Galaxy S7 Isocell vs Sony camera sensor: what’s the difference?

by: Edgar CervantesMarch 17, 2016
1.4K

Samsung-Galaxy-S7-4

You would have every right to believe all Samsung Galaxy S7 handsets are created equal, but such is not the case. And we are not only talking about differences in color; we recently discovered that there are two variants of the phone, shipping with different camera sensors. You could either get the Galaxy S7 (or S7 Edge) with a Samsung-made ISOCELL S5K2L1 sensor or a Sony IMX260 one.

Provided you’re the type that cares about the specs of your phone, this situation could be especially annoying when you can’t really predict which sensor you will be getting. And it wouldn’t be such a big deal if they performed exactly the same, but last year’s Samsung Galaxy S6 (which also had two different sensors) proved there can be some significant differences between cameras.

samsung galaxy s7 review aa (16 of 20)See also: Samsung Galaxy S7 camera: feature focus7

We have been playing around with multiple Galaxy S7 handsets with the two different sensors and we just had to put them against each other and see which sensor is this year’s winner. There sure are some differences, so let’s look into the details and see how they do against each other.

Reviews:

Sharpness

You have heard it here, there and everywhere. Photos in the Samsung Galaxy S7 are not as sharp when compared to the 16 MP counterparts. But which of these sensors will offer the most crisp photos available – Samsung’s or Sony’s?

Our test shots show that, in most cases, images taken with the Sony sensors are sharper than those coming from the ISOCELL sensor. This is only barely noticeable, though. You have to really zoom in to notice the difference. It’s definitely something you won’t notice unless you are an intense pixel peeper.

Winner: Sony IMX260

White balance

There was a bit of a discrepancy with white balance in the two Galaxy S6 sensors last year. Sony’s seemed to produce warmer images in broad daylight. It was only natural for us to take a deeper look into a possibly similar situation with the Galaxy S7, and sadly the same appears to be the case.

Take a look at the images below. Things definitely look more yellow on the images taken with the Sony sensor. For a clearer look, zoom into the white paper in the newspaper dispensary, or the ground right under the trees.

Once you start moving towards the darker side, things start leveling out to a point where you don’t really see much of a difference. And of course, there is always the advantage that white balance can be easily corrected in post-processing.

Winner: Samsung ISOCELL S5K2L1

Samsung-Galaxy-S7-Edge-19See also: New Samsung Galaxy S7 image sensor explained17

Dynamic range

Both phones have HDR, which will help you brighten the shadows and lower the highlights in order to achieve a much more uniform and striking image. This is especially helpful when you have high-contrast situations. One example is standing next to a bright window in a dark room.

But we don’t always want to be shooting in HDR. The truth is some sensors naturally handle shadows and highlights better than others. Some of our shots include high-contrast environments, so let’s show you which one does better.

In these images we can see highlights are handled almost identically. It is in the shadows that you notice the difference. Images coming from the ISOCELL sensor do seem to show a bit more detail in the shadows and under that roof.

Winner: Samsung ISOCELL S5K2L1

Color reproduction

The difference is nearly unnoticeable, but the ISOCELL sensor seems to catch more vibrant colors when there is more light, while hues do seem more saturated in the dark for the Sony sensor. Once again, though, the difference is nearly unnoticeable, even with the brighter colors.

Winner: tie

Conclusion

The winner here is the Samsung’s ISOCELL sensor, as it got the upper hand in more sections. But remember that, ultimately, this is a very subjective matter. And Sony’s sensor is very close behind, so you’re not really losing with either variant.

We are only basing things on what is natural and what isn’t. But like with AMOLED screens, sometimes the over-exaggerated hues, high contrasts and other values are important to the user. So why don’t you be the judge and tell us what you think? Hit the comments and let us know which sensor you would rather have. There are more image comparisons below.

By the way, you can’t really choose which sensor you get, which is definitely a bummer. If it helps for anything, you can use AIDA64 to find out which one you own. But you need to actually have the phone to find out.

  • Lik-chung Li

    Seems to me this different sensor make business is a total waste of time trying to make out one is better than the other and people were somehow scammed depending on what they got. These are total nonsense articles.

    • RiTCHiE

      No its not because if you pay premium for a device that calls it self high end then things like this is only good for the consumers.
      Some buy the phone for its looks so they dont care bout specs and others just buy it for the specs so even if you think this is a bs article then so be it but for others it may not be like that.

  • droidtomtom

    Looking at these side by side, I prefer… Both. They both look awesome. Hard to believe two different manufacturers could be so similar unless one really is better and Samsung is sandbagging it for parity. But we may never know in that case.

    • mobilemann

      of course they are. sony is the standard, and they make the best sensors in the industry, from smartphones to DSLRs. It’s not debatable, AA is just a fanboy site.

      • droidtomtom

        I would agree that if one was getting sandbagged it would more likely be the Sony sensor and that it would be to the degree of just enough to make the isocell look slightly better. We will likely never know for sure.

        • RiTCHiE

          Nah, sony is Nr1 on the camera sensor market.

