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iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Pixel 6 Pro Camera Comparison

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Of course, we will put it up against the other leading phone cameras — those currently being the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Google Pixel 6 Pro. All of these claim to take photos with incredible detail, be able to zoom in for nicely compressed portraits, and elevate night time photography to another level. Well, which one does it best?

Below, you can find a quick camera specs comparison of the three models.

For the first time in… quite a while, Apple has upped the megapixel count on its main camera. Now, it still takes 12 MP photos by default, but that 48 MP sensor allows it to bin pixels in clusters of 4, allowing for faster light capture and less noise. If you want to get access to the full 48 MP sensor, you can do so in ProRAW shooting mode.

Another thing about the 48 MP sensor — Apple now uses it to add another zoom step. It crops in to give you a 2x frame option in Portrait Mode. Of course, you also have the telephoto camera to jump to 3x from there. However, Apple is still not playing the “crazy zoom game”, as the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max cap out at 15x zoom (and 9x for video!).

Daytime photos

The sun’s out! Let’s take them for a spin

In 2022, any flagship phone should do great in the daytime, with the sun out. Challenges might arise when we are shooting with the bright sky in the background, or in scenes where there are too many shadows and bright spots in close proximity. Will highlights bow out? Will shadows get “crushed” to black?

Right out of the gate, we see that the iPhone has still not dropped the habit of oversharpening tiny details a bit too much — just compare the tree leaves and the thin branches in all three scenes. Funny, Samsung used to be the big offender when it came to oversharpening a few years ago.When it comes to exposure and dynamics — both the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the Pixel 6 Pro seem to be doing equally well. The Galaxy S22 Ultra kind of flirts with blowing out the highlights in most of these photos. They look brighter, which may be more attractive for straight-to-social shares, sure. But when comparing them straight up to the competition, we are not comfortable with how over-exposed the sunlit areas of flowers and bushes turned out.
Contrast seems to be best on the Pixel 6 Pro, with a noticeable dramatic difference in highlights and shadows, but without losing detail in them. However, in a couple of photos, it does veer a bit too close to being underexposed. The iPhone 14 Pro Max gets the second place here, with nice, contrast-y pictures and great balance and dramatic look in all pictures. The Galaxy S22 Ultra, with its tendency to take brighter photos, does look like it has a slightly flatter contrast.

For colors, again, the Pixel 6 Pro did an outstanding job in these photos. Its close to reality, and it added a pinch of saturation for some artistic flavor. The iPhone 14 Pro photos, by comparison, are just a smidgen more yellowish, and lack that pop provided by the saturation (though, the iPhone does have the benefit of the Photographic Styles feature, which lets you fine-tune those things to taste). The Galaxy S22 Ultra loves to oversaturate colors and its greens are a bit off — it’s definitely a signature look. The good news is that skintones seem to be realistic on all three phones.

Low light: do these phones fear the dark?

Time to test their limits

Low light photography will always be a challenge for smartphone sensors — there’s only so much light they can collect with their tiny sizes, right? Well, in recent years, manufacturers have made huge strides in terms of computer-augmented photography, specifically when it comes to night-time pictures. All three of these phones have a Night Mode that will kick in automatically, or you can force it manually. For this test, we just did the point-and-shoot method — like you would if you were trying to capture a fleeting moment.

Continuing some trends here, we can see the iPhone 14 Pro’s oversharpening some details, making them jagged. Colors are real, if a bit muted. The Galaxy S22 Ultra’s tendency to produce bright and vivid photos does work out great for night photography, though it’s not doing very well with skintones, making us appear a bit too pink. The Pixel 6 Pro is doing pretty well in most shots, though high dynamics seem to bother it. Notice the pink flamingo shot — the S22 Ultra did fantastic there, the Pixel kind of missed the mark. The iPhone was down the middle, producing great colors and details, but not as accurate on the neon flamingo as the S22 Ultra.

The final two samples are taken in pitch-black darkness, and here the iPhone 14 Pro Max really shines. Especially the very last shot — its details are similar to what the Pixel 6 Pro produced, but it also managed to pull a lot of color from the scene there. The Galaxy S22 Ultra isn’t far behind those two, but it kind of bungled the details in that last shot.

