Three of the best phones on the market right now are the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus, Huawei P40 Pro, and the OnePlus 8 Pro. Priced around the $1,000 mark, these phones compete for the same premium crowd, aiming to win them over with the best photography package around.
While the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and Huawei P40 Pro Plus might offer the very best in-class camera hardware on the market, I’m more interested in the capabilities of the more reasonably priced 2020 flagship. Plus, who really needs a 10x zoom anyway? Let’s dive in and see which can claim the photography crown.
Click here for full-quality image samples.
Quick spec recap
|Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus||Huawei P40 Pro||OnePlus 8 Pro|
|Main camera||12 megapixels|
1.8µm pixel size
OIS, Dual Pixel AF
|50 megapixels (RYYB)|
2.44µm pixel size (binned)
OIS, omnidirectional PDAF
1.12µm pixel size
OIS, Dual Pixel AF
|Wide-angle camera||12 megapixels|
1.4µm pixel size
120˚ field of view
119.7° field of view
|Zoom camera||64 megapixels|
0.8µm pixel size
3x hybrid-optical telephoto zoom
|12 megapixels (RYYB)|
5x periscope zoom
1.0µm pixel size
3x hybrid-optical telephoto camera
|Fourth camera||VGA time-of-flight sensor||3D time-of-flight sensor||5 megapixel|
Color filter camera
The Galaxy S20 Plus, P40 Pro, and OnePlus 8 Pro sport the familiar and versatile main, wide-angle, and telephoto setup, providing a camera for virtually every shooting situation. Even so, there’s a large variation between the setups.
Huawei’s custom Super Spectrum RYYB (instead of RGGB) quad-bayer filter is a unique setup in the market, pushing for more light capture than the competition. Combined with the largest camera sensor in the industry and a wide aperture, Huawei’s main sensor should provide sharp images and excellent low light performance. It’s the setup to beat on paper, as Huawei’s P30 Pro and Mate 30 series offered great image quality. Super Spectrum technology now makes its way to the P40 Pro’s periscope zoom camera too, for better long range shots.
The OnePlus 8 Pro packs in its share of improvements, including a healthy sized Sony IMX689 main sensor that should handle low light better than last year’s IMX586 and the Galaxy S20 Plus’ smaller IMX555. Perhaps the oddest camera in this shootout is Samsung’s 64MP S5KGW2 sensor (aka the ISOCELL Bright GW1) used for the S20 Plus telephoto camera. The use of pixel binning enables larger pixels to improve low light performance, while offering more detail potential in bright light. We’ll just have to see if this setup works as well as Huawei’s periscope design.
All three phones boast quad-camera setups. Samsung and Huawei opt for a time-of-flight sensor, designed to improve bokeh accuracy and focusing. OnePlus bucks the trend with a color filter camera that offers a photochrom effect. I’ve already written about my thoughts on this dubious addition and won’t be covering it again in this shootout.
Colors and white balance
Our first samples highlight some major trends right of the bat. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus opts for the punchiest tones by far, with oversaturation noticeable in many shots, particularly with blue skies. I find Samsung’s approach to colors far too heavy handed, particularly in outdoor shots. Highlight clipping is also a semi-common problem, particularly in HDR environments with clouds or other strong highlights. OnePlus also clips in some scenes, while Huawei plays it much more conservative with its approach to dynamic range. The 8 Pro’s colors and white balance tend to be very good overall, falling somewhere between Samsung’s punch and Huawei’s conservatism.
Oversaturation and highlight clipping are consistent issues for the Galaxy S20 Plus
As a result, the Huawei P40 Pro’s images sometimes appear a little washed out by comparison. The phone shoots for a cooler white balance with a brighter exposure that’s a little more true to life and easier to edit. That said, quite a few of the pictures I took with the Huawei P40 Pro overexposed the image. When it’s right, the P40 Pro is virtually bang on, but the handset can also get it very wrong. I also noticed an occasional red-tint problem with the Huawei P40 Pro in very bright outdoor environments. Huawei tells us that has been addressed for the consumer software version.
