The Galaxy S10 is Samsung’s flagship smartphone. It is equipped with a three-camera setup at the back (rear) and the front has a dual-camera setup (on the + model). This is the first time Samsung has used a five-camera setup for any of their smartphones. By far this is the best android smartphone if you are a snap-happy photographer who loves documenting their day with an easy to use, lightweight camera that’s always on you.
In this review, we match up the Samsung Galaxy S10+ with the iPhone XR and try to find out which one is the best phone camera between the two.
The heart of any smartphone is the processing chip. The Samsung Galaxy S10 (and that includes the S10, the S10e, and the S10+) have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip. As per Qualcomm, the new chip is likely to be 45% faster than the previous 845 chip. The 855 chip contains a total of 8 cores. One of which, a Kryo 485, fires at 2.84 GHz. There are three Kryo 485 cores that fire at 2.42 GHz, and a third set of four Kryo 485 cores which hit a maximum of 1.8 GHz.
The US version of the Galaxy S10 comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor which is designed using Qualcomm’s 7nm processing. When compared with the Asian version it also gets the advanced Adreno 640 GPU.
The Asian version is different. The particular phone used for this review had the Samsung made Exynox 9820 Octacore inside it. This chip is designed using Samsung’s proprietary 8mn fabrication process. There are 2 2.73 GHz cores, 2 2.31 GHz cores and 4 1.95 GHz cores. The GPU of this version is the Mali-G76 MP12.
As already mentioned above the US version and the Asian version have different processing units as well as GPU. The US version has the new Snapdragon 855 chip you also get a new GPU. The Adreno 640. Qualcomm promises that the new GPU is 20% faster than the older GPU. The Asian version as has already been mentioned above comes with the Mali-G76 MP12 GPU.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ comes with a cluster of three rear cameras and two front-facing selfie cameras. One of which is a wide selfie camera. The three rear cameras are one 12 megapixel f/1.5 – 2.4, 26mm wide-angle, a 12 megapixel f/2.4 52mm (standard) and a 16 megapixel f/2.2 12mm (ultra-wide). Two of the lenses come with O.I.S.
One of the cameras has a dual aperture system. Samsung does call it a variable aperture camera. But in reality, it just toggles between f/2.4 and f/1.5. So, you can select between two aperture options only.
The advantage of this variable aperture system is a bit subtle. It is not the same thing when you shoot with a DSLR or any other interchangeable lens camera. The change in the depth of field is marginal. There is however a noticeable change in the exposure when you switch from f/2.4 to f/1.5 or vice versa.
Speaking of aperture, even at f/2.4, the S10+ does capture a good amount of detail as is evident from this image.
And this one.
Please note, you can only toggle between f/1.5 and f/2.4 when you are shooting in manual mode. That is the Pro mode. In the Photo mode, or the auto mode of the phone, images are captured at the default aperture of f/2.4. In Pro mode, you also have the option to save your images in RAW format. Just toggle the RAW copies (Pro) option under Camera > Camera Settings > Save options to the right to activate it.
The front-facing selfie-cameras include one 10 megapixels f/1.8 26mm (wide angle) unit and another 8 megapixels f/2.2 22mm (also a wide-angle) unit. The last of which comes with a depth sensor. The depth sensor is very useful for those shallow depth of field selfie shots.
Camera Functions – Pro Mode
Let’s talk about the pro mode first because this is the mode that is likely going to be used by someone who is a bit enthusiastic about shooting images. The Pro Mode gives all the advanced controls. This includes the ability to change the ISO, the Shutter Speed, the focus and the white balance.
The Pro mode is also where you can take complete advantage of the RAW shooting capabilities of the camera. Along with full control over the exposure, white balance, focus and of course framing. With RAW shooting you now can edit the images to your taste.
There is also another option that basically throws open a bunch of settings that you can tweak. These include color temperature, tint, contrast, saturation, highlights, and shadows. These basically appear the same way as you would have seen on the basic adjustment panel in Lightroom.
Additionally, there is a third option known as the Exposure Compensation. Now, if you are familiar with shooting with a DSLR / mirrorless, you would be familiar with this option. This option basically lets you override the exposure settings dialed in by the camera.
The basic photo mode is what 90% of the users would be using most of the time. I guess the Basic photo mode, which is the equivalent of the Auto mode in DSLRs and mirrorless systems, is a very useful tool to capture snaps on the fly. And at a moment’s notice. Speaking of a moment’s notice a trick that you may want to use after you have unboxed your phone is to remap the Bixby button to pull up the camera.
