Galaxy S8 vs. iPhone 7 Plus: Is one camera better than two?

Find out how Samsung's single-lens wonder stacks up against Apple's dual-lensed giant in our photo comparison.

Vanessa Hand Orellana CNET Senior Editor
As head of wearables at CNET, Vanessa reviews and writes about the latest smartwatches and fitness trackers. She joined the team seven years ago as an on-camera reporter for CNET's Spanish-language site and then moved on to the English side to host and produce some of CNET's videos and YouTube series. When she's not testing out smartwatches or dropping phones, you can catch her on a hike or trail run with her family.
Vanessa Hand Orellana
5 min read
Watch this: Galaxy S8 Plus vs iPhone 7 Plus: Which takes better pictures?

If you compare the Galaxy S8's camera to the S7, not much has changed. It has the same 12-megapixel resolution, f/1.7 aperture and same digital zoom.

Samsung may not have changed the key specs on its rear camera (it hasn't said whether the sensor itself is different), but it has updated the software. It uses processing techniques, such as combining multiple shots, to get higher quality photos and artfully blurry backgrounds.

The iPhone 7 Plus has two cameras, which let it zoom in closer (and more clearly) and shoot blurry background (aka "bokeh") photos that make portraits stunning.

Are the software improvements on the S8 Plus enough to compete against the two cameras iPhone 7 Plus ? Take a look at our results.

Camera specs

Galaxy S8 PlusiPhone 7 Plus
Resolution 12 megapixels 2x12 megapixels (wide-angle and telephoto)
Aperture f/1.7f/1.8 (wide-angle); f/2.8 (telephoto)
Stablization Optical Image Stabilization Optical Image Stabilization (wide-angle only)
Front camera resolution 8 megapixels7 megapixels
Front camera aperture f/1.7f/2.2

I took both phones out for a two-day shoot around the San Francisco Bay area and tested them in seven categories: landscape, zoom, close-ups, action, portrait selfies and low-light. Both were set on the default automatic settings unless they had a specific mode for that category.


On sunny days along the cliffs of Marin, it was hard to get a bad shot with either phone. The S8 has a wider angle lens, which lets you squeeze more into the frame standing in the same position. The S8's shot had more dramatic colors, but the iPhone did a better job of capturing the texture.


The clouds on the S8 look more dramatic, but the grass on the iPhone has better texture.

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It wasn't until the skies turned overcast that differences between the two cameras became more obvious. For example, the pond at Golden Gate Park looks warmer and brighter on the S8, as the phone compensated the dull skies by saturating the image (making the colors more vibrant). On the iPhone, the colors are more subdued -- but realistic. Ultimately, the S8's photo was more beautiful to look at, but if you're looking for a realistic photo, the Plus is where it's at.


The one shot on the S8 looks more vivid and visually more appealing, but less realistic.

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There are two types of zoom: digital and optical. Digital uses software to artificially "zoom in," while optical uses the actual lens to zoom, like a traditional camera. Generally speaking, optical zoom is much, much higher quality than digital.

The S8 has an 8x digital zoom, while the iPhone has a combination of optical and digital. The iPhone's optical lens lets it to get two times closer, and then uses a digital zoom to get up to 10x.


The zoom was especially helpful when taking pictures of goslings at Golden Golden Gate Park as it kept me from having to get in pecking range of their watchful parents.

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Neither shot looks crisp at 8x, but the S8's photo looks a lot more pixelated and slightly blown-out. This is where the iPhone's optical zoom shines most. The iPhone's version is softer with warmer tones.


The 10x zoom on the iPhone 7 Plus allows it to get closer than the S8.

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Ten times zoom on the surfer shows that the iPhone can, to a certain extent, retain detail while letting you get super-close.

Close-up (macro)

With close-ups, the difference between the iPhone and S8 comes down to two things: ease of use and detail.