The second image batch highlights some of the more subtle differences between the three. Samsung and OnePlus definitely produce warmer results than Huawei. OnePlus’ white balance also seems to introduce a touch more green than the other two, which you can see in the album cover and greens of the trees. Overall, the 8 Pro’s approach to color processing is hard to complain about and it’s probably the most consistent. As you’ll see as the shootout goes on.
Bottom line, all three cameras take great-looking full-frame pictures with their main sensors. While there are some clear color differences, few customers will be disappointed with any of these results. Purists may prefer Huawei’s softer processing and more accurate white balance, but I lean towards OnePlus for the best ready-to-use snaps. To get into more meaningful differences, we’re going to have to go pixel peeping.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus: Most saturated colors out of the three with the warmest white balance. Auto HDR effect often clips highlights.
Huawei P40 Pro: More conservative, realistic colors. White balance varies from excellent to a slight red tint. Sometimes overexposes.
OnePlus 8 Pro: Slightly high contrast, vivid colors, and a neutral to slightly warm white balance. Highly consistent.
Cropping in on detail
All three handsets boast high-resolution sensors for high levels of detail, but we’ve seen plenty of examples where heavy bouts of processing are used to compensate for noisy image sensors. None of these phones suffer from obvious detail deficiencies at full frame. To get into the finer details, the images in this section are 100% crops.
Contrary to popular belief, Huawei applies the least amount of processing to images from its main sensor. The camera produces high levels of detail with minimal evidence of over-sharpening, thanks to the combination of BM3D noise reduction and a large image sensor. The Galaxy S20 Plus is reasonably soft on edges too, at least as far as nearby foreground subjects are concerned. However Samsung’s processing chain looks a lot messier with complex textures, such as trees and foliage, and the highlights in our sample images.
OnePlus clearly relies on a sharpening filter to enhance details, resulting in more harsh, high-contrast edges. However it’s certainly not an ugly look compared to lots of phones we’ve seen and is hard to notice unless you really analyze the pixels. Foreground and subject details are left looking with an artificial pop compared to the other two. However, the phone’s consistency regarding exposure and color balance ensure that images always look crisp.
All three of these handsets provide the option to capture very high-resolution images in good lighting. The Galaxy S20 Plus offers 64MP shots, you’ll get 50MP out of the Huawei P40 Pro, and 48MP from the OnePlus 8 Pro. Here’s some crops from these modes.
There are definitely pros and cons to shooting in this mode. All three phones hand in exceptional details, providing that you have a subject within a few meters. The plant image above shows that all three are quite light on the processing, with sharp crisp details. Although again, OnePlus is a fraction more eager with the sharpening pass. Sadly, Huawei’s color balance on the subject isn’t great in this instance. Samsung’s first 64MP sample is truly exceptional, part in thanks to the good lighting.
You won't be left wanting for detail from any of these three handsets.
All three cameras perform notably worse when shooting further into the distance with complex textures in the background. The leaves, ivy, and brickwork in the second image all have a painted look. That said, the effect is most pronounced from the Huawei P40 Pro and OnePlus 8 Pro. Again, Huawei’s camera is a tad overexposed. Samsung’s 64MP result holds up best in this scenario, although it’s far from perfect.
Overall, Samsung’s 64MP mode comes out on top when shooting in hi-res. It extracts a ton of detail and suffers from fewer artifacts than its competitors. However, when it comes to shooting with the out-of-the-box settings, it’s a much closer contest that the Huawei P40 Pro nudges for its minimal processing and better color balance. The OnePlus 8 Pro also looks very good, but its reliance on sharpening reveals crops to be a little less realistic.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus: Heavy on the color and sharpening processing leaves highlights looking harsh. Good soft processing on foreground subjects and excellent 64MP snaps.
Huawei P40 Pro: Softest, realistic details with minimal signs of over processing with the main sensor. 50MP snaps look more processed in places.
OnePlus 8 Pro: More reliant on sharpening to artificially enhance details and contrast. Not overly harsh though, and processing keeps images looking clean.
