Are iPhone and Galaxy phone cameras really that different, even after sparking a duel at Rihanna’s concert?

These days, a matrimonial event in India has become so widespread that it is all over the news and it even penetrated the tech news. Why? Well, Rihanna was not the only one making waves with her performance during this marriage ceremony. While she lit up the stage, another celebrity emerged: a video featuring some seriously remarkable zoom capabilities.

This entire situation raised a question: can you distinguish between footage captured on different cutting-edge phones? In 2024, most devices priced over $1000 boast impressive camera systems (as they should). Here are some camera specifications of top-tier phones just for your information: 

  • Galaxy S24 Ultra: Quad camera setup including 200MP primary camera, 50MP periscope telephoto, 10MP telephoto, and 12MP ultra-wide
  • iPhone 15 Pro Max: Triple camera setup including 48MP primary camera, 12MP telephoto, and 12MP ultra wide
  • OnePlus 12: Triple camera setup including 50MP primary camera, 64MP telephoto, and 48MP ultra wide

So, for the common individual, determining which phone captured a video or photo can seem like a genuine challenge. I couldn’t resist wondering, are flagship phone cameras truly that distinct from one another? Or is it brand loyalty that skews our perception? Let’s delve into the realm of mobile photography and its captivating evolution!

From 0.1MP to 200MP in under 30 years

Back in the early 2000s, the initial camera phones were akin to carrying around a brick with a hazy peephole. These grainy pioneers, like the Sharp J-SH04, offered a mere 0.1 megapixels – a far cry from today’s high-resolution monsters. But hey, they kickstarted the revolution!

Fast forward a couple of decades and phone cameras have become a daily essential. The megapixel race intensified, with manufacturers pushing the limits. Just think of: 

  • Samsung
  • Apple
  • Google
  • Sony
  • OnePlus
  • Xiaomi

Autofocus, zoom capabilities, and exceptional low-light performance became the standard. By 2024, these pocket-sized powerhouses were capturing stunning photos that rivalled traditional cameras. The competition intensified further when renowned optic companies like Zeiss, Leica, and Hasselblad entered the fray. These iconic optic firms collaborated with smartphone giants:

  • Leica with Xiaomi
  • Zeiss with Sony
  • Hasselblad with OnePlus

They bring their expertise to the mobile domain. Why? Because they recognized the potential: billions of individuals carrying potent cameras in their pockets!

Zooming in: Apple and Samsung

Now, let’s revisit the incident that inspired this article. The recently launched Galaxy S24 Ultra and the newest iPhone 15 Pro Max are receiving significant commendations as the most impressive camera phones out there.

The S24 Ultra introduces some new equipment to its camera setup – a cutting-edge 50MP periscope zoom camera. It can handle a fabulous 10x optical zoom (comprising of 5x optical + 2x crop from the sensor), and it’s not just impressive on paper – it delivers the goods in real-world scenarios.

Meanwhile, the iPhone 15 Pro Max showcases an upgraded telephoto lens with a tetraprism design, enabling an impressive 5x optical zoom, an improvement over the previous year’s 3x optical zoom capability.

Despite the fact that the video in question was not recorded with the Galaxy S24 Ultra, it easily could have been. However, it was actually captured with the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the predecessor of the iPhone 15 series. And credit must be given where it’s due – the camera capabilities of the iPhone 13 Pro Max are still top-notch, even if it’s not the most recent Apple flagship.

In technological terms, two years might seem like an eternity, but concerning smartphone photography, progress has been relatively stable (particularly if we disregard AI integration in smartphones). Yes, each new model brings some enhancements, but nothing groundbreaking enough to make the iPhone 13 Pro Max appear too outdated. Just analyze Rihanna’s recent concert video – it speaks volumes.

Sure, if you place the iPhone 13 Pro Max next to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the latter holds the advantage, especially for video enthusiasts. However, for the average user, you might not discern much of a disparity. Can you distinguish which photo is from the “old-school” iPhone 13 and which is from the new iPhone 15
Why don’t we introduce the OnePlus 12 into the equation: could you identify which image is captured by it, the iPhone 15 or the Galaxy S24? Share your guesses in the comments. 

You might ponder about the purpose of this guessing game. Well, apart from being a bit entertaining, it serves as a reminder – most top-of-the-line smartphones boast exceptional cameras. No surprises there.

In the shadows of titans: OnePlus, Xiaomi, Pixel

Indeed, Samsung and Apple are leading the charge in the camera phone arena, but they are not the sole contenders. Take the OnePlus 12, for instance – equipped with a primary camera decked out with the Sony LYT-808 and a sophisticated periscope zoom.
 
It may not match the flashy 5X periscopes on the major players like the iPhone 15 Pro Max, Galaxy S24 Ultra, or Pixel 8 Pro with its innovative AI camera features, but it remains a solid choice for individuals who appreciate photography.
Or, let’s cast a glance at the Xiaomi 13 Ultra – not the latest release from the Chinese company, but still standing strong as one of the premier camera smartphones currently available. This device leans towards a natural, cinematic vibe. Colors receive a touch-up, drawing inspiration from Leica, and featuring a substantial 1-inch primary camera sensor. It’s a powerhouse, delivering outstanding results whether you’re basking in daylight or relaxing in low-light settings.

This article isn’t solely about camera comparisons. If you’re eager for the gritty details on how various phone cameras stack up against each other, check out:

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Is it brand loyalty that colors our perception?

In 2024, flagship phones cameras provide extraordinary capabilities that we couldn’t even envision a decade ago. Yes, some excel more than others, but I believe, for the average user, the disparities might not be that glaring. Tech aficionados, however, may be able to discern them, naturally.

 
Yet, possibly (just maybe?) the brand plays a significant role in how we perceive various images or videos as well. As with the video that initiated this article, is it brand loyalty that influences our perception? By that, I mean (and I will conclude this article with it):

 

  • Preconceived notions: We may subconsciously associate certain brands with superior camera quality. If someone informs you that a photo was taken with the latest iPhone, you might automatically assume it will be sharper or exhibit superior colors.
  • Marketing hype: Tech companies invest heavily in crafting a high-end image for their flagship products. Therefore, when we encounter sleek marketing campaigns emphasizing a phone’s camera capabilities, it can create a notion of superiority, even if the real-world disparity is not that noticeable.
  • Confirmation bias: If you’re a staunch Samsung supporter, you may tend to focus on details that appear to favor the Galaxy S24 Ultra in photos, even if the distinctions are subtle.
  • The placebo effect: Surprisingly, just being aware that you’re using a “superior” camera can influence how you perceive the end result. If you believe an iPhone 15 Pro Max captured the image, you might perceive the colors as more vibrant, even though in a realm where the iPhone 13 can still compete in the camera realm, years after its launch.

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