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Smartphone camera shootout: iPhone 7 Plus vs. Samsung Galaxy S8

The iPhone 7 Plus is Apple's best camera phone yet, but can it compete against the latest from Samsung?

Apple proudly says that the the iPhone is the most popular camera in the world. But is it the best? We put the iPhone 7 Plus to the test against the newest flagship from Samsung, the Galaxy S8. Watch the video above to see the photos side-by-side and to find out how each smartphone did in delivering the best color, clarity, and range.

We tested the cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus and the Galaxy S8 in the way most people use them: in auto mode. That means straight out of the pocket, using the native camera app, and with HDR on auto. The only setting that was changed was the megapixel count, amping up the full resolution of each camera. The photos were taken at Las Vegas during the National Association of Broadcasters convention last month.

Before comparing photos, let's first compare the specs of each camera. The rear camera on the iPhone 7 Plus has a 12 megapixel sensor, a fast f/1.8 lens, and a DCI-P3 color gamut. The Galaxy S8 also has a 12 megapixel sensor, but has an even faster f/1.7 lens, and large 1.4µm pixels. Based on these specs, the cameras look evenly matched. Here's how they did in real-world testing.

Round 1: Color 

To decide which smartphone camera delivered the best color, we looked at the photo results in terms of accuracy, vividness, and how the camera balances color temperature. To start off, both cameras handled themselves well in full light and produced vivid colors, but the Samsung Galaxy S8 pumped up the contrast and produced photos that were a bit cooler than the iPhone 7 Plus. Meanwhile, the 7 Plus handled the white balance a bit better on an indoor shot at the Apple store you can see below. The Galaxy S8 warms this shot up as well, resulting in the purple turning a bit more magenta.

apple store iphone 7 plus Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The iPhone 7 Plus handled the white balance a bit better on this indoor shot at the Apple store.

apple store galaxy s8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Galaxy S8 warms this shot up as well, resulting in the purple turning a bit more magenta.

Inside the convention center, the 7 Plus warmed the scenes so much, to the point that it actually discolored the models. The S8 was accurate on color balance, but is a bit washed out. The fact that the 7 Plus leaned on the warmer side not only failed to give us an accurate white balance, but it took skin colors to horrible, horrible places.

discolored skin tones iphone 7 plus Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The iPhone 7 Plus warms the scene enough to discolor the models.

photo test galaxy s8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Galaxy S8 is accurate on color balance, but is a bit washed out. 

Winner: Galaxy S8

Both cameras really struggle with accurate white balance, so it’s really down to saturation and color depth. And even though the iPhone 7 Plus technically has a wider color gamut, the Galaxy S8 just has a more pleasing variance in colors. I’m going to give the color category to the Samsung Galaxy S8, but only by a hair.

Round 2: Clarity

The next test is clarity, and here we were looking not only at the sharpness of each image, but how the camera chooses to stay sharp, even in low light. The shot of The Strip below is clear enough from a distance, but when you zoom in on Treasure Island, we see that you can make out much more detail on the shutters with the S8. Samsung applies a healthy amount of sharpening to get there, but it’s still a clearer image.

clarity photo test iphone 7 plus Adam Patrick Murray/IDG
clarity photo test galaxy s8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Moving inside it’s the same story, we can just see more information even when zoomed in. This darker scene reveals the same thing: Even in low light, the S8 takes clearer photos than the 7 Plus. In this very dark scene below, we were super impressed with how the photo taken with the S8 looks. By comparison, the photo taken with the 7 Plus really disappoints. Just compare the color wheel on the bottom left to see for yourself which camera obviously won this round.

low light iphone 7 plus Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Even in low light, the S8 takes clearer photos than the 7 Plus.

low light galaxy s8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The S8 took crisper photos. Just compare the color wheels on the bottom left. 

Winner: Galaxy S8

The only place where the 7 Plus had an edge is in macro shots, but it was still not enough to pull ahead, so we're giving the clarity category to the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Round 3: Range

The last category is range. We're looking for how much light information the camera is able to capture and how it chooses to expose for the scene. We used a histogram in this category, and you can watch our video shootout above to see how it was implemented in helping us pick a winner in this category. This first shot outside of Harrah’s is exposed pretty similar on both cameras, but the S8 was able to retain a lot more information in the shadows.

range iphone 7 plus Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

This first shot outside of Harrah’s is exposed pretty similar on both cameras...

range galaxy s8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

... but the S8 was able to retain a lot more information in the shadows.

Check out the photo of the statue below. We see that the 7 Plus holds the highlights better, but at the cost of the rest of the scene underexposing. Moving indoors, the 7 Plus does the opposite, blowing out the highlights on the subjects.

highlights iphone 7 plus Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The 7 Plus holds the highlights better.

highlights galaxy s8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

But the S8 better exposes the rest of the scene.

This wider shot of the show floor is the same, with the S8 holding the highlights way better, albeit at the expense of some loss of information in the shadows.

indoor iphone 7 plus Adam Patrick Murray/IDG
indoor galaxy s8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Winner: Galaxy S8

Overall, we were disappointed with how the 7 Plus performed in high-contrast scenarios, never really exposing the shot how we wanted. This category easily goes to the Samsung Galaxy S8. 

Final thoughts

It's a clean sweep for the Samsung Galaxy S8, winning in all three camera categories. This further proves that Apple has some catching-up to do this year with the successor to the iPhone 7 Plus. Not to mention that the S8 is not even the best camera phone in the Android world. So, the challenge falls on Apple to not only improve on its standard camera quality, while still adding groundbreaking features like the Portrait Mode.

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