There’s a bit of controversy over what counts as a proper zoom these days, with both OnePlus and Samsung opting for slightly different hybrid 3x technology over true optical zoom. These two could struggle with longer ranges, due to the limits of software processing. Even so, optical zoom isn’t infallible. Huawei’s last-gen P30 Pro was caught out at intermediate zoom lengths, as it relies on hybrid zoom for 2x, 3x, and 4x zoom. Let’s find out which technology works best.
We’re showcasing 100% crops here to examine smaller details, as that’s really the whole point of a zoom lens. Note that the OnePlus shots appear more zoomed in due to its lower 8MP capture resolution, compared to 12 megapixel outputs from the Huawei P40 Pro and Galaxy S20 Plus.
Starting at 2x, the OnePlus 8 Pro is definitely in last place here, with tree and grass details smushed into oblivion. It’s closer between the S20 Plus and P40 Pro. Both are heavily processed to clean up the images, but the P40 Pro’s colors are washed out compared to its competitors. The OnePlus 8 Pro pulls back into contention at 3x with a vast improvement in detail. Although the image is clearly oversharpened to give the illusion of more detail. Again, it’s close between Huawei and Samsung, even with these 100% crops, but both suffer from heavy doses of processing.
At 4x, the OnePlus 8 Pro and P40 Pro are much more comparable, and both pull away from Samsung. It’s impressive just how much detail the OnePlus 8 Pro continues to pick up while the other two phones struggle with the grass and tree textures. Also, can you spot the algorithm artifact on the van from Huawei’s hybrid image combination technology? Once the Huawei P40 Pro’s 5x periscope kicks into life, the phone takes a clear lead at long range zoom. Although even here we can see some of that old Huawei “painted look” processing creep in, that detracts from much of the detail in the image. The OnePlus 8 Pro looks surprisingly good even at 5x, but is clearly resolution limited. None of the cameras look much good at 10x and it’s a bit of a disappointing showing for Huawei given it’s 5x native zoom advantage. It’s just about the best looking, but it’s still not much cop.
None of these phones offer a truly comprehensive zoom package.
Overall, the zoom situation is a bit weird. At full frame, all three cameras looks passable all the way up to 5x. You have to pixel-peep to see which actually gives you the most detail. Samsung is decent enough up to 3x, but there’s no apparent sweet spot to zoom quality despite its 3x telephoto tagline. The OnePlus 8 Pro is terrible at 2x, but is very usable between 3x and 5x. Meanwhile Huawei is so-so up to 3x, looks better at 4x, and clearly benefits from its periscope camera at 5x. The lesson here is that software zoom still sucks and intermittent zoom levels are so often left behind in terms of quality, reducing the flexibility of even the best cameras.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus: Heavy processing to make up for lack of detail. No zoom sweet spot, taps out at 3x.
Huawei P40 Pro: Reliance on processing produces a painted look to zoom images. Significantly worse quality than the main sensor. Looks best at 5x.
OnePlus 8 Pro: Poor at 2x, but reasonably good zoom between 3x and 5x. Heavy reliance on sharpening to increase perception of detail.
Fitting it all in with wide-angles
Moving on to wide-angle cameras, where the aim is to squeeze as much into the scene as possible. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus offers the widest field of view out of the three, and the Huawei P40 Pro the smallest. Impressively, the S20 Plus handles edge distortion really well, despite its wider lens. The OnePlus 8 Pro is the most distorted at the edges.
At full frame, all three produce quite good-looking results. Again though, Samsung’s enthusiastic color processing makes its images pop more than the competition. The OnePlus 8 Pro and Huawei P40 Pro are much closer in appearance. For some reason though, Huawei switches to a 16:9 aspect ratio for these shots, possibly in an attempt to enhance the wide angled appearance.
While we tend to not be examine more minor details with wide-angle shots (otherwise you’d zoom in), it’s worth paying attention to the crops below, in case you ever want to blow these pictures up. Unfortunately, the Galaxy S20 Plus leans even more heavily on the post processing than usual. This results come out with the dreaded painted look effect, due to heavy use of denoise and sharpening. It’s a bad look no matter how you slice it.