Overall impressive performances from the full trio, though we kind of don’t like how these “Night Mode” photos are starting to turn night into day. Some of the charm and drama in a natural night photo is lost. It’s great for point-and-click applications, but if you want to get some more of that night look in your photo, adjusting the exposure timer manually is advised.

Ultra-wide: can we get epic?

Capture more of the world

Each of these phones has an ultra-wide camera, of course, though the Pixel doesn’t go too ultra with it. While the iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy S22 Ultra have 13 mm focal lengths for their ultra-wide lenses, the Pixel 6 Pro is tighter at 18 mm.

That said, we like an ultra-wide camera that can produce the same colors and dynamics as the main camera of the respective phone, and details are always a challenge here. A wide lens will distort and the phones will try to correct that to some degree. But is the final image good?

So, exposure- and dynamics-wise, we can see some different trends. The iPhone turns out to be most contrast-ey here, but crushes shadows a bit. The Pixel 6 Pro seems to have a flatter contrast here, probably its HDR+ algorithm is working overtime with the ultrawide camera. The Galaxy S22 Ultra remains consistent with its high brightness.

As for colors, the iPhone’s ultra-wide camera seems to be staying closest to reality here. The Pixel can come up with an oversaturated photo with its own ultra-wide lens, seemingly depending on how HDR+ is working to keep highlights at bay. The S22 Ultra here continues its trend of saturated, vivid colors.

When it comes to nighttime performance, the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s ultra-wide camera is holding it together best out of all three, coming up with better brightness and details than its competitors. The Pixel 6 Pro is middle of the way, with some shots looking good and others being underexposed or washed out. And the iPhone 14 Pro Max’ ultra-wide camera is still struggling, with details garbled by noise-reduction and less exposure than the competitors.

Zoom comparison

The telephoto battles
The iPhone 14 Pro Max has a 3x telephoto lens and also an added 2x zoom step, which utilizes the new 48 MP main sensor for a crop-in, which Apple calls “optical-quality”. Make no mistake, it is digital, but hey, Samsung’s done it before and we eventually gave it a pass. At least Apple is a bit more open about what’s going on here.
As for actual optical zooms — we have 3x on the iPhone, 3x and 10x lenses on the S22 Ultra, and a 4x on the Pixel 6 Pro. Since we are comparing the iPhone here, we will play by its rules — so, the samples are in 0.5x, 1x, 2x, 3x, and 10x.

That said, let’s actually judge the zoom:

On the iPhone and Galaxy, we can see the image quality shift by a bit at 3x zoom, as the phones are switching to the telephoto camera. The iPhone colors drop by a bit, making the greenery look slightly more washed-out. The Galaxy, on the other hand, got a bit hazy but is still as saturated. As for the Pixel 6 Pro — a 3x zoom is not fair on it, as it can’t utilize its 4x telephoto camera, so it’s using a digital crop of the main sensor, and it shows.

At 10x zoom, the Galaxy is killing it with sharpness and detail, but that’s barely a surprise — the phone has a dedicated 10x telephoto lens. The Pixel 6 Pro did surprisingly well, too, actually, not letting its digital crop bring it down too much. The iPhone 14 Pro Max’s details here are a bit softer than the competition’s but that’s still a pretty impressive shot at 10x zoom — I wouldn’t think anything is awry if I saw it scrolling through my socials feed.

Portrait Mode: who can crop the best?

Once a novelty, now a default feature that demands excellence

Portrait Mode is pretty much a default feature on all phones nowadays — even midrangers. And, while we expect a bad Portrait Mode on a budget device, it’s always fun to see how the top-tier devices will deal with edge detection and faux background blur. Will they produce a good emulation of a nice portrait lens or should we keep hanging on to our DSLRs? Let’s see:

Right off the bat, the Pixel 6 Pro is on the back foot. For one, it doesn’t utilize its telephoto camera for portraits — it will use a digital crop from the main sensor. And you can tell. Secondly, the Pixel 6 Pro doesn’t offer a wide angle portrait option — it offers two steps, called “1x” and “2x”, though, from what we can tell, they roughly equate to 2x zoom and 3x zoom. In any case, Google wasn’t very focused on Portrait Mode it seems — the Pixel’s edge detection is sloppy and its bokeh isn’t super-convincing. At least contrast and dynamics are great.

