iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Samsung S22 Ultra CAMERA TEST!
Table of Contents
The iPhone 14 Pro has promised the biggest camera upgrade ever on an iPhone. A more sophisticated flash, a more advanced ultra-wide camera, better close-up shots, better video, not to mention a new image processing algorithm they call the Photonic Engine. So, we've got 12 categories, and through them, we're gonna see if these upgrades are enough to beat Samsung's Galaxy S22 Ultra, and make this the best smartphone camera in existence. Okay, so let's start with front-facing cameras.
Because Apple has improved theirs this time around.
By opening up the aperture compared to the last iPhone 13s, the new ones can let in a significant amount more light. Technically speaking, Samsung's front camera is still a better front camera, and you can kind of tell by how much natural separation there is between foreground and background. But Apple makes up for it with how they're able to process the video that they do get. They can do a lot with a little. Which I could actually learn from. You'll find that the iPhone takes cleaner footage in bright lighting, but it takes cleaner footage in darker environments. Not to mention how, if I try to record with both front cameras within a third-party app like Instagram, this is what it looks like on the iPhone, this is what it looks like on Samsung. Apple just has better integration with these apps. But Samsung bridges the gap when it comes to selfie photos. When you're taking a photo, it doesn't need to be captured in real time like a video does, and so it allows Samsung to heavily process it. And the truth of it is, I quite like Samsung's processing. The way it subtly smooths my skin without reducing the clarity in my beard, how it feels like a more three-dimensional, slightly higher quality image with the less heavy-handed use of sharpening. That said, it's not enough to win the category, given that A) it's more of a stylistic preference, that B) the iPhone can now completely separate you from your background by just holding on screen. That alone can literally halve the time it takes me to make a YouTube thumbnail. And C) the Photonic Engine. Which is a new bit of tech that Apple's just released. And the idea is that every single time you take a photo now, on any one of the cameras, on any one of the iPhone 14s, your phone will be able to comb through every single pixel and optimize the noise, texture, and the detail. It's the next step above the deep fusion that current iPhones use. And you can tell when it comes to those middle-light and lower-light selfies. There's a real cleanness to the iPhone's image, which leads us to about a draw in this category.
Now, just before we get to the technicals of the fancy main rear cameras on these phones, one of the not-very-often-mentioned but very important factors for me is, which one is more fun to use?
And as much as I think that Apple is heading in the right direction with this, they've added a fair sprinkling of cool features over the last few years, like Cinematic Mode, like Photographic Styles, they've just now added Action Mode, which I'll get to. But you'd still find it hard to argue that Samsung doesn't have more... toys. Whether it's Director's View that lets you see all your cameras at once, Remaster that can upscale your low-resolution photos like magic, or Object and Reflection Eraser that can clean your photos up after you've taken them.
Not to mention the fact that you have the literal option to zoom in 100 times towards something. That's kind of fun. So let's talk about that zoom. This is both phones at 1x magnification. This is 2x, this is 4x, this is 10x, 30x, and now finally 100x. And when you get to this point, it is an obliteration. Like, yes, even though Apple's photonic engine can maybe bring out more detail, the sheer fact that iPhone's max optical zoom is just 3x, compared to Samsung's 10x, it's a difference that software is going to struggle to recuperate. But the iPhone does have one new trick here. The fact that the company has quadrupled the resolution of their normal main camera, from 12MP on last year's iPhones to 48MP, means that they're now also giving you the option to be able to losslessly zoom in 2x using that camera, and still apparently get a full-quality 12MP output.
As for how good it is, well, if we start from this point, and then we use 2x zoom on both phones, this is the output you get.
And then if we magnify this shot, you can see that in fact, yeah, Apple's 2x zoom photo is definitively clearer than Samsung's. And then thanks, at least in part, to the photonic engine, this applies to 3x zoom photos, it applies to 4x zoom photos, it applies to every zoom level until you get to 10x. And only at this point does Samsung's 10x optical zoom camera kick in, and absolutely demolish the iPhone. So it's not actually as clear-cut as you might have thought, and what it really boils down to is, when you're taking zoom photos, are you spending more time zooming in between 1x and 10x, in which case I'd hand it to the iPhone, or between 10x and 100x, in which case I'd hand it to Samsung. I'll give Samsung the overall win in this category, because technically its upper limit for what it could potentially achieve is higher. But just know that the iPhone is quickly becoming the more well-rounded option. One thing that Apple made very clear at their iPhone 14 Pro launch was that it's not just the main camera that's been upgraded, it's also the ultrawide, up to three times better, they said.
