I found the biggest differences between the iPhone 8 Plus and Note 8 came down to three categories: audio, the front-facing camera and low-light performance.
||Galaxy Note 8||iPhone 8 Plus|
|Recording resolutions||4K (30fps) 1080p (30/60fps) 720p (30fps)||4K (24/30/60fps) 1080p (30/60fps) 720p (30fps)|
|Slow motion||1080 (120fps) 720 (240fps)||1080 (120/240fps)|
|Aperture||f/1.7 (wide-angle); f/2.4 (telephoto)||f/1.8 (wide-angle); f/2.8 (telephoto)|
|Stabilization||Optical (both lenses) and digital||Optical (wide-angle only)|
|Front camera resolution||8 megapixels||7 megapixels|
|Front camera aperture||f/1.7||f/2.2|
To compare these two phones, we took them to Slide Ranch, California for our photo and video tests. And to ensure the field of view between the two phones was as similar as possible, we mounted them side-by-side using a single grip. As a result, both were subjected to the same level of handshake and the lenses were positioned close together.
All video was taken on automatic exposure settings using the default camera app.
As with any comparison, it's important to remember that a lot of these findings are subjective and come down to what you like. Your display also makes a big difference, so your results may vary depending on whether you watch video on a phone screen or a computer.
Exposure, color and autofocus
In outdoor sunlight, both the iPhone and the Note produced well-exposed, sharp video images. I noticed that the iPhone generally produced images with more pleasing colors and skin tones for people. The Note did tend to wash out skin tones a little more.
When the lighting got a bit more challenging (such as filming in the shade with bright areas in the background), the iPhone had a tendency to blow out highlights while the Note adjusted exposure more fluidly. I noticed this the most when moving the camera around a subject and the background was constantly changing.
Speaking of motion, the autofocus on the Note shifted quickly when the subject in the frame moved, but it was so fast it looked jerky. In contrast, the iPhone adjusted focus more slowly, but it was smoother and produced a more natural, cinematic look.
Keeping it steady
In the case of the Note, both rear lenses have optical image stabilization (OIS). The iPhone 8 Plus has just the wide lens with OIS. (Like the Note 8, the iPhone X has OIS on both rear lenses.)
For video recording, the Note uses a combination of optical and digital stabilization.
When walking with both phones, I noticed the image from the iPhone looked a little more twitchy than the Note, which was smoother. OIS usually produces a smoother result than just digital or electronic stabilization, but seeing as the Note uses both types it's even more fluid.
Switching to the front-facing camera, the iPhone's image had more contrast and better color accuracy than the Note's, especially in backlit situations.
Like your vlogs to get up close and personal? The Note's selfie camera cropped into the image and resulted in a more narrow field of view than the iPhone. I didn't find it to be particularly flattering.
Sound and vision
There's no better place to see how a phone captures audio than at a live concert, recording Moonalice live on stage.
Listening to playback on the same set of headphones, to my ears the audio from the Note video sounded like a true stereo experience and a lot richer and fuller than that from the iPhone.
Both phones produce impressive 4K video, although to get the full benefits you'll want to watch playback on a 4K screen. I switched between the wide and the telephoto lenses and the image was still sharp, though with a lot of movement you can see that the 2X zoom on the iPhone doesn't have stabilization.
The iPhone edges out the Note when it comes to frame rates for 4K video. It can hit 60fps while the Note maxes out at 30fps at the same resolution.
The Note adds a built-in hyperlapse function to the default app. Hyperlapses are like timelapses, except the camera is also moving while the images are being taken. There are, but you'll need to download a separate app.
Both phones can also take still images while recording video. The Note grabs 9-megapixel stills during 4K recording while the iPhone takes them at 8 megapixels. As for slow motion, the iPhone offers 1080p recording in 120 or 240fps, while the Note also has 240fps but at a reduced resolution (720p).
The Note's default camera app has a Pro mode that lets you take control of exposure variables (shutter speed, white balance and focus) that works for videos and photos. There are many third-party iPhone apps that let you control exposure in video, such as MoviePro.
Turn the lights down low
Low light is usually where cameras (and phones) with small sensors struggle.
When filming with the Note, the AMOLED screen meant the video image looked bright and vivid compared to the iPhone. Viewing the video playback on a computer screen was a different story, as the low-light image from the Note showed much more noise in shadow areas and light bleeding from external light sources. The iPhone's image, while a little darker in exposure, looked cleaner. There was still noise, but the video was much more pleasing to watch and was sharper overall.
It's not a great idea to shoot into the sun or any other bright light source but we all do it -- and it's a great opportunity to see how the phones deal with lens flare. The Note showed two distinct rings across the top right of the image, while the iPhone had a much more subtle flare in the same position. The Note also showed more haze across the image.
Let's talk compression
Behind the scenes, the iPhone uses a new image and video compression format, HEVC (H.265). In theory, this is a big deal for video files as it should make files more manageable in terms of storage space.
Read more on.
To read HEVC files you'll need an iOS device running iOS 11 or a Mac with MacOS High Sierra. Fortunately, if you don't have these devices or don't really care about video compression, Apple essentially converts the files into a readable H.264 file and you'll likely never even notice the difference.
If you'd prefer to stick to the older format, go to Settings > Camera > Formats and choose Most Compatible. For Windows users, the easiest way to deal with HEVC until broader support is added is to simply switch over to Most Compatible. But if you've already started to take photos and videos using the high efficiency format, you'll need to convert them before being able to view on Windows.
These two flagship phones are closer than ever when it comes to video quality. Each have their own distinct strengths which may sway your buying decision. For example, the iPhone's front-facing camera produces a nicer looking image which would be great for selfie video enthusiasts, and it excels in low light. If you want video stabilization in both lenses and great audio (particularly music) the Note is where it's at.
One last thought on the Note's shooting interface. The default camera app has a record button that starts recording video immediately so it's harder to frame up your shot and then capture the video. I found it incredibly frustrating, but maybe you'll like it if you want to grab a quick spur-of-the-moment video.