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Compare iPhone XS Max photos with ones from the Galaxy Note 9

Which ones do you prefer?

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Patrick Holland

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1 of 48 Josh Miller/CNET

iPhone XS Max vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera

The iPhone XS Max and Note 9 are two of the best phones you can buy for photos and video. Each has dual rear cameras, dual optical image stabilization and use a combination of software and brute-force hardware processing power to make photos and video look excellent.

Despite so many similarities, the photos and videos each makes are quite different.

For a more in-depth look at differences, check out CNET's iPhone XS Max vs. the Galaxy Note 9 story.

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Galaxy Note 9

A photo taken of a cafe in Nob Hill. I like the way the the Note 9 captured the late-afternoon light illuminating the inside of the coffee shop. Notice how the Note 9 makes the colors here a bit warmer.

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iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max detected daylight coming in from behind me and made kept the white balance cooler.

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Galaxy Note 9

A picture of Flogging Molly performing in the living room of CNET's Smart Home in San Francisco. The Note 9's photo looks good, but slightly desaturated.

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iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max photo has better saturation. Notice the colors in the instruments and skin tones.

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Galaxy Note 9

The next two photos are of a mural by Emory Douglass. The Note 9 looks more true to life.

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iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max made the colors more punchy, but the lettering is sharper.

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Galaxy Note 9

There aren't huge differences with these next two. The Note 9 photo has a cooler white balance. 

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iPhone XS Max

The photo from the iPhone XS Max has a warmer color temperature.

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Galaxy Note 9 - live focus

The Note 9 renders live focus photos softer even with beauty mode turned all the way down -- though some people might prefer that look.

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iPhone XS Max - portrait mode

Portrait photos from the iPhone XS Max have more detail and sharpness in people's faces than the Note 9.

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iPhone XS Max - portrait mode

Portrait mode handle cat photos really well.

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Galaxy Note 9 - live focus

Notice the background blur in this photo from the Note 9.

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iPhone XS - portrait mode

Here's the same moment taken with portrait mode on the iPhone XS Max.

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Galaxy Note 9 - live focus in low light

The Note 9 had trouble focusing this backlit live focus photos in low light.

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iPhone XS Max - portrait mode in low light

The iPhone XS Max nails focus and balances the highlights in the windows with the shadows on the my friend's faces. There is noise, but without using a flash, I'd post this.

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Galaxy Note 9

Two more cat photos. This one from the Note 9 is a bit soft.

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iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max has much more detail in her fur.

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Galaxy Note 9

I took a picture of a cappuccino and hand pie from Four Barrel coffee. The Note 9 detected food and optimized photo settings accordingly while leaving the color temperature of the plate and wood table more neutral. The resulting photo has nice golden colors in the pie crust and in the foam of the cappuccino. The Note 9 nails the white balance here.

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iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max brings out the highlights in the hand pie but makes it look almost orange. Notice how everything, the food, the plate and table, have a warm tone.

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Galaxy Note 9

Here are a couple pictures I took of Senor Sisig's food truck in the Mission. The Note 9 exposed its photo brighter, showing more detail in the shadows of the shelves on the food truck but clipping the highlights in clouds and yellow building.

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iPhone XS Max

This one from the iPhone XS Max holds the highlights in the clouds and in the yellow building on the left side of the photo.

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Galaxy Note 9

Notice the differences of photos taken of a couple gazing over San Francisco from Twin Peaks. The Note 9 crunches the shadows of the rocks to black.

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iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max shows off its dynamic range holding the details in the white shirt and the details in the shadows of the the rocks.

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Galaxy Note 9

These next two photos were taking in a barbershop. The Note 9 has a warmer color temperature and clips the highlights in the overhead lighting.

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iPhone XS Max

Here's the picture from the iPhone XS Max. It has a cooler temperature.

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Galaxy Note 9

The Note 9 renders this photo with more natural looking colors.

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iPhone XS Max

The iPhone makes the colors more vibrant.

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Galaxy Note 9

The Note 9 exposes the building a bit dark.

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iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max nails the exposure here.

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Galaxy Note 9 - low light

When it comes to low light, the Note 9 switches to its f/1.5 aperture -- the widest on any smartphone -- and exposes scenes brighter than the iPhone XS Max.

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iPhone XS Max - low light

The iPhone XS Max while improved in low-light over last year's iPhone X has more noise than the Note 9 in this shot.

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Galaxy Note 9 - low light

Note 9 low light photos definitely have less noise than the iPhone XS Max, but images are really soft and suffer from blown highlights and motion blur.

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Kris tattoo iPhone XS Max

Low light photos from the iPhone have more noise but are sharper and hold highlights better.

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Galaxy Note 9 - low light

Unless, I'm taking photos of something static, I almost always preferred low light shots from the iPhone XS Max over the Note 9.

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iPhone XS Max - lowlight

Here's the same dog taken with the iPhone XS Max.

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Galaxy Note 9

I was able to take a picture of the moon. I am impressed with the Note 9's photo. Not too shabby for a phone.

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iPhone XS Max

The moon didn't fare too well with the iPhone XS Max.

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iPhone XS Max

A collage of selfie photos from the iPhone XS Max.

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Galaxy Note 9

These next four pictures below were taken late morning of this sky blue colored building in the Mission. Here is the Note 9 using its standard camera.

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iPhone XS Max

And here the iPhone XS Max using its standard camera.

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Galaxy Note 9 - zoom

And now we get closer with two times optical zoom on the Note 9 which has more contrast than the iPhone XS Max, but still looks pretty great.

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iPhone XS Max - zoom

The iPhone XS Max does a fantastic job with the colors and exposing the details in the shadows.

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Galaxy Note 9 - zoom

When you use digital zoom, photos from both phones look more sloppy. Here's a photo taken with 10 times digital zoom on the Note 9 focusing in on Salesforce Tower. Both look pretty rough.

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iPhone XS Max - zoom

The photo from iPhone XS Max has a smattering more color saturation, but still suffers from soft details.

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Note 9

The next few photos are one I really like. This one of Flogging Molly was taken with the Note 9.

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iPhone XS Max

An iPhone XS Max photo of Rami Malek at an early screening of the film Bohemian Rhapsody in which he plays Freddie Mercury.

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iPhone XS Max

This one of my pal Josh was taken with the iPhone XS Max.

For a more in-depth look at differences, check out CNET's iPhone XS Max vs. the Galaxy Note 9 story.

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