As one of the first major high-end smartphones of 2019, the Samsung Galaxy S10 launches under high scrutiny by analysts and fans alike. As the most successful high-end franchise on Android, the Galaxy S has built a reputation for its excellent camera performance. How good is the 2019 edition? We reveal it all! Learn more: what is our Camera IQ score?
Key Camera Specifications and Uber HW Camera score
Galaxy S10 / S10+
- Rear Camera System (3 cameras)
- Primary: 27mm, f/1.5, 12 Megapixel, OIS, Dual-Pixel PDAF
- Zoom: 52mm, f/2.4, OIS
- Ultrawide: 12mm, f/2.2, 16 Megapixel
The Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ join the club of extremely versatile mobile cameras with a focal range of 12mm – 52mm that covers the most common situations people use their cameras in. Learn more: what is our camera hardware score?
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 score: our camera scoring system is based on four “Pillars” or sub-scores that provides much-needed nuance: day, night, zoom and ultrawide photography.
One of the main improvements of the Galaxy S10 camera over the Galaxy Note 9 is the management of HDR scenes. We have mentioned in the past that the Note’s 9 weak point was a tendency to over-expose slightly, which could lead to color and detail loss in very bright areas away from the main subject.
The above picture is a good example, with better HDR on the S10 (vs. Note 9) in the shadowed tree branches, and the yellow building on the upper-left. Below, the iPhone XS darkens the branches (in the shadows) a bit too much, but has a more natural rendering of the grass and tree bark texture.
*Note: the context photo’s sky is a bit over-exposed, but the rest of the scene is an excellent representation of what we’re looking at.
In some instances, we can see that the Galaxy S10 camera tuning has changed from the S9/Note 9. This image illustrates this well. Both S9 and Note 9 output nearly identical photos, but the S10 has a very different look, which is closer to what an iPhone XS would produce in this scene.
The exposure and contrast are better, matching the overall lighting of our context shot and closer to the iPhone XS, the current top daylight camera with the OnePlus 6T. In fact, the OnePlus 6T is the overall better shot in this scene as the XS produces a slightly unnatural photo.
The Fire station image is a good example to show that again; the S10 camera shoots slightly more natural and realistic photos than S9 and Note 9 which had the tendency to over-contrast photos, probably as part of its tuning “style” to make photos more pleasing. Interestingly, the XS struggles with white balance here (sky is too blue), but it does very well in general.
But times change, and it seems like Samsung is moving a bit closer to a more natural style that is often more able to preserve the original mood and texture of the scene. That said, in the S10 picture, there are still visible artificial contrast ringing along the edges of the cables, wall, etc.
The Galaxy S10 has improved slightly over the Galaxy Note 9 in some ways (exposure) but not in every way (color). That’s enough to push it to a level where it equals the iPhone XS and is ahead of the Mate 20 Pro / P20 Pro.
- The daylight IQ score of 187: three handsets with different characteristics
- S10 / S10+ : crisp, well-balanced photos, with slight image filtering
- iPhone XS : the most natural style with good texture, but less edge sharpness
- OnePlus 6T : best fine details, but with heavier image filtering at times
Low-Light Photography: 194
With a Galaxy Note 9 title of Best Low-light Camera of 2018 to defend, Samsung has a lot at stake in this category. As we prepare to make some night shots for this review, this picture illustrates how challenging things become when light becomes scarce:
Our leading daylight phones (iPhone XS, OnePlus 6T) capture colors that are strangely unnatural at dusk as they struggle with figuring out what the scene is, and how to handle it. The Galaxy S10 manages to capture the proper color hues that are closest to the context photo (what we see), leaving you all the options for filtering. Remember, in low light photo brighter is not always better.
The iPhone XS uses HDR a bit too much and produces photos that are flatter due to the removal of shadows by artificially over-brightening dark areas as part of its filtering-style.
Below a challenging night scene with complex HDR and subtle lighting. As usual, all smartphones brighten up the scene well beyond what you see – that is to be expected. You can also see that they are all affected by the high levels of red color coming from the Christmas lights.
The Huawei Mate 20 pro goes way overboard with the image filtering and turns the center-left cherry tree almost into a light source and alters the scene very significantly.
The iPhone XS does a pretty good job at exposing the small lights, but the overall photo is dull and quite noisy if you look closer.