The Galaxy S20 Plus offers the widest field of view but heaviest processing.
The OnePlus 8 Pro has a different problem. The camera appears to struggle with distant focus, meaning longer range details are completely out of focus and images often lack detail. The camera is also a little heavy on the post processing, but it’s not quite as bad as Samsung. For the cleanest wide images, Huawei is the clear preference with minimal signs of processing. It’s images are cleaner, sharper, and come out with far more detail.
Wide-angle cameras exist so that we can fit more into our pictures, but those pictures need to remain distortion free and boasting decent levels of detail to be usable. With that in mind, none of these cameras offer a truly great wide-angle experience. Huawei offers the detail but lacks the width of its competitors. The Galaxy S20 Plus and OnePlus 8 Pro fit more in, but lack the detail and quality that you would expect from a top-tier camera. I can’t call a clear winner (or loser) here.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus: Widest field of view and minimal edge distortion are great. Heavy processing looks decidedly ugly.
Huawei P40 Pro: Best details out of the three but narrowest field of view.
OnePlus 8 Pro: Lack of focus means that longer range details are absent. Notable distortion around the lens edges.
Solving the low-light problem
Low light is still mobile photography’s biggest weakness, but these three phones pack in larger image sensors in a bid to solve this issue. However, the Huawei P40 Pro and OnePlus 8 Pro have the biggest sensors and should, on paper, perform the best. Let’s see if that’s true.
It’s quite clear that the Galaxy S20 Plus isn’t in the same league as the other two shooting in very low light. Its first image is very noisy and lacking in dynamic range. The Huawei P40 Pro and OnePlus 8 Pro are much closer in quality. The P40 Pro snags a smidgen more dynamic range and less noise, however the OnePlus 8 Pro has the most realistic color and white balance for this candle lit shot. Huawei oversaturates our Android figurine just a tad.
If you have the time and steady hands, all three phones sport long and mixed exposure night modes to help in exactly this type of lighting. Let’s see what happens when we switch each camera’s night mode on.
The Huawei P40 Pro is definitely worse with night mode enabled. The software processing used to combine exposures is far too aggressive and noise actually increases in this sample. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus is much improved shooting with night mode enabled, finally presenting a reasonably clean-ish image. Although it still lacks color and the denoise over-smoothens the image. Meanwhile, the OnePlus 8 Pro looks by far the best when shooting with Nightscape.
I took the phones outdoor for a similar tricky shot. Again, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus suffers with lower dynamic range than the other two. Meanwhile, the Huawei P40 Pro offers the brightest image out of the box, but it’s not the most realistic. The OnePlus 8 Pro is pretty spot on the with the color balance in our first shot but massively overestimates the warmth of the lights in this next shot. Out of the three, the S20 Plus grades the scene contrast and white balance the best.
The detail available in each picture is worth looking at a little closer. The Samsung and OnePlus cameras definitely struggle for sharpness and definition compared to Huawei, with lots of noise present across the building brickwork that masks the fine details. The P40 Pro captures a surprisingly good amount of detail given the lack of light, although the HDR effect is unrealistic. Worse though, the sky is incredibly noisy and looks like it was shot with an overly dialed up ISO.
Huawei's P40 Pro captures the most detail in low light. OnePlus' Nightscape mode works really well too.
Switching the various night modes on sees improvements to the detail capture and noise for the OnePlus and Samsung handsets. Although it doesn’t fix up the OnePlus 8 Pro’s color balance issue and Samsung still has by far the noisiest image. Huawei’s Night mode smooths out the sky issue and helps grab even more brickwork detail, but again leaves the overall image looking a tad over-processed.
On balance, Huawei nudges it as the best for a quick night snap and clearly captures the most detail in outdoor low-light environments. Although the brightness and HDR effects leaves the P40 Pro’s shots looking somewhat unrealistic. Indoor and with less distance to the subject, the OnePlus 8 Pro hands in a very good performance, particularly when Nightscape is used. Samsung’s older and smaller IMX555 sensor really doesn’t keep up with the competition.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus: Lacks dynamic range and suffers from more noise than its competitors. You’ll want to shoot with night mode on.
