Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra (left) and Google Pixel 8 Pro Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

When you want an excellent camera on your new smartphone, choosing the Google Pixel 8 Pro is a wise and safe choice, but what about the big, expensive Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra? After all, it’s Samsung’s top camera phone, and it has features that make it unique among the competition.

Is the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra worth paying $300 more than you would for the Google Pixel 8 Pro, if the camera is the top reason you’re shopping for a new phone? I took many photos with them both over a series of different days to find out.

The cameras

A person holding the Google Pixel 8 Pro.
Google Pixel 8 Pro Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

There are quite a few technical details that differ between the Pixel 8 Pro and the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s camera, so it’s important to go through those first before looking at the photos. The Pixel 8 Pro has a 50-megapixel main camera with a 1/1.31-inch sensor size and an f/1.68 aperture, along with a 48MP wide-angle camera with a 125.5-degree field-of-view.

The 48MP telephoto camera takes 5x optical zoom photos, and has a Super Res zoom to 30x. Optical and electronic image stabilization (OIS and EIS) are on the wide and telephoto cameras, plus there’s laser autofocus and a spectral sensor for greater color accuracy.

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra.
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

On the back of the Galaxy S24 Ultra is a 200MP, f/1.7 aperture main camera, a 50MP telephoto camera for 5x optical zoom photos, a 10MP camera for 3x optical zoom photos, and a 12MP wide-angle camera with a 120-degree field-of-view. The main, wide, and telephoto cameras have OIS, plus there’s laser autofocus too. Samsung claims “optical quality” zoom levels at 2x and 10x zoom.

On the front of the Pixel 8 Pro is a 10.5MP selfie camera with autofocus, while the Galaxy S24 Ultra has a 12MP camera with autofocus. Both have comprehensive video capabilities, but we have not compared them in this test. All photos were shot in auto mode, compared on a color-calibrated monitor, and have been resized for friendlier online viewing.

Main camera

The specifications of the two main cameras are quite different from each other, and unsurprisingly, there are quite a few differences in the photos they take, too. The first photo sets the tone for the rest of the test, as it illustrates Samsung’s continued willingness to boost colors and contrast for a brighter, more vibrant image. Google tones things down for a more natural look that’s closer to how things are in real life.

One thing to note is with the close-up images, the S24 Ultra often automatically switches to the Focus Enhancer, which removes any natural background blur. The above photo was taken with the feature deactivated, so it matches the Pixel 8 Pro’s image. Detail and focus are similar, and which you prefer will come down to how vibrant you like your photos.

The second photo of the bridge shows how contrast and exposure differ. The S24 Ultra’s treatment results in the immediately noticeable moodier sky, which is a tiny bit noisier than the Pixel 8 Pro’s, but look closely and you can see how the S24 Ultra keeps the entire scene in focus, while the Pixel 8 Pro concentrates on the foreground.

While the punchier colors of the S24 Ultra can sometimes work really well, they don’t in all situations, with the coffee and toast in this photo appearing unnatural compared to the Pixel 8 Pro’s spot-on colors and white balance.

There’s also evidence of edge enhancement in the S24 Ultra’s photos when bold colors meet, and the Pixel 8 Pro’s better balance creates not only a more natural-looking photo, but a more realistic one too. You can see this in the photo of the trees, where the blue sky isn’t separated effectively enough from the greenery in the S24 Ultra’s photo.

Our final photo shows many of the differences between these two cameras in one shot. The S24’s moody sky, deeper colors, stronger contrast levels, and greater level of detail are clear. The Pixel 8 Pro better captures the way the scene looked in real life, but the harsher tones and exposure rob it of some vibrancy. The Pixel 8 Pro’s consistency throughout gives it the win in this category, but it hasn’t been a runaway victory.

Winner: Google Pixel 8 Pro

Wide-angle camera

There’s more of the same from the S24 Ultra’s wide-angle camera, as the first photo of the church shows, but this time the Pixel 8 Pro can’t quite keep up. Exposure differences result in a more washed-out image, and even if the S24 Ultra does go overboard with saturation a little, the punchier look is preferable to the Pixel 8 Pro’s subdued tone.

The S24 Ultra’s wide-angle camera is better demonstrated in the second photo of the pond, where the trees and foliage have more life in the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s photo. It’s a close thing, and while I appreciate the consistency of look from both cameras, Samsung’s treatment gives wide-angle shots greater presence and drama, which I think is important.

