14 launch — 3x optical zoom isn’t enough for a super-expensive phone.