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iPhone 8 Plus vs. Galaxy Note 8: Which dual camera is better?

We tested out the dual cameras on Apple's iPhone 8 Plus and Samsung's Note 8 to see which one takes better portraits, landscapes and low-light shots.

In specs alone the iPhone 8 Plus and the Note 8 are worthy rivals. Both have two 12 megapixel rear cameras with a 2x optical zoom and a designated feature for portraits. 

Camera Specs


Galaxy Note 8 iPhone 8 Plus
Resolution 2x12 megapixels (wide-angle and telephoto) 2x12 megapixels (wide-angle and telephoto)
Aperture f/1.7 (wide-angle); f/2.4 (telephoto) f/1.8 (wide-angle); f/2.8 (telephoto)
Stabilization Optical Image Stabilization (both) Optical Image Stabilization (wide-angle only)
Front camera resolution 8 megapixels 7 megapixels
Front camera aperture f/1.7 f/2.2

The Note has a slight advantage when it comes to lens size and aperture with OIS (optical image stabilization) on both lenses, but it's a newcomer to the dual camera realm. The iPhone has had this setup since 2016's iPhone 7 Plus.

Check out our comparison of video quality between these two phones here.

How do they compare in the real world?

We took a trip to Slide Ranch in California on a sunny day to take some photos of kids and farms animals.

Before we begin, some notes on the ground rules:

  • Both phones were left on the default settings unless otherwise stated with automatic exposure and focus.
  • All of the evaluations here are my subjective opinion (with some input from my coworkers). You're welcome to disagree.

Portraits

The iPhone and the Note use information from the wide angle and telephoto lens to simulate a shallow depth of field similar to that of a DSLR when photographing people, animals, plants or objects. In the Note it's called "Live Focus" and in the iPhone it's called "Portrait Mode". Both modes are easy to access from the main camera interface with just a tap of the screen. Once in the mode, phones need to be positioned at a specific distance from the subject in order to activate it.

taylor-trees
Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

The one shot on the iPhone has greater contrast and richer colors, but Taylor's face looks darker. The phone also had a hard time figuring out the edges of her hair and the blurred background effect looks harsh around her face.

The Note's has a brighter exposure which illuminates her face better, but it also creates an unnatural glow around her face and body and parts of the shot look blown out. Although the blur effect doesn't seem as harsh as the iPhone's.

taylorblur
Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

The Note also lets you adjust the blur while you're taking the shot or afterwards. It defaults to a medium blur, which helps make it look more natural, but you can intensify it to look more like the effect on the iPhone.

montagetaylor
Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

The iPhone doesn't allow you to adjust the blur, but it has a new feature that simulates different lighting effects during or after taking the shot. The lighting mode is still in beta, but it can create studio, contour and stage light on the subject.

Out of the two special features I think I'd rather have the Note's control over the intensity of the blur than the lighting effects, but it's a matter of personal preference.

bellablanket
Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

But aside from the blur issues, portraits of people tend to look better on the iPhone. The warmer tones are more flattering on their skin, and it captures more life-like details in faces. The colors in the iPhone shot look more vibrant, and you can even pick out a bit of sweat on Bella's forehead. The Note washed out the shot and evened out the skin on Bella's face making it look retouched.

Selfies

seldfie

Same goes for portraits on the front camera. The Note assumes people need airbrushing and defaults to using its beauty mode (at level 2) which smoothed out the freckles on the girls' faces. Selfies on the iPhone were more natural with more vibrant colors and greater contrast.

Close-ups

close-up-sage
Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

Even up close the colors look richer and the leaves have more contrast on the iPhone. The sage appears to have more depth and detail, even though the Note's is just as sharp.

close-up-flower
Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

The downside: you can't get too close with the iPhone, it just won't focus. The shot of the flower in the vase looks good, but it focused on the wrong flower (the white ones in the back) instead of the pistils in the center of the shot which is what I was actually aiming for. The Note focuses at a closer range so it captured exactly what I wanted in the shot and even has a manual focus mode in the Pro settings for more precision.

Zoom

2x-zoom
Lexy Savvides/CNET

Both phones have a 2x optical zoom which allows them to get closer in a shot without losing detail. After that they resort to digital zoom to get closer. At a glance both shots look sharp. Again the iPhone has warmer tones and the one on the Note looks slightly cooler and the colors are more subdued. But if you zoom in, you notice that the Note's is sharper and captured more details on the sign and my face looks clearer.

Landscape

landscape2
Lexy Savvides/CNET

The cooler temperature of the Note look great on landscapes. Some people prefer warmer richer colors, but I personally like the cool blues of the sky and water on the Note's. The ripples in the water appear clearer in the shot of the Note, but the clouds in the iPhone's stand out more.  

landscape-gg
Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

The same can be said about the shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Note's appears to be clearer because of the color temperature and it shows more detail making the bridge pop out of the shot. But the iPhone's may have captured a more accurate representation of the late afternoon light and the clouds are more dramatic.

Low-light

lowlight-1
Lexy Savvides/CNET

The Note outshines the iPhone in low light and brightens up the entire shot. You can see a lot more detail in the sidewalk and the houses in the background on the shot of the Note. The orb shot on the iPhone has more vibrant blues and greater contrast with less lens flare around the street lights.

cityhall
Lexy Savvides/CNET

The greater contrast of the Note looks really nice on the shot of San Francisco City Hall bringing out the details in the column and the fence around it.

The Note 8 is likely opting for a slower shutter speed which lets in more light, but also means it's more susceptible to shake in the hands of a jittery person. The iPhone may have a higher shutter speed to avoid the risk of shake which means less motion blur.

The verdict

This time around it might be too close to call and in most instances the "best" shot depends on the viewer's preferences. I personally prefer the cooler temperature and crisp detail on the Note's for landscapes, but for people I'm partial to the warmer tones and more natural skin texture of the iPhone. What is clear is that the cameras on both these phones are top notch, but they still can't quite compete with a DSLR for shallow depth of field effect on portraits.