Samsung’s Galaxy S9+ (Review) and Galaxy S9 (Review) might not look radically different from their predecessor and that’s because most of the improvements have been focused on making the camera better. Samsung says it’s the world’s first phone with an aperture that can be physically changed, which is an interesting piece of tech by itself. But does that give it an edge when taking photos? What better way is there to test how good this new camera really is than with a good old-fashioned camera shootout.
The Galaxy S9+ represents the first of the new wave of flagships to launch in India, so we’ll be comparing it to two of last year’s finest shooters - the iPhone X (Review) by and the Google Pixel 2 XL (Review).
All three phone cameras have similar resolution of 12-megapixels, feature fast phase detection autofocus, and optical image stabilisation. All have wide apertures too, for low light shooting, however the Galaxy S9+ has the widest aperture here at f/1.5, compared to f/1.8 on the other two. The Galaxy S9+ and the iPhone X also have a second camera, which lets you do optical zoom, and both have optical stabilisation too.
We’ve lined up a series of tests like before, so lets see how Samsung’s latest flagship stacks up against the proven duo.
In our first daylight test, the Galaxy S9+ has the best picture, with a pleasing white balance that’s true to the scene at hand and very good detail in objects that are placed in the distance. The Pixel 2 XL has deeper blacks, which gives the shadows more definition but this also cause a bit of crushing in the black levels. We love the tone of the sky in the picture shot by the iPhone X, however the sensor isn’t able to capture the best detail, which is noticeable once you zoom in a bit closer. Just take a look at a 100 percent crop of the little red shed from all three phones and you’ll know what we mean.
In another landscape shot, the Galaxy S9+ once again delivers the sharpest and the brightest picture of the three phones. With a 100 percent crop, you can easily see the difference in detail in the parked vehicles. The various shades of black are easily visible in the Galaxy S9+, while the iPhone X comes in at a close second. The darker areas tend to crush in the shot from the Pixel 2 XL and there’s a bit of visible noise here too.
In our close up test, we looked at how the phones handled colour, details, and the level of smoothness of the background blur.
In our first test, the Galaxy S9+ produces the best sharpness on the petals of the flower, with well defined edges. However, the colour temperature is a bit too warm here. The iPhone X has the best white balance, and as a result the vibrancy in the colours make for a very captivating shot. The Pixel 2 XL manages good detail but the brightness level is on the lower side, which makes the image look a bit dull.
In our second test, with less harsh sunlight and a light breeze, we check to see which phone has the lowest shutter lag. From multiple takes, we found the Galaxy S9+ to have the best hit ratio among the three as most of the shots ended up being in focus. It also gets the white balance spot-on here and the sharpness around the petals is the best. The Pixel 2 XL also manages a very sharp image but gets colours terribly wrong, as the flowers end up with a Smurf-blue shade instead of a lighter one. The iPhone X gets the colours right but zooming in reveals slight haziness around the edges of the petal’s that are in focus. Plus, the flowers on the left have a bit of motion blur too.
The Samsung Galaxy S9+ and the iPhone X both have secondary telephoto lenses, which sport the same 12-megapixel resolution and an f/2.4 aperture. However, the camera apps doesn’t always switch to the second sensor when you hit the 2x button, as it all depends on the light at hand and even then, it’s not a guarantee.
Other sample: Apple iPhone X
For instance, in our first test, the iPhone X used the primary camera itself to take the zoomed in shot, by simply adding digital zoom, even though there was plenty of light around. As a result details are not the best if you do a tighter crop. The Galaxy S9+ on the other hand switched to the second sensor and managed much better colours and detail.
Other sample: Apple iPhone X
In our second test, which was indoors but with good artificial lighting, both phones switched to the second sensor. Here, the Galaxy S9+ manages much better detail in the flowers. There is a bit of noise in some background elements and the colour tone is veering to the warmer side, which is not necessary a bad thing in this case. The iPhone handles noise much better than Samsung and the colour tone is also neutral, however it doesn’t capture a lot of detail when you zoom in.
