With their latest Galaxy S flagships, the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, Samsung made quite an interesting move on the camera front, with both these devices featuring 12 MP primary shooters, compared to the 16 MP units of their high-end offerings from 2015. While it may seem like a downgrade at first glance, Samsung chose to favor a larger pixel size instead of more megapixels this time around, intended to allow for far better performance in low light conditions.
Was is it a good decision, and does it make a noticeable difference compared to the best from last year? We pit the Galaxy S7/Edge against the Galaxy Note 5 in a camera shootout to find out!
As mentioned, the whole idea behind the reduction in megapixel count is to allow for a larger pixel size instead, that is expected to result in far better low-light performance, similar to what Google also did with the 2015 Nexus smartphones. In this shootout, we are going to be comparing the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note 5 cameras in a variety of lighting situations, just to see what the exact differences might be. To keep things as level as possible, photos with either phone were shot at their maximum resolutions, 16 MP and 12 MP with the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S7 respectively, using Auto mode and with HDR mode turned on.
In the first comparison, we take a look at a simple outdoor shot of a building, with the camera pointing up towards the sky. As far as the actual colors, the level of detail, and the overall quality are concerned, both look like really great shots, but there is some slight differences when looking deeper into the color reproduction and the sharpness. When looking at the sky in the images, they are slightly different shades, with the Galaxy Note 5 image coming with a slightly deeper shade of blue. It’s not a huge deal, but something that can be noticed. I personally prefer the lighter shade of blue available with the Galaxy S7 shot, but that comes down to individual tastes.
The other difference can be seen when looking at the red Valencia Place sign. The red is a lot deeper and much more vibrant on the Galaxy Note 5, while on the Galaxy S7, it’s a little bit more washed out, and it isn’t as punchy. I definitely like the way the Galaxy Note 5 handles the reds in this case. When zooming in to take a closer look at the detail of this building, you will notice that the Galaxy S7 shot is a lot more sharpened, and you can see the over-sharpening halo effect here. Samsung might have chosen to be more aggressive with the sharpening to compensate for the lower MP count, and while that works in some situations, it does hurt the image quality in wide angle and landscape pictures.
The second shot we’re looking at is a close up shot of a flower, and unlike what was the case with the building photo above, you won’t notice as much of a difference between these two images. In terms of their color representation and depth of field, these photos look nearly identical, and again, really good as well. Zooming in to the flower, you will the over-sharpening with the Galaxy S7 is seen once more, but in macro shots like these, the extra sharpening is actually a lot more beneficial.
Taking a look at another macro shot, while these photos are quite similar, a major difference can be seen in the blue shades of the sky. The image taken with the Galaxy Note 5 is slightly overexposed, the shadows are a lot lighter, and the highlights are a little bit more blown out in the background, with not as much detail available, compared to what is seen with the Galaxy S7.
In the next close up shot taken indoors of a sandwich, you can see the oversharpening in effect right away in the shot taken with the Galaxy S7, and the entire sandwich is in focus, while with the Galaxy Note 5, the focus is actually towards the center, with a bokeh effect out as you move along the edges of the photo. When zooming in, you can see a little bit more of the detail of the tomato and the water droplets on it with the Galaxy S7 than with the Galaxy Note 5. This is another situation where there is a very clear point of focus and clear subject, and the oversharpening is more of good thing here.
Of course, the whole point of larger pixel sizes is for better low light performance, so we find out how much of a difference is actually made. Taking a look at the night-time shots above, the first difference you will notice is how much more yellow the photo taken with the Galaxy S7 is. Granted, they are both really yellow photos, but it is a lot more dramatic in the case of the Galaxy S7. The second difference is seen when taking a closer look at the highlights. When zooming in to the lamp, the Galaxy Note 5 image is a little bit more overexposed, with a bigger halo effect, and the same can be seen with zooming in to the white restaurant sign as well.
The last difference, which isn’t particularly surprising, is when comparing the brightness of both shots. The photo taken with the Galaxy S7 is a lot brighter overall, and you can see the building up top a lot easier in this case, courtesy of the larger pixel size, and the fact that the Galaxy S7 camera comes with a f/1.7 aperture, compared to f/1.9 of the Galaxy Note 5.
Moving on to another outdoor shot taken at night, it has to be said that neither of these images look particularly impressive, but there are still quite a few noticeable differences. With the Galaxy Note 5, you actually have a much more colorful shot, but it is also a lot more yellow, and without as much detail. There is a lot more detail seen with the photo taken with the Galaxy S7, and the image looks sharper overall, but the colors are extremely washed out. This image is once again much brighter as well, and details such as the concrete on the ground and the left side of the flowers can be seen, while the same on the Galaxy Note 5 is almost completely blacked out.
The final comparison we’re going to look at is an indoor shot of an Android figurine on the desk. The only thing illuminating this shot is Philips Hue lights in the background, and there are no office or studio lights on. Right off the bat, you will see that the photo taken with the Galaxy S7 is much brighter, and when zooming into the Android figurine, you can see it very clearly, compared to what is available with the Galaxy Note 5. The same holds true as far as the background is concerned as well. For example, when looking at the toy car on the left side, it can be seen quite clearly on the Galaxy S7 photo, whereas on the Galaxy Note 5 shot, you can also see about half of the car. The Galaxy S7 image is a lot brighter and with a lot more detail, and this is where we can see the advantages of a larger pixel size and wider aperture.
Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Samsung Galaxy S7/Edge
So there you go for this Galaxy S7/Edge and Galaxy Note 5 camera shootout! Coming back to the original question with regards to whether Samsung made the right choice with the move to this new camera setup, I personally think that they did. The camera of the Galaxy S7 still takes fantastic looking photos in all lighting conditions. Low light shots in particular are a lot brighter, with a lot more detail, and with far better handling of the exposure and highlights.
What do you think of the Galaxy S7 Edge and Note 5 cameras and would you rather have more pixels or bigger pixels in your smartphone camera? Vote in the poll and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!