iPhone 12 Pro Max vs. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Which Can Take Better Photos?

Aadhya Khatri - Feb 16, 2021


iPhone 12 Pro Max vs. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Which Can Take Better Photos?

The iPhone 12 Pro Max can take pictures that can rival those of a DSLR. However, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has the zooming ability that can put Apple to shame

The iPhone 12 Pro Max can take pictures with quality that can rival those taken from a DSLR. However, its Android opponent - Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra possesses the zooming ability that can put Apple to shame.

So how do these phones stack up you ask? Let’s dive into our comparison:

We can clearly see the differences from the photos below. The white balance of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is responsible for the magenta bias while iPhone 12 Pro Max has more accurate color tones.

Calton Normal Galaxy S21 Ultra
The white balance of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is responsible for the magenta bias
Calton Normal Iphone 12 Pro Max
iPhone 12 Pro Max picture has more accurate color tones

Cropping into the photos to 100%, we can see that the iPhone image packs more details than that of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra despite having the same 12MP.

Calton Normal Galaxy S21 Ultra 100 Crop
Galaxy S21 Ultra, 100% crop
Calton Normal Iphone 12 Pro Max 100 Crop
iPhone image packs more details than that of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra despite having the same 12MP

Color differences are also visible in these shots. The cyan-toned sky in the S21 Ultra shot looks a little bit unnatural. However, it makes the church look brighter thus standing out from the whole scene. 

Church Galaxy S21 Ultra
The cyan-toned sky in the S21 Ultra shot looks a little bit unnatural. However, it makes the church look brighter thus standing out from the whole scene
Church Iphone 12 Pro Max
iPhone 12 Pro Max, normal lens

In their super-wide mode, both handsets yield vibrant scenes, striking a balance between the shadow of the bushes and the blue sky. The S21 Ultra’s while balance kicks in again making its photo lean toward the magenta side.

Meanwhile, iPhone 12 Pro Max has overdone here, creating a green cast in the building and the clouds.

Gallery Wide Galaxy S21 Ultra
The S21 Ultra’s while balance kicks in again making its photo lean toward the magenta side
Gallery Wide Iphone 12 Pro Max
iPhone 12 Pro Max has overdone here, creating a green cast in the building and the clouds

So overall, there is a tendency here. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra seems to show more magenta while iPhone 12 Pro Max leans on to the green.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Is The Best For Zoom

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra prides itself on the zoom skills though, with 100x digital zoom, as well as 3x and 10x zoom. On the other hand, iPhone 12 Pro Max offers 2.5x zoom, an improvement from the previous generation’s 0.5x zoom.

When iPhone was at 2.5x and Galaxy S21 3x, the photos they produce look very similar. Both overall exposure and colors look almost the same with very few differences.

Calton Zoom Galaxy S21 Ultra
Galaxy S21 Ultra, 3x zoom
iPhone 12 Pro Max, 2.5x zoom
iPhone 12 Pro Max, 2.5x zoom

However, when cropped into 100%, distinctions start to show. The picture taken by the Galaxy S21 Ultra looks a lot sharper and has more details, thanks to the digital sharpening. While it’s a personal preference to prefer one over the other, if you are into image editing, you will definitely like iPhone shot better as digital sharpening can degrade images.

Galaxy S21 Ultra 3x zoom 100 crop
The picture taken by the Galaxy S21 Ultra looks a lot sharper and has more details, thanks to the digital sharpening
iPhone 12 Pro Max, 2.5x zoom
iPhone 12 Pro Max, 2.5x zoom

The two photos have very similar details. Again, the white balance comes into play to give Samsung’s photo a magenta look.

At 10x zoom, the Galaxy S21 Ultra clearly outstrips iPhone 12 Pro Max. The Fettes College becomes the focus of the shot taken by the Samsung phone, removing cluttering details visible in iPhone photos, like the cars and buildings.

Galaxy S21 Ultra, 10x zoom
The Fettes College becomes the focus of the shot taken by the Samsung phone
iPhone 12 Pro Max, 2.5x zoom
iPhone 12 Pro Max

Comparing Galaxy S21 Ultra’s photo overlooking Edinburgh's Princes Street and the same scene taken by iPhone 12 Pro Max, the difference is clear here. The iPhone shot looks very mushy and is far from sharable. In short, when it comes to zoom, Samsung’s latest flagship phone is king.

iPhone 12 Pro Max digital zoom
The iPhone shot on the right looks very mushy and is far from sharable

The photos below are taken in a dark room. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the clear winner here with brighter and less noisy shots. Another benefit with the Apple handset that it automatically switches to Dark Mode while you will have to dive into the camera app and select the mode on the S21 Ultra.

Galaxy S21 Ultra
Galaxy S21 Ultra
iPhone 12 Pro Max, night mode
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the clear winner here with brighter and less noisy shots

Which Camera Phones Is Better?

Comparing the two handsets is a hard task. Overall, they are great camera phones that can click superb and vibrant pictures with great dynamic range. If you want natural shots with minimal digital sharpening, you will prefer iPhone 12 Pro Max.

The feature that really separates the two phones is the zoom ability. So it’s worth thinking about how often you need to zoom in. This is an ability iPhone is unable to provide. With the S21 Ultra, you are carrying with you a more complete photography kit.

If you think the zoom on iPhone is lacking, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra might be the handset for you.

>>> Photography War: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Vs Huawei P40 Pro Plus

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