I have always been a Samsung user. My first smartphone was an early version of the Samsung Galaxy S series and I have tended to upgrade to the latest Galaxy every two years. I like Samsung phones and find that they have quite good battery life, an important consideration if they are being used as a camera. I have occasionally considered the possibility to moving to iPhone but have always resisted the attraction and stuck with Samsung. However, my Galaxy S9+ recently came to the end of its life so I was in the market for an upgrade. Once again, the possibility of change loomed.
"The best camera is the one you have with you"
Over the last two years, since I have become serious about photography, I have increasingly come to agree with the well-used phrase, The best camera is the one you have with you. Since the camera most of us have with us is a phone camera, this aspect of the latest phone has become the most important consideration for me in choosing a phone upgrade. Hence, when faced with upgrading my Galaxy S9+ my research led me to a choice between the Galaxy S20 and the iPhone 11 phone ranges. I did extensive research and discovered that they are both excellent phones with exceptionally good cameras and neither phone was a clear winner over the other in every category reviewed. My choice had to boil down to what I was looking for in a camera.
My main purpose in choosing a phone camera was to have a viable alternative to my dedicated camera, one which would produce sharp pictures and give a real photography experience rather than simply producing good snapshots. With the number of iPhone courses and tutorials online I was slightly biased towards going for iPhone, but I did weigh the pros and cons of each in terms of my own requirements. I considered four phones - the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S20 and S20+. (The Samsung Galaxy Ultra has the best camera reviews in the S20 range but it is considerably more expensive). Below are my findings. As these results are based on my own requirements from a phone camera, they may not be useful to everyone, but I hope they will be of help if you are in the market for a new phone camera that can be an aid in learning photography. (You might also like to read my post How my smartphone helped my photography here)
Expert reviews based on lab tests are available from many sources online. My review simply outlines the considerations that helped me make my choice, based on what I required.
Samsung Galaxy S20
Triple camera array
128 GB basic storage with options to expand
3x optical zoom telephoto lens
Samsung images tend to be over saturated compared to natural look of iPhone images
Night Mode not as good as on iPhone
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus
Specs as S20, with quad camera set up (addition of depth vision camera)
Good battery life
Unsure of benefit of depth vision camera to justify extra cost
Images have a natural look
Improved Night Mode compared to previous iPhones
Dual lens set up (No telephoto lens)
64 GB basic storage option
iPhone 11 Pro
Triple camera array
Images have a natural look
Decent battery life
Considered by many reviewers to be one of the best smartphones on the market
Has optical image stabilisation on telephoto and wide angle lenses
Excellent Night Mode
64 GB storage, no option to expand
Not 5G ready
I based my choice on the results of several reviews which tended to agree that the iPhone camera produced good, natural, true-to-life images. Some reviewers even suggested that the crisp images and dynamic range of the iPhone Pro can match the images of entry level DSLRs in some cases.
There was general agreement that Samsung’s images were slightly more saturated, or look more over processed, which I find to be the case with my Galaxy S9+.
Samsung gives more storage, but that is not a priority for me as I mainly use online storage or transfer images to computer.
The absence of a telephoto lens on the iPhone 11 meant that I didn’t consider it, as being able to zoom in closely at times gives another perspective to images, which I like. The 11 Pro was the winner between the two iPhones. It was at this point that I was tempted towards the 3x optical zoom of the Samsung Galaxy. However, I moved on to look at the low light images of both phones and as the iPhone was the clear winner here, I felt that this was a more beneficial advantage for my photography development.
If the phone rather than its camera is your priority then the Samsung Galaxy S20+, with its 128 GB basic storage option (versus 64 GB basic iPhone storage), its excellent battery life and the fact that it is 5G ready, might be the phone you will opt for. However, the tipping point for me is the fact that the iPhone 11 Pro tops almost all the phone camera reviews. With its powerful processor and top specs I know I won’t go wrong with the iPhone 11 Pro in phone terms. Add to that a top-notch camera and the final choice for me had to be the iPhone 11 Pro.
See below for some expert reviews of smartphone cameras.
I have been using the iPhone 11 Pro for around two months now. It has proven itself to be a great substitute for my dedicated camera on more than a few occasions, and on some outings I have brought only my iPhone so that I have to use it exclusively. The three lens options provide lots of variety for image creation, images are sharp and look natural, and I find that the camera will do its job well if I do mine. Regardless of how good the camera may be, it cannot turn a bad photographer into a good photographer, but it does give a learner photographer many learning opportunities to produce pleasing images, to capture images from different perspectives, to work on composition, to look for great light and, most of all, to never miss a photo opportunity. These are some of my images so far.
All of the first set of images are straight out of camera, with the exception of checking white balance and straightening wonky horizon lines! They were taken on a spontaneous pit-stop as I travelled home recently.
I did a small amount of processing on the following images to improve lighting and bring up detail in shadows. As the photos are not RAW files the possibilities for post processing are limited, but small enhancements are possible.
I like the fact that I can focus on something in the foreground and have a blurry background
These photographs were taken in low light conditions.
The Question Remains…
While I am happy with the choice I made in terms of smartphone camera I do still ask myself, will it begin to replace my DSLR and mirrorless camera? I hope to answer that question in an upcoming blog.