By | November 29, 2023
I compared two of the year's best phones in an extreme camera test |  Digital trends

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max (left) and Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Apple vs. Samsung is perhaps the ultimate battle in smartphones, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max and Galaxy S23 Ultra are the two brands’ flagship devices. If you want one, you may have also watched the other, and even if not, who doesn’t want to see a tough on-camera battle between these two heavyweights?

We tested the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max’s camera alongside the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra to see which one comes out victorious.

We present the cameras

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

These are two of the best, most expensive smartphones you can buy right now, with massive screens and the fastest processors, but the cameras are quite different from each other. The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a main camera of 48 megapixels with optical image stabilization, a 12 MP wide-angle camera with a 120-degree field of view and a pair of 12 MP telephoto cameras that provide 2x and 5x optical zoom.

The main camera can be used to shoot at 24mm, 28mm and 35mm, giving further flexibility, plus there’s a 48MP full-resolution mode. I have not tested these against the Galaxy S23 Ultra. On the front is a 12MP camera with autofocus and image stabilization. Video is not part of the test, but we have some examples of its capabilities in this article; plus there’s an in-depth test of the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s video performance here.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Moving on to the Galaxy S23 Ultra, it has a massive 200MP main camera (which shoots at 12MP by default, down from the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 24MP standard), a 12MP 12-degree field-of-view wide-angle camera, and a pair of 10MP telephoto cameras for a 3x and a 10x optical zoom. Optical image stabilization is on board, along with laser autofocus. The front selfie camera has 12 megapixels.

The images in this test were taken over different days, all in auto mode. They have been resized for easier viewing online.

Main camera

The iPhone 15 Pro Max and the Galaxy S23 Ultra can often take very different pictures, and I’ll highlight a few here. It’s quite difficult to single out one main camera as better than the other in many situations, as the result is just another version of the same scene with the same high quality and detail. But in specific circumstances, such as when you get close, there are significant differences between them.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Take a look at the vegetable basket, where the iPhone 15 Pro Max shows so much more detail and texture, and the Galaxy S23 Ultra smooths out the image. Arguably, it has a slightly sharper focus, but the lack of texture gives it an artificial look that isn’t as visually appealing. The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s white balance is also more accurate.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

When I took the picture of the leaf, both phones activated the “macro” mode, which allows for better focus on close-up objects. The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s mode can rob photos of any depth, but that doesn’t matter here. Instead, look at the difference in color and details. The S23 Ultra’s photo is vivid and sharp, while the iPhone’s photo is drab and poorly focused. The S23 Ultra captured the essence of the scene much more attractively.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

The next picture was taken early in the morning when the autumn sun was low in the sky and both have different views of the environment. The iPhone is warmer and more natural, and it captured the blue in the sky that was somewhat missed by the S23 Ultra. There’s more noise in the S23 Ultra’s photo, and also some odd rainbow effects in the water, while the trees are over-processed. The iPhone’s photo is natural, and although noise is visible, the image has not been overly sharpened.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Finally, the image of the car shows most of the major differences between the two main cameras. The Galaxy S23 Ultra’s bold, vibrant colors play against the natural, sometimes a little too muted colors of the iPhone, but Apple’s camera fights back with its sharper, less processed look. Both are good shots, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max suits my taste more here. But when it switches to macro mode, the Galaxy S23 Ultra beats it every time.

It will be a total tie in this category, but personal taste means you may prefer the look of one over the other.

Winner: Tie

Wide angle camera

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Many of the features of the main camera are carried over to the wide-angle camera, but the effect is slightly altered. The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s exposure levels aren’t always quite right, and its natural tone isn’t always as pleasing here. In contrast, the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s vibrant tone and aggressive exposure levels make images more exciting. Where it can be overwhelming on the main camera, it can work better when shooting with the wide angle.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

The S23 Ultra has the edge on the image of the church, but its exuberance when it comes to RGB colors spoils the other image, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s softer touch captures the scene better. It was really cold, and this is conveyed better by the iPhone, and the exposure and white balance bring out the clouds in the sky more effectively too.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

The last photo here shows why this category is also difficult to judge. The Galaxy S23 Ultra’s photo is visually more interesting at a glance, but when you look closely, there’s a lot of noise in the clouds and water, ruining the otherwise sharp and poignant photo. The iPhone’s photo is nowhere near as sharp and suffers from noise, but not quite as much as the S23 Ultra’s photo. It’s not ideal, but this has to be another tie as neither consistently pulls ahead of the other.

