May 4th, 2017

Every year we’ve watched as Samsung has introduced brand new camera tech in their flagship line of Galaxy S line. Apertures grew wider, pixels became larger, and — like most of you — I assumed that the camera quality was getting better and better thanks to newer, updated sensors and processors.

We’ve all heard the claims. The Galaxy S8 is “the best smartphone Samsung has ever built.” And while that may be true, sometimes it’s fun to see just how far we’ve come. So, as a sort of fun test, I decided to pit the Galaxy S8 up against its older siblings in a camera shootout.

Now it would only make sense that the Galaxy S8 would mop the floor with its predecessors. Even when up against the S7 — which features mostly similar camera specs as the S8 — the S8 still has a leg up with a newer Sony IMX333 camera sensor and improved image processing. But the results of the actual camera output were a little surprising to say the least. Now, we don’t want to spoil anything, so just take a look at the photos for yourselves to see the evolution of Samsung’s camera hardware.

Daylight

So, these were a handful of photos I took during the light of day and represent the best possible lighting conditions for a smartphone. I did try to mix things up by including a lot of direct sunlight and shadows to better show the phones’ dynamic rage, so keep an eye on that when cycling through them. Note: HDR was turned OFF on all devices being tested, and the camera lenses were regularly cleaned in between shots.

Galaxy S8 (left), Galaxy S7, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S5 (right)

Low light

Low light is a challenge for any camera and it’s hear that the differences between the devices become clear. The Galaxy S5 struggles to show much of anything, while the S7 and S8 clearly have the brightest shots out of the bunch.

But don’t discount the Galaxy S6 which had darker photos and bit more noise at times, but this wasn’t always the case. Once again, HDR was turned OFF for this test and camera lenses were regularly cleaned in between shots.

Galaxy S8 (left), Galaxy S7, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S5 (right)

Final Thoughts

Galaxy S6 camera is surprisingly still capable

Galaxy S6 (left), Galaxy S8 (right) 100% crop

As confident as I was in the Galaxy S8’s camera shooting abilities, I was actually quite surprised to learn that — at least when it came to daytime shooting — I actually preferred the photos that came out of the Galaxy S6. They didn’t have quite the same dynamic range as the S8 photos which did a better job at brightening up shadows, but, at least to me, they more than made up for it with crazy sharp detail.

Galaxy S6 (left), Galaxy S8 (right) 100% crop

Now, it’d be easy to assume that this mostly has to do with the Galaxy S6’s higher resolution count (16MP vs 12MP on the S8), but even when shooting only a few feet away from the subject, the S8 goes bat-sh*t crazy with the noise filtering, smoothing out concrete, grass blades, stucco, wood — anything with any sort of texture. This results in dramatically un-sharpened photos and while they look fine on your tiny smartphone display, zoom or crop just a teensy bit and the differences are made clear.

Galaxy S6 (left), Galaxy S8 (right) 100% crop

Galaxy S7 vs Galaxy S8

Now, although I had a feeling the S8 would beat the Galaxy S7 in terms of photo quality, the margin was much smaller than I had expected. So little in fact often times it was a complete toss up, with me struggling to find any differences in photos between the two. The obvious difference the much cooler color temp on the S8, with slightly more noise filtering being applied to photos.

Galaxy S7 (left), Galaxy S8 (right) 100% crop

In low light, I actually preferred the Galaxy S7 shots which were just as bright as the S8’s, but occasionally much more detailed thanks to a less aggressive noise filter (see the fire hydrant photos). It seems clear that anyone who currently owns the Galaxy S7 (or S7 Edge), you really don’t have to feel like you’re missing out on much, at least not when it comes to photo quality.

Galaxy S5 still holding its own

Galaxy S5 (left), Galaxy S8 (right) 100% crop

Of course, the Galaxy S5’s camera hasn’t aged well at all, making it nearly impossible to capture low light photos of any kind. Even with (a lot) more light, photos were surprisingly sharp, but lacked the superior dynamic range of its younger siblings. Still we have to give it to the S5, its daylight photos never really looked “bad” per se.

Now, I”ll turn things over to you. When dealing with smartphone cameras, a lot of the time it comes down purely to user preference. Which camera do you feel took the best photo? Were you surprised the results at all? Leave us your thoughts down below.