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Galaxy S10 vs. Pixel 3: Which phone has the best camera?

Two top Android phones battle it out for the camera crown.

Angela Lang/CNET

Are three cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S10 better than one on the Google Pixel 3? Samsung has put a regular wide-angle, an ultra wide-angle and a 2x telephoto camera on the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus to help satisfy photographers looking for the best phone camera. But with the Pixel 3 having such strong photo credentials, it's time to see if the Galaxy S10 has what it takes.

Galaxy S10 vs. Pixel 3 camera


Galaxy S10 Pixel 3
Wide-angle camera 12 megapixels 12 megapixels
Telephoto camera 12 megapixels N/A
Ultra wide-angle camera 16 megapixels N/A
Maximum aperture (wide lens) f/1.5-2.4 f/1.8
Telephoto aperture f/2.4 N/A
Optical image stabilization Yes (not on ultra-wide) Yes
Cinematic video stabilization 1080p, 720p 4K, 1080p, 720p
Optical zoom 2x N/A
Digital zoom 10x 10x
4K video fps 24, 30, 60 30
1080p video fps 30, 60, 120, 240 30
Front camera resolution 10 megapixels 8 megapixels
Front camera type 80 degree FOV f/1.9 28mm f/1.8 and 19mm f/2.2

We've already compared the Pixel 3 against other phones like the iPhone XS and iPhone XR and it's proven to be a tough competitor to beat.

Note that the rear cameras on the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus, and the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are the same, so results regardless of size should be the same. Also make sure to check out our earlier comparison of the S10 Plus and the iPhone XS Max.

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Both the Galaxy S10 and Pixel 3 make beautiful photos

I really love taking photos on both these phones and I didn't expect to enjoy using the S10 as much as my favorite phone camera from last year, the Pixel 3. But I'm hooked. Mostly because of that ultra-wide angle lens, which I'll explain more about later.

You won't be disappointed with either when taking general photos of landscapes and scenery. Colors are vibrant and images look nice and sharp when you're shooting in good light. Of course both have HDR or high dynamic range modes: I left HDR active most of the time for outdoor shots.

The Galaxy S10 also has a scene optimizer that recognizes 30 types of subjects from trees to sunsets, then performs local tone mapping to optimize the image. It also offers suggestions to improve the composition when you're taking shots.

s10-comparison-zoom

This is what photos from the three rear lenses on the S10 look like, taken from the same position just changing between the cameras.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

When the scene optimizer is turned on, the S10's shots look a bit warmer and colors are more saturated than on the Pixel 3. This holds true even for indoor photos. Sometimes the S10's effect is too much though -- especially on the ultra-wide lens as I noticed that some shots looked overly saturated.

That said, I love the ultra-wide angle lens because it does make all the difference if you shoot a lot of landscapes, like in the photos below where you see so much more of the scene compared to the Pixel 3. There is noticeable distortion (a common issue with many super wide-angle lenses whether on phones or traditional cameras) but it didn't annoy me that much. If anything, it can add to the character of the photo, drawing your eye to the center of the frame if you compose a shot like the one below.

superwide-3-s10

The ultra-wide lens adds a lot of drama to your shots.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Pro mode is available on the Galaxy S10 to gives you manual exposure controls over ISO, aperture, shutter speed and more. There is no manual mode on the default camera app on the Pixel 3, but you can use a third-party app instead.

Foodies will also love the Galaxy S10's dedicated food mode that pumps up the color and adds a pleasing background blur to your dishes. To get a similar effect on the Pixel you'll need to use portrait mode. I don't take many photos of my meals anymore, but if the S10 was my daily driver I'd be tempted to become a food Instagrammer.

Portrait mode looks different on each phone

On the Galaxy S10, portrait mode is called Live Focus and it uses both the super-wide and wide lenses to generate the effect. As a result portraits look a lot wider than those taken on previous Galaxy phones like the S9.

But I found the blur level to be very subtle when left on the default setting. Sometimes I couldn't even tell if I had used Live Focus to take the shot. The only way to make sure was if I went in to edit the photos and changed the background effect.