And where I first noticed this improvement was when I started to take macro shots, which use the phone's ultrawide camera, because it has a really short focal distance.
I wasn't sure what to expect. You know, we've seen plenty of 40%, 50% promised improvements, only then to be able to actually get to the new phones in our hands, and barely be able to tell the difference. But in this case, all it takes is a quick side-by-side versus last year's iPhone, to see that a new benchmark has just been set. And against the Samsung, it's also not hard to see how much closer it can focus from, and how its detail level is also a cut above. I think this is where the photonic engine really shines, because macro shots are all about the clarity of textures. And that's kind of what the whole thing is made to be able to optimise. But yeah, so far then, that's 2.5 points to the iPhone, 2.5 to Samsung. This is neck and neck. So, let's get serious for a moment. If we just put all the niche stuff to the side, the zooming, the macro, if we're just talking about the main camera that you'll be using for 85% of your photos, who does it better? Now, I already mentioned that with the iPhone, there's been a serious resolution bump from last generation. It's gone from 12 to 48 megapixels. But I have to say, the number itself doesn't really mean anything. I mean, for starters, if you just take a normal photo from either of these phones, what they're both doing is just clustering together a group of smaller pixels into one bigger, cleaner pixel, and still outputting a 12 megapixel image. But also, Samsung has a 108 megapixel resolution. As they continue to remind us on Twitter, this is kind of cringe, Samsung. So, if resolution was the key metric, it would be game over right out the gate. No, this battle is more won by the sensor size, the quality of the lens, and most importantly, how intelligently the phone can process the information that this camera system is capturing. And this is where the new iPhone smashes it. Because even with less than half the resolution, its sensor is actually slightly larger than Samsung's, for maybe the first time in history. And it does seem like Apple is also processing that info more efficiently.
Take these shots. Very standard daytime photos, both 12 megapixel. But if we try cropping into any part of it by any significant amount, can you see how the iPhone is literally making every single one of those 12 megapixels work? Or this one. If you magnify all the way into my face here, there's just no sign that the iPhone is struggling at all. But there's more. Because the other benefit of the iPhone having this big boy sensor now is that, for the first time ever, it can keep parity with Samsung's tremendous natural separation of foreground and background.
And this makes shots of people look better, shots of plants look better, shots of pets look better. Much needed for you, Milo. It's eroding that reputation of iPhone footage being incredibly flat compared to using a proper DSLR camera. The one thing that Samsung has always held above Apple, and continues to hold over Apple, is higher dynamic range. Using processing to be able to correctly expose all parts of the image. Samsung's actually, conveniently, just had an update like a week ago to improve the dynamic range. But even then, the lead that they have is shrinking now.
It's only noticeably ahead in the more extreme fringe scenarios. Actually, this is important. The general trend that we've always seen in this Apple versus Samsung war is, Samsung has better hardware, higher quality camera sensors, Apple has better software, that can get more out of their weaker hardware. And that's only possible because Apple builds both the hardware and the software together. And also because they only make like four phones a year compared to 50 or 100 from Samsung. And so, Apple can go all in on that optimization.
And this discrepancy has always kept Samsung and Apple largely just trading blows with each other. But what's happened this time around is that, Apple has given such a bump to their main camera hardware, that it's now very much on par. And when you pair that with Apple's more refined software, on a technical level, it becomes really hard to argue Samsung's case with main camera photos. Even though I prefer the vibe of Samsung shots, the cooler tones, the crispier contrast, the face brightening, the vibrance, given that this is all stuff you could achieve with a simple editing preset, it's hard to say that it outweighs the fact that 80% of the time, Apple is now capturing more information, with systematically more correct color science. Weirdly, I didn't notice the same disparity with the ultra wide cameras. I was half expecting the iPhone to pick up a whole new level of detail, with the whole, " This is up to three times better than last year". But not really. You can kind of tell for yourself, they're pretty evenly matched in this regard. Now, something that I'm starting to pay more and more attention to is audio quality. If you can have crystal clear audio, that's like 50% of your work done for you. And it's hard to say outright that one of these does it better than the other. You tend to find that with Samsung, you have more processed sounding audio. So you have a little bit less of the background noise behind you, but then you also lose a bit of the fullness in your voice. And then the iPhone sounds a bit more natural, for better and worse. There's also been improvements to portrait mode on the new iPhone. To be honest, actually, on both of these phones. When Samsung's S22 Ultra launched, its portraits were already a tier above last year.
