The madness of fall smartphone season is almost over. While Google and Oppo still have flagships set for release later, the four most mainstream and buzzed about phones of this season are the iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei Mate 30 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Fold and the OnePlus 7T. As per tradition, it’s time for a camera showdown between these four.
- All photos were shot in back-to-back-to-back in consecutive order. I repeat the cycle at least twice to find the most consistent set without variance in lighting and background.
- All shots were captured in point-and-shoot mode, without manually tweaking the exposure dial or focus points. The point of this is to see if the camera can intelligently focus and find balance automatically.
- Most photos were captured in challenging conditions (wide-angle shot at night; in pitch black settings; against backlight, etc.) on purpose. Every phone can capture great stills in great lighting in 2019. It’s the challenging situations that separate the great from the good.
- I examined all photos on my 40-inch Dell monitor at home at full size. But when posting to this article, photos have been scaled down. Still, the nature of posting digital images on a website, to be viewed on what is likely a smartphone screen, will result in image compression and data loss. To that end, I’ve uploaded original photos to this Google Drive folder for those interested in examining the images closer.
Test 1: standard shot against backlight
This is a relatively easy shot to pull off for a 2019 flagships, and all four phones deliver great images. Surprisingly, the iPhone 11 Pro, which usually has the best balance, has blown out the sky and clouds, while Samsung’s image has the usual extra contrast for additional flair. Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro also blows out the sky a bit, while the OnePlus 7T has produced the most balanced image. But OnePlus’s image appears a bit flat compared to Samsung’s shot, especially in the lower half of the photo. Samsung’s part is more covered in shadows, which normally isn’t ideal, but makes an image with more oomph in my opinion.
Test 2: wide-angle lens at night
This is a very challenging condition, as wide-angle lenses on smartphones have traditionally struggled with details and sharpness under less-than-perfect lighting.
The first thing to notice is that Huawei’s new 40-megapixel wide-angle lens has a narrower field-of-vision than the other three phones. Samsung’s wide-angle lens has the widest FOV at 123-degrees, but you can see there’s slight barrel distortion in the corners, particularly the building on the upper right side is starting to curve. Apple’s image has the best color accuracy and balance–all the lights inside the main building are properly exposed–while the OnePlus 7T completely struggles and overexposes all the lights.
Let’s take a closer look. The following images are simply zoomed in versions of the above sets.
Once we have a closer look, we can see that Huawei’s whopping 40-megapixel wide-angle lens and larger-than-usual sensor size of 1/1.54-inch has come into play. The Mate 30 Pro’s wide-angle image is just significantly more detailed than the others, especially the iPhone’s image, which appears soft on details. The 7T’s image easily look the worse of the bunch.
Test 3: bokeh portraits
All four of these bokeh portrait shots turned out well, with respectable edge detection that mostly found its way around the subject’s hair. The iPhone 11 Pro’s depiction of the subject’s skin tone is by far the most natural, especially upon closer examination.
Samsung’s and OnePlus’ image processing each applied skin lightening effects on my friend. Huawei’s portrait, meanwhile has appeared to smoothened her skin.
It’s also worth noting that Huawei’s bokeh depth-of-field effect is a bit strong, looking unnatural upon closer examination. Though to be fair, this can be adjusted on the phone after the shot.
To declare a winner here is tricky. The iPhone’s portrait is by far the most realistic and accurate portrayal of the subject. But if you ask her, she’d take Samsung’s or OnePlus’s interpretation. But all four of these are excellent portraits.
Test 4: selfies
It’s the same story with selfies: Apple’s image is by far the most accurate, showing my bloated face and blemished skin in its un-edited form. The Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate 30 Pro completely smoothened my skin and slimmed my face, to a point that they look slightly unrealistic. In my opinion, OnePlus found the happy medium of keeping me still looking somewhat true to life without hurting my ego too much.
Test 5: 10x zoom
No contest here, Huawei takes this one in a landslide. What’s impressive is the Mate 30 Pro’s zoom prowess is already a step back from the P30 Pro, because the former doesn’t have the “Periscope” ultra-zoom lens used in the latter (Huawei says it’s due to design and space reasons). Still, the Mate 30 Pro’s 8-megapixel telephoto lens can achieve 3x lossless zoom and 30x digital zoom. Other phones in this test max out at 10x.
It’s worth mentioning that OnePlus 7T’s zoom lens, while no match for Huawei’s is clearly superior to Samsung’s and Apple’s too.
Test 6: night mode shots in extreme low light
This next set of “night mode” images were taken in a near pitch black room–with all lights off and curtains closed, with only a bit of light coming from the never-dim Hong Kong streets. I conducted this same test earlier this year with Huawei’s P30 Pro against the iPhone XS and Samsung Galaxy S10, and Huawei’s phone won in such a landslide that The Verge referenced my tweet in an article criticizing the iPhone’s sub-par cameras.
Apple has caught up.
Keep in mind: the room was near pitch black to my eyes at the time, so what the iPhone 11 Pro and Huawei Mate 30 Pro have pulled off is impressive. Samsung’s night mode needs a bit of work, it would seem. OnePlus’s image is respectable and considering the lowest price point of the phone, I’m not going to criticize it.
But it’s clear that Apple’s new night mode has leapfrogged a half dozen rivals to reach Huawei’s level of low-light wizardry. Now while Apple’s image looks more visually appealing with more natural white balance, Huawei’s image is still more detailed if we zoom in.
Test 7: macro shots
In this set, I got as close as I could to the cup of latte before losing focus and snapped the shot. The OnePlus 7T has a dedicated “ultra macro” mode that turns the wide-angle camera into a macro lens. The other three phones do not have the same feature, which explains why the 7T was able to get so much closer to the coffee. A clear win for OnePlus.
Test 8: video capabilities
All four phones have very capable video cameras that can record footage up to 4K/60fps, but the iPhone’s video camera is just on another level here. In the video samples above, you can see that the iPhone’s videos consistently found better balance and had better stabilization as I walked.
Also, the iPhone 11 Pro can zoom in and out–meaning jump between all three lenses–seamlessly, while there’s a slight hiccup on the other three phones whenever I zoom or pan out past a certain point.
It’s a tough call. The iPhone clearly wins in video, and “accurate” portraits. The iPhone also arguably wins in “night mode.” But Huawei has a far more capable zoom system and its wide-angle images suffer the least image detail degradation. Samsung’s and OnePlus’ cameras are very good, but each lost a category or two in major fashion. But the 7T is also several hundred dollars cheaper than the other handsets and has better software, including the camera app, than the other devices, so that should also count for something?