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I took a bunch of photos the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the Galaxy S20 Ultra, and it’s clear that Apple and Samsung have very different ideas of what makes a good photo

I took a bunch of photos the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the Galaxy S20 Ultra, and it’s clear that Apple and Samsung have very different ideas of what makes a good photo

galaxy s20 vs iphone 11 pro

Smartphone makers have their own ideas of what your photos should look like — that much becomes clear after you’ve looked at innumerable photos taken by dozens upon dozens of smartphones over the years, like I have.

Samsung and Apple, the two biggest names in the smartphone industry, have very different ideas of what your photos should look like. Both Samsung’s Galaxy S20 series and Apple’s iPhone 11 series have their own signature identity and characteristics when it comes to the photos they produce.

Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro takes nice, reserved photos that don’t appear like they’ve been overly processed, and you get a pleasing natural look of what you’ve captured. Samsung’s Galaxy S20, on the other hand, is like a high-octane energy drink — it boosts everything, including brightness, contrast, sharpness, HDR, and colors, resulting in a photo that looks far more processed than the iPhone.

There’s no right or wrong look to a photo. It’s as subjective to you as it is subjective to the companies who make the smartphones in your hands. It’s up to you to decide which one fits what you’re looking for.

Author’s note: I tested using Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro Max and Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra. While camera hardware differs between models within a series, the resulting photos are largely the same across each phone series. Thus, the following photos below accurately represent their respective model series, including the iPhone 11 and Galaxy S20 series. Also, these two phones were the only ones I had from each series at the time, as other models are with other colleagues. Given current events, sharing review units between coworkers is significantly more difficult.

iPhone 11 Pro Max

Overall, no one can complain about the iPhone’s photo of a flower. Everything on the flower looks in focus, colors are deep and rich, contrast is balanced, colors are accurate. The same can be said about almost every other iPhone 11 Pro Max photo below, too.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

The Galaxy S20 Ultra takes a phenomenally sharp photo of the flower here, which works in its favor. You can see detail here that you can’t see in the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s photo.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra also ups the contrast and color saturation, making for a more dramatic photo.

However, some of the outer edges of the petals in the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s photo appear out of focus.

iPhone 11 Pro Max

Again, not much to fault here from the iPhone 11 Pro Max. This photo offers a pretty accurate view of what I saw.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Samsung’s photo looks very sharp, and colors are overly boosted here. The extra sharpness has a slight thinning and cluttering effect almost everything compared to the iPhone’s photo. Also notice that the clouds are overblown and partly void of detail compared to the iPhone’s photo.

With that said, it seems as if Samsung has remedied its historically insatiable desire to brighten up areas that should, in fact, remain darker, like shadowy details and shady areas. Samsung also seems to have improved how it captures the color green. Samsung phone cameras would often produce neon greens for foliage and grass, but the situation has improved.

iPhone 11 Pro Max — ultra-wide lens

Surprisingly, it’s the iPhone 11 Pro Max that boosts colors in this ultra-wide photo compared to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. Both photos look nearly identical, except for the clouds, which have more detail than the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s photo.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra — ultra-wide lens

In this camera comparison, and based on my experience with Samsung smartphone cameras, Samsung phones don’t handle cloud detail as well.

iPhone 11 Pro Max — 5x zoom

People who often use their zoom cameras — or would like better quality zoomed photos in their next smartphone — will find that the iPhone 11 Pro series does a decent job. But, the iPhone 11 Pro series is nowhere near as good at zooming as the Galaxy S20 series, as shown in the photo below.

I should also note that the standard iPhone 11 that doesn’t have the “Pro” nomenclature comes with only a regular and ultra-wide angle camera — it doesn’t have a zoomed lens. Only the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max have a zoomed lens, so the standard iPhone 11 is unlikely to take similar or better photos, and is actually more likely to take lesser zoomed photos than the one you see above.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra — 5x zoom

The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 5x zoomed photo is stunning compared to the iPhone’s photo. If you like zooming or anticipate zooming more often, there’s zero doubt that the Galaxy S20 series is more capable than the iPhone 11 Pro series.

iPhone 11 Pro Max

The iPhone played it safe here, and it didn’t pay off, at least when you compare it to the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s photo below.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Sometimes, Samsung’s tendency to boost contrast, color saturation, sharpness, and HDR can have a truly positive impact. It’s just a shame that Samsung’s can’t seem to get the clouds right.

iPhone 11 Pro Max

Again, this a “safe” photo from Apple that won’t likely offend or raise any eyebrows. Everything is well balanced.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra, on the other hand, saw that this totem pole needed more contrast to reveal some of its finer details, and it was right to do so. The result is a a more dramatic and detailed photo.

iPhone 11 Pro Max

Remaining safe is just that — pleasing, realistic, accurate — and that’s exactly what Apple has sought to do with the iPhone 11 Pro’s cameras.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

The Galaxy S20 Ultra often decides, however, that your photos need extra pizzazz, which is exactly what it’s done with this photo of these dinosaurs — it’s given them a contrast and color saturation boost, which can pay off.

Those clouds, though…

iPhone 11 Pro Max

In a less natural setting like a town’s downtown area, the iPhone delivers an accurate look at what I was seeing. With that said, there’s an odd haze here that I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t directly comparing this photo with the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

In its quest to make your photos look better, the Galaxy S20 Ultra misstepped here and added more contrast than was needed. It makes you squint to see some darker detail, and the boosted sharpness creates a busy and cluttered look, especially in foliage, compared to the iPhone’s photo. Still, there’s no hazy look here, like there is on the iPhone’s photo.

iPhone 11 Pro Max — Night mode

It’s amazing that smartphones can take such incredible photos in such low-light settings, especially those with some brighter areas coming from street lights, and in this case, a giant light-up clock.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra — Night mode

The Galaxy S20 Ultra takes an equally stunning low-light photo, but it’s proficient in different ways than the iPhone.

Here, the Galaxy S20 Ultra managed the bright lights from the street light and the street clock far better than the iPhone. The boosted sharpness also makes the photo and details appear sharper, overall.

However, the iPhone did a better job overall with colors and brightness.

The bottom line

So, what’s for who?

In this case, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re an iPhone fan, but you like the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s boosted photos, I wouldn’t tell you to switch to the Galaxy S20 series just for the sake of the camera. There are plenty of apps, including Apple’s own Photos app, that can automatically and quickly give your photos a little Samsung-style boost, should you want it.

If you’re a Samsung or Android fan, and you like the safe, reserved iPhone 11 series photos more, I wouldn’t tell you to switch to iPhone, either. However, it is harder to tone down your boosted Samsung-style photos to a “safer” iPhone-style look.

With that said, there is one area where one smartphone is indisputably better than the other. If you like to zoom, or anticipate zooming more with your next smartphone, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 series, whether it’s the $1,000 Galaxy S20, $1,200 Galaxy S20 Plus, or $1,400 Galaxy S20 Ultra will offer significantly better zoomed photos.