In my comparison of Samsung’s Galaxy S III and the iPhone 4S, I scored the camera a tie. Nothing thus far has managed to outright beat the iPhone 4S, though the Nokia Lumia 900 has tied with a powerful shooter that performed equally well, but in different conditions. How about the Galaxy S III? Looking through the test shots, it’s really hard to tell. Take a look for yourself.

Quick note: every first image is taken with the Galaxy S III, and every second shot is from the iPhone 4S.

Shot 1

The GS3 in good lighting conditions, at least here with severe overcast, doesn’t even compare to the 4S, which has a very clear, very accurate image. Look at the sky, which is clearer, and the two workers on opposite sides of the picture. This almost looks like a focusing image, where the GS3 couldn’t focus on the overall shot while the 4S did.

Shot 2

Taken at a local auto mall, the GS3 and 4S take very similar shots, though the 4S has much more contrast and better color differentiation in the clouds. The cars all look identical, and very accurate. The main difference between the two photos is the centerpiece tree. On the 4S it is heavy on light and dark contrast, while on the GS3 there’s more detail but the top of the tree is also blocked somewhat by the light from above. Also, looking closely at the pixels 1:1 (instead of downscaled), the GS3 is more accurate and less blurry than the 4S, but not by much. Overall the 4S took a better shot.

Shot 3

Again, the 4S has much more contrast that makes the photo stand out better than that taken with the GS3. The main difference here is the green of the grass, which is more vibrant on the GS3′s shot than the 4S. The Mustang looks slightly better with the iPhone, as do the background trees, but their colors are both slightly dulled to increase light contrast.

Shot 4

This shot shows the failure of the iPhone’s software that overcompensates to produce more stunning pictures. The GS3 has a more accurate, more colorful, and cooler photo that has a lot of dynamic lighting and shading. The photo ends up being a great macro shot that is also very accurate, the kind I would expect from a high-end point and shoot. The 4S blurred the background, but not nearly enough for an artistic feel, and also made the photo much warmer than it should ever be considering both the colors and the scene.

Shot 5

Just like the last photo, the GS3 does a far better job than the 4S with a lot of sunlight. The 4S has way too much light coming in from the left side and the rest of the picture really suffers because of it, dulling the colors and making the left third of the still too bright. The GS3, on the other hand, has almost perfect color and light contrast in the middle of the shot, though it dissipates a bit on the right and left extremes. There is also some excess brightness on the left side, but nowhere as much as the iPhone’s. The increased light contrast with the darks in the background are also excellent, something the 4S just completely misses.

Shot 6

I really love this shot from the GS3. It not only has all of the light contrast that makes it a beautiful image, it perfectly captures all of the colors, except on the top right where there’s the most brightness. Those trees are much brighter and have much more vibrant greens. Even the shadowing from the fountain is excellent, and that’s not even mentioning the darks in the background trees, and the very slight blurring. The 4S provides a very decent shot, but it completely lacks the color contrast that makes the still worth keeping. The greens are dull, the reds are a very dulled orange, and even the whites are awfully pale.

Shot 7

This shot, and the next one, are both excellent examples of the iPhone’s additional software succeeding in action. Here, the GS3 takes a decent but dull shot of some fruit in very bright and dark conditions, while the 4S does a much better job managing the excess light, which in the GS3′s shot dulls the color contrast.

Shot 8

Again, with so much brightness the GS3 just takes a straight-up photo with seemingly very little post-processing, and it comes out dulled from overexposure. The 4S doesn’t have that issue, and it makes this vase look much prettier and sparklier.

Shot 9

A straight shot of the coast from on-high, the GS3 has a lot of color contrast and perhaps too much of it. The blue of the water is good, and the greens of the close and far foliage is deep, but dark. The 4S dulls the color contrast to produce better light contrast, and makes and overall more pleasing still at the price of duller colors, especially of the water. However, it also has much clearer brushes in the front, much clearer than the GS3′s.

Shot 10

In this final shot, I tested the flash. In every shot I took testing the flash, the GS3 produced significantly more light for the flash, but was always a little slower to actually capture the photo, which caused some blurriness, as you can see in this shot. The flash also washes out colors tremendously, as you can see in the leaves. The 4S takes a much cleaner, much better night photo with flash. Without flash, both suffer, though the iPhone does a slightly better job.

Conclusion

Both phones have excellent cameras, and just like with the Lumia 900, Samsung opted for accuracy over drama. The same as Canon versus Nikon. I prefer Nikon because those stills with better color and light contrast are more appealing to the eye, and more attractive to anyone looking. Our eyes are naturally drawn to contrast, first light and then color. Clearly Apple favors light, and the iPhone’s post-processing often sacrifices color contrast for it. I don’t like that; it makes the shots look better on the phone’s small screen, but not blown up. Meanwhile the GS3 shoots much more accurately, and does a better job in high-light scenes, especially with direct light.

It’s also interesting to note, looking at the data from the photos taken, that the GS3 tends to take shots at f/2.4 except in high-light contrast shots, where it jumps up to f/2.6. The iPhone does the exact opposite. The histogram for the iPhone is also much less colorful, which is because it regularly shoots at a higher ISO rating. This would also explain why shots are fuzzier on the 4S. One final note: if you noticed that the GS3 shots always look closer, that’s because it has a 4.28mm focal length, compared to the iPhone’s 3.7mm. This means the iPhone takes a wider shot, which isn’t better or worse, just different.

My suggestion is this: if you live in an area with plenty of sunlight, the Galaxy S III is definitely the better shooter. It captures light far better from direct light sources and has little color washed out. But if you live in a cloudy city, the iPhone 4S is the safer choice. Cloudy conditions dull colors already, so you’ll want something that provides better light contrast. And if you’re interested in a generous mix of both…it’s a very tough call. Overall the iPhone 4S is better, if only because light contrast is more important. However, it will depend on where you use both cameras.

Right now I’m really enjoying the Galaxy S III better for photography because I live in sunny LA. While testing the weather has been extremely unusual and unpredictable, but in general we get lots of sun, lots of clear sky, and plenty of great colors to take shots of. As someone who loves shooting with great color, the GS3 is a stronger device. But if you’re the kind of person who just looks at your pictures on the phone and nowhere else, the iPhone’s shots will look better overall.










James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.