iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung S24 Ultra: Which camera is better?

user avatar Author: Editors Desk
February 1, 2024 at 10:53

The war with Apple’s iPhone has intensified as this new phone unleashes a camera that is “miles ahead”.

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When it comes to buying a new phone, there’s one feature that seems to trump all – the camera.

Phone camera specs have been one of the primary battlegrounds in the Samsung vs. Apple debate for years. Now that both companies have launched phones that boast their best cameras ever, we did some tests to find out which is better, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra or the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max.
 

SPECS SHOWDOWN

Much like you’ll hear from any Tinder date, it’s not so much the numbers that matter, but what you do with them.

Both Apple and Samsung have competed on making the numbers on the cameras sound better in ads for years, but how they perform usually comes down to the software, personal preferences of the photographer, and personal skill.

Both phones have the same 12-megapixel size front cameras (aka MP, megapixels determine the size of the photo, and can influence clarity to a point), and 12MP ultrawide cameras. But the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra has a 200MP wide camera, a 10MP 3x telephoto, and a 50MP 5x telephoto camera, as well as 8K video capture. Those numbers look better than the 48MP wide camera, 12MP 5x telephoto camera and 4K video on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

RELATED: First look at the Samsung Galaxy S24

Is the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max better than the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra? Picture: Supplied
Is the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max better than the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra? Picture: Supplied
 

There are a couple of asterisks on that; firstly, at a certain point, more megapixels stops equalling more detailed photos without having a larger sensor, and there’s not much room in a phone for larger sensors.

So, comparing 200MP to 48MP isn’t as much of a jump as it sounds unless you plan on printing out absolutely huge photos, or cropping out 80 per cent of a photo and then blowing it up.


ZOOM REALITY CHECK

Secondly, last year’s Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra had a 10x zoom telephoto lens, which sounds better than the 5x on the S24 Ultra, however most people tend not to zoom in 10x too often. Besides, you can still get a 10x digital zoom on the S24 Ultra (and the iPhone 15 Pro Max), just with digital zoom instead of optical.

The difference between optical zoom and digital zoom is that optical zoom will generally yield better, clearer results because it’s playing to the hardware’s strengths, whereas digital zoom is relying on software to essentially crop a really big version of the image, which can lose clarity and add “noise” (and it’s where those big megapixel numbers come into play).

The other thing is 8K video vs. 4K video.

8K video is great if you want to be able to drastically crop the video while still maintaining 4K definition, or if you have one of the few 8K TVs on the market, and they’re larger video files that take up more storage space.

Most new TVs show in 4K these days, and is the maximum resolution you’ll find most movies and TV shows in.
 

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra wins in many of our test categories overall, but does any of that matter in the end? Picture: Supplied
The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra wins in many of our test categories overall, but does any of that matter in the end? Picture: Supplied


SIDE-BY-SIDE COMPARISONS

The thing the numbers don’t take into account is how photos are processed and what the auto settings prioritise.

When taking photos for testing, I noticed that the Samsung photos looked more processed, sharper, and a bit colder in general. The iPhone photos had slightly warmer lighting, a more natural appearance, but sometimes lacked a little definition.

Neither of the options really managed to capture the light or scene exactly as it looked in real life, with reality falling somewhere between the two.
 

Neither of the phone cameras really managed to capture the light or scene exactly as it looked in real life, with reality falling somewhere between the two. Picture: Supplied
Neither of the phone cameras really managed to capture the light or scene exactly as it looked in real life, with reality falling somewhere between the two. Picture: Supplied


Starting with this photo of a duck taken with 2x zoom, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra has added a lot of drama to the scene, with extra definition on the grass in the foreground, while still highlighting the duck in the middle.

Zooming in fully, the Samsung has more detail on the striped feathers and you can actually see a reflection in the duck’s eye.

Unzoomed, the duck looks pretty great in both, but fully zoomed, the S24 Ultra is miles ahead in terms of quality.

Both phone’s AI correctly identified the Australian wood duck, which was good, but the iPhone did it a bit quicker.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
 

When it came to this pic of a fountain, the Samsung had more definition on the statue’s chest and belly and the flowers in the background are over sharpened, but the iPhone has better definition on the water droplets. Picture: Supplied
When it came to this pic of a fountain, the Samsung had more definition on the statue’s chest and belly and the flowers in the background are over sharpened, but the iPhone has better definition on the water droplets. Picture: Supplied


This picture of a fountain was taken with the 5x telephoto cameras, and suddenly the winner is less obvious. The Samsung photo has much colder lighting, making the fountain look cleaner than it is, and the iPhone is much warmer, with both cameras slightly outside what it really looks like.

