Samsung’s Galaxy S5 or Apple’s iPhone 6? Fanboy allegiances aside, there will be lots of people making that decision over the next year. Among the primary questions people ask when trying to pick their next smartphone, “which has a better camera?” is among the top. In this comparison we put the devices head-to-head, taking nearly identical pictures with each device across a range of environments, and hopefully helping you understand what to expect.
Our photographic evidence is below, but here are the main takeaways:
- Galaxy S5 takes some amazing pics, but has a tendency to produce some washed out photos
- iPhone 6 photos are solid and more consistent, but pictures sometimes lack detail
- The above visuals carry over to video as well
- Galaxy S5 has superior audio playback in videos
- Galaxy S5 is better in lowlight
- Galaxy S5 has superior zoom
- Advantages in lowlight/zoom/audio make the Galaxy S5 more versatile
- iPhone 6 selfie cam is superior
- Both cameras are really good but not great… travelers will still want a point and shoot alternative or DSLR (of which I recommend the Samsung Galaxy Camera).
In the below sets of photos, the first picture is always from the Galaxy S5 and the second is always from the iPhone 6.
Taken on a blaringly bright day with light and shadow weaving in and out of trees and buildings, we see one of the Galaxy S5’s flaws right off the bat: sometimes it does too much, super saturating colors and creating contrast where it’s unnecessary, washing out the picture in the process. Notice the bottom picture (the iPhone) maintains the blue sky.
But zooming in, you’ll find the S5 picture more crisp while the iPhone picture is fuzzy. The colors in the S5 photo are bright and fun while the iPhone picture appears dull. The flip side of that argument: the S5 photos can seem artificial while the iPhone photos more natural.
This is a recurring theme with all Samsung devices, including their TVs, purposefully exaggerating colors to create the most beautiful experience possible. Sometimes it works perfectly, sometimes it misses the mark.
I walked over to the Fells Point pier to snap some more outside pics, these of the Under Armour building across the harbor.
The iPhone again presents more accurate blues, but zooming into the Under Armour building, notice the S5’s 16MP camera is able to capture greater detail.
It’s possible that, from the above pictures, you prefer the iPhone versions. That’s an understandable (matter of preference), but don’t think that Samsung is altering the saturation, brightness, and contrast needlessly. In many cases it helps create a much better scene, such as this nearby picture (see Under Armour in the background?) where the foreground is illuminated, making it much more interesting.
That affect is hit or miss, sometimes improving colors and lighting, other times washing them out or making them seem artificial. For example below, I prefer the nice and vibrant Galaxy S5 beer picture yet prefer the iPhone’s picture of the field itself, maintaining those deep, natural greens in the grass.
My gallery on both phones are filled with these situations: I like some photos on one phone and some photos from the other. It’s very hit or miss and which phone you generally accept as “better” for pictures is a matter of preference. However, some specific camera characteristics have clear cut winners.
Zoom Zoom Zoom
One place where the Galaxy S5 camera clearly wins: zooming. With a 16MP camera compared to the iPhone 6’s 8MP camera, users can put the full image on their computer, crop a small portion, and the photo will still be plenty large to use for online purposes.
That’s exactly what you saw with he Under Armour images above… but what about using the zoom on the camera itself, before you take the picture? Check out this picture of the Natty Boh guy from the rooftops, taken without any zoom (note these were accidentally taken at different times of the day, hence the difference in lighting):
Now let’s see what happens if we use the phone itself to zoom.
And now, from the zoomed picture, let’s crop that cute little guy’s face.
Not even close… the Galaxy S5 runs away with it.
If there’s one place that the iPhone 6 runs away with a camera category, it’s selfies. Despite only having a 1.2MP shooter compared to the 2.1MP on the Galaxy S5, it consistently produced better images from its front facing “FaceTime HD” camera. Here’s me and my sister pretending to be tough (and another friend selfie bombing with his duckface).
Colors are much richer and the textures are more human. Given that 99% of the time the front cam will be used to capture a person’s face… it seems Apple may have optimized accordingly. Keep in mind that this camera will mostly be used for social media, messaging, and live video chat, having a resolution over 1280 x 720 isn’t too important- that works just fine.
Macro and More
Some of my favorite pictures are closeups of random objects, whether that be food, flowers or something else. Both phones performed incredibly well with macro pictures, and although the noticeable difference between the final photos remains, this category was too close to call. Once again, mostly a matter of preference. In the interest of time and bandwidth, I’ll include a handful of other comparison photos, and we’ll move along.
Analyzing the videos we find the same themes prevalent from the photo comparisons. Namely, the iPhone’s colors appear more natural at the ballpark but in low light – in the music venue – the video is grainy and struggles to capture a good picture. The visual winner may be a tossup, but from an audio standpoint the Galaxy S5 absolutely crushes the iPhone in playback.
The Galaxy S5 sound is full with a clear and booming bass while the iPhone playback lays flat. Both videos were shakier than I’d hope, but that may be as much my fault as the camera’s, considering the musical nature of both videos. That being said, I specifically remember trying to hold quite still at the ballpark while recording.
The first set of videos are from a bar called Waterfront in Fells Point. Live music all the time and some good food, too. The second set are from the Orioles game at Camden Yards during the “Fan of the Game” selection. This hilarious guy did the same exact cheer at every idle moment of the game, even during YMCA he was poking the program into the air, exactly like so. I never did find out what was on the front of that program, but I’m not sure I want to know… I’d rather preserve the legend.
The video comparison would be close but the S5 audio sounds so far superior to the iPhone that it’s rendered a no-brainer.
The Shocking Part
Over the course of several days, when taking these pictures, I showed friends and family some of the pictures I’d taken along the way. Almost everyone – including me – was shocked at how clearly Samsung’s Galaxy S5 dominated the iPhone in photo taking. It wasn’t even close. Runaway victory. Laughable.
Then I put them on the computer… and that outlook changed. Samsung is known for having the brightest and most vibrant displays on the planet. When reviewing the photos, we weren’t admiring the quality of the photos… we were admiring the quality of the Galaxy S5 screen. We just didn’t know it.
Once putting both photos on a neutral device and equal playing field, just the opposite seemed to occur: the iPhone 6 edged the S5 in many cases because of deeper colors with more contrast. I was absolutely shocked, because I was fully prepared to write this article about the S5 demolishing the iPhone 6 camera… but that’s not the case.
On the other hand, this says a lot about the Galaxy S5 display. Simply put: it’s amazing. But that’s another story. The Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6 take different approaches to handling less-than-optimal lighting conditions and neither is perfect. There is no clear cut winner
As is the case with many flagship smartphone comparisons, you could easily make the argument for either the Galaxy S5 or the iPhone 6 as having the better camera. There are some clear differences, advantages, and flaws of each, but all things considered the Galaxy S5 has more points in it’s favor.
The iPhone 6 does take more consistently well colored photos, but the advantage is marginal. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S5 is superior in low light, crushes with zoom, and is exponentially better at capturing rich audio. Unless your heart is determined to have the better selfie at every waking moment, I’d recommend the Galaxy S5 as the better smartphone camera for its versatility and feature set… but the iPhone 6 isn’t far behind.
These are still two of the best smartphone cameras on the market, but serious photo lovers who anticipate wanting a great camera for trips and personal projects will still want to buy a dedicated point and shoot camera or DSLR.