Last fall, Apple came out swinging with the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The fruit company’s latest flagship has an advanced triple-camera system meant to provide users with the ultimate mobile photography experience. Samsung rose to meet the challenge with its Galaxy S20 series, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra in particular. This new phone boasts one of the most capable multi-camera systems in the market. Is one better than the other? Find out in our Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max camera shootout.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max: Specs
Before we dive into the photos, let’s take a gander at the hardware. Each device has a complex system stuck on the back, with myriad cameras working together to produce results.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s main shooter captures 108MP at f/1.8. Of note: it has a really large 1/1.33 sensor, which lets it capture a lot of light. This is what powers its nighttime features. Shots taken with this camera are binned down by a factor of nine (nona-binning) to 12MP each, but the full resolution is available with the press of a button. The telephoto camera snaps 48MP shots at f/3.5, the ultra-wide snaps 12MP shots at f/2.2, and the selfie camera snaps 40MP shots (binned to 10MP) at f/2.2. A time-of-flight (ToF) sensor helps with depth information. That’s a lot of sensors and lenses.
Apple’s approach is similar though not quite the same. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a three-camera setup on the rear. Apple opted for three 12MP sensors for the ultra-wide, standard, and telephoto cameras. The ultra-wide enjoys an aperture of f/2.4 and a 120-degree field of view, while the standard camera has an aperture of f/1.8, and the 2x optical zoom telephoto offers an aperture of f/2.0. These are joined by a 12MP selfie camera at f/2.2. Apple does not use a ToF sensor, nor does it use pixel-binning.
Samsung and Apple rely on entirely different processing platforms. The S20 Ultra, for example, relies on the Snapdragon 865 system-on-a-chip. The 865 provides a range of advanced imaging tools, including machine learning and a dedicated image signal processor. Apple, on the other hand, uses its home-grown A13 Bionic chip with a third-generation neural engine.
Pitting the performance of these two processors head to head is not exactly an (ahem) apples-to-apples comparison, so we’re not going to deliver a verdict here. We do know, however, that the Snapdragon 865 bested the A13 on some benchmarks.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max: Apps and features
Specs are important at determining the results, but the software is often doing most of the work. How are the camera apps from Samsung and Apple?
Both Samsung and Apple have straight-forward camera applications that make it a breeze to find and use features. A double-press of the power button launches the camera app of the S20 Ultra, but there’s no way to truly rapidly launch the iPhone camera app. The best you can do is wake the screen and tap the camera shortcut on the lock screen. I wish Apple had a speedier method.
Samsung simplified its camera UI recently in One UI 2.0. The shutter button is located prominently, with camera modes and zoom tools nearby. I like that Samsung makes certain controls (flash, timer, aspect ratio, etc.) a breeze to adjust with a few quick taps. Shooting modes include photo, video, Single Take, pro, panorama, food, night, live focus (portrait), live focus video, pro video, super slow-mo, slow-mo, and hyperlapse.
The most significant mode is Single Take, which records up to 10 seconds of video and then automatically generates up to nine different photo/video file types for sharing.
Apple has long offered a dead-simple camera app to iPhone users. The main viewfinder offers easy access to the wide-angle, standard, and 2x telephoto lenses, as well as the bevy of shooting modes. These include photo, video, time-lapse, slow-mo, portrait, and panorama. The far side of the viewfinder is where you’ll find buttons for the flash, live photos, and the timer.
While the Samsung app has more overall features, the Apple app is a touch easier to use. With these in mind, we’ll call the Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max camera app comparison a draw.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max: Camera shootout
Daylight shots are where every camera should shine. There’s not a lot of greenery around just yet, but I did take the Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max comparison outdoors to see what’s what.
In these shots, you’ll see blue skies, brown trees, gray gravel, and lots of contrast. In fact, the iPhone shots are over contrast-y if you ask me. The S20 Ultra shots have less contrast but also a touch less color. In this series, I prefer the S20’s results over the iPhone’s, particularly because they are more in line with what my eyes saw when I took the pictures.
Winner: Galaxy S20 Ultra