If you'd asked us a few months ago to pick one smartphone which had the absolute best cameras, the iPhone 11 Pro would have been an easy recommendation. It might not have a lot of the fancy shooting modes that its Android counterparts do, but when it comes to pure image and video quality, it's definitely been the most consistent so far. Last year, we pitted it against Samsung's finest — the Galaxy Note 10+ — and it managed to win the majority of our tests.
This year, Samsung is going all-out on its camera technology with the new Galaxy S20 series. We've already seen some of the great things that the cameras of the Galaxy S20+ are capable of in our full review of the smartphone, but does this phone capture better images and videos than the iPhone 11 Pro? Of course, Apple doesn't release new flagships twice a year like Samsung, so the iPhone 11 Pro is somewhat older. It's still Apple's flagship though, and has not fallen in price since its launch.
Today, we'll be comparing the Galaxy S20+ to the iPhone 11 Pro in our usual series of tests. The aim is to see which phone manages to deliver the most consistent camera performance with photos as well as videos. Is Samsung's new camera tech better than Apple's finest offering? It's time to find out.
Before we dive in, here's a quick comparison of some of the main specifications of the cameras of both smartphones. Both have the same number of front and rear cameras, except that the Galaxy S20+ has an additional depth sensor at the back. Samsung has revamped its camera sensors from the previous generation, with some notable changes. The primary sensor still has a 12-megapixel resolution but it lacks the dual-aperture feature which had been a staple of Samsung flagships for a couple of generations. The wide-angle sensor also has a lower resolution now, but perhaps the most interesting change is the new 64-megapixel telephoto camera.
|iPhone 11 Pro||Galaxy S20+|
|Field of View||120 degree||120 degree|
|Optical zoom||2x||3x (hybrid)|
Samsung has coined the term ‘Space Zoom' to describe the 3x “hybrid optical zoom” and up to 30x “super resolution zoom" that the Galaxy S20+ can achieve. We'll go into more details about this in the respective section ahead, but on paper, the Galaxy S20+ already has a far superior zoom capability that the iPhone 11 Pro. Other areas where Samsung pulls ahead are its ability to record 8K video, super slow-motion video at 960fps, and the many shooting modes on offer.
Apple has taken a simpler approach with the iPhone 11 Pro, offering the basic shooting modes which we've see on previous models too, but with the addition of an always-on Night mode. With iOS 13.2, Apple also introduced Deep Fusion on the iPhone 11 series, which uses the custom-designed A13 Bionic processor's neural engine to enhance photos, similar to what Google's been doing with its Pixel phones.
With this out of the way, it's time to head to the tests and see which phone does a better job.
In our first test, we have a landscape shot of a nearby building. Both smartphones capture excellent details on the building and the trees in the foreground. However, we prefer the shot taken with the iPhone 11 Pro, simply because the exposure is more balanced and colours are more natural. The shot from the Galaxy S20+ is brighter but the texture on the building surface is blown out and the sky is a little unnaturally blue. It looks striking, no doubt, but it's not the best.
In our second shot, we got nearly identical-looking images from both phones. Exposure was well balanced and there was plenty of details in the objects, both near and far. Samsung bumps up the colours very slightly and the shadows are also lifted, which makes for a more vivid result compared to what the the iPhone 11 Pro delivers. However as a result, blacks are crushed a little, displaying less details than the 11 Pro's output.
In low light, the Samsung Galaxy S20+ was unable to reproduce very good colours, however switching to Night mode improved things dramatically. Colours were noticeably better and we could see more detail in objects in the shadows. However, textures on smaller objects such as the leaves looked a bit worse. The iPhone 11 Pro automatically activates Night mode when it detects low light, and the results are fantastic. Comparing its output with the Night mode shot taken with the Galaxy S20+, the 11 Pro managed more realistic colours on leaves and trees, and even finer textures were better defined.
For landscapes, we'd pick the iPhone 11 Pro as the overall winner.
Switching to much smaller objects and shooting under harsh sunlight, we see the iPhone 11 Pro balanced exposures very well. Not only that, it even managed to retain the right shade of red on the flowers and delivered a pleasing depth effect for the background. The Galaxy S20+ struggled with exposure a bit, and didn't manage to meter white balance very well. As a result, the flowers took on an orange hue from the sunlight, which wasn't accurate. It did deliver a slightly stronger depth effect though, compared to the 11 Pro.
Our second subject was also photographed at around the same time of day, but under the cover of trees so the light was less harsh. The iPhone 11 Pro once again produced a more neutral colour tone and a more accurate rendition of the pink shade of the flowers. If we look closer, it even managed slightly better textures than the Galaxy S20+. Samsung's photo wasn't far behind, with a slightly warmer colour tone.
Low light is where the Galaxy S20+ earns back some points. In our first shot of some more flowers, both phones delivered equally well-exposed and detailed images. However, with a tighter crop, we can see that the Galaxy S20+ produced better details. Even in our second shot, it appeared as though the 11 Pro has the better image at first glance, since a lot more elements were in focus, however the Galaxy S20+ did sneak past the iPhone with a slightly softer and more realistic looking shot.
For close-ups, it's a tie between both as we found the 11 Pro to be more consistent during the day, while the Galaxy S20+ offered better details in low light.
Both phones let you simulate the effect of having a large aperture lens of a DSLR. On the iPhone, it's called Portrait mode, while Samsung calls it Live Focus. You can change the level of background blur before and after you've taken a shot. Samsung also lets you customise background effects, while the iPhone lets you try different lighting styles. Both let you shoot with either their primary or telephoto cameras, depending on the effect you're going for.
When shooting people, it's a close call between the iPhone 11 Pro and the Galaxy S20+. Both produce excellent details and skin tones, however upon closer inspection, we find that it's the Galaxy S20+ that gave us the better picture of the two. When zoomed in, you'll notice that details on our subject's face are better, and the skin tone looks a bit more natural. We also like the fact that everything around our subject wasn't blurred evenly, but there were subtle differences in the level of blur based on the distance of objects behind the subject.
Using the telephoto cameras on objects, once again both phones captured striking photos with very good edge detection. It's a little hard to pick a sure winner here, so we'll call this one a tie.
In low light, the iPhone 11 Pro messed up the shot pretty badly by not being able to blur the right objects. Samsung did a commendable job here, managing to correctly blur even the small gaps between leaves and flowers.
Overall, we'd give this round to the Galaxy S20+.
Selfies have become an integral part of our social lives, so it's important that these phones have good selfie cameras too.
In our first outdoor test during the day, the iPhone 11 Pro straight up has the better image. Skin tones are spot on and the overall tone looks more pleasing. Samsung manages good details too, but the skin tones look a bit pale and colours are a bit muted. You can enable depth effects for the front cameras of both phones, just like the rear ones. Both phones do a good job cropping out the background properly. Once again, we prefer the skin tones of the 11 Pro to the Galaxy S20+.
In low light, the iPhone once again managed the most natural skin tones but details weren't great and there was some visible noise in background objects. The Galaxy S20+ captured a cleaner image but details were once again strictly average. Samsung does have a secret weapon though – Night mode for the selfie camera. You'll have to stay still for a bit longer but the wait is worth it, as details and colours are much better.
Once again, the results are split between the two. We prefer the iPhone 11 Pro for daytime selfies but Night mode makes a world of a difference when taking selfies at night with the Galaxy S20+.
The wide-angle cameras on the iPhone 11 Pro and the Galaxy S20+ have the same field of view, and both can capture a lot more of any scene. In our first test, once again, it's the 11 Pro which managed a slightly better exposure on the building in front of us, compared to the Galaxy S20+.
In our second test, it's another close call between the two phones, but just like the same scene shot with the two phones' primary cameras, the Galaxy S20+ lifts shadows a bit more for a more dramatic look.
At night, the iPhone 11 Pro's wide-angle camera isn't of much use unless you have ample light around. Night mode does not work with the wide-angle camera on this phone. On the other hand, even in its standard mode, the Galaxy S20+ produced a slightly brighter image than the iPhone, and then things got dramatically better with Night mode.
Overall, we would pick the wide-angle camera of the Galaxy S20+ as the winner for its competent daylight performance and superior low-light capability.
Now, for the fun part — the zoom test. We've already tested the zoom capabilities of the Galaxy S20+ in our full review, and the short verdict is that it's pretty impressive. Apple boasts of a 2x optical zoom camera, while Samsung claims to deliver 3x ‘hybrid optical zoom'. Within the camera app, the 11 Pro switches to the telephoto camera when the slider hits 2x, and it's the same for the Galaxy S20+ too. This means any zoom level beyond 2x is digitally enhanced, albeit with some AI smarts. The Galaxy S20+ has an advantage, cropping the output of its relatively high-resolution sensor in order to still maintain relatively good quality even at higher zoom levels.
