Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro Max has the most advanced camera technology in the iPhone lineup, but how does it match up to flagship smartphones from other companies? In our latest YouTube video, we compared the iPhone 12 Pro Max to the Google Pixel 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra to see the differences in camera quality.
The $1099 iPhone 12 Pro Max has a triple-lens camera setup with 12-megapixel Ultra Wide, Wide, and Telephoto lenses, with upgrades in sensor size, stability, and telephoto lens over the iPhone 12 Pro.
In comparison, the $699 Pixel 5 has a 12.2-megapixel wide-angle lens and a 16-megapixel ultra wide-angle lens, while the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a 108-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 12-megapixel ultra wide-angle lens, and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens. All three of the smartphones have similar capabilities such as HDR enhancements, portrait mode for background blurring and night mode for taking low light shots. The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a LiDAR Scanner for improved low light photography, while the Note 20 Ultra has a laser AF sensor.
These are all high-end flagship smartphones with excellent camera quality, so before we even get into the comparison, it’s worth noting that all of these smartphones take excellent images, with small differences between them that vary from photo to photo. Some people may prefer one camera’s tendency towards cooler tones, or have a preference for warmer colors or a certain softness or sharpness, but for the most part, there’s no one smartphone camera that’s a clear winner because a lot comes down to personal tastes.
When taking these photos during a cloudy Ohio day, we found that the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a bit of a quirk when it comes to the sky. In all photos where there’s a cloudy sky, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is tending towards blue, creating an artificially blue sky. Apple added HDR 3 Scene Recognition to this year’s iPhones to better let the iPhone distinguish buildings and sky to “optimize” a scene, and that may be what’s going on here.
It doesn’t look bad, and some people may prefer the bluer sky, but it’s not what the scene looked like in real life. Color wise, the Pixel 5 is probably the most true to life, and in several photos, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra used the same kind of effect to colorize the sky, albeit less dramatically.
Viewed alone, the iPhone 12 Pro Max photo doesn’t look out of the ordinary and is arguably brighter and more engaging, but next to the Pixel 5, there’s a stark difference. Most of the time, the blue tint applies only to the sky, but there are a few instances where the entire photo has a blue cast. This is, of course, limited to situations with cloudy outdoor skies, but it does persist across the Wide and Ultra cameras.
An ultra-wide shot
In Portrait Mode day shots, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a tendency to blow the highlights just a bit with higher brightness and a boost to the colors, which again, doesn’t look bad and is probably what most people will prefer, but is a different look than the Pixel 5 and Note 20 Ultra, both of which have cooler tones.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max does a lot better with edges in Portrait Mode than prior iPhones, but compared to the Pixel 5, it seems a little bit soft. That said, the Pixel 5 has problems with edge detection and is sharpening areas that it should not in some situations. Looking at the water in the above shot is a good example of the Pixel 5’s uneven blurring.
In Night Mode, the iPhone 12 Pro Max trends towards much warmer tones than the Pixel 5 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The Note 20 Ultra is also on the warmer side, while the Pixel 5 seems to be erring on the side of being a little too cool. In the gazebo photo below, the gazebo is white and there’s no real reason for it to have such a warm cast. Not all Night Mode photos from the iPhone have warm tones that dramatic, but the color is noticeable next to photos from other smartphones.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max tends to produce more even lighting in Night Mode, while the Pixel 5 makes some areas of the image too bright. The iPhone 12 Pro Max also seems to be softer in some Night Mode photos, like this portrait shot.
All in all, Both the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Pixel 5 seem to beat out the Note 20 Ultra, but again, it’s a matter of preference. The Pixel 5 tends to have colors that are more realistic in terms of white balance, but some of the iPhone images are more visually appealing.
As for video, that’s an area where the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a clear winner. Filming in 4K 60 fps, the other two smartphones just can’t match the image quality and stability of the iPhone 12 Pro Max during the day. Quality is closer at night, but the iPhone still wins out with better stabilization.
Make sure to watch our video to see all of the photo comparisons, and then let us know what you think in the comments. Which smartphone takes the best images?