So, this is a race between the iPhone and the Galaxy. It was Apple that first introduced Portrait Mode with the iPhone 7 Plus way back when, but Samsung has quickly made strides. So much so that, in shots where the two phones aren’t even, we kind of prefer the Galaxy’s results. The iPhone will still crop out strands of hair or add a little jagged line alongside clothes, which is a telltale sign of Portrait Mode. The Galaxy S22 Ultra will sometimes crop the subject perfectly and add a convincing bokeh to boot. Though, we kind of think the iPhone’s blur looks more realistic overall, especially when it comes to de-blurring the background as it transitions to a field closer to the subject.

Also, notice sample 5, where Victor is leaning against a tree. There is a very slim gap between his left arm and his body, showing the grass in the background. The iPhone picked this up and blurred the grass accordingly, the Galaxy S22 Ultra got fooled here. (And, again, the Pixel failed blurring between the gaps formed by both his hands, despite the right one being quite generous).

Portrait Mode at night time is pretty tough — on one side, the phones need to do the calculations for brightness-boosting long exposure and frame stitching, then they have to detect and crop subject from background, then add the faux blur. The Pixel 6 Pro did pretty well here, but still has the watercolor effect mostly because it’s working with a digital crop.

At 3x (sample 1), the iPhone and Galaxy had different strategies. The iPhone 14 Pro Max let a lot of noise in (telephoto lenses have a tighter aperture, so less light comes in, ergo more noise from the sensor), but the photo looks more natural. The Galaxy S22 Ultra battled the noise with extra reduction, which kind of smoothed out the features of our subject’s face. Edge detection and bokeh also look more realistic on the iPhone 14 Pro Max photo.

At 2x (sample 2), the iPhone and Galaxy performed quite close — this time around, we had ample light falling on the subject, so no excessive noise (or reduction). Looking at the colored lightbulbs in the background, however, we specifically like how the iPhone bloomed them out.

Selfie time

Those TikToks aren’t going to make themselves

The iPhone 14 Pro’s selfie camera got a boost with a slightly larger f/1.9 lens aperture and autofocus, though it’s still a 12 MP sensor underneath. The Galaxy S22 Ultra has a crazy 40 MP sensor for its selfie camera, but with an f/2.2 aperture — a dense sensor and narrow aperture do raise concerns for low-light situations. And the Pixel 6 Pro has a 11.1 MP main camera with an f/2.2 aperture.

OK, cheatsheet done — let’s look at actual real world results:

The iPhone selfies pop out with great details and colors here! We can detect hints of oversharpening and the sky may blow out, but what matters in a selfie — the face — is clearly visible and impressively detailed. The Pixel is second here with sharp details, good control over the highlights (1st sample), and nice contrast, though it will either amp the colors or miss the mark on skintones under the shade (2nd sample). And the S22 Ultra’s 40 MP selfie camera produced the softest photos, and a bit of a yellowish hue on skintones.

Night time results, however, are a bit different:

Here’s the thing — even if you have flash disabled, when the iPhone detects that it needs Night Mode on, it will light up its screen in a warm white, to add some extra lighting to your selfie. And it shows in the selfies — they just don’t look as natural as the Galaxy and Pixel here. They are detailed, colorful, and lively, but sometimes we want some of that darkness to seep into our photos and represent the realistic conditions around us. In the case of our samples, selfie 2 from the Galaxy S22 Ultra looks better to us than selfie 2 from the iPhone, which kind of suggests that we are in a nightlub with all the extra lighting.

The Pixel 6 Pro kind of dropped the ball on the low-light selfie (1), but did pretty well on the colorful one (2). The skintone there is best out of the three — the iPhone made it too pink, the Galaxy made it too dull, yellow/brownish.

Conclusion