Huawei P40 Pro: Brightest and most detailed low-light images but HDR-like effect is very noticeable. High ISO can cause grain when not shooting in night mode.
OnePlus 8 Pro: Nightscape is really good. Somewhat noisy in very low light and the odd color balance issue.
Dedicated hardware helps with bokeh
While Huawei and Samsung pack in dedicated time-of-flight sensors to assist with bokeh, OnePlus does not. You might assume that this means the OnePlus 8 Pro struggles more with edge detection, but it actually comes very close to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus in most shots. None of the cameras suffer from glaring detection issues, but you can definitely spot problems when cropping in.
Bokeh blur quality is very good across all three handsets with good transitions from foreground to background that mostly avoid hardware edges. Color cross-overs can trick even the best bokeh algorithms, but Huawei’s phone is a little more resistant than the others. The OnePlus 8 Pro and Galaxy S20 Plus miss edges more often than the Huawei P40 Pro, often confusing similar colors and background details for foreground edges. However, there’s surprisingly little between the two, with the 8 Pro occasionally detecting an edge the S20 Plus missed and vice versa. It’s a very solid result for the 8 Pro, especially given that it doesn’t feature dedicated hardware for this purpose.
Despite the lack of dedicated hardware, the OnePlus 8 Pro is competitive with bokeh quality
The Huawei P40 Pro is perhaps just about the best in shots with reasonably crisp edges, but pulls miles ahead with complex hair edges. My untamed quarantine mane has plenty of strays to try and capture and the Huawei P40 Pro gets pretty much all of them in the foreground. Sadly the white balance and skin tones aren’t quite right in this portrait. The OnePlus 8 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 still do a reasonable job at grabbing outliers. However, they can’t preserve individual strands and struggle to accurately apply bokeh in-between gaps. But that’s pretty typical of most smartphone bokeh modes.
Overall, the Huawei P40 Pro is the most consistent with bokeh edge detection. Although it’s certainly not infallible on complex textures and scenes, and all three cameras are prone to tripping up.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus: Decent job at edge detection and good looking bokeh. Trips up on the usual complex edges.
Huawei P40 Pro: Most consistent edge detection but certainly not infallible. Does exceptionally well at picking out individual hairs for portraits.
OnePlus 8 Pro: Performs very well given the lack of dedicated sensor hardware, pretty much on part with the S20 Plus.
And the winner is…
Picking a definitive winner is particularly tough this year, as each of our three handsets has their set of strengths and weaknesses.
Overall, the Huawei P40 Pro continues to set the bar for image quality from its main sensor. It produces the most realistic daylight pics, most detailed low-light shots, and most accurate bokeh. However some features, like zoom and night shooting, feel like they’ve stood still or even gone backwards. At the same time, others have closed the gap, particularly in the zoom department. The OnePlus 8 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus look every bit as good at full frame in most scenarios. You really have to pixel-peep to make out the smaller differences in detail and even those don’t always go in Huawei’s favor.
Huawei nudges it on balance, but the 8 Pro makes a serious statement about OnePlus' flagship ambitions.
What really counts with smartphone photography is consistency. I want a good-looking snap in one click. The Huawei P40 Pro has given me more grief than any previous P-series entry. While its pictures can come out looking exceptional, its exposure isn’t always right and the zoom quality is so-so at shorter distances.
Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Plus is also hit and miss. Boosted colors and heavy doses of post processing leave some images looking better than others. The phone’s zoom and low-light capabilities simply can’t keep up with the competition either, leaving this as the poorest performer out of the three with regards to flexibility.
Which leave us with the OnePlus 8 Pro. The phone is the most consistent when it comes to color balance and detail, but it has its issues too. Details tend to be over sharpened and the wide angle camera is far from the best. But the phone punches above its weight with bokeh and zoom quality, making up for some of its absences on the spec sheet.
The Huawei P40 Pro is probably the best camera package overall, but that lead is thin. What this shootout really reveals is that the OnePlus 8 Pro is a serious contender, besting the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus in most scenarios.