But since that launch, the company has also compounded that with a couple of meaty software updates. And, man, I mean, both of these are looking pretty spicy right now. What lets Samsung down a bit is that their three-time zoom camera, which is the default camera on most phones for portraits, as it's just more flattering than going right up close to someone's face with the main one-times camera, is not as good quality as Apple's three-time zoom camera. And so, Apple pulls that in front, thanks to simply having more detail in just about every single scenario that you can take a portrait mode shot in.
And then what seals the deal here for the iPhone is Samsung's shutter lag. The iPhone captures most of its shots in about half the time that it takes Samsung to do so. So, if you're shooting anything moving, you're far more likely to be able to capture it without blurring it. This isn't just a portrait mode thing. You notice the shutter lag in most photo capturing situations. But it's particularly bad with portrait mode because portrait mode shots naturally take a bit longer anyways.
So, one feature that I've been very curiously eyeing up on the iPhone 14 is action mode.
It's the same kind of super steady video that Samsung's had for four generations now, that takes a video as normal, but then uses digital zoom to crop into that video, and then moves the viewpoint around within that video to try and match each frame to the last frame and make the whole thing appear as smooth as possible. I've never actually liked this feature, just because it completely kills the quality on Samsung. Like, this clip could be as smooth as butter, but I don't want 1080p footage on a 2022 flagship phone.
But Apple's implementation is not just dramatically more stable, but also has less of a quality hit. There is still some. Normal video can be shot at 4K. This action mode only works at 2.8K resolution. But that's still over two times the amount of pixels compared to Samsung. Which is enough of a difference that when you're watching it back on your phone's display, the iPhone's results just looks like normal footage, as opposed to Samsung's where you can really tell that you've used a specialized mode.
Not in a good way. The saving grace for Samsung is that the vast majority of videos you take won't be using this super steady feature, and will instead just rely on the phone's default stabilization. For which, Samsung has given this camera almost 60% more space to be able to move to counteract your hand movements compared to their last phone. And up against that, Apple is debuting what they're calling second generation sensor shift stabilization. And they're both excellent. If you're just walking around casually and recording, there's no real faults with either's ability to stabilize. But there's something else you might've noticed while watching these stabilization clips. I'm talking about the quality of the video itself. You know that the iPhone wins this one. The 13 Pro was already better than the S22 Ultra at video. So it's not surprising that the 14 Pro is too. But the question on my mind has been, with all the new camera hardware upgrades Apple supposedly added this time around, how far ahead is it exactly? Well, imagine you're having the most typical day. You're strolling around the park, getting absolutely soaked because it's the UK.
Most people even then would still notice the difference. It's not hard to see how Samsung really struggles with darker areas. Anything that's remotely shadowy, like my jeans right now, it just kind of crushes them. It makes them just look black. Plus, if you look towards the edges of Samsung's
If you look towards the edges of the Samsung frame, you will notice a sort of like an aberration. It's almost like there's a filter on top of it that's making it less sharp. And yeah, sure, that wouldn't be there if we were in direct sunlight, but we're still in the middle of the day.
You shouldn't have that on a $1,200 Ultra flagship phone. Now I do think that the Samsung is the more exciting phone to shoot with. The idea that I can get 8K footage on the main camera is a fun option to have. The fact that I can get full 4K video while using my 10x zoom lens makes it feel like a Sniperscope that I can fit in my pocket. Plus, this phone has an S Pen inside of it that doubles as a Bluetooth remote to be able to trigger that recording. This is cool stuff. But while it does do a better job as a toy for video, it does a distinctly lesser job as a tool for video. Like if you switch to both phones' ultra wide cameras while recording, Samsung's quality takes an even bigger hit than Apple's. The iPhone can transition smoother between its various lenses, with less color shifting while doing so. And it's just generally more likely to get colors right, as you can probably tell comparing this footage to what these two phones see if you put them in the same environment. Samsung has redeeming qualities, but I would take the iPhone in this situation 9 times out of 10. The iPhone's cinematic mode now works in 4K, which is high enough quality that I would actually use this feature regularly. Whereas Samsung's been left behind at 1080p where it still feels like a novelty. Actually, I want you to see this feature in full screen because you can probably tell the edge detection is better, the blur is more natural than it was last year. This is far ahead of what any other company is doing with this right now.
