The Galaxy Note 10 represent’s Samsung’s most powerful handset of 2019, and as such, potential buyers expect the best in terms of camera performance. We ran some side by side tests with the Galaxy S10+ camera, which we previously reviewed in-depth, along with other phones such as the iPhone Xs Max and the Huawei P30 Pro for high-stakes performance comparison.
Key Camera Specifications and Uber HW Camera score
Although the Galaxy Note 10’s rear camera hardware system is nearly identical to the Galaxy S10’s camera system, there are small differences in the zoom camera, and Samsung’s camera team has changed the camera tuning very slightly.
Keep in mind that the Note 10+ has a bokeh sensor that the regular Note 10 does not have. However, Bokeh isn’t a factor in the current score, so it won’t matter in this score.
Galaxy Note 10 / Note 10+
- Rear Camera System (3 cameras)
- Primary: 26mm, f/1.5, 12 Megapixel, OIS, Dual-Pixel PDAF
- Zoom: 52mm, f/2.1, 12 Megapixel, OIS
- Ultrawide: 13mm, f/2.2, 16 Megapixel
- Depth-sensor: Galaxy 10+ / 10+ 5G only
Image Quality Analysis
Important: let’s clarify some terminology we’ll be using:
- “image processing”: software work that improves the image data quality
- “image filtering”: software work that changes the style (aesthetic) of the photo.
- “context photo”: a great approximation of what we see
- Including how dark the scene actually is
- Only to provide the context of the shot.
- Not a quality benchmark
A note about the Uber IQ Camera image quality benchmark: our camera scoring system is based on four “Pillars” or sub-scores that provides much-needed nuance: day, night, zoom and ultrawide photography.
As a byproduct of the additional noise-reduction image filtering, the Galaxy Note 10 has slightly less Photo Texture than the Galaxy S10+, but it’s probably too subtle for people to see unless they know what to look for. In layman’s terms, the photo may appear a bit more “airbrushed” because of it. Let’s take a closer look at a cropped section, and here’s the context image:
Unsurprisingly, the Galaxy Note 10 mostly has comparable performance to the already excellent Galaxy S10+. It captures sharp photos, with agreeable colors. A close inspection reveals that Samsung’s camera team has changed the tuning, further increasing the image filtering (vs. the S10) by adding even more contrast and color saturation.
Above: the Huawei P30 Pro does a good job with the color hues, but its lower-resolution does affect both texture and details. For example, look at the curtains and the front door of the house to see details disappear.
Above: the iPhone XS produces finer texture such as the tree leaves and a more natural (less processed) image, at the expense of having a bit more noise.
The differences between the Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy S10+, Huawei P30 Pro and iPhone Xs cameras are not dramatic because they have some of the best daylight photography phones you can find, so it’s often about style (color and image-filters tuning). We can compare with the new ZTE Axon 10 Pro to show that competing at this level is not easy:
As you can see, the ~$550 Axon 10 Pro has difficulties capturing details in the dark areas because its dynamic range (HDR) performance isn’t yet on par with the top phones on the market.
To demonstrate the differences in image-filters “style,” consider the scene above. It is shot shortly before sunset, and the plants, soil and rock colors mixed with the subtle light gradient seemed visually appealing. Below, you can see how phones’ image filtering and over-aggressive HDR can considerably change the mood of the scene:
Above: the iPhone Xs equalizes the scene’s lighting a bit, which eliminates some of the light gradient and therefore, some of the volumes.
However, both the Galaxy Note 10 and the Huawei P30 Pro take things to a whole different level, shooting the scene as if it shot at noon, and removing the warm sunlight color and flattening the shadows almost completely. The image may be pleasing, but if your intent was to capture the “mood” of the scene, you’re out of luck. It cannot be unprocessed to look natural.
The noise, level of details (texture and edge) are mostly good of course, but you have to decide which “style” you prefer as nearly all OEMs seem to apply more and more filtering. Drop a comment or contact us directly if you have a strong opinion on that topic.
At night, the evolution of the Galaxy Note 10’s camera tuning is even more obvious. For example, in this scene, you can see the difference between the Galaxy Note 10 and the Galaxy S10. First, here’s the context photo that shows how the scene actually looks like:
Above: In a side by side with the Galaxy Note 10 and the Galaxy S10. At first glance, you can see the Galaxy Note 10’s style going towards brightening (+over-exposure) things up at the expense of the original warm color of the street lights, which is better captured by the Galaxy S10.
Above: The Huawei P30 Pro has even more image-filtering to artificially up the brightness (even though brighter isn’t always better), so the Samsung phones remain a “less filtered” option, relatively speaking. Keep in mind that the Google Pixel 3 does have a fair bit of filtering as well, but in a different style, which you can find in our Pixel 3 Camera review.
Sadly for iPhone users, the iPhone Xs does not manage to capture better colors, nor more details. That is noticeable when looking at the dull colors and the road’s lack of texture.
Below, a crop of this scene highlights a few things: first, you can see the difference in noise and details between the P30 Pro and the Galaxy Note 10: Check the front of the car and the door siding where the house number is.
