- Rafi Letzter/Business Insider
We compared the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus cameras – among the most-hyped features on the new Apple phones – with the Samsung Galaxy S7’s camera, and found that the S7 still comes out on top.
It’s a surprise, and a little disappointing. Apple’s iPhone-camera team is known for making world-class shooters to tuck in your pocket.
Until the Galaxy S7 blew the iPhone 6S Plus out of the water in our test back in March, no other company had unseated the iPhone from its throne atop the smartphone camera pile. So we expected Apple to come roaring back this year with a device that could put the S7 to shame.
And the iPhone 7 Plus has some talents the S7 doesn’t. A telephoto lens is a big deal because it adds a whole new kind of photographic capability not present on any other device. And the bokeh effect, which we haven’t had a chance to test, may turn out to work well enough to get excited about. (Given how the Huawei P9 performed, I’m still a bit skeptical about the potential of mere two-lens cameras in this area.)
But in a head-to-head shootout, the iPhone – now much closer to the Galaxy on specs – can’t quite keep up. The differences aren’t overwhelming, but they’re significant.
Check it out:
In bright sunlight, both phones tend to produce images of perfectly good quality.
Color and contrast look nice. You can see the iPhone tends to produce more conservative saturation and contrast than the Galaxy.
They’re also similarly sharp.
It looks as if the S7 is a bit sharper, but the difference is minimal.
And, of course, through the iPhone 7 Plus’s telephoto lens, zoomed-in photos are much sharper.
The most important advantage of the telephoto lens though is that its perspective is closer to a human eye. The result is images that look much less distorted.
The most obvious difference is consistency. Apple’s camera more actively searches for, and adjusts its exposure and focus when it spots, a face or body — so it tends to make significant changes from photo to photo. It’s a bit unnerving, but more a feature than a bug.
This can lead to mistakes though. I noticed a tendency to blow out the sky, seemingly to get optimal skin tones. It’s a ‘smart’ feature that feels like overkill, and a mistake the more straightforward Galaxy simply doesn’t make.
The iPhone 7 has an f/1.8 aperture, almost as good as the Galaxy’s f/1.7. There’s some difference in their native bokeh, but it’s pretty minimal. (The iPhone gets some nicer contrast and color in this photo.)
Aperture is a measure of how wide the opening for light to pass through the lens is. Lower numbers mean wider openings, more light, and nicer bokeh. Bokeh is the texture of the out-of-focus background.
The Galaxy can also focus a bit closer than the iPhone.
My biggest gripe with the iPhone is its autofocus. Samsung introduced a lightning-fast autofocus on the S7, and the iPhone 7 feels slow and clunky in comparison. It’s also less precise, regularly making mistakes like in the image below. The Galaxy S7 almost never makes a focus mistake.
Another area the iPhone 7 falls short: dynamic range. The Apple camera regularly blows out highlights in mixed light that the Samsung phone captures.
Here’s another example.
It looks to me, blowing up the first example, as though the Galaxy S7 gets a bit more shadow detail and color than the iPhone 7 as well.
The iPhone 7 improves significantly from the 6S in nighttime shooting, but it’s still not quite on the Galaxy S7’s level.
You can see how much more detail the Galaxy’s lens captures.
Verdict: The iPhone 7 camera is a significant improvement over the 6S. And the telephoto lens is a very nice feature that has been a long time coming to phones. But the Galaxy S7 still comes out on top on raw quality.
- Rafi Letzter/Business Insider