Plus, when you get to lower light, the graininess of Samsung's video can sometimes spiral out of control. And it seems like no amount of updates that they've dropped in the last six months have addressed that. And that brings us on to the single section that I've been most curious about. Night mode photos. This is where Apple is claiming the biggest leap for its new phones. This is where Apple's using numbers like two times and three times to describe how the new photonic engine paired with better camera sensors is going to lead us to some sort of paradigm shift in image quality. And I will say this, I can tell it's an upgrade. You see surprisingly low amounts of noise, even in the really dark areas. I wouldn't say it's twice or three times as good as last year's iPhone. It's more like they took last year's image and just gave it a significant cleaning up. It's making me really wish that there was more flair. I wish we had more kinds of night mode and astrophotography features like we do with so many Androids.
But as a base photo that you could then take to other programs to have more fun with, this is the most technically impressive night mode that I've ever seen on a smartphone.
Its brightening power isn't quite as much. Like if you put both phones in a pitch black room and take a shot, Samsung will come up brighter, but that doesn't mean better. And likewise, when you stick both phones on a tripod and point them up at the night sky, Samsung is brighter. But brightness is not really what you want here. It's that clarity which the iPhone is better delivering.
Speaking of which, there's also Apple's new flash module. Now, ever since the introduction of night mode on phones, I have almost exclusively shelved the use of flash. I just, I don't think it looks natural or flattering. This upgraded flash module though, kind of helps. It's not necessarily the brightest flash I've ever seen. Samsung almost consistently spills out more light. But the benefit of the system, which only really kind of comes into its own in these nighttime scenarios, is that it's more delicate with the light that it does give out. Which I would argue is a greater skill. I probably still won't use it, but if I had to, it is better than what most competitors are doing right now. Oh, and a sub to the channel would be...
Flashy. So then, just before we pick a winner between these phones, slow motion. It's pretty clear that neither of these two companies care about slow motion. The feature is pretty much in the same place that it was five years ago, with the quality just slowly trickling up as the camera hardware naturally improves. That said, the iPhone's jump has been a little bigger. And while I can safely say that iPhone's slow motion used to be behind Samsung's, it's slowly but surely caught up. Samsung claws this back to a draw with the option to shoot super slow motion video, but it looks so bad that I think I'd be embarrassed to put that anywhere. So, let's have a look at these results. The iPhone has won eight and a half points, the Samsung three and a half. So, if you ask me on the spot which of these phones has a better overall camera system, and I can only pick one, for now it is the iPhone. With a few caveats.
That A, different categories are worth different amounts to different people, so there is some subjectivity to this. B, that while the iPhone is the same price as the S22 Ultra in the US, Apple has made the phone more expensive in other regions. And C, you could argue that the S22 Ultra has been out for six months at this point. It's not a new phone anymore. But I don't think that argument holds up too well, because it usually takes Samsung about this much time to become fully optimized. So, the S22 Ultra has only just really reached its peak. Now, you might have realized over the last year that the only case I've been using is the dbrand Grip. There's a reason for that. It is the best phone case I've ever used. It protects the front of the phone really well, while having these recessed lips that still let your thumb glide over. It keeps the buttons nice and clicky, thanks to the cutouts around them. And like the name suggests, the sandstone texture that you've got all the way around makes it very, very grippy. And so, when I found out that dbrand is actually working with Ali Abdaal, who's a friend of mine, to make this new collection called Palettes, I had to get one of these Grip cases with his design. I've ended up going for the Magma one, but I would be lying if I said that Solstice wasn't also calling out to me. Damn, I'm genuinely torn again. Anyways, link in the description to check out the Grip case.