Winner: Tie

Telephoto cameras

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max 1x
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 1x
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max 2x
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 3x
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max 5x
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 10x

A direct comparison is not possible in our telephoto category, as both cameras have different levels of optical zoom. We’ll start with a couple of galleries showing the differences between the capabilities of both cameras’ optical zoom modes. Above is a gallery showing the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 1x, 2x, and 5x photos and the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 1x, 3x, and 10x photos, so you can understand the differences in how close you can get to an object.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max 10x
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 10x

Next, let’s look at individual modes, starting with the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 10x optical zoom versus a 10x digital zoom taken with iPhone 15 Pro Max. It comes as no surprise that the S23 Ultra wins, taking a sharper, more detailed photo than the iPhone. The iPhone’s 10x digital image isn’t a disaster, though, and would still be passable except when juxtaposed with the S23 Ultra’s brilliant image.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max 5x
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5x

What happens when we switch roles and force the S23 Ultra to take a 5x digital zoom photo next to the iPhone’s 5x optical? The results are above. Neither is fantastic quality, and the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 5x mode comes close enough to the iPhone’s optical 5x that it won’t bother many leaning towards the S23 Ultra. The iPhone’s colors are more realistic, but since the S23 Ultra doesn’t rob the photo of as much detail or sharpness, it’s forgivable and can be fixed with an edit.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max 2x
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 3x

In the last image I compared the 2x and 3x cameras and had to reposition slightly to compensate for the different zoom levels, so there isn’t as much of a difference in composition. That’s another win for the Galaxy S23 Ultra, which has none of the noise from the iPhone’s photo, has a better white balance and has much sharper focus. The S23 Ultra has easily taken the win in this category.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Night mode

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s night shots are generally less noisy and better balanced than the S23 Ultra’s. Still, sometimes the Samsung phone can take an atmospheric shot that seems beyond its capabilities. The image above shows that the sky is less blue, the lights less blown out, and much less smoothing on the stone monument from the iPhone. It’s also not as bright as the S23 Ultra’s photo, which adds more atmosphere.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

I also prefer how the iPhone has handled the sign in the next shot, with its blacker board, textured pavement and wood, plus a great tone on the wall behind to bring out the shadows more. It’s more realistic and not as cold as the S23 Ultra’s photo, which is a bit too bright and sharp and accentuates the effect of the yellow street lights more.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

However, the Galaxy S23 Ultra stands out in the final photo here. The exposure is just right, to bring out more details in the church while keeping the surroundings in shadow and with really nice colors in the grass, stone and trees. The iPhone’s photo doesn’t capture the scene in the same way. However, this was a one-off for the S23 Ultra, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max otherwise always took better-balanced, less noisy photos in low light.

Winner: Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

Selfie camera

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

The two selfie cameras take very similar photos, with one big difference between them. The S23 Ultra makes my skin tone lighter compared to the iPhone, which looks less accurate to my eyes. The level of detail from both is pretty similar, but the blacks tend to be deeper from the S23 Ultra due to how it balances the contrast levels.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Is one better than the other? Like some other categories here, it can come down to personal taste. I like the iPhone 15 Pro’s selfie camera and appreciate how you can use the same easy-to-master portrait mode effects from the rear camera, and the edge detection is always very effective. The S23 Ultra’s bokeh effect doesn’t tend to have the same subtlety, but often its brighter shots are more flattering and fun. That’s another draw.

Winner: Tie

Both winners, and both are brilliant

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The camera battle between the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is tied, with both winning a single category each and tied in the other three. What is fascinating is that the two cameras captured different images, resulting in a different interpretation of the scene. But since both were technically very good, the “winner” will mostly come down to personal preference.

However, Samsung’s brilliant telephoto camera was the runaway winner, easily beating the iPhone 15 Pro Max – even managing to come really close to Apple’s optical zoom when shooting digitally. If you like to experiment, the S23 Ultra’s telephoto camera lets you get really creative and is a genuine reason to choose it over the iPhone. However, the Galaxy S23 Ultra isn’t that great in low light, and Apple’s software improvements greatly improve most photos taken in the dark.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max (left) and Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

If it comes down to personal preference, so what my personal preference after taking more than 100 shots with both cameras? It is an incredibly difficult choice.

The camera on the iPhone 15 Pro Max takes photos that I think are more visually appealing than the iPhone 14 Pro, and I love its overall natural tone. Still, the S23 Ultra’s telephoto camera is simply second to none. If I was forced to use just one camera it would probably be the Galaxy S23 Ultra because of this, but I would really miss the iPhone 15 Pro Max when I wasn’t using the telephoto.

Editor’s recommendations






#compared #years #phones #extreme #camera #test #Digital #trends

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *