Photo smackdown: iPhone XS Max versus Samsung's Galaxy Note 9

Posted:
in iPhone edited September 2018
Among everything new with the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, the camera saw the most love from Apple, with changes like a new larger sensor on the wide end, a brand new depth control feature which works incredibly well now that portrait blur is more accurate and a new Smart HDR feature.




The Samsung Galaxy Note 9's camera has similar 12MP sensors behind the telephoto and wide lenses. It also has a live focus feature that simulates background blur, which also allows you to adjust the blur after you snap a photo.

We went out to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and snapped a bunch of photos so we could see how Apple's new iPhone XS Max performs against the Note 9.

Comparing High Dynamic Range (HDR)

In this first portrait mode shot, you can see how much better the dynamic range is on the iPhone XS Max. The t-shirt in the Note 9's image is blown out, whereas the XS Max's image is completely balanced. Not only that, but the darkest areas in the shot are brighter on the iPhone.





Here, the sky on the Note 9 is overexposed, and there's a huge loss in color. If you take a close look at the buildings in the background, they're blown out as well. However, the Note 9 was able to keep the subject looking brighter and better exposed. We noticed much more saturation on the Note 9's image as well, which is a personal preference, but we prefer the more natural look.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Here's where the story changes. When shooting against the sun, the Note 9 does a much better job at dynamic range. The highlights look the same, but the Note 9 is able to keep the darkest areas of the scene looking brighter. There's less lens flare on the Note 9 as well.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Now here's a photo of the same scene except using portrait mode. The sunspot on the Note 9 is larger, but it does much better keeping the subject exposed properly. There's a massive flare on the iPhone XS Max's image again.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


In this shot, the Note 9 has noticeably better dynamic range inside the parking garage.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9

Comparing Portrait & Live Focus Mode Photos

In this portrait mode shot, you'll notice that the XS Max has more blur in the background. You'll also notice that the shirt in the Note 9's image is a bit blown out. One thing we like about the XS Max's image is that it's more balanced, with a background that is exposed brighter.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


The iPhone XS & XS Max have a new depth control feature, and there's a much wider range of blur adjustment compared to the Note 9. The iPhones can go from a depth setting of F16, all the way to F1.4. The Note 9 can only go from 0-7.

The background on the Note 9's Live Focus photos can't get nearly as blurry as they can on the iPhone XS Max, and we think a lot of people would like to have that kind of freedom.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


When shooting plants, the Note 9 does a much better job. In this photo, the white balance is more accurate and the image looks more pleasing. The XS Max struggles with blur edging, whereas the Note 9 does just fine.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


In this photo of a flower, the XS Max actually blurs out the whole stem. The Note 9 is able to detect the stem and keep it in the foreground. This is a huge advantage for the Note.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Comparing front-facing portrait modes, the Note 9 is looking a bit soft. There's much more detail in the face with the XS Max. The background also looks brighter and more balanced on the iPhone.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Another perk on the XS Max is that you can adjust the blur on the front-facing portrait shots as well. The Note 9 isn't able to do this. Because of this, the XS Max is able to get portrait photos with incredibly high levels of blur, and it actually turns out quite nice.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Comparing Portrait mode photos of objects, the iPhone XS Max is getting much better dynamic range. Both phones struggle with blur edging, but the Note 9 is a little bit better.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


In this photo with a small crease on the inside of two poles, the iPhone XS Max completely fails to detect that it needs to blur the inside of the object. The Note 9 does an almost perfect job at it. However, the dynamic range on the Note 9 is quite bad.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9

Photo Detail Comparison

Now let's compare detail without using Portrait or Live focus modes.

In this shot of a flower, both photos look very detailed, but it seems that the Note 9 either has more contrast or it's more detailed compared to the XS Max. You'll have to decide for yourself which photo you think is better at color reproduction.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


In this telephoto image of a tree, the Note 9 has more contrast and it has more detail as well.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Here's another comparison of detail. The XS Max has noticeably better dynamic range, and they seem similar in detail. The Note 9 has more contrast and it adds more saturation to the image.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Now comparing regular selfie photos, the difference in dynamic range is shocking. The sky on the Note 9's image is completely blown out. On the XS Max, you can see every single cloud, and the sky is actually blue. At the same time, the face is properly exposed and there's more detail as well.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Here's a wide image shot from the inside of a building. There's noticeably better dynamic range on the XS Max, and it's able to accurately reproduce the colors in the sky and background.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9

Low Light Photo Comparison

Moving onto some low light photos, there's a couple of things you'll notice here. First of all, the dynamic range is slightly better on the iPhone, and the white balance is much more accurate. The biggest difference is that the Note 9 adds way too much softening to get rid of the noise. Just look at all of the detail in the pants that is lost on the Note 9.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


In this portrait & live focus mode comparison. The Note 9 fails to accurately detect the face and ends up blurring it, even after multiple attempts. Not only that, but the dynamic range is worlds better on the XS Max.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


We shot these images with extremely low light. The Note 9 has very impressive noise reduction, making the image look a lot more detailed. You can easily see more noise with the XS Max. However, the white balance is way off on the Note 9. The XS Max was about as accurate as you can get.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Now on the front-facing camera, the dynamic range differences were huge. The painting on the Note 9's image was completely blown out. With the iPhone XS Max, you can see every detail. The XS Max was better at white balance as well.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Now outside, towards the end of the night, both phones didn't that great of a job with dynamic range, but the iPhone XS Max did a little bit better. The white balance is much better on the iPhone as well, and the Note 9 added way too much saturation.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Finally, we have a low light scene with bokeh in the background to compare the portrait & live focus modes. The Note 9 had issues accurately detecting the face and it ended up putting a slight blur over it. The XS Max did a great job with blur edging. The Note 9 was already at the maximum amount of blur, while the XS Max was at the default F4.5 setting.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Now here's where it gets amazing on the iPhone XS Max. We set the depth to the maximum setting of F1.4, and the bokeh really starts to stand out. This shows just how much extra blur you can get on the iPhone XS Max, which we think has the potential to convince a lot of customers to go with the XS or XS Max over the Note 9.

If you compare the blur on the left and right sides of the iPhone's image, you'll see that they're directionally warped, based on where they're at in the frame. This is something that professional cameras do, and it's nice that Apple added this realistic touch. On the Note 9, the bokeh simply gets larger when you increase the blur, and that's about it.

iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


Let us know what you thought about this comparison in the comments, and stay tuned for our iPhone XS Max versus Note 9 video quality comparison, where we'll be testing if Apple's claims of improved video quality are true.

Deals on the iPhone XS Max and Galaxy Note 9

If you haven't already ordered Apple's iPhone XS Max, wireless carriers are incentivizing the purchase. Want to get your hands on a new device asap? eBay sellers are also shipping units now.

Carrier deals:

  • AT&T Wireless: Buy one iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, get a second $700 off when you add a line.
  • Verizon Wireless: Buy one iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, get a second $700 off when you add a line. Or save $100 with an eligible trade.
  • Sprint: Get the 64GB iPhone XS for $0 per month with eligible trade-in and Sprint Flex lease.
  • T-Mobile: Save up to $300 on the iPhone XS with an eligible iPhone trade.
Those interested in purchasing the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 can take advantage of no tax collected outside New York and New Jersey* when purchasing from B&H, plus a free Samsung Fast Charge Qi Wireless Charging Stand valued at $44.99.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 59
    wigbywigby Posts: 692member
    iPhone's HDR highlight protection really blows away Samsung but it appears that Samsung's low light capabilities slightly edge out iPhone in all of the other examples. Contrast appears to be slightly higher on Samsung while Apple's color saturation is slightly higher but since those two things are different sides of the same coin, it's a bit of a wash if not altogether entirely subjective. Also, Apple's skin softening is too aggressive and reminds me of Samsung's past skin softening treatments. Other than that, both great cameras so no need to compare cameras ad nauseum. Will this be the last smartphone camera shootout? I wish but no, not by a long shot.
    repressthisgilly017watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 59
    Half of the comparison photos are missing...
  • Reply 3 of 59
    KITAKITA Posts: 368member
    Both seem to have their pros/cons depending on the scenario, but I don't think either one really stands out over the other (at least not from these images alone).

    I'd be curious to see how the camera on the XS compares to the Pixel 2, or the upcoming Pixel 3, as it's often regarded to be one of the best cameras on a smartphone.
    repressthis
  • Reply 4 of 59
    I love my iPhone Smax but the skin smoothing is way overboard, I really hope they fix it because even in your examples his face looks like an app smoothed it and the color is a bit too saturated. 
    caladaniancalisurfboyfrantisek
  • Reply 5 of 59
    bb-15bb-15 Posts: 283member

    Skin tone Note 9, Dynamic range Xs Max, Detail Note 9, Blur range Xs Max, Blur accuracy Note 9, low light tie.

