iPhone 15 Pro Max Camera vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra

We’ve matched Samsung’s and Apple’s top phones to determine which one captures superior photos.

iPhone 15 Pro Max Camera vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra
iPhone 15 Pro Max Camera vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra

iPhone 15 Pro Max Camera vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra

The iPhone 15 Pro Max features one of the most capable phone cameras available. Its primary 48-megapixel sensor captures remarkable photos, and the telephoto lens now offers 5x zoo. This makes it ideal for close-ups of distant subjects. However, it’s not the sole excellent camera phone choice. Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra, which debuted earlier this year, continues to be one of our top recommendations for photographers. It excels in capturing high-quality images in various conditions, and its 10x zoom provides additional creative possibilities.

However, how do these two phones stack up in terms of their photography capabilities? To determine this, I conducted a series of tests in London and Edinburgh, including challenges related to night mode photography, zoom capabilities, and portrait mode.

In brief, both phones excel at capturing Instagram-worthy photos. However, continue reading to discover how each phone performs in various situations.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra Comparison

Both phones have effectively captured this bright and vibrant scene using their primary cameras. However, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has delivered more realistic colors in both the sky and the main building on the left side of the scene. The S23 Ultra’s sky appears notably oversaturated, featuring a yellowish tint that I find less appealing.

The situation remains consistent when transitioning to the wide-angle lens on both phones. The S23 Ultra’s shot is livelier but appears excessively saturated, almost unnaturally so. In contrast, the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s shot seems somewhat subdued in comparison, yet I appreciate its truer color representation.

Apart from a minor difference in white balance, there’s little to distinguish between the two shots in this case.

Color Balance 

I aimed both phones’ primary cameras at some lovely pink flowers from a closer perspective, and the iPhone emerges as the obvious winner. It has delivered a pleasing background bokeh effect while maintaining sharpness in the subject, making the foreground flowers stand out beautifully.

In contrast, the S23 Ultra lacks the same depth effect, and its colors are excessively saturated. Especially, the green leaves in the bottom left of the image appear almost unnaturally vibrant when compared to the iPhone’s much more true-to-life tones.

Color balance isn’t a concern in this case, as both phones have captured well-exposed shots, and the vibrant artwork on this bridge appears well-rendered in both pictures.

There’s minimal immediate distinction here, so I need to scrutinize to form a conclusion. On one hand, I slightly lean towards the S23 Ultra for its brighter, higher-contrast exposure. However, the iPhone 15 Pro Max offers a more appealing shallow depth of field, with a softer bokeh effect evident on the chairs and background light sources. Consequently, we can consider this a draw.

When using the ultrawide cameras on both phones, the notable distinction lies in the change in white balance on the S23 Ultra. Samsung’s phone has produced an image with a noticeable magenta color cast that doesn’t quite appeal to me. Although the iPhone’s shot is slightly darker, its color balance is far more precise.

Both phones offer portrait modes that work with various lenses to achieve the appealing bokeh effect around the subject. When taken with the standard 1x lenses, the S23’s shot is wider than the iPhone’s, with richer contrast and more vibrant colors. In contrast, the iPhone’s shot appears somewhat washed out, possibly due to lens flare or software processing, resulting in a less satisfying outcome.

Zoom Comparisons 

The perspective shifts when we examine the zoomed-in photos. The iPhone Pro Max’s 5x zoom lens has beautifully captured this portrait, featuring excellent exposure and a very natural-looking bokeh effect around the subject, resembling shots taken with a DSLR camera equipped with a telephoto zoom. Nonetheless, the S23 Ultra’s shot remains impressive, showcasing rich contrast and deep colors.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 5x zoom has produced a considerably superior shot compared to the S23 Ultra’s 3x lens, displaying more natural colors and exposure. However, the S23 Ultra makes a noticeable improvement at 10x zoom, featuring a more pleasing overall color tone and the ability to capture more detail on the sign, courtesy of its extended zoom range.

The S23 Ultra’s extended zoom range can be advantageous, especially for those moments when you aim to capture a distant subject in full. However, I personally find the 5x zoom to be a real sweet spot. It allows me to explore more intriguing compositions compared to a wide-angle lens, all without feeling overly limiting.

That’s why, in this situation, I favor the iPhone 15 Pro Max over the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s closer 10x zoom. Of course, this largely depends on personal preference, but I find the iPhone’s zoom (similar to my experience with the Pixel 7 Pro’s 5x zoom) to be much more practical for everyday use.

