Samsung’s Galaxy S21 wins on zoom by default, because the iPhone 12 has only digital zoom, but Apple has better a selfie camera, with TrueDepth.
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 is a great new phone that compares well to the iPhone 12, which is the newest model from Apple. Some of the most important features of any new smartphone are the cameras and, while the rear cameras often get the most attention, the front-facing selfie camera is often used just as much when sharing with friends.
Self-portraits have existed since the early days of photography, even before if including drawings and paintings. The first selfie photos were sometimes taken by a photographer that opened the shutter, ran into view, then paused a minute or more, as exposures took a long time. Of course, multiple photos can be captured in a split second with a common mobile phone and a top-tier phone can record high-quality video selfies. Apple even announced ‘slofies,’ slow-motion videos recorded with the front-facing camera, with its iPhone 11 series.
Samsung focused on its rear cameras with the Galaxy S21, including a 12-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, wide-angle, main camera with 1.8-micron sensor pixels, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide at f/2.2 with 1.4-micron pixels, and a 64-megapixel telephoto at f/2.0 with 0.8-micron pixels. The lower the f-number, the better low-light performance and better the bokeh effect possible. A larger pixel-size is preferable for low-light performance and lower noise. Samsung has a solution for almost any situation. By comparison, the iPhone 12 offers only two rear cameras, a 12-megapixel, f/1.6 aperture, wide-angle main camera with 1.4-micron pixels, and an ultra-wide at f/2.4 and 1-micron. For the main camera, it can be seen that Apple relies on a wider aperture for brighter photos, while Samsung increased the sensor pixel size. For the ultra-wide camera, the Galaxy S21 offers better specifications for both the lens and the sensor, meaning low-light photos with the widest angle lens should be better than the iPhone 12.
Samsung Vs. Apple: Zoom, Selfie & Video
Apple includes a telephoto lens on the Pro models but not the lower-cost models of the iPhone 12, so the only possibility for zoom is with digital zoom, which tops out at 5x. Apple’s camera app doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of computational photography to help with smoothing and sharpening a 12-megapixel digital zoom, so it is generally better to try to get closer rather than using zoom. Technically, the Galaxy S21 also relies mostly on digital zoom, as its telephoto camera is only 1.1x longer range than its main camera, but its 64-megapixel sensor adds a significant amount of lossless zoom simply by cropping off the edges of the super large photo that is captured. This provides a zoom roughly equivalent to a 3-times optical zoom, though it will have more noise due to the small size of the sensor pixels. Nevertheless, Samsung has a decent zoom capability even on its $800 Galaxy S21, while Apple’s iPhone 12 costs the same yet offers little value for those hoping to capture zoomed-in photos.
The tables turn when flipping to the front-facing camera. Apple’s 12-megapixel selfie camera is sharper than Samsung’s 10-megapixel camera and the iPhone 12’s TrueDepth infrared scanner allows accurate depth effects such as enhanced bokeh. The field of view (FOV) is wider at 23 millimeters versus the Galaxy S21’s 26-millimeter selfie FOV. Both can record 4K resolution videos, but the iPhone 12 has the slofie option which can record 120 frames per second (FPS) at 1080p. Speaking of video, Samsung’s main camera can capture a remarkable 960 FPS at 702p, so those looking for a slow-motion selfie can always attempt to shoot without a viewfinder and get ultra-slow slofies with the Galaxy S21. Both offer excellent super steady video recording at 4K resolution at up to 60 FPS. Samsung can record in 8K at 24 FPS, but be aware, the phone will fill up quickly with these high-resolution files. There is more to choosing a phone than just the cameras, but generally speaking, those wanting to zoom, will like the Galaxy S21 better and those shooting more selfies will prefer the iPhone 12.
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