For this test, we shot the panoramas with the phones held vertically. This works pretty seamlessly on the iPhone X and Galaxy S9+, as you simply move in the desired direction while the photo is being stitched on the fly. The Pixel’s implementation is a bit clunky as you have to stop for a second at intervals and wait for the camera to capture the shot, and then move along.
The Galaxy S9+ offers the best colour tone among the three, with accurate stitching and good detail. The iPhone X comes in at a close second, also handling exposure and detail well. The Pixel 2 XL's image looks a little dull in comparison and doesn’t capture as much of the scene as the other two.
All three phones feature a Portrait mode which can result in some pretty neat effects, when applied correctly.
In our first test, we tried it out on a human subject under daylight, and the result was a bit of a mixed bag. Here, the Galaxy S9+ overexposed our subject a little although it does capture good detail. The iPhone does manage an overall pleasing image, but the colour tone is a lot warmer. The Pixel 2 XL does have slightly better exposure compared to the Galaxy S9+. The iPhone X also has least edge detection issues in this case, which the Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL struggle with a little.
In low light, the Pixel 2 XL offers the best picture since it uses the main camera, which has a much wider aperture. The iPhone X comes in second, preserving good detail but the result is a little darker. The Galaxy S9+ has the worst image quality here, with blotchy details and not enough brightness.
With objects, the Galaxy S9+ does the best job with edge detection under good lighting. Details are good and so is the colour saturation. The Pixel 2 XL fares well here too, but it gets the edge detection slightly wrong and the colour temperature is on the cooler side. The iPhone X has the best exposure, second only to the Galaxy S9+, but fails to detect the right edges.
In low light, the Pixel 2 XL manages to do an excellent job with edge detection as all portions of the mug are in focus. The iPhone X’s image is also well lit but it blurs out the upper portion of the knuckle duster. The Galaxy S9+ handles edge detection well but the image is dull and grainy and doesn’t look that good. Clearly, low light portrait shots is the Achilles heel of the Galaxy S9+.
In our low light tests, we check how the phones handle noise, dynamic range and of course, their ability to hang on to detail.
In our first test, with the sun just about to set over the horizon, the iPhone X manages to capture the best dynamic range but doesn’t fare too well with details in distant objects. The photo from the Pixel 2 XL has lower brightness, but manages good detail in distant objects, at the cost of some noise. The Galaxy S9+ has the cleanest image of the three and even at a 100 percent crop, there’s no visible noise in the buildings in the distance.
At night, the iPhone X and the Galaxy S9+ manage slightly better dynamic range and brightness. However, once again, the Galaxy S9+ delivers the sharpest image here when you zoom in all the way. The iPhone X comes in at a close second here, followed by the Pixel 2 XL.
In our first test, the Galaxy S9+ doesn’t seem to get the colour right for any of the red roses, which is a shame as it does capture good detail. The Pixel 2 XL manages better colour reproduction compared to the other two as it identifies the reds accurately. Details are also captured nicely. The iPhone X comes in at a close second here for colour accuracy but messes up the exposure a bit.
In very low light and without any direct artificial light source illuminating our subject, the Galaxy S9+ captures good colours, with a pleasing white balance. The iPhone manages to light up the scene well but the Pixel edges out the rest by offering slightly better sharpness.
While we would normally avoid using the flash for photography, it’s good to know if your phone has a capable one for those rare instances where you absolutely need it.
In a dimly lit room, the Pixel 2 XL manages to light up our subjects pretty evenly, including the background. The Galaxy S9+ has a powerful flash too but it cast a lot of unwanted shadows on our subjects' faces. The iPhone X does manage more natural skin tones but the intensity and spread isn’t as good as the others.
In pitch darkness, the Galaxy S9+ manages the best illumination along with good colours. The Pixel 2 XL follows close behind in terms of intensity and colours. The iPhone lights up the scene pretty evenly too but as you can see, the intensity isn’t as strong as the other two.
For selfies, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ has an 8-megapixel sensor with autofocus and a f/1.7 aperture; the Pixel 2 XL also has an 8-megapixel sensor but with fixed focus and a f/2.4 aperture, while the iPhone X has a 7-megapixel sensor, with an f/2.2 aperture and fixed focus. All of them are capable of adding depth effects too, so lets see how they compare.
