The Galaxy Note10 led the way with its late-August announcement, Apple put out the iPhone 11s in mid-September, and Huawei followed a week later with the Mate 30 series. We had all three fall season big guns at the office at the same time, and we figured we’d do a quick shootout.
A Galaxy Note10 (or a Plus, depending on where you stand on the Pro/Pro Max dilemma) is the most obvious alternative, but Huawei has very recently announced the Mate 30 Pro, and if you’re lucky enough you may be in a region where you can get one. We already have the Mate 30 Pro in for review, and we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity for a three-way shootout of such high caliber.
The iPhone 11 Pro and the Mate 30 Pro are racing to produce the least saturated images, and the decidedly vibrant Note stands out with what are perhaps the most consumer-friendly colors – sure, you can argue that they’re a bit over the top, but doesn’t Instagram love just that? All three manage to give life to greenery, the Mate’s yellows are particularly dull, while the Note10’s blue skies are the bluest around.
The Galaxy does have a characteristic plasticky rendition of random fine detail like foliage and, looking up close, we’d argue that both the iPhone and the Mate do a much more faithful representation of grass and tree leaves.
All three phones have advanced HDR algorithms, but we’d say the iPhone tends to have a more contrasty look on things with clipped shadows and highlights, where the other two have picked up detail – it’s all very subtle and not enough to name a definitive winner.
The telephotos are a bit of a different story. The Mate 30 Pro, even though it lacks the 5x periscope of the P30 Pro, can still bring things much closer with its 3x zoom camera and captures more detail in far off subjects – take the fern in on the balcony in the first shot or the fine dotted patterns in the second one for example. The Mate’s telephoto is also not as conservative with colors as the main cam, instead of producing quite vivid output.
Looking at the specs, the Mate 30 Pro has the best ultra wide-angle camera of this bunch, with a huge sensor, bright optics, and autofocus. On the flip side, the other two do go a lot wider.
However, with easily the widest dynamic range of the trio and sharp fine detail, plus the ability to focus on nearby objects, the Mate’s ultra-wide alone can swing things in its favor. Now, if only it could have been a little ultra wide-er.
Huawei pioneered Night mode, but the rest have caught up, and even Apple’s joined in this year. The Mate does have the big sensor advantage here also, its main cam having a 1/1.7″ imager, next to the other two’s 1/2.6″ units and is thus able to gather more light. It captures sharp images with the broadest dynamic range of the bunch and is the best at retaining highlight detail, particularly with warmer point light sources. We’re just not sure about the Mate’s distinctly reddish rendition of colors. The iPhone does a very respectable job too, and even if we’d place it third in terms of dynamic range, its Night mode photos do turn out sharper than the Note’s.
If you don’t want to be fiddling with Night modes and such, the three phones will deliver nice low-light photos as-is. We’d still pick the Mate for fine detail and dynamic range, but it does still have the red color shift.
Zoomed-in low-light photos from all three phones are all over the place with none showing consistently good results and the three resorting to digital zoom from the main cam more often than not, though the Galaxy does tend to go for actual telephoto more than the rest.
If you want to zoom in at night, you’re a little better off in Night mode – you may not enjoy significant gains in detail, but at least you could get better colors.
The iPhone’s ultra wide-angle cam is the one you don’t want out of the three for low-light shooting. The 11 Pro struggles to expose bright enough, produces soft images, and loses its colors, plus it lacks Night mode for this module. The Note10 does better, though not spectacularly – it can capture more light, but the details are more implied than recorded.
The Mate’s big sensor behind its wide cam helps it a lot in low light, and it takes shots that are in a different league compared to the other two. Correct exposure, lots of fine detail, excellent dynamic range – these are all in its favor. It’s not without flaws, however, and the red cast in warm lighting remains, plus the Mate 30 Pro is very prone to flaring with a light source immediately outside the frame.
With no Night mode on the ultra wide-angle cam on the iPhone, this three-way becomes a head-to-head. The Mate does something odd and goes for a 4:3 10MP shot out its 3:2 sensor, cropping the sides a little and then doing a different kind of demosaicking trickery, and it’s not looking awesome – the photos are significantly softer and now not even all that ultra-wide thanks to the crop. On a positive note, the redness is gone, and the colors are much more accurate. The Note’s low-light ultra wides are ultra-wide, and even if they still can’t quite match the Mate in per-pixel detail, at least you get the perspective you’ve been looking for.
We’ll wrap up this camera comparison with the most obvious and predictable of conclusions – all three phones take awesome photos and there isn’t really one that stands out as the best.
The Note has the liveliest colors, the Mate has the longest reach, the iPhone is the most consistent. But, paying top dollar for any of these, really, you’d expect them to be superb picture taking devices, and indeed they are.
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