The Samsung has more definition on the statue’s chest and belly and the flowers in the background are over sharpened, but the iPhone has better definition on the water droplets and shows the age of the fountain slightly more accurately.

Neither phone correctly guessed which fountain it was, and both suggested looking at images of fountains in Europe.
 

For this picture of a bee on a plant, it’s obvious that the winner is the Samsung. The picture is just so much more vibrant and the bee looks far more detailed. Picture: Supplied
For this picture of a bee on a plant, it’s obvious that the winner is the Samsung. The picture is just so much more vibrant and the bee looks far more detailed. Picture: Supplied


But if you then look at this picture of a bee on a plant taken with the same camera, it’s obvious that the winner is the Samsung. The picture is just so much more vibrant and the bee looks far more detailed.

Winner: A draw on the fountain, but Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra wins because of the bee
 

Zooming out and taking a regular photo of the whole fountain scene, the textures on the iPhone photo are a bit more accurate and detailed. Picture: Supplied
Zooming out and taking a regular photo of the whole fountain scene, the textures on the iPhone photo are a bit more accurate and detailed. Picture: Supplied


Zooming out and taking a regular photo of the whole fountain scene, the textures on the iPhone photo are a bit more accurate and detailed, particularly the clouds. To my eye the Samsung looks a little over processed and like there has been a whitening filter put over it, even though both images are unedited.

WinneriPhone 15 Pro Max
 

Taking a photo of this bust on the ultrawide cameras really shows the different ways that Apple and Samsung approach photo processing. Picture: Supplied
Taking a photo of this bust on the ultrawide cameras really shows the different ways that Apple and Samsung approach photo processing. Picture: Supplied


Taking a photo of this bust on the ultrawide cameras really shows the different ways that Apple and Samsung approach photo processing.

On the iPhone photo, you can see all the marks on the wall, the crack looks like something that should be dealt with soon, and you can really see the wear and age of the building. But the Samsung photo tells a different story; the walls are whiter, the crack isn’t as pronounced, and the stone the bust is on looks a bit less aged.

The reality fell somewhere between, but I’ve always found that Samsung photos look a bit cleaner and a bit whiter.

I really like the drama of the iPhone photo here, and it looks more like what I was trying to capture.

Winner:iPhone 15 Pro Max
 

Both cameras clearly captured the person even though they were shaking their head around. Picture: Supplied
Both cameras clearly captured the person even though they were shaking their head around. Picture: Supplied


With this photo taken on the main camera, both clearly captured the person even though they were shaking their head around.

Their legs and face look smoother on the Samsung photo, but there’s no detail on her hair, either.

On the iPhone photo you can see all the strands of her hair, but also the way her face is straining with the movement. On the Samsung photo, her skin is a lot lighter than it is in real life, but ever so slightly darker on the iPhone photo.

Winner: This one is a bit of personal preference. I’d rather not airbrush out my details, and the bluer processing on a photo making someone look paler has some broader, uncomfortable implications. However, the subject of the photos prefers the airbrush effect on her face and legs.
 

On these portrait photos, the only real difference is that the background is slightly darker on the Samsung. Picture: Supplied
On these portrait photos, the only real difference is that the background is slightly darker on the Samsung. Picture: Supplied


On these portrait photos, the only real difference is that the background is slightly darker on the Samsung. Both of them have kept the subject’s skin tone, both have handled the portrait effect really well and it’s really hard to separate between them, which is ideal.
 

Winner: Draw

You can edit the iPhone selfies to look like this Samsung selfie, but the Samsung selfie camera just looks a bit better without any extra effort. Picture: Supplied
You can edit the iPhone selfies to look like this Samsung selfie, but the Samsung selfie camera just looks a bit better without any extra effort. Picture: Supplied


On the selfies, the Samsung has better lighting. You can edit the iPhone selfies to look like this Samsung selfie, but the Samsung selfie camera just looks a bit better without any extra effort.

While I don’t love that the Samsung cameras smooth out my skin a bit, the iPhone has been somewhat unforgiving with my sarcasm forehead lines.

Once again, reality lies in the middle, and the Samsung is kinder to my ego.

Winner:Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra


VERDICT

While the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra has won more categories overall, none of that really matters in the end. It all comes down to what you prefer when taking photos.

Personally, I’d rather less processing and more opportunity to edit and smooth things out later if I want to. Starting from a smoother base gives me less room to move. But both cameras are fantastic, and there’s no wrong answer here.

Alice Clarke is a freelance tech reviewer and writer.

Originally published as iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung S24 Ultra: Which camera is better?

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