          • mobilemann

            from Nikon D5’s and A6300’s to S7’s and iPhones. They rule that arena.

  • Kurgan

    Good article. I honestly hope Samsung will put out some update to better the postprocessing and lessen the differences between the two sensors (since they’re still acting like twats by having two sensors with different performances without any way to choose either one).

  • 1213 1213

    Both are great with with little difference, if you were to do a blind test it would probably be half and half among people who didn’t know what to expect. But I agree that Samsung’s one is ultimately marginally better.

    • mobilemann

      totally disagree if you look at the grass in the shadow, the sony actually see’s it. it’s almost a shadow on the samsung. I’m sorry to say this, but sony imaging (specifically their sensors) are still further ahead.

      • John Smith

        You seem to want to force your ‘opinion’ onto others. 1213 1213 stated his/her view, deal with it. No one cares if you disagree, you’re not right just because you believe it. You’re coming across as a Sony fanboy who believes what they want to believe. I like Sony sensors, but the ISOCELL looks easily as capable, and these images just aren’t conclusive enough.

        • mobilemann

          You don’t even realize the amazing irony, you massive, idiotic hypocrite. I’m telling him a disagree. It’s cool if we disagree.

    • RiTCHiE

      Time you have them eyes rechecked bro. But look at them pictures again and look for details in them brickwalls etc or look at how much better the green looks on them sony sensors. Sony is the best but sammy comes close tho so pretty good job from samsung.

      • 1213 1213

        Only actually difference that’s noticeable at a glance is the yellow tint on the Sony sensors. That’s what swayed me. I’m not really a camera person so I didn’t really notice any differences, at least without zooming in.

  • James Ickes

    Looks like I have the Sony one on my gs7 edge

    • RiTCHiE

      Lucky! Sony makes just awesome camera sensors

  • mobilemann

    amazing that the one that looked worse was picked every time. The sony sensor looks like it has better dynamic range here by a long shot, the rest look pretty much the same. AA is the only site that’s consistently terrible in every aspect of reviewing anything.

    • softcraft

      On the Sony’s images, the contrast and the saturation is boosted so much that it ruins the photos. Those two elements are very easy to boost in post-process if you prefer your images that way. You can’t lower them down after the image is saved which is a huge problem.
      So Samsung’s ISOCELL is the obvious winner here.

      • mobilemann

        that’s amazing, you probably believe yourself too.

      • insomniac

        Agree with you. Even in other websites, it seems like ISOCELL is the winner by a margin.

        • Ronkon

          Dude, check your monitor :DDD

      • RiTCHiE

        LOL This is typical fanboy talk. Sony>Samsung any day bro.

        • Karl Ramstedt

          Sony generally makes the best camera sensors, yes, but please phrase it better, because “Sony>Samsung any day bro” is just silly. And if by “any day” you mean always then no, that would be a false generalization. Usually =/= always.

        • insomniac

          Sorry. Not this year.

          • mobilemann

            Sorry, every year. Hence it’s inclusion in the S7 / iphone, nikon d5, a6300, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

          • insomniac

            If it makes you happy than yeah, I don’t know anything.

          • mobilemann

            it doesn’t make me feel better, because you’re here spouting.

    • Joshua P.

      I was gonna say, the Sony looks better to me in each picture. The difference isn’t big so maybe at that point its just preference.

      • mobilemann

        pictures are very subjective. Everyone likes their own amount of f/stop white balance, etc.

  • Wavshrdr

    They seem quite similar. There areas where I see a clear difference are Sony has better fine detail resolution/sharpness and better dynamic range (more detail in the shadow of the grass pictures- last section, in the hedges). It looks like the Samsung sensor does better in the white balance. I’d give the overall edge to the Sony. Not enough of a difference to worry about with either.

    I just checked mine and it is a Sony which is good. For me I’d prefer the better dynamic range. Most of the sensors suck anyway in dynamic range so any improvement here is nice. White balance is easy to correct for, dynamic range you can’t get back what is blown out.

  • John T

    how do you know which one you got ?

    • John T

      aida 64 for those who like me didnt know lol.
      Sony imx260 for me :(

      • Ronkon

        you should be happy, as sony sensor is a bit better.

      • Wavshrdr

        Don’t worry, be happy! The Sony sensor is the better one, but not by a huge margin. It’s white balance is off a touch though. Sammy does better there. The rest the Sony is better. There isn’t enough difference though either way to try and get one sensor or the other. You are splitting hairs here.

  • wcjeep

    My Verizon S7 has a Sony rear camera. Looks like a Samsung front facing camera.

  • Daggett Beaver

    This is going to drive people with OCD crazy. Me, not so much.

  • John R

    All the photo’s are from different angles. How can you run comparisons.. Might as well take a photo of a beach on a cloudy day and one on a sunny day and say the sunny one is better because it’s brighter. This is stupid. Everybody knows the Sony sensor is better

    • Zero McLannary

      THIS. I don’t even know why they don’t do picture comparisons the same way dpreview does. Then, again, these are the same people who chose the highest megapixel setting for Z5 and showed the 100% zoom then called it a day even if the default setting in the camera of that phone is the 8 MP. I don’t see them use a DSLR as a point of comparison as well. There wasn’t even a follow up to that shoot-out.