    * Overall; edge to Note 9 (& I’m not a Samsung/Android user) for what we are given. 

    - The Xs Max skin tones seem off but the video narrator doesn’t comment on that. In another camera comparison AI video, there was often a reference video shot from the pro camera which showed what the proper color should be. This allowed for clearer color comparisons which we don’t have here. 

  • Reply 6 of 59
    Excellent side-by-side test with outstanding choice of test cases, thank you for an outstanding smackdown!
  • Reply 7 of 59
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    One slight problem with some of the images is that with cameras and auto exposure, the size of the subject in the frame, when photographed against a contrast background, affects the overall exposure. And when auto white balance is used, as it is here, the color balance is affected as well. It may seem a minor point, but it does account for some of the differences in balance and exposure.

    in addition, one needs to be very careful when comparing the out of focus modes to get both as equal in the image as possible when evaluating the disappearance of hair, and other difficult to distinguish features. That can include edges. I can tell you that even today, with two decades of software development, professional software has a problem with hair, when cutting a face out for a comp. we still need to do some manual work to get it all correct. So while it’s great that the Xs can do a lot more in out of focus, the fact that it doesn’t seem to do as well in keeping some edges and hair in focus, is, from the images we see, often the result of a much stronger out of focus effect than the Note can manage. Keeping the amount of effect the same will equalize the two more in that problem area.
    tmaymagman1979
  • Reply 8 of 59
    The Note 8 and Note 9 both work well with selfie background blur. That photo is not a good example. 

    A tip that makes it work better. Launch the camera and trigger selfie mode. Hit the settings gear and toggle on Tracking AF.

    You should see much better results after it's on .


    philboogieStrangeDays
  • Reply 9 of 59
    As much as I love iOS, after seeing these 3 photos of the guy against the sun I really ought to take a look at that Samsung phone. I mean, in those photos his face is much better lit.
    Soli
  • Reply 10 of 59
    BoomsterBoomster Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    You look fake, like a porcelain doll in the front camera iOS pics. Turn off beuaty mode, oh wait... You can't. It's forced "on" with the new phones. Check out all the YouTube videos discussing this camera issue. 
    frantisek
  • Reply 11 of 59
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,391member
    As much as I love iOS, after seeing these 3 photos of the guy against the sun I really ought to take a look at that Samsung phone. I mean, in those photos his face is much better lit.
    Face maybe, but that blowout on anything light-coloured is pretty ridiculous. The Note 9 performed better than I expected and excelled in some areas, but readers should bear in mind that neither device's photos used "full manual control" so to speak. Based on the strength of the Xs's sky, colour, and blur, I'd personally pick that over the Note 9, but if you're careful about getting a good shot I would cheerfully admit that you'll also get great results off the Note 9.
    radarthekat
  • Reply 12 of 59

    Photo Detail Comparison

    Now let's compare detail without using Portrait or Live focus modes.

    In this shot of a flower, both photos look very detailed, but it seems that the Note 9 either has more contrast or it's more detailed compared to the XS Max. You'll have to decide for yourself which photo you think is better at color reproduction.

    iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9

    Which flower is the correct one? Since any image processing cannot add missing data (but can well discard existing and useful data as in low dynamic range), one can immediately deduce that the prominent pink on the flower leaves cannot be added by iPhone, but simply reproduced by it. Thus the correct color of the flower is the right (iPhone) one. The low dynamic range of the Note 9 introduces an artifical contrast which makes the object appear more "detailed". What is is perceived as "detail" is in fact the the loss of pink tones.
    Gabytmaygilly017magman1979radarthekat
  • Reply 13 of 59
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,030member
    As much as I love iOS, after seeing these 3 photos of the guy against the sun I really ought to take a look at that Samsung phone. I mean, in those photos his face is much better lit.
    A lot of the Note 9 photos look better to me. Counting them up it's a little over half the Note 9 photos seem superior.

    If they did a blind test where they list a a couple dozen photos and then have the reader determine which phone took it I feel like the Note 9 would come out ahead.
    gatorguyiphoneguy911muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 14 of 59
    RadiospotzRadiospotz Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    Photography and gardening are Hobbies of mine and looking at the pictures of the Hyde Ranea that is far more realistic with the high and low colors then all saturated the same. I also happened to notice that note 9 beats out iPhone.
    I think somebody who takes pictures for a living would do better in reviewing these pictures. I'm 68 years old and I've been in the advertising industry for over 46 years and photography is just something that as a tool for me.
    radarthekat
  • Reply 15 of 59

    Photo Detail Comparison

    Now let's compare detail without using Portrait or Live focus modes.