On the iPhone, you can select and lock focus on an area when you're up close, but getting too close to a subject is a problem. The iPhone will not be able to focus on anything closer than two inches and getting the shot of the butterfly took a few tries.

The S8 has a Pro Mode with a manual focus option that allows you to select the exact focal point in the shot, giving you a more precise and closer shot of the butterfly off the bat. My one complaint is that the manual focus sliding gesture kept making me switch to the front camera while I was trying to focus.


The S8 has brighter greens, but the greater contrast on the iPhone's shot gives it more depth.

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The final results are impressive on both as seen on the shot of the butterfly at the California Academy of Sciences. The S8 captured more vivid greens than the iPhone, with a more pronounced bokeh effect while the greater contrast on the iPhone gave it more depth. But if you zoom in closer, you'll notice the S8 captured a lot more detail on the veins of the wings and texture on the torso.


To test the burst mode, we took the phones to capture some feeding time action at the Marine Mammal Center in Marin.


The shots are similar, but the S8 captured more detail in the flying fish and ice chunks.

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The S8 took more shots per burst, which gave me more options to choose from, but both were able to capture the fish and ice bits midflight with no blur or distortion. The one shot on the S8 was a bit sharper, but the difference would only be visible if you plan on enlarging the photo or zooming in. And, as with any action shots, much of this comes down to luck and how well you steady the phone.


I got some great wildlife portraits with the iPhone that I wasn't able to capture on the S8.

Does the Galaxy S8 take better photos than the iPhone 7 Plus?

See all photos

The iPhone 7 Plus is known for its Portrait mode, which creates that bokeh effect that makes portraits pop. The S8 has a Selective Focus mode which aims to do the same thing, but relies entirely on software to create the effect because it doesn't have the second lens.

Both ended up getting it right eventually, but getting the bokeh effect on the S8 was not easy.

The subject has to be standing relatively still and within a few feet of the phone for it to capture the effect. So things that move, like these seals at the rescue center, were tough to get.


The iPhone 7 Plus uses the telephoto lens for the subject in Portrait mode making it appear closer.

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But maybe that doesn't matter, because even when the S8 gets it right, the effect is not great. The S8 can't always figure out where a subject begins and ends, especially when it comes to details such as hair blowing in the wind. The iPhone's version isn't exact, but it looks closer to what you'd get on a dSLR.


Smooth seal skin is one thing, but unruly hair is a completely different story. On this windblown shot it didn't quite know what to blur out. Part of the rock behind my hair is in focus, while half the scarf is completely blurred out at the bottom.

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If you're really into selfies, the S8 is your phone. Its wide-angle lens lets you fit more into the photo without straining your arm while the higher number of megapixels (8 megapixels on the S8 vs. 7 megapixels on the iPhone) makes selfies sharper. The S8 also has the blurred-background option (Selective Focus) for selfies... along with some other modes and filters you may never use like a skin smoothing, eye widening and face slimming feature.


The iPhone's selfie has warmer hues, but the S8's looks sharper and can fit more into the shot.

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The iPhone's selfies don't give you quite as much room in each shot, but they tend to produce warmer skin tones and softer features.


Both phones are capable of getting great low-light shots, but the S8 makes the process a whole lot faster.

The iPhone had a much harder time focusing up close in the poorly lit Twilight Zone exhibit at the Academy while the S8 was quick to the draw. One clear shot on the iPhone came after five blurry ones, whereas the S8 took a good shot at the first try.


The two shots look similar, but it took a lot longer for the iPhone to focus inside the dark aquarium.

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The verdict

The S8 was the ultimate winner in our comparison proving it doesn't need two cameras to outshoot the iPhone. But it didn't win by much, and not in every category so it really depends on your priorities. And if Apple is able to slightly improve the camera on its rumored iPhone 8 , it could easily be back at the top in our next round.

Correction, May 3: A previous version of this article claimed the S8 Plus' front camera had an aperture of f/2.4. It is f/1.7, the same as the rear camera.