Again, this is apparent in the last photo, showing pebbles in front of a lake. From the reflection in the water to the color of the pebbles, the S24 Ultra’s photo is more appealing, less cold, and the image I’d be more likely to share. The Pixel 8 Pro’s wide-angle camera is good, but the S24 Ultra nails the tone here. It’s a very close category, and while neither always gets the photo right, the Galaxy S24 Ultra seems to succeed more often.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Telephoto 5x optical zoom

Both cameras can take 5x optical zoom photos, but the results are quite different, and the Galaxy S24 Ultra really shows off its telephoto prowess here. In the first photo of the sheep through the gate, the S24 Ultra’s photo is packed with detail and pin-sharp, while the Pixel 8 Pro’s photo isn’t as well-focused and lacks the same level of detail.

It’s harder to spot the differences in the second photo, but they are there. Look at the floating duck house. Again, it’s sharp and defined in the S24 Ultra’s photo, but far less so in the Pixel 8 Pro’s photo. The colors are slightly more attractive in the Pixel’s photo, but that’s easily fixed in the S24 Ultra’s image, while the Pixel’s lack of definition is not.

In the final image, the S24 Ultra’s photo is clear and shows off the texture of the walls and stone, and while it’s closely matched by the Pixel 8 Pro’s image, the latter just isn’t quite as sharp. This slight haziness puts the Pixel 8 Pro’s optical zoom behind the S24 Ultra’s, which is absolutely the winner in this category.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Telephoto 10x zoom

Neither camera takes 10x optical zoom images, but both promise strong results due to clever software and the use of hardware. The photo of the pigeon was shot through a window, and here, the S24 Ultra captures colors and texture better than the Pixel 8 Pro, which continues to have problems with sharpness. The S24 Ultra’s photo could pass for an optical zoom photo, while the Pixel 8 Pro’s could not.

Once again, in the second photo, the Galaxy S24 Ultra washes out the image slightly, but it’s much sharper and more defined than the Pixel 8 Pro’s photo. The text is more readable, and the edges are less jagged. Just as it did when I compared the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 10x zoom with the S24 Ultra’s 10x zoom, it really impresses for an “optical quality” mode, and it beats the Pixel 8 Pro without a problem.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Night mode

The Pixel 8 Pro excels at balancing the dark of the night sky with exposure in lit areas, as the first photo shows. The blue tint of the night sky in the S24 Ultra’s photo is distracting, but the camera takes photos that continue to be sharper and more detailed than those taken with the Pixel 8 Pro. Look at the bricks for evidence, as well as the detail on the path in front of the shop.

In the second photo, the S24 Ultra avoids the ugly smoothing on the roof of the building that’s visible in the Pixel 8 Pro’s photo and keeps the image sharp and in focus. There’s less noise in the sky, too, making for a much better, more stable image all around. It doesn’t always go the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s way, though.

The final photo was taken at 10x zoom, and the Pixel 8 Pro successfully captures the photo I wanted to take and is actually slightly more representative of the scene than the S24 Ultra’s image. However, the difference in detail is still considerable, with the Samsung camera taking a more detailed, less noisy, and better-balanced photo entirely. It’s another big win for the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Selfie camera

Samsung’s selfie camera usually failed to get the colors right in its photos, while the Pixel 8 Pro succeeded in creating a far more realistic image, with more natural skin tones too. The Portrait effect in both is good, but the S24 Ultra does edge ahead of the Pixel 8 Pro slightly here, with fewer blurred sections where it can’t work out what’s supposed to be going on. I don’t mind either image, and while the S24 Ultra’s colors and skin tones aren’t that accurate, I prefer the exposure and contrast to the Pixel 8 Pro’s. This one is a draw.

Winner: Draw

A shocking win for Samsung?

The back of the Google Pixel 8 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra.
Google Pixel 8 Pro (left) and Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Google Pixel 8 Pro succeeded in winning the main camera section, but lost four other sections to the Galaxy S24 Ultra and only managed a draw with the selfie camera. For a camera most (rightly) consider one of the best in the business, it hasn’t really impressed next to the latest Samsung Ultra phone.

Samsung really pulled ahead with its excellent telephoto camera, which despite not using a 10x optical zoom this time around, still managed to take superior photos to the Pixel 8 Pro at both 5x and 10x. It did the same when it was up against the Galaxy S23 Ultra too, but it was never a forgone conclusion it would manage the same thing against Google’s software expertise.

The Pixel 8 Pro’s camera is very good, but it has met its match with the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, which is proving to be one of the very best smartphone cameras we’ve ever used.

Editors’ Recommendations

Source link