    In this shot of a flower, both photos look very detailed, but it seems that the Note 9 either has more contrast or it's more detailed compared to the XS Max. You'll have to decide for yourself which photo you think is better at color reproduction.

    iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9

    Which flower is the correct one? Since any image processing cannot add missing data (but can well discard existing and useful data as in low dynamic range), one can immediately deduce that the prominent pink on the flower leaves cannot be added by iPhone, but simply reproduced by it. Thus the correct color of the flower is the right (iPhone) one. The low dynamic range of the Note 9 introduces an artifical contrast which makes the object appear more "detailed". What is is perceived as "detail" is in fact the the loss of pink tones.
    The reader does not know which photo has the correct color because there is no reference image from a pro level camera.
    radarthekattht
  • Reply 16 of 59
    The bright moon in the black sky is one of the most difficult objects to capture, it appears just like a white spot. An easy cheat is to introduce another light source(s) into the scene. If you shoot the moon together with that secondary light source you can get a better shape of the moon. That secondary light source causes the camera to rearrange exposure and somehow represent the moon better.

    Now in those photos, if you'd introduced a secondary bright source to the scene, you'd get better exposure of the body and the face:

    Here's where the story changes. When shooting against the sun, the Note 9 does a much better job at dynamic range. The highlights look the same, but the Note 9 is able to keep the darkest areas of the scene looking brighter. There's less lens flare on the Note 9 as well.

    iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9


    Now here's a photo of the same scene except using portrait mode. The sunspot on the Note 9 is larger, but it does much better keeping the subject exposed properly. There's a massive flare on the iPhone XS Max's image again.

    iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9

    What you have photographied in those photos is actually the sun, not the personSince your guy, despite all of his handsomeness cannot shine more than the Sun, the best sun photo is all you can expect of those shots.

    And that, only the Xs Max delivers...

    Edit:
    Ahem..., you may cause people to damage their camera sensors by exposing samples like that. Although reportedly that damage depends on the exposure time, since you have no control on how long people will point their cameras to the sun, a cautious stance might be helpful.
    edited September 2018 radarthekatStrangeDays
  • Reply 17 of 59
    Lmao unbiased article from appleinsider 🤣
    Yeah because the verve and gizmodo theyre always are so neutral

    Actually can we reading this article that they preferred the note to the iPhone so I have no idea what you’re  talking about
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 18 of 59
    Soli said:
    As much as I love iOS, after seeing these 3 photos of the guy against the sun I really ought to take a look at that Samsung phone. I mean, in those photos his face is much better lit.
    A lot of the Note 9 photos look better to me. Counting them up it's a little over half the Note 9 photos seem superior.

    If they did a blind test where they list a a couple dozen photos and then have the reader determine which phone took it I feel like the Note 9 would come out ahead.
    Yeah that was how I perceived it.  It is all down to the different algorithms and what characteristics are prioritised over others by the designers in Apple and Samsung.
  • Reply 19 of 59
    Just jumped from the iPhone 7 Plus to the iPhone XS. A selling point last year and this year was the front facing portrait mode. The edge blurring looks really bad making my head look like a very poor photoshop job. Also the smooothing of the skin makes it look like a watercolor filter even on the photo mode which should be a straight uneditied photo. The backside camera is VERY impressive though. I'm blown away at how side by side photos are coming out between my old iPhone 7 and the XS. Same with the video its recording.
  • Reply 20 of 59
    Boomster said:
    You look fake, like a porcelain doll in the front camera iOS pics. Turn off beuaty mode, oh wait... You can't. It's forced "on" with the new phones. Check out all the YouTube videos discussing this camera issue. 
    And you l’on like grainy  green shit with the note.  So that’s surely better ...

    shooting straight into the sun is dumb and no one doing actual photography would do it, even doing HDR cause of the ridiculous stopping down you need to do to get the dark areas lit OK and the resulting grain if iso goes up, the possibility of movement (if exposure longer) or a softening of the image (if many shoots taken and stacked).

    Even with HDR, shooting in non stupid mode is PREFERRED.
    edited September 2018 guscatradarthekat
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