Below, the image filtering differences with the S10+ are apparent: you can see strong artificial contrast (white halo) added to the wood right in front of the entrance light and frankly, a little bit everywhere, including around the fence posts. The white halo is called “ringing” and is there to trick your eyes into perceiving more contrast.
Ringing actually replaces some of the original data, and when done excessively, filtering can actually destroy data and make the photo worse.
In normal low-light conditions such as the scene above (~7-10 LUX), the Galaxy Note 10 produces better details and less noise than the Huawei P30 Pro because it uses a lower ISO (1200 vs. 3200) and has a slightly higher resolution (16MP vs 10MP). Again, the P30 Pro 10MP resolution puts it at a slight disadvantage for fine details. You can see it on the siding to the right of the door, and on the car’s headlight.
On the contrary, the iPhone Xs has much less filtering going on, but its light-sensing capability is lower, yields more noise and lacks details and texture. With much better camera hardware, Apple would be competitive in this scene, but for now, it is not.
In Ultra-low-light (0.1 LUX at the “bottles” scene, below), the Galaxy Note 10 (and the S10+) are holding up pretty well, with the S10+ having slightly better colors this time.
The Huawei P30 Pro does a good job at preserving the overall color hues, despite brightening everything up, but you can see massive image filtering to eliminate noise.
The Samsung tuning allows having some visible noise for a more natural look when compared to the context image. Finally, the iPhone Xs shows heavy noise and isn’t able to capture the original color hues. You can find similar tests for the Pixel 3 in its camera review.
If we dim the brightness to a level where our light meter isn’t even able to register it (it shows 0.0 LUX), the Huawei P30 Pro switches to “night vision” mode using extremely high ISO and excellent noise reduction (at the cost of a purple-ish color hue). At that point, no current competitor can beat it, and it’s technically awe-inspiring, although it remains to be seen how many people take pictures when they can barely see themselves.
In any case, it’s an excellent option to have and below is the comparison with the Galaxy S10 below. The Galaxy Note 10 behaves in a quasi-identical way. We took an in-depth look at the Huawei P30 Pro low-light capabilities in a dedicated article, alongside the complete P30 Pro camera review.
In daylight, the Samsung Galaxy Note captures excellent ultrawide photos and behaves pretty much like the Galaxy S10+ which we previously praised for having both an extraordinarily wide-angle and excellent quality in that category.
Here too, Samsung has increased the color saturation, but the levels of artificial contrast are comparable, so not much change here. Overall, we found the Galaxy Note 10’s ultrawide camera to have higher quality (colors and optics) than competitors such as Huawei’s P30 Pro and Mate 20 Pro that both have chromatic aberration on the outer edge of the image (show it).
The LG G8 (and perhaps the LG V50) would be the closest competitor in Ultrawide photo as the iPhone Xs and Pixel 3 phones don’t have that capability at all, for now. Samsung remains ahead of Huawei in Ultrawide photography, producing better colors than the P30 Pro, along with better clarity on the outer edge where lens distortion is challenging.
Since P30 Pro, Huawei has improved its Ultrawide photography, and we can already see the results in the Honor 20 Pro, which addresses some of the above issues (stay tuned for the camera review).
At night, the Note 10’s camera easily outpaces the P30 Pro, with much higher quality capture, despite the wider angle.
When compared to the Galaxy S10+, the ultrawide camera has benefited from fine-tuning that makes it better at capturing a natural scene, without looking unnatural. This update is very similar to improvements made from the S9+ to the Galaxy Note 9’s camera.
The zoom capabilities of the Galaxy Note isn’t particularly remarkable, and this is something that Samsung can improve next time by integrating a more powerful zoom lens.
Relative to the S10+, we (again) see more image filtering to boost color saturation and sharpness, but no tangible gain in image quality (IQ). When done within reason, we consider this filtering as “styling”, similar to Instagram filters.
No amount of algorithms can make up for a significant gap in optical zoom hardware capability (52mm vs. 80mm or 130mm). It is most evident if you compare with a zoom camera such as the P30 Pro, but handsets like the Honor 20 Pro (~$670) can already outperform high-end phones with 2X zoom. Those interested in the P30 Pro’s telephoto, we published a deep dive into the Huawei P30 Pro’s zoom capability.
Conclusion and Camera IQ Score
|Uber IQ Camera||Sub-scores|
From an image quality standpoint, the Galaxy Note 10 is very close to the Galaxy S10+, just as we expected: both are excellent camera phones and remain extremely competitive at the high end.
Changes in the image-filtering style that might sway the user either way. If you prefer seeing less filtering and have more control, the Galaxy S10+ is more attractive. The true image quality gains that we have seen come from the new Note 10 Ultrawide tuning for low-light photos.
For those who don’t like filtering, the iPhone Xs remains the best bet in daylight photography, but it trails behind in low-light and has no ultrawide lens. The next iPhone should bring Apple back into the race.
Note that despite the heavier image-filtering, Samsung generally does a good job of having consistent color hues, and is less prone to unpredictable color behavior when compared to Huawei.
Our complete ranking is available on our Best Camera Phones page, along with links to other reviews. Thanks for tuning in!
In the media
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