Featuring the same excellent camera hardware found in the formidable Galaxy S6, Samsung’s latest flagship phablet, the Galaxy Note 5, obviously invites comparison with Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus.
Posting yesterday on The Verge, Dieter Bohn took to the streets of New York City with the two phones “scotch-taped” together in order to get a head-to-head comparison of the photographic capabilities of each.
Bohn found both cameras to be excellent, noting that “it’s not an easy call”, but overall is “tempted to give a slight edge to the iPhone”.
However, having examined the results myself, I fail to see why.
In each of Bohn’s six comparison shots, the Note 5 clearly delivers considerably more detail, revealing textures simply not present in the iPhone 6 Plus versions. The Samsung phone also proved better at handling shadows, bringing out subtleties which appear lost on the Apple flagship. Simply put, any degree of “pixel-peeping” shows the Note 5 to be superior to the iPhone.
However, a crucial point to remember is that the “best” camera won’t always produce the images you like the most. For example, many people love Polaroids precisely because of the many technical deficiencies which give them that signature look.
Preference is a subjective thing, so I could never accuse Bohn of being ‘wrong’ for leaning towards his iPhone 6 Plus photos. Ultimately, if the viewer gains some emotional connection to an image, perhaps from the particular way the colours are rendered, then it really doesn’t matter whether or not those colours are accurate. Similarly, factors such as sharpness and shadow detail often become insignificant, if not eclipsed altogether, by the overall ‘feel’ of an image.
In the split image below, the Note 5 on the left produces very different colours to the iPhone 6 Plus on the right. Most noticeably, the sky is rendered with a more vivid blue by the Apple phone. Closer inspection reveals much more detail and texture in the Note 5 version, but it’s not difficult to imagine why someone might prefer the overall look of the iPhone 6 Plus photo.
Taking the blue sky out of the equation shows the Note 5 has additional strengths beyond mere resolution. The guitarist in the middle of the shot has much clearer shadow detail in the Note 5 image. Simultaneously, the writing on the large watch face above the shop window is mostly visible on the Samsung photo, but entirely lost on the iPhone 6 Plus picture.
Under good shooting conditions such as a fine day in New York most cameras will produce good results. You really don’t need great camera hardware at times like this.
However it’s in more difficult situations where a better camera will really start to show its worth. I think Bohn’s “dinosaur” low-light image is a great example of this. I would argue that in this case we’ve moved beyond nit-picking over tiny differences and we’re now looking at a usable photo versus one which should probably just be deleted. The Note 5 is showing that it’s able to take photos you would struggle to take with an iPhone 6 Plus, and this is where the improved camera becomes really important.
Actively inviting pixel-peepers to take part, Phonearena.com today published the first part of a phablet camera test, in which the Galaxy Note 5 “smacks the iPhone 6 Plus on the head”. Coming top out of the four phones on test, the Note 5 gained 5,642 votes in the blind test compared to 1,030 votes for the iPhone 6 Plus which languishes in last place.