Note 10 Plus: How its camera night mode helps Samsung catch up to rival phones

Commentary: Samsung is on its way to closing the low-light photo gap with the best camera phones.

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Jessica Dolcourt
3 min read

The Note 10's camera can see in the dark.

Angela Lang/CNET

Samsung's Galaxy cameras have a history of excellence, but have struggled to keep up with low-light night mode shots compared to rival devices, like the best-in-class Huawei P30 Pro and Google Pixel 3 . Baking in a dedicated night mode into the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus changes that -- it's the difference between night and day. 

The dedicated night mode feature arrived over the air for Galaxy S10 phones in a software update after criticism (including mine) over the then-new automatic night mode that Samsung called Bright Night Shot.

Cameras, along with screen quality and battery life, make up one of the most important features that buyers consider. A dedicated night mode is becoming a must-have feature for the most premium phones.

The lack of a standalone night mode was one of the Galaxy S10's major drawbacks when it first launched. Samsung insisted that the Galaxy S10's Bright Night Mode would make shots clearer, but it rarely made a difference in my tests, and you had to wait for conditions to align for the camera to even surface it.

Contrast that with a standalone night mode, which you turn on at will. It processes a burst of photos at different exposures into a single photo. The slower process is designed to draw out details and cut down on image noise. Think dark signs you can suddenly read and more of the background scene emerging from the dark. Imagine a brilliantly lit night sky or sharp pinpoints of light as you look down a busy street at night.

With the Note 10's Night Mode (again, it's also now on the S10 phones), you'll have to hold still to wait for the mode to take your picture -- give it a good five seconds. The resulting photo should be brighter and more detailed. 

I find that it's especially good at reining in streetlights that otherwise look like they're spraying all over the scene. Fine writing should also look sharper and easier to read.

In Samsung's case, the Note 10's dedicated night mode helps Samsung catch up with rivals. Its night mode tends to produce the brightest photos of the bunch, but it also enhances background detail outside the area of focus. 

In several of my photos, the night mode can get a little carried away, making dark skies bluer than I'd like (I still want it to look like it's dark out) and working too hard to brighten a scene. In some scenarios, I prefer the contrast of automatic mode over the dedicated night mode -- Samsung has some work to do to perfect its night mode processing. 

There's no countdown to indicate how long you have to stand there while the photo processes, something the company can easily fix in an update.

While Samsung hasn't surpassed Google or Huawei , its current Night Mode is off to a good start, and it helps makes the camera experience feel more complete. With the Pixel 4 and Mate 30 Pro coming up, these competitors could introduce even better low-light photography that could crank up the heat again. 

Hopefully, next time, Samsung will be quicker to respond.

Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus look incredible

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