All three generations of Pixel phones have set new standards for smartphone photography.
Historically, the only phone that really outdoes a Pixel’s camera is the next Pixel. Others get close, and offer different experiences, but ultimately come up short to Google’s phones in terms of outright photo quality.
Samsung has a great reputation for having very consistent, capable smartphone cameras — but its slow iteration over the last few generations hasn’t looked great considering the consistent improvements Google has made.
The Galaxy S10 adds a new ultra-wide camera in addition to the standard and telephoto lenses, and has new software, processing and features to make use of all three.
While Google continues to lean heavily on software processing to make the most of its single camera that doesn’t look particularly good on paper but has consistently produced amazing photos.
Now it’s time to see how well the Galaxy S10 challenges the Pixel 3’s camera.
Galaxy S10 (left) vs Pixel 3 (right) – Click images to view larger
The most apparent difference between these cameras is that the Galaxy S10 takes brighter, more colorful photos every single time, leaving the Pixel 3 looking a bit more dim and dull by comparison.
But that isn’t to say the Galaxy S10 is accurate — far from it, as the Pixel 3 typically recreates a scene far closer to the way your eyes see it.
Sometimes the Pixel 3’s photos are so dim that they require tap-to-focus or post-processing just to get them up to a “normal” level.
There’s no way to say this nicely … Google is still the easy winner when it comes to troubling lighting conditions. And that doesn’t just mean “dark” scenes — it also applies to indoor shots and scenes with mixed lighting.
This is where Google’s reliance on software processing really shows its strengths.
In low or mixed light scenes, the Pixel 3 can bring out brightness and details without relying on simply ramping up the ISO or using a single long exposure.
Its HDR+ processing manages to bring out light without causing the usual downsides of grain or a lack of details, making low light photos come out crisp just as they do in the day.
Night Sight mode just takes things to a new level, where no other phone — let alone just the Galaxy S10 — is playing.
There are ways in which the Galaxy S10’s camera can somewhat compete with the Pixel 3 in poor lighting, but if the Pixel 3 goes into Night Sight mode it isn’t even a competition anymore.
Samsung’s desire to brighten up every photo to an extreme really works against it in poor lighting, and if you can force the ISO to stay low it can take a better photo. But even still, it isn’t going to match the Pixel 3.
One thing we’ve learned from years of using Pixel cameras is that quality of photos isn’t always matched by quality of experience taking them.
The camera app regularly has trouble opening up for quick captures, can be sluggish to save photos, and is just generally slow compared to the competition.
Samsung has the camera speed and consistency locked down, and it’s one of the biggest benefits. The camera is always ready to go, will capture without question and switch modes or change settings immediately.
Samsung also offers far more options for different shooting modes and tweaks within each mode, including a comprehensive Pro mode that lets you control every aspect of the camera.
Which Phone has the Best Camera?
It’s obviously telling that as of this writing the Pixel 3 has the best Android camera. Even though it lacks the Galaxy S10’s ultra-wide and telephoto cameras, and can face performance issues, you just can’t deny that its shot-to-shot photo quality is exceptional.
The differences are particularly noticeable in low light scenes, where the Pixel 3 somehow performs almost as well as broad daylight.
The Galaxy S10 has its own appeal for people who want to be able to open up their phone’s camera and capture instantly with incredible consistency and know that they’re getting an above-average photo that can go straight online.
But if you’re looking for the best photos possible, in as many situations as possible, the Pixel 3 or 3 XL will do a better job of providing that than the Galaxy S10 series.