Blind photo testing of Apple iPhone 12 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra


Many thanks to everyone who took the time and took part in blind testing of photos from three smartphones. This time we decided to confuse the situation as much as possible, did not say which models were participating in this test (not a single guess was correct), all the pictures were mixed up, and under each number there were always different devices. These tricks were done with only one purpose – to remove the subjective factor when a person guesses that his favorite device is hidden behind such and such a number, and begins to mark it by default. On the other hand, attempts to guess were manifested, but they did not have much influence on the situation.

The counter is not stopped, the material is open, but all changes were recorded at the time of publication, so it is definitely not worth winding up the votes, already knowing which models and under which numbers are hidden.

Why were these three models chosen for comparison? The explanation is rather commonplace: these are three flagships that consumers will choose for themselves. In the new generation of iPhone 12 Pro, the ISP responsible for image processing has been changed, the algorithms have been slightly changed. In Samsung S21 Ultra, they focused on a new type of matrix, to a lesser extent on algorithms for working with it, since historically the company “refines” the firmware over the next months, constantly improving the quality. So, during this time, several firmwares came to me, in each it was stated that the camera’s operation was improved.

Blind photo testing of Apple iPhone 12 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra

But you buy the device here and now, so this moment shouldn’t worry you too much. At Apple, the camera is practically not touched during the year, little changes in it in terms of pictures. At the same time, the Galaxy S21 is built on matrices that are well known from previous generations, plus, like the S21 Ultra, it uses new ISP processors for image processing and uses new generation algorithms (subjectively, they try to make the picture brighter at the expense of detail and white balance, but this is purely my perception).

Blind photo testing of Apple iPhone 12 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra

The comparison that we made concerns only the main camera module, without any additional modes (the exception is a portrait, but there is only one such shot). Each unit automatically turned on HDR where it deemed necessary. All AI enhancements on Samsung remained enabled, as they are enabled by default and most people don’t disable them.

Even before I started blind testing and gave you the opportunity to vote, I went through the photos and caught myself thinking that things have changed in 2021. Photography directly depends on the quality of software and image processing, we like pictures that look more honest, less embellished (it is possible that the trend has changed, our perception has changed, we have grown up and are tired of the bright plastic colors of Instagram and other social networks). Each of the devices shoots well, each has its own pros and cons. But let’s take a look at each shot and how you rated it, and only then draw conclusions.

It is important to make a reservation that it is winter outside, most of the days it was gray, so the style of the pictures is rather monotonous and does not indulge in differences. I am sure that if it was possible to capture summer, autumn or spring compositions, the result could be different. But at the moment everything is exactly like that, I think that in the spring we will repeat the experiment and expand the number of models, for example, to four. Let’s watch the results.

Mulled wine in a restaurant

A semi-dark room, the absence of any tricks to take a picture. Autofocus worked best for the scene on the iPhone, so this shot deservedly leads among the three models.

For simplicity, I have compiled a table that will show the distribution of votes for each picture.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro 63 2071
2 Galaxy S21 26 855
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 11 345

The gap between the iPhone 12 Pro and its competitors is deserved, at the very end we will calculate which model and how many times took the first, second and third places, which will clearly understand what the result is.

Park “Zaryadye”

I don’t know why, but many people liked the second photo, although even the tree in the background on the left yells that the detail has been eaten by the image processing algorithm, the branches have become like a washcloth. The score for all three shots is the same plus or minus, only the iPhone lags far behind. But we will assume that all devices coped in the same way. I cannot understand why exactly S21 won the first place in your votes.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 Galaxy S21 37 1027
2 Galaxy s21 ultra 35 960
3 iPhone 12 Pro  28 791

Christmas trees in GUM

In my opinion, all three devices coped with the picture, there are not many differences. The S21 has digital processing, it is clearly visible on the fonts of the shop windows, they float a little, and the third place is deserved. The first two shots are the same.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  38 894
2 Galaxy s21 ultra 36 841
3 Galaxy S21 27 630

Christmas tree with gingerbread house

The photo on the iPhone has a yellowish tint, it looks warmer. Perhaps that is why many have chosen it, I see no other reason for this. It’s a matter of taste, I prefer pictures from Samsung.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  47 992
2 Galaxy S21 28 589
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 25 520

Legends of antiquity, chambers with pictures

A more elegant picture on the iPhone, brighter, more picturesque, better colored with flowers, and also pay attention to the snow, it is grayish, not very cold. This is what Samsung was scolded for in previous years, aggressive image decoration, now everything has become exactly the opposite. Which, of course, is insanely amusing, some copy others and change places.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  50 960
2 Galaxy S21 34 654
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 16 317

Day, haze and glowing constructions

I think that the logic is clear here, they chose a picture where the structures shone brightest, and the sky and snow were more or less real. The iPhone’s white balance has worked the worst composition here, so the last place.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 Galaxy s21 ultra 38 699
2 Galaxy S21 32 575
3 iPhone 12 Pro  30 548

Stoleshnikov lane in the afternoon

I don’t like the foreground in the shots from Samsung devices, the snow turned into some spots on the sides, the digital processing is too bulging, the iPhone did much better. If you do not look closely, the pictures are plus or minus the same, but look closely, and the difference is noticeable, details are important!

