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Feature Articles

Samsung Galaxy S7 vs. Apple iPhone 6s Plus: Who takes better photos?

By Alvin Soon - 21 Apr 2016

Introduction

Note: This article was first published on 19th March 2016.

 

Introduction

As a camera reviewer, you sometimes do weird things. Like stand in one spot, and whip out four smartphones from your camera bag while an irritated tourist stands beside you, waiting for you to go away so she can take the same shot.

All in the name of discovering the ‘better’ camera.

Sometimes, it really is possible to find the ‘better’ camera, when one outperforms the other so much that it’s easy to call. Sometimes, it’s hard, as one comes close to the other, and each is good at something the other isn’t. Spoiler alert; that’s kind of how this story ends.

Today’s two competitors are the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (its review here) and the Apple iPhone 6s Plus. The iPhone 6s Plus was my choice for best smartphone camera of 2015, and we thought it’d be interesting to see how Samsung’s latest fares against the iPhone 6s Plus. For a lark, I also pull out the Note 5 from time to time, to see how Samsung’s latest generation phone compares to its predecessor.

Note: The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have identical Sony sensors, so their test results should be similar — except when they come with Samsung’s ISOCELL sensors. Our S7 Edge is running the Sony sensor.

  Apple iPhone 6s Plus Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
Sensor Size 1/3” 1/2.55”
Megapixels 12MP 12MP
Pixel Pitch 1.22µm 1.4µm
Focal Length 29mm 26mm
Aperture f/2.2 f/1.7
Auto-focus Phase detect Phase-detect
Optical Image Stabilization Yes Yes
Flash Dual LED Single LED
Raw Output N.A. Yes
Front-facing camera 5MP 5MP
Max. Video Resolutions
  • 3,840 x 2,160 (4K)
  • 1,920 x 1,080 (Full-HD)
  • 3,840 x 2,160 (4K)
  • 1,920 x 1,080 (Full-HD)

 

User experience — which works better?

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is the smoother smartphone to shoot with.

The S7 Edge has blazingly fast auto-focus

First of all, its auto-focus (AF) is blazingly fast. The S7s come with dual pixel AF technology. They’re not the first cameras in the world to have it; Canon first introduced dual pixel AF in 2013 with the EOS 70D DSLR, but the S7s are the first smartphones in the world to implement it.

Not only is the new AF system fast, it’s also accurate, which is critical. I’ve used cameras that also had fast AF, but they were simply faster to the wrong target. The S7 Edge nails the subject more accurately than not.

This is especially obvious when it comes to shooting in low light. The S7 Edge locks onto the subject much more quickly than the iPhone 6s Plus, which can hunt for its subject in low light and sometimes gets it wrong.

I was skeptical when dual pixel AF was announced on the new S7s, as poor AF wasn’t really a complaint on previous Samsung flagship smartphones. But it makes a difference in real life, making shooting feel smoother and easier. Once you get used to the S7s’ AF speed, you can’t go back.

The S7 Edge’s UI has something for everyone

I also appreciate how the S7 Edge’s camera app caters for both everyday users as well as pro users. It’s nice to be able to save to raw for those important shots with tricky lighting, though the S7 Edge is still missing an easy way to quickly switch to raw — you can only select it in the Settings menu.

The camera app has Auto controls for most users, and Pro controls for advanced users.

It’s still missing a quick way to save to raw, right now it’s either all raw with JPEG or just JPEG, and you need to take a trip into Settings to decide.

I noticed that the manual controls have been refined from the Note 5’s; whereas before you couldn’t quickly reset manual settings back to auto, now you can.

I’ve manually set ISO 200 in this scene, but I can just tap ‘Auto’ to quickly get back to Auto ISO and reset.

I have to say that the AMOLED display also makes a difference when shooting; the screen is easier to discern in bright environments than the iPhone’s LCD screen. Photos appear more vibrant and vivid on the Samsung’s screen compared to the iPhone’s, although they might appear similar back on the PC.

Oh, iPhone

Now, the iPhone 6s Plus’s camera app remains easy to use for most people, but it’s become increasingly more frustrating how you can’t access the manual controls and get raw files out, even with third-party apps.

There’s no doubt that the iPhone’s camera app is well-designed and easy to use, but it misses any features for advanced users.

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