The average image shot with the Galaxy S10+ in good light leaves very little to complain about. Exposure is good at most times.
One of the neat features of the Photo mode of the S10+ is the auto HDR mode. If you have that activated it will turn on when the sensor senses a wide gap between the highlight and the shadows in the image.
And it does a good job of balancing the exposure in an image. The way it has done in the above image. Despite the bright sun directly in the frame the camera seems to have retained a good amount of information from the shadow areas as well as in the highlights.
Shooting outdoors, white balance is very good. There is little to complain about. Indoors, depending on the kind of light that you are shooting in, white balance tends to be on the warmer side. Especially when shooting in natural diffused light. Like when shooting with bounced light coming through a window. Even when shooting outdoors, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ does seem to produce images that are a tad warmer compared to other smartphone cameras. Mind you this is when shooting in the normal Photo Mode. If you are shooting in the Pro Mode you can easily change the white balance.
Speaking of white balance, when we compare the shots from the Galaxy S10+ the images are definitely warmer than the ones shot on the iPhone XR at default settings. Though it is very hard to put a finger and say something very conclusively, for a majority of the images the Galaxy S10+ is definitely warmer than the iPhone XR.
Re-map the Bixby Button
The Bixby button or the button that calls up the Samsung Assistant is located on the left of the phone. Press that once to pull up the Bixby assistant. Then tap on (:) icon on the right. Tap on Settings. Tap on the Bixby key. This should open up two settings options. I have used the single press to open the camera and double press to call up Bixby.
This saves me from the hassle of having to open the native camera app and then make a shot. I can just press the Bixby button with my left thumb and call up the camera app in a jiffy and be ready to take a shot. Of course, if you have a screen lock on you still have to unlock it using pattern, fingerprint or voice.
The dynamic range of the stills is good. The Galaxy S10+ does capture and retain a lot of information from shadow all the way to the highlight areas. Thanks to the Auto HDR function that turns on when needed.
When shot indoors with natural diffused lighting the results have been sometimes a little washed out. Because the software is trying to increase the exposure in the shadow areas. If there are bright white objects in the image, such as a white wall or a white mannequin or anything else for that matter and some darker areas, the white object will invariably get blown out. If there are no bright objects, even then as the camera tries to increase the exposure in the shadow areas contrast is affected. Results from other camera phones such as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the iPhone XS Max are better with good contrast and slightly more vibrancy.
And in that same regard, when you have highlights in an image, such as a bright patch of white cloud or a light source, the Galaxy S10+ does tend to overexpose and blow out the highlights. The iPhone XR does a much better job of retaining details in highlights. Outdoors in good light both exposure and contrast are very good. Auto white balance also does a good job.
Live focus Mode
The Live Focus mode utilizes the depth sensor on the rear cameras to blur out the background and the foreground of your images. Now this effect can look stunning depending on the way you use it. Use it like the contrast and saturation slider in Lightroom and it will definitely look overcooked and unnatural. But use it judiciously, and it would look very convincing.
The thing about the Live Focus mode is that it can deliver really exceptional out of focus background effects at some times. Note I use this sometimes and not all the time. The reason is this is not the ‘organic’ out of focus effect that you would receive when shooting with a DSLR camera. This is only a software rendition using the depth sensor.
There are a few options to choose from too.
Although this is technique was originally devised for portrait photos of pets and people, it can deliver an interesting background blur effect, even for other subjects. Here I used this effect to capture some wildflowers.
One thing that the Galaxy S10+ does really well is in the bokeh department. To shoot great bokeh the best way to do this is by switching to Live Focus mode. You have four options in this mode. Blur, Spin, Zoom and Color Point. My personal favorite is Blur. To get the best results you have to stand within 1 to 1.5 meters of the subject.
Tap on the subject that you wish to get in focus. The camera does the rest. It’s amazing to think about how the effect is so realistic most of the time. Realistic in the sense that the effect looks so remarkably similar to what you would expect from a DSLR or a mirrorless camera with a fast lens.
But then this is a smartphone camera and the effect can get a bit astray at times. Such as when it blurs out parts of the body when it is just a few centimeters away from the face. So it is not exactly accurate all of the time. But when it does get it right the effect is convincing and beautiful.
