Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs iPhone 13 Pro Max camera test: Why one is my favorite

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If you have the cash to spend and want to buy a smartphone that’s top of its league for photography, you basically have two choices.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max are both good options – they top our list of best camera phones, and if you follow tech news you’ll probably have seen countless samples both.

However, given that the former is Android and the latter is iOS, and tech users tend to draw a line in the sand between operating systems and stick with one, you rarely see people compare their camera prowess.

And that’s a shame – it means people who call either the ‘best camera phone’ haven’t usually tested both. And when you’ve seen them together, it’s usually by camera experts who take photos of the two and then spend years analyzing them in a lab, disregarding the human factor.

So to rectify that, we needed a neutral party to make a decision – and that’s where I come in. I don’t really like iPhones Where Samsung Galaxy S Mobiles – I prefer mobiles like I do my beer, cheap and cheerful. So to see which photo experience was more fun, I picked up both phones and took them for a camera test around the canals near TechRadar’s office in London.

A brief spec comparison

Before I dive into what I found in my camera test, I think I should briefly list the specs of the phones for people who don’t know.

Camera type iPhone 13 Pro Max Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Major 12MP f/1.5 26mm 180MP f/1.8 23mm
Ultra-wide 12MP f/1.8 13mm 130 degree 12MP f/2.2 13mm 120 degree
Telephoto 12MP f/2.8 77mm 3x zoom 10MP f/2.4 70mm 3x zoom
Periscope None 10x 10MP f/4.9 230mm zoom

Standard pictures? too similar

When I started taking standard (1x) photos on the iPhone and Galaxy, I quickly noticed something, and putting the photos on my PC and zooming them to a larger size made it clearer .

For images like these, the differences are basically small enough to be irrelevant. At least on my standard PC monitor the colors look almost identical, the field of view is almost the same (albeit a touch wider on the Samsung). And there are no huge changes between photos.

Sure, you can zoom in and point to tiny areas where there are slight differences – the top left balconies are a bit overexposed on the Samsung, and the iPhone clearly loses detail when you start zooming – but the Won’t most people do that?

No, for shots like this, both mobiles basically work the same. So I needed to be more artistic.

Big plans

I love a nice macro image as much as the next person…but apparently neither Apple nor Samsung do that, otherwise they would have made taking close-up photos much easier.

You see, both use their ultra-wide cameras to take macro shots, and both automatically switch to these when you place the phone near a subject. However, the results weren’t perfect either.

When I held the Galaxy S22 Ultra close to these leaves, hoping to get focus on the few closest leaves and the rest of the leaves slightly out of focus with a nice puddle of blur in the background, it took a lot of coercion to make that happen. I had to hold the phone really still and manually adjust the focus using the on-screen controls.

While it was boring on the Galaxy, it was downright impossible on the iPhone. The device flickered between its lenses seemingly at random when near the leaves, and there was no consistent way to get the right level of focus or keep the phone in macro mode. And sometimes when this mode would kick in, the completely wrong thing would come into focus.

So the images you see aren’t actually taken in macro mode, just because I couldn’t adjust the iPhone well enough to make sure it would shoot well. Both phones lose points here (because neither has a dedicated macro camera like some other mobiles), although the iPhone loses more.

go wide

When I uploaded these ultra-wide images to the TechRadar website, I had to double check that I hadn’t accidentally uploaded the same image twice – they are nearly identical.

Both ultra-wide cameras have the same resolution and nearly the same field of view, colors are basically the same, and there’s no noticeable difference in distortion between the two. In fact, the main way you can tell it’s different images is that there’s more dock on the iPhone snap.

The lack of differences between iPhone and Samsung here doesn’t mean much to me – I don’t really like the look of ultra-wide images – but it does mean this section can be nice and short!

Zoom in a bit

Now for the good stuff – zoom.

Both Samsung and Apple phones offer 3x optical zoom on their telephoto lens (though admittedly the Galaxy has a second zoom camera, which we’ll get to later). But note that this doesn’t mean they zoom equally – it’s 3x compared to their own respective ‘standard’ modes.

Because the iPhone has a longer focal length for its main camera, that means its 3x zoom takes it farther than on the Samsung. The images clearly show this – you can’t see any clear skies in the Pro Max shot.

For the photo of this tree, the iPhone snap works – it frames the branches nicely. However, when you zoom in, a weird iPhone glitch pops up – look at the house on the left. It’s oddly yellowish in the Pro Max shot, more so than the S22 Ultra shot (and compared to the real house).

So there are good and bad things about both snaps, although if the push were to push, I’d have to pick the iPhone 13 snap as my favorite. If that was the end of the camera test there would be a clear winner – but sadly Apple’s offerings go no further.

Zoom further

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like ultra-wide shots – no, I love using telephoto or periscope snappers to close the distance. And the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s camera prowess crumbles when you try anything beyond 3x zoom.

The phone’s maximum limit is 15x, and thanks to the 12MP sensor used on the telephoto lens being a bit low resolution, going anywhere near that zoom level results in pixelated shots (since digital zoom is essentially cropped).

Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra – it can achieve 10x optical zoom with its periscope camera and can go up to 100x digital zoom if desired. It’s just far superior for this kind of image.

Keep in mind that zoom photography isn’t just useful for capturing distant boats or animals. It’s also ideal for close-up shots, of nearby pets or flowers from a medium distance, as the focal length results in shots with a nice depth of field.

During my camera test, I often encountered subjects that I simply couldn’t capture because the iPhone didn’t zoom in far enough. And in these circumstances, only the Galaxy could help.

Carry

It’s not the be-all and end-all of camera testing – I didn’t capture using any other camera modes, neither at night nor take selfies. But I wanted to emulate the kind of photography I would do on a normal day.

Thanks to its zooming prowess, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra has quickly become my go-to for photos. It gave me the versatility I needed to switch from ultra-wide to super-zoom depending on the needs of the subject.

The fact that the iPhone is uncomfortable to use (thanks to its flat edges) and has a fiddly camera app didn’t help either, but it’s really in the zoom department that the Samsung stood out.

Hopefully Apple learns a thing or two in time for the iPhone 14 launch – for a super expensive phone, 3x optical zoom just isn’t enough.

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