    • Kenrick Fernandes

      exactly. i kept wondering why the different angles

  • RiTCHiE

    Both are close but SONY = WINNER! Why you people think iphones and galaxy’s have them sony sensors? Hell even them GoPro’s rock them sony’s so its normal they have the best camera sensors out there. But good photo’s is a combination of hardware and software and even tho sony makes the best hardware, they do suck on the camera software part and could learn a thing or two from samsung.

  • Jason C

    I can see Sony has the better hardware performance, while Samsung did a better job at software configuring their own sensor.
    Sony got more details and sharpness but lose on processing the color, balance and sorts.

  • Karl Ramstedt

    Holy crap, this comparison is utter garbage. It’s very silly to compare two things with so many possible deviations outside of identical conditions. Eliminate all possible variance factors such as hand-shake, focus distance, exposure, lighting and framing.

    To do this kind of test well would mean to use a tripod indoors (one, not two, to make sure the framing is identical), with some bright lamps set up (to test dynamic range and how the sensor performs in low ISO), which also of course can be easily turned off to test high ISO performance, and then set exposure, ISO and focus distance manually. Because if the focus is off by a meter or two you’re gonna notice a sharpness difference between the two.

  • Alexander Rockwell

    On my calibrated monitor the differences aren’t enough that I’d care that much either way, ultimately images taken with phones get compressed down and shared through MMS or social media anyways. My preference is the ISOCELL because of the slight yellow difference but like I said, not a big enough deal to warrant trying to get a new phone, or do comparisons like this honestly.

  • tansuperman

    Off subject, but I hat 4×3 pictures. 12 megapixels sucks donkey doo, and I don’t want to go to 9 megapixels for a 16×9 image

  • EasyCare

    I can’t believe you guys are arguing over these sensors, they barely make any differences and still make your purchase worthy!

    • John R

      I think the problem is that sonys sensors are held in much higher regard than samsungs. If the result is really so close (which is impossible to tell with a ridiculous test like this) its likely they haven’t put the best Sony sensor in it they could or that they are dragging it down with software. For a premium product that’s a let down.

  • Sunset Shimmer

    For the average consumer this doesn’t really matter.
    It you dont have anything to compare with, you won’t notice anything.

    They should tell right in the box what sensor there using

  • sniper666

    i ve also a S7 with a sony sensor. The pictures are cool.

  • Ujoe

    It is hard to get reliable results from this kind of a comparison but sony seems better to me.

  • Jason Kim

    I just checked and mine is Sony Sensor (South Korean-Spec Exynos Galaxy S7 Edge)
    But I still think the photos are great !

  • Jaime Spidey Vasquez

    How can you tell which sensor you have?

    • Wavshrdr

      Go to the Google Play store. Look for AIDA64 and then run it. It will tell you what sensor you have.

  • Ry

    Would be nice if someone did a professional review between these two sensors.

  • Nicolas S

    Agreed with all previews comment….lousy post. First of all, shots should have been taken at the same angles in as close as possible of a position. Secondly, where is the reference to back up these claims? Should have had a DSLR handy so that we can see how they compare to a real professional camera.

  • Sandy Sandy

    I saw the comparison between the Samsung S7 and iPhone 6S Plus on various sites, and in some sites it was the Samsung which had more dynamic range, and in some the iPhone (in far more the Samsung, TBO). I am guessing, that the Samsung made sensor is like 2/3rd of a stop better than the Sony and about 1/3rd to 1/2 stop better than the iPhone in most situations.

    Also, the Sony sensor does false coloring like the iPhone to make it look like the Dynamic Range is more, even when it isn’t.

    If Samsung keeps up this pace, they could emerge as a huge competition to Sony in Smartphone Camera Sensor by next year (right now Sony has over 50% of the market).

    • John R

      So you’re saying Samsung has sandbagged the Sony sensor?

  • abn

    Ok

  • Christopher Wortman

    Having 2 galaxy s7s with 2 different sensors between my wife and I, the Sony and ISOCell photos look exactly the same I mean no difference at all. It is only when you go into advanced mode that things begin to differ, the Sony is far better for advanced mode. Less noise in low light on the Sony sensor.

  • Sony Boy

    This isn’t the best way to test the quality of the two sensors. Samsung cannot optimize Sony’s IMX sensor that’s why they made their own ones

  • oplix

    Have g930f Vodafone has Sony imx rear and Samsung front

  • Angry Zombie 808

    pictures from Samsung’s ISOCELL is blurry as f*ck! With that alone is enough to say that Sony’s sensor is better. I do agree that ISOCELL produce more accurate colours but if its blurry like that it doesn’t matter anymore. You cant repair blurry image with photo editing software like photoshop at all. While the pictures from Sony sensor can be repaired easily by reducing the warmness.