The Pixel 3's default blur level is more pronounced. It definitely looks more like the portrait modes you may already be familiar with from other phones, or the shallow depth of field effect you get when using a dSLR and lens with a wide aperture.

Both phones let you use portrait mode on any subject (flowers, objects, pets) as well as humans. You can also adjust the intensity of the blur after the shot has been taken.

While the blur is a lot more subtle on the Galaxy S10, for some portraits like the one below, the wider perspective makes for a much nicer and more dramatic image because you get more of the background in the shot. Colors are also a little more saturated and vivid than those on the Pixel 3 when using Live Focus.

Selfies are more flattering on the Galaxy S10

I say that because I prefer what I look like when I see photos of myself taken on the S10 rather than the Pixel 3. It has warmer tones, more saturated colors and the HDR effect evens out shadows and highlights between foreground and background better than the Pixel. Also note that the camera has a beauty mode that's on by default, which smooths your skin tone but you can easily turn it off. There are also options to adjust eyes, jawline, nose, lips and so on if you're game -- I wasn't.

pixel3-s10-selfies

A comparison of the selfie shots from both phones.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

But even without this "beauty mode" turned on, I think the S10's image is more flattering than the same selfie from the Pixel, which has a lot of contrast. You might prefer the Pixel 3 look, but I don't! The S10 also lets you save pictures as you see them, so they're not flipped. Both phones have portrait mode available on the front-facing camera.

Where the Pixel 3 does excel is with super-wide selfies. Thanks to the second lens at the front, you can fit more people in your shots or include more of the background.

Low-light quality: Advantage Pixel 3

The Pixel 3 has a big advantage in low light thanks to Night Sight. This mode takes up to 15 frames, including some long exposures to capture shadow detail, merges them together and applies machine learning to get better-looking photos. Read more in our deep-dive about how the Pixel 3 captures Night Sight photos and Super Res Zoom.

It's almost like being able to see in the dark, bringing out details you would otherwise miss. On the Galaxy S10, the equivalent low-light mode is called Bright Night and it's a part of the scene optimizer. Unlike Night Sight, which you can activate manually, Bright Night only turns on automatically when you have the scene optimizer on. I found it only kicked in when the scene was really dark, so situations with even a little light didn't trigger the setting.

In really dark situations, the Pixel 3's images are much cleaner and clearer than those from the Galaxy S10, but if there's some light (such as in the shot below with the bar lights) then the S10 and its slightly warmer white balance looks great.

Video is the Galaxy S10's time to shine

Video quality on the Pixel 3 is fine. But it's never been the phone's strong point like its still photos. The S10's videos look sharper, especially when it comes to capturing fine detail. Colors are more vibrant and pleasing when you're filming in good light. Plus audio quality is much better as well.

When it comes to stabilization though, I prefer the Pixel 3's combination of optical and electronic systems, which just looks smoother and compensates better for handheld movement. The Galaxy S10 has a mode called Super Steady that you can activate by tapping the icon in the camera interface. While it's fine for most shots, it just doesn't look as smooth to me as the Pixel's stabilization.

If you're shooting on the S10's widest lens you don't get optical stabilization. Also, you only get tracking autofocus and video effects on the S10 when you are shooting in 1080p/30fps, not 4K.

For low-light video, the Galaxy S10 wins easily. The image is much clearer and sharper, retaining color and detail that otherwise gets lost on the Pixel 3. Same for slow motion; the S10's image at 240 frames per second looks crisper. There is also a super-slow motion mode that gets up to 960 frames per second but you have to time your shots just right to capture the action.

Samsung also has HDR10 Plus support on the S10, which boosts highlights and colors, but if you don't have a compatible device then the only way to really appreciate it is to view it on the phone screen.

The best camera goes to…

As always, the answer isn't clear cut. And honestly, I'm really torn in having to try pick an overall winner. Having the flexibility to switch between three focal lengths on the Galaxy S10 is a huge advantage and the ultra-wide angle opens up a lot more possibilities for your photos. But the Pixel 3 has a winner in Night Sight for low light and when you're looking at photos at full magnification, the Pixel's camera retains more detail.

This article was originally posted on April 9. 

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