The Pixel 2 XL dominated this test in our last roundup and things haven’t changed too much. During the day, the Pixel 2 XL captures excellent detail on our subject and the background. Colours are pleasing although, the image has a slight reddish hue to it. The Galaxy S9+ manages good detail too, which is a step up from the Galaxy Note 8. Colours are good , although the exposure could have been better. The iPhone X has the smallest field of view, which limits the amount of people you’ll be able to cram into a selfie. However, skin tones look natural and the image has a fairly neutral colour tone. The bokeh effect is good across all three phones, but we feel the iPhone X delivers slightly better contrast and colours. The Pixel 2 XL and Galaxy S9+ miss the mark in terms of getting the edge detection perfect.
In low light, the Pixel 2 XL continues to dominate the other two. Exposure is wonderfully handled, details are spot on, and colours and well represented. The Galaxy S9+ also manages to give you a well lit selfie and background, but ends up overexposing certain areas and the detail on our subjects t-shirt is not visible. The iPhone X captures a slightly noisy image, but it still manages to expose the scene properly.
In a completely dark room, the screen flash from the Pixel 2 XL does the best job at illuminating our subjects face. The Galaxy S9 has the most powerful screen flash for sure, but it doesn’t do a very effective job at setting the right exposure. The scene looks a bit washed out and has a very warm colour tone. With the iPhone X, selfies are a bit grainy and the screen doesn’t light up long enough to properly expose our subject.
All three smartphones support 4K video recording and this year, the Samsung S9+ catches up with the iPhone X by also supporting 4K 60fps. Here, we checked how well the phone’s handled stabilisation and the overall quality of the footage.
Colour saturation is on the heavier side with the Samsung Galaxy S9+, which doesn’t offer the most natural colour tone. There’s a noticeable bias towards the greens, which does appear a bit jarring when shooting nature. Dynamic range is good though and we were happy with the amount of detail in the footage. The Pixel 2 XL doesn’t do 4K 60fps, but even at 30fps, colour saturation is a bit more toned and there’s good levels of dynamic range. The iPhone X has the most neural tone of the lot, while still delivering good detail and dynamic range.
When inside in a moving vehicle, like a train, all phones do a good job with stabilisation. We found the Galaxy S9+’s wind noise reduction to be the most effective, closely followed by the iPhone X.
When shooting handheld, the stabilisation in the Galaxy S9+ is a definite improvement over the Galaxy S8+ and even the Galaxy Note 8, as the jelly effect - an anomaly which causes a wobbly effect around the sides of the video - is not too noticeable. However, it’s still no match for the Pixel 2 XL and iPhone X in this scenario.
In low light, the S9+ does a good job with keeping noise in check and smoothing out your movements, however the exaggerated colours can seem a little jarring at times. The Pixel 2 XL has slightly noisier footage compared to the other two, but stabilisation is good. Finally, the iPhone X has the best stabilisation among the three, while keeping noise and colours in check.
For slow motion, the iPhone X and the Galaxy S9+ can shoot 1080p video at 240fps, which automatically gives them an edge over the Pixel 2 XL, which does 240fps at only 720p. Plus, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ has a cool trick up its sleeve, where it can shoot at 960fps super slow motion footage, albeit for very short durations.
Samsung certainly seems to have stepped up its game with the Galaxy S9+. It offers big improvements when it comes to video stabilisation as compared to its predecessor, the Galaxy S8+ and even the Galaxy Note 8 (Review) to an extent. It also managed to beat the iPhone X and Pixel 2 XL in most of the tests that we conducted.
Most landscapes and macros that we shot turned out great, with good level of detail and sharpness. It does struggle a bit with getting the colour temperature right at times and portrait shots taken using the Live Focus mode in low light seldom turn out good. It also tends to boost the colours, especially greens, which in some cases works in its favour but it often can end up looking a little jarring.
Coming to the phone’s variable aperture, we definitely found f/1.5 to be very useful in low light and even though you can manually change it from f/1.5 to f/2.4 in Pro mode, we never really felt the need to intervene at any time. Overall, the Galaxy S9+ has an excellent set of cameras which can go toe-to-toe with the best in the market, and quite often, come out ahead.