Night Mode

Both the iPhone 15 Pro Max and Galaxy S23 Ultra perform admirably in low-light conditions, as evidenced by these samples from their primary cameras. However, it’s worth noting that the S23 Ultra’s image displays a more noticeable yellowish tint, whereas the iPhone 15 Pro Max retains finer details, particularly in certain areas of the brickwork on the buildings. The S23 Ultra’s image processing has slightly smoothed out some of those details.

The effect of detail smoothing becomes particularly evident in this nighttime picture of the building’s facade. The iPhone has effectively captured the brickwork details, showcasing noticeable texture on the sandstone blocks. In contrast, the S23 Ultra has identified this texture as image noise and has made an effort to eliminate it. Consequently, the result is an unusual, smoothed appearance that lacks the realism seen in the iPhone’s image.

This scene presents a mixed outcome. The S23 Ultra has effectively managed some of the bright highlights, whereas the iPhone has produced a brighter sky, enhancing the differentiation of the building tops. I don’t perceive one as significantly superior to the other in this case.

When we shift to the ultrawide lenses on both phones, it’s clear right away that the iPhone’s picture is brighter, both in the sky and the river below. Nevertheless, it’s a less detailed image, as the S23 Ultra manages sharper building details, maintains better control over highlights, and exhibits less image noise in the river.

Night Zoom

Nonetheless, I have a strong preference for the iPhone’s 5x zoom shot taken at night compared to either the 3x or 10x zoom shots from the S23 Ultra. The iPhone has delivered a remarkably sharp image in this scenario, boasting vibrant colors and excellent exposure. Even the bright clock face on the left is distinctly visible. Meanwhile, at 3x, the S23 Ultra is already losing some level of detail, and at 10x, the image appears disappointingly blurry and lacking in detail.

The S23 Ultra’s familiar magenta color cast is visible again in this night mode shot, with the iPhone generally producing more natural tones. Both shots are almost equally bright however, with almost nothing to choose between them in terms of clarity and detail.

Although the iPhone’s ultrawide night mode shot isn’t as sharp as the S23 Ultra’s, Samsung’s phone displays some undesirable noise artifacts in the sky—appearing as greenish blobs where the digital processing appears to have faltered. This outcome is disappointing for the S23 Ultra because, apart from that issue, its shot is superior to the iPhone’s.

The night mode zoom results here mirror what I observed in the previous test. The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 5x zoom has delivered a sharp and crisp image with effective noise control. On the other hand, the S23 Ultra’s 3x shot exhibits unwanted noise artifacts, while the 10x shot appears exceedingly murky and devoid of detail.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: Which captures Superior Photos?

This has been an incredibly close competition between these two formidable smartphones. In truth, both phones excel for photographers aiming to capture stunning images under various conditions. It’s only when you closely examine the details of each shot side by side that you can notice any substantial differences. Moreover, many of these distinctions are subjective. Nevertheless, considering the considerable cost of both phones, it’s essential to scrutinize these details to ensure your investment is worthwhile.

In general, I have a preference for the images captured by the iPhone 15 Pro Max. It consistently rendered more precise colors in nearly all of my tests, whereas the S23 Ultra often introduced unrealistic color casts due to auto white balance. Samsung’s phone also tended to produce oversaturated images, a trait that has persisted in Samsung phones for generations, whereas the iPhone maintains truer-to-life colors.

I also lean toward the 5x zoom of the Pro Max, as it captures more appealing images than the S23 Ultra’s 3x lens and is generally more practical than the Ultra’s 10x lens. Furthermore, in night mode, I noticed that the iPhone consistently produces better-looking shots, particularly when using the zoom feature.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do These Phones Offer Manual Camera Settings for Advanced Users?

Yes, both phones provide manual camera settings, allowing advanced users to fine-tune their photography parameters.

Are there Any Specific Scenarios Where One Phone Excels Over the Other?

Both phones perform exceptionally well in various scenarios, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max is often preferred for its performance in low light and zoom capabilities, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra may appeal to those who prefer more vibrant and contrast images.

Are there Noticeable Differences in Image Sharpness Between These Phones?

Yes, in some cases, there are differences in image sharpness. The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s images are often praised for their clarity and detail, especially in low-light conditions

Which Phone is Better for Professional Photographers?

The preference depends on the photographer’s style and needs. If you prefer more neutral and precise colors, the iPhone 15 Pro Max may be preferred. However, if you want vibrant, contrast images for immediate sharing, the Galaxy S23 Ultra could be the better choice.

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