There is a huge amount of distortion which you can see when you are shooting a wide-angle using the 12mm ultra-wide camera. This is also the main camera that packs the most amount of resolution. I doubt you would ever be able to shoot a meaningful portrait using this camera. It is best kept for landscapes and shots where you want to have sprawling vistas. I wouldn’t use this mode for architecture too unless I have some space on either side of the building. Otherwise, everything will appear leaning inwards (check the image above). The best lens for shooting portraits would be, undoubtedly, the longer focal length. The 52mm one.
That said, even the 26mm gets you good portraits. Still, I wouldn’t want to get too close to a face with this ultra-wide-angle camera because of the distortion that it could produce. The safest would the 52mm and that too when shot from a few feet away. Notwithstanding, you could always experiment and have some fun with both the lenses. Shoot environmental portraits with the extreme wide-angle as well as the 26mm.
Remember, that the iPhone XR has only one camera at the back (and so does the Google Pixel 3, the other major competitor for the Galaxy S10+). And thus, you are kind of limited when it comes to composition choices. Every time you need to change the composition or the perspective you have to move your feet.
That said the ultra-wide angle camera will have its own usage, especially when shooting street photography or when implementing some creative shooting ideas. The best thing is you don’t have to use the digital zoom on the Galaxy S10+. This is not something that I enjoy using and don’t recommend.
Low Light Photography Tests
The Galaxy S10+ shoots really good images in low light situations. The Google Pixel 3, arguably, has the better camera between the two when it comes to low light shooting. The reason I chose to compare it with the Google pixel 3 is that it is the closest rival of the Samsung Galaxy S10+ on the android platform.
The iPhone XR makes beautiful images in low light. And when compared with the Samsung Galaxy S10+ you do get slightly more detail. The reason is definitely because of the noise reduction process built into the Galaxy S10+. It tends to smoothen the noise and produces something that appears artificial at times. With the iPhone XR, this does not happen as much. Mind you it is the low light aspect of the camera that we are looking at.
In this particular case, the camera dialed in an ISO number of 1600 at f/2.4 and a Shutter Speed of 1/30 sec. Even with all that dialed in the image does show up a noticeable amount of noise.
Indoor low light shots have some noise, no doubt about it. You can notice them when you look at the darker/shadow areas of the image. Check the image in the above section. Dynamic range is a bit better when you consider that the camera is able to pick up details in the shadows as well as the highlights. But the problem lies in the noise handling part. As has been mentioned elsewhere in this review, the default noise correction tends to make things appear plasticky at times. Especially if you are shooting portraits in low light. Textures can get melted down which makes things appear artificial.
Autofocus is fast and accurate in most lighting conditions. The camera was tested in low light as well as the bright light to understand how it reacts. In bright light, it locks focus very quickly. Even in indoor and low light conditions, the autofocus mechanism is quite good.
The tap to focus performs admirably fast. You need it when you want to produce some off-center compositions or when the camera is unable to lock focus where you want it to focus. In the above situation, I had only moments before our car drove past the bird. Considering that this was shot using auto-focusing, the camera did a decent job. Then again, there will be situations where the camera will lock focus elsewhere and you have to make sure to correct focus before making the shot.
An interesting feature of the S10+ is the focus assist function. This is available in the Pro mode only. In the Pro mode, you need to first switch to manual focusing before you can use this feature. When in the manual focusing mode dragging the focus slider up or down reveals the areas which are in focus, highlighted by a green outline. A sharp green highlight means the area is in focus.
There is a significant amount of focus breathing present in the S10+. You can easily notice it when dragging the focus slider when manually adjusting it. Watch out for the fringes of your frame, when adjusting focus. Especially when you are shooting carefully composed shots of architecture, landscape or groups of people. You don’t want to leave out faces and stuff you want to have in your frame. Focus breathing happens even when you are using tap to focus. The ‘jumps’ are there but they are a lot more subtle. Just to reiterate make sure you frame properly and leave a slight bit of space around the frame.
The thing about Samsung’s selfie camera is that they have applied a lot of noise and blemish cancelation. So much so that at times it appears as if the subject has applied make-up. The skin appears too smooth and blemish-free to pass off as ‘natural’. That said some details are retained in the test shots that we have taken.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is a formidable smartphone camera system. Certainly right at the top when it comes to the Android platform and definitely one of the best three right now. Its selfie performance is also right at the top, just edged out by the S10 5G. All in all, it is a fantastic smartphone shooter.