Samsung’s latest and greatest smartphones have arrived in the form of the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra, so Appleiphonestop compared its spectacular cameras with Apple’s own line of iPhones to find the best snapper.
We were excited to get our hands on the new Note devices, with Samsung touting some amazing new improvements for the cameras. Between the high resolution, incredible zoom, and 8K video, there was a lot to check out, so we hit the road to capture some stellar shots that show off the camera’s capabilities.
While there are a few sample images included in the piece, watch the video for all of our test plans.
A look at the specifications
For this comparison, we’re going to take a look at the Galaxy Note 20, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, as well as the iPhone 11 Pro. The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max have the same lens configuration, so photos taken with one will look the same as if taken with the other.
One thing to remember is that iPhones are now about a year old, with the 12-inch iPhone closer to release. However, this is still a useful comparison, as the iPhone 11 line will still be around for quite some time and is still the most recent iPhone to compare.
Taking a closer look at the cameras, all devices come with a 12MP ultra wide angle lens. These are the other lenses where it gets interesting.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 sports a 12MP wide-angle lens as well as a 64MP telephoto lens. These two lenses combined are capable of offering a 3X hybrid zoom as well as a maximum 30X digital zoom.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is equipped with a 108MP wide-angle lens alongside a 12MP tele lens. It is capable of achieving 5X optical zoom and 50X digital zoom.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has 12MP ultra-wide, 108MP wide and 12MP TV
It’s good to see that Samsung has listened to its audience and pulled out of the 100X “super zoom” offered with the S20 series. Photos produced at 100X were grainy at best and largely unusable.
Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max both have a 12 MP widescreen and 12 MP telephoto lens with 2X optical zoom and 10X digital zoom.
Portrait mode, 108MP mode, live focus, panorama,
It seems that every year these cameras have more and more facets, only in stock camera apps, not to mention third-party apps. We don’t want to spend too much time on all of these, but wanted to give some general impressions of our time using them.
Both phones still include a portrait-style shooting mode, which Apple calls Portrait mode and Samsung calls Live Focus. These haven’t changed much since the last phones we tested.
Samsung always leans towards the “fun” side with effects such as background swirls as well as normal blur. Apple has focused a lot on replicating the lighting effects of the real world and generally creating a more polished image.
Which is best depends on the style you prefer.
The panoramas taken with each camera give photos of different sizes
Panoramas are also a common mode of shooting. We took a few sample photos from the phones and did our best to keep the same speed each time, but the photos ended up being completely different sizes.
The iPhone image was the widest, while the Note 20 was the most compact, and the Note 20 Ultra fell somewhere in between. I prefer the wide aspect to these, as the more compact the image, the more distortion noticeable in tighter shots.
Wider shots also lend themselves more to large prints.
The last peculiarity we wanted to address was the Note 20 Ultra’s impressive 108MP mode. Despite having that many megapixels on the sensor, it defaults to a much more reasonable size, but the user has the option to enable that massive 108MP resolution if they wish.
When we tested this it didn’t make a huge difference. Little additional detail was captured in the photo and you can zoom in a bit more, but at this point you may as well have used the optical zoom offered by the phone to begin with.
Shooting every day
For your normal and everyday shots, these cameras compare quite well. Samsung still has the slightly oversaturated look it’s known for, and in some ways it has worked well.
The water images we took actually looked more lifelike than the slightly scaled-down photos found on the iPhone. In the flower photos you can see below, the flowers were so oversaturated that they lost a bit of detail and contrast.
In low-light shots, like the one of our puppy Mosby below, the iPhone managed to extract a bit more detail. Mosby was photographed with a three-second shutter in night mode on all three devices, and the Samsung Note’s photos look good, but not as crisp.
We also did a seven second shutter of the night sky. The iPhone was again slightly brighter – albeit grainy – and the Note 20 photos were unusable with almost all of the black in the images.
The image of our toasted marshmallow wearer shows just how much better emphasis the iPhone has put in. The bubbles in the head were super sharp as the Samsung always seems to have issues with autofocus.
This year Samsung is using lasers to help focus, but in this image of a curved cup, the autofocus decided to focus on the front of the transparent cup rather than the top ring, the head. beer or toasted marshmallow.
In general, the focus system seems improved compared to the Galaxy S20.
In this alley photo, the iPhone had better exposure
These flowers lacked contrast and were oversaturated on both images Note
The focus of the note was an issue here, focusing on the left front of the cup rather than the top.
IPhone performed better here in low light with more details on Mosby
Low light shot of an indoor lamp
The night sky looked fine, although the Ultra skewed the white balance
Note shots looked more true to life in this water photo
Where Samsung really shines is with the telescoping capabilities of its new devices. The Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra wow Apple in terms of picture quality.
Our distant subject shot at 1X for our zoom test
In our samples, we shot a lighthouse that was at a significant distance. Our iPhone photo at 10X looked absolutely fine, but the Note 20 at 10X was much better due to its hybrid zoom and higher resolution tele lens.
The Note 20 Ultra’s 50X shot was the sharpest at this level, although it was also starting to lose definition.
iPhone zoomed in to 50X compared to Note 20 Ultra at 50X is a no-brainer
When we zoomed in 50X and looked at a target this far, it became increasingly difficult for us to keep the subject in the shot, making this level of zoom unnecessary in moving situations.
Note 20 at 30X vs. iPhone at 30X shows how far Samsung is ahead
We wanted to test the zoom capabilities again, so we took a few pictures at a multitude of kites flying through the air. When zoomed in to 50X, the iPhone images were a distorted mess, while the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was very easy to discern what we were looking for.
It might not be sharp enough to do anything, but in some situations it can create some very usable photos.
The Note 20 Ultra at 50X is even better than both
Apple’s professional cameras are definitely starting to look outdated compared to these incredible new TV capabilities on Samsung’s latest phones.
This camera comparison was particularly focused on photo capabilities, but video should at least be mentioned. We played around with it a bit and are so excited at the prospect of amazing 8K video recording on smartphones.
It’s true that there aren’t many 8K TVs or monitors in homes, but when shooting 8K you can crop the video to keep at least 4K resolution. You’re limited to just 24 fps on the Notes, but that’s more than enough, making it a potentially invaluable tool for mobile filmmakers.
On iPhone, we’re still limited to 4K at 60 frames per second. Fingers crossed, we see improvements in this area on the upcoming iPhone 12.
So who is the best shooter?
Choosing a winner here is difficult. In everyday shots, we leaned a bit towards the iPhone for the less saturated images, better focus, and better portrait mode. The overall tone of the picture can be adjusted after the fact though, so if it’s a white balance, contrast, or saturation issue, it can all be changed a bit after.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra
Samsung is bringing it out of the park with the TV capabilities here. Some extreme zoom shots may be too distorted to be usable, but even 10X images are much better than 10X images on the iPhone.
Apple really needs to step up its game when it comes to zooming. Apple’s strategy seems to be to prioritize your typical shots and the wide-angle lens, but if you want something beyond 5X, the images start to suffer a lot from this comparison.