The difference between S10 and Note 9 are small: in general, the Galaxy S10 has a bit more sharpness and the Note 9 is a bit less noisy. Camera engineers typically have to find a balance with these settings and in 2019, they opted for a crisper image.
We previously noticed that Note 9 produced slightly “soft” photos in the past, with a bit of fuzziness at times. In the slider below, you can see how the trash bins and fence posts are a bit “softer” (blurrier) on the Note 9.
Above, the street signs have a more pronounced ringing (a bright halo around the edge) on their right side. This shows that Samsung has cracked-up its sharpening filter.
Below, the Mate 20 Pro’s filtering is very noticeable when you zoom in. The noise-filter removed noise on the trash bins, but also the texture of the fence posts. The sharpening ringing on the lower street signs and around the car is also very strong.
One more scene to show subtle differences between Note 9 and S10 in this shot. First, some context, then we’ll compare:
We previously mentioned the Galaxy Note 9’s tendency to go towards warmer tints as part of its filtering style. Samsung has tuned it to capture more natural color hues and slightly better details (wheel, rearview mirror). Galaxy S10 isn’t better than Note 9 in every single night shot, but overall, the progress is undeniable.
Samsung has had a winning low-light strategy by using superior lenses instead of going for a larger sensor. However, as we’ve seen in our Pixel 3 camera review, software tuning can only help you so much.
If you want to see more low-light comparisons between Note 9 and other phones Read our Galaxy Note 9 Camera Review.
Zoom Photography: 89
When it comes to zoom photography, the Galaxy S10 has a 52mm lens like the Galaxy Note 9, but in our tests, the S10 camera software took truly sharper pictures, especially when dealing with the intricate nature details.
The above image was selected because the difference was very noticeable, making it an ideal example. On average, it’s not as dramatic, but the Galaxy S10 reliably produces sharp images in 2X mode. Now against the iPhone XS:
In our Huawei Mate 20 Pro Camera Review, we have illustrated how no current 2X optical zoom cameras can compete with its 3X optical zoom and the Galaxy S10 is no exception. Also, we can’t wait to test OPPO’s 10X optical zoom.
Ultrawide Photography: 134
Ultrawide photography is where the most significant gap occurs. Samsung had none and was late to the game, but its first high-end ultrawide camera performs great.
Note: because of the wider angle, the S10 will feature less pixel sharpness if we zoom in the same area.
In the comparison below, the V40 loses detail in shadowed areas due to its HDR camera tuning. The S10 has a more realistic rendering of that area, even though the green plant are still too dark:
The Galaxy S10 handles HDR better than the LG V40, a weak point for LG which was highlighted in the LG V40 Camera Review.
In daylight, the Galaxy S10 is excellent but not perfect. While it captures good colors, the S10 details and textures are a bit more fuzzier the Mate 20 Pro, some of it due to image-filtering. Again, 12mm and 16mm aren’t easily compared, but Samsung has room to improve on the software side.
At night, the Galaxy S10’s ultrawide camera pulls ahead of the LG V40, the ultrawide leader until Jan 2019.
On a laptop / desktop PC, you should be able to see that V40 has more noise (sky, trash bins, but everywhere, really). Both capture great colors, but the S10 has an edge with slightly more natural ones. If not, this crop will help.
If you have any doubt about the popularity of Ultrawide photography, check this casual T-mobile survey:
Conclusion: The Galaxy S10 Takes The Crown
The rear camera system of the Samsung Galaxy S10 is impressive and very well balanced. Samsung did make incremental improvements over the Galaxy Note 9 (and S9) functionalities, but it is really the addition of an excellent ultra-wide camera that takes the S10 to the next level of mobile photography.
The Galaxy S10 and S10+ camera is now a top player in Daylight photography, remains the king of the hill in Low-light and manages to steal the Ultrawide IQ (image quality) crown from the LG V40!
With three out of four mobile photography pillars in hand, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is truly the most powerful mobile camera system today that gets an unprecedented Uber IQ Camera IQ score (full score table here).
|Uber IQ Camera||Sub-scores|
The bar is now set for the rest of the industry, and there’s no doubt that 2019 is going to be very interesting. Previously, the “Ultimate Camera IQ” title was held by the Huawei Mate 20 Pro with a score of 167.
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Filed in Camera Benchmarks, Editorspick, Galaxy S10, Mobile Camera Reviews and Samsung.. Read more about