We begin with 2x optical zoom. At this level, both sensors can deliver excellent detail, and colours and exposure are handled very well. The iPhone 11 Pro adds a slightly warm tinge to photos, but other than that, both are equally good. The Galaxy S20+ offers a lot of incremental zoom steps such as 3x, 4x, 10x, etc, while with the iPhone, you'll have to manually pinch-out to zoom in further.
Let's now jump to 10x magnification, which is the highest zoom possible on the iPhone 11 Pro. With ample natural light, the iPhone managed to produce decent details, although texture quality was average and some of the edges of the building had noticeable distortion. Looking at the photo taken by the Galaxy S20+, we see a massive difference in quality. Details and textures on objects are a lot clearer, there's no edge distortion and colours are more vivid.
You can zoom in further to 20x and 30x too, but at these levels, smaller objects aren't exactly recognisable and the overall quality degrades quite a bit, to a point where you won't really want to share these shots with anyone. It's cool that you can do this, but it might not be too useful.
We did one more daytime test, this time of a much closer subject. Focus wasn't very sharp in the iPhone 11 Pro's shot, whereas the Galaxy S20+ applied a bit of sharpening to make the flowers stand out. At 10x zoom, the iPhone 11 Pro captured a flat-looking image with weak texture details. The Galaxy S20+ on the other hand captured an amazing shot, with plenty of details, rich colours, and no grain. You can really see Samsung's AI algorithms at work here as the photo actually looked better than the shot taken even at 3x zoom.
If you're shooting in very low light, both these phones will zoom in digitally using the primary cameras, rather than the optical zoom cameras, in order to preserve quality. At 2x zoom, the iPhone 11 Pro still does the better job with colours, details and noise. Night mode works here too, since it's the primary camera in use. Samsung's Night mode is effective compared to shooting in the standard mode, but the colours and details aren't as good as what the 11 Pro manages.
At 10x zoom, the iPhone 11 Pro surprised us with decent details, even though the picture quality was below average. The Galaxy S20+, on the other hand, did a pretty poor job of resolving any details, and its output was heavily de-noised, flattening out the textures of most objects. With Night mode active, it was a completely different story. Details and textures were massively improved, making the photo actually usable.
When it comes to zoom, the Galaxy S20+ is the clear leader here.
iPhones have long been the gold standard when it came to smartphone videography, but last year, we found that the Galaxy Note 10+ came pretty close to its level. With the Galaxy S20+, that gap has narrowed even more. When recording 4K videos under good light, footage from both phones was very similar, displaying very good details and colours. The iPhone 11 Pro records slightly louder audio, but focusing was equally quick and on point with both phones, even when we panned around. Stabilisation at this resolution was also handled beautifully, and both the Galaxy S20+ and iPhone 11 Pro let you switch between the wide-angle and telephoto sensors while recording.
The Galaxy S20+ has a party trick – shooting 8K video. This is impressive but we're not quite convinced that it's entirely useful, at least right now. The framerate is limited to 24fps at this resolution and the frame is heavily cropped.
Both phones can shoot slow-motion video at up to 240fps. The Galaxy S20+ can also shoot at 960fps but for very limited time. The quality is decent at 240fps, but not so much at 960fps.
The selfie cameras shoot crisp 4K footage too, making these phones great for vlogging. Audio quality is very good, even if you don't use an external microphone, and video is stabilised well, which is a bonus.
In low light, the Galaxy S20+ surprised us, as it managed cleaner footage and better colours. We noticed some very mild distortion when moving about, but not too much. Footage taken with the iPhone 11 Pro was good but a bit grainy and colours weren't as vivid. The wide-angle cameras of both phone shoot much darker and grainer footage, but even here, the Galaxy S20+ was a smidge better.
Samsung has done well this time, and overall, considering the option of 8K and all the other video modes, we feel that the Galaxy S20+ is the better option for video.
It's unsurprising that the iPhone 11 Pro has aged well and can still hold its own against the Android flagships of early 2020, but we're happy to see that it finally has some stiff competition. The Galaxy S20+ easily goes toe-to-toe with it, and in many cases, performs better. That fact that Samsung's phone is a lot more affordable is the cherry on top. Of course, it isn't entirely perfect. Photos did have some issues with white balance and exposure, especially when shooting under harsh light, and skin tones in selfies were generally on the paler side.
However, when it comes to zoom, the Galaxy S20+ absolutely destroys the iPhone 11 Pro. Even in areas such as video, where Samsung has long faltered, it's now on par with the iPhone.
We're eager to see how much better the more expesnive Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is than the Galaxy S20+ in terms of cameras, so if that's a comparison you'd like to see, do let us know in the comments.
OnePlus 8 leaks look exciting but when will the phones launch in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.