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  46 780
2 Galaxy s21 ultra 30 512
3 Galaxy S21 24 394

Stoleshnikov, courtyards

Once again, the iPhone is brighter than the Samsung (miracles of 2021!), Which is why many chose it.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  52 812
2 Galaxy S21 27 415
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 21 324

Flowerpot on Pushkin Square

The iPhone shot here, on the contrary, turned out to be cold, which immediately swayed the vote in the other direction. The colder the shot, the worse the scores are, as long as this is the case.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 Galaxy s21 ultra 40 583
2 Galaxy S21 33 477
3 iPhone 12 Pro  27 388

Restaurant on Patrick

I am more and more convinced that they choose according to the saturation of the color, according to the way it plays. The iPhone wins, as it tinted the wolf, it became more expressive. In addition, the color of the snow and the decoration is tinted, it is grayish, although in life it is not at all like that. The detail of the images is, plus or minus, comparable. My favorite is the Ultra, which is more lively. The field of the frame is larger by S21, most of the inscription fits. But the voices were very close for this composition.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  36 498
2 Galaxy s21 ultra 34 478
3 Galaxy S21 30 417

Boulevard, glowing tunnel

Where the picture is brighter and the colors are richer, that picture wins, the logic is simple. For my taste, the picture is better on the S21, but you made your choice. But Ultra disappoints in detail around the edges of the frame.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  56 730
2 Galaxy S21 24 319
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 20 254

Patriarch’s Ponds, path

Exactly the same story, a slightly tinted or embellished picture, here as anyone, looks brighter, and therefore they chose it.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  42 522
2 Galaxy s21 ultra 34 420
3 Galaxy S21 24 296

Monument on Patrick

The iPhone snapshot is ringing, due to the high contrast it wins, the inscription on the monument is better visible, which also happened due to the contrast. I join the choice of the majority.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  68 802
2 Galaxy S21 19 228
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 1 13

The pond is frozen

In some scenes, contrast, playing with white balance gives a completely different result, the picture looks lifeless and strange, as happened with the pond on the iPhone. Ultra, on the other hand, depicted the pond in a much more interesting way.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 Galaxy s21 ultra 60 704
2 Galaxy S21 32 372
3 iPhone 12 Pro  8 100

Wall of a house made of bricks

The foreground is better on the iPhone (those bricks), so this shot looks more interesting than the others.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  49 575
2 Galaxy S21 29 347
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 22 258

Icicles on the front door

The iPhone photo benefits from contrast, which makes it brighter. At the same time, the icicles in the picture are not worked out so well.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  59 680
2 Galaxy S21 26 298
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 15 168

Portrait mode

The shots are similar at first glance, but the details are better, the texture of the face on the iPhone, which can be seen from the pupil and the reflection in it. Alas, both Samsung performed significantly worse. This is good portrait quality, but it is inferior to the iPhone.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  49 617
2 Galaxy s21 ultra 31 391
3 Galaxy S21 20 241

A cup of coffee

Detailing, color rendering – all this is on the Ultra side. The reason is that the algorithm on the iPhone understands that the scene is textured and you can miss with decorations, as a result, they are not. But a well-defined foreground on the Galaxy, a minimum of changes in the scene give a winning picture.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 Galaxy s21 ultra 53 615
2 Galaxy S21 28 318
3 iPhone 12 Pro  19 217

Graffiti in the evening

In all the devices the “Night shooting” mode was activated, the camera took several pictures and combined them. Formally, the iPhone and the S21 coped with the task in the same way, but the Ultra with a large matrix gave “soap”, which is easy to explain.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 Galaxy S21 43 699
2 iPhone 12 Pro  42 575
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 15 548

Circus on Vernadsky

Once is an accident, but twice is a pattern. Please note that the choice fell on the pictures taken by similar models, since there is almost no “soap” in them when shooting at night (less matrix).

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 Galaxy S21 41 472
2 iPhone 12 Pro  39 459
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 20 234

The tree is glowing

This time, the iPhone tried to strongly illuminate the sky, made it bright and yellow, night photography on this device, if we talk about the landscape and the city, does not work out very well.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 Galaxy S21 42 503
2 Galaxy s21 ultra 31 377
3 iPhone 12 Pro  27 327

Peacock feathers

Autofocus on the iPhone worked better, resulting in a more attractive image.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  54 590
2 Galaxy S21 25 278
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 21 233

Whole peacocks

And again the situation with different matrices is repeated, Ultra lags behind here, although not as much as in the previous pictures.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 Galaxy S21 36 403
2 iPhone 12 Pro  33 372
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 31 360

Peacock path

The contrast was good for the iPhone image, the picture is noticeably brighter and more attractive, the case when the algorithm played a plus.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  48 541
2 Galaxy s21 ultra 27 304
3 Galaxy S21 25 289

Reflection of a luminous structure in a puddle

Exactly the same scene as in the example above, contrast stretches the picture on the iPhone, makes it attractive.

Place Model Percentage of votes Votes
1 iPhone 12 Pro  48 552
2 Galaxy S21 32 372
3 Galaxy s21 ultra 20 225

Summing up and making a conclusion

For simplicity, let’s summarize in one table how many times each of the smartphones took the first, second and third places in our voting. There will be no additional points or grades here, everything is as simple as possible.

1 place  2 place 3 place 
iPhone 12 Pro  16 3 6
Galaxy S21 5 14 6
Galaxy s21 ultra 4 8 13

Following the logic of voting, we can say that the iPhone 12 Pro simply smeared its competitors in the aspect of the photo part, the advantage in points is huge. But all this comparison illustrates that it is not worth repeating the moves of competitors, since it is often a road to nowhere. If you look at our comparison, which happened a year ago, there was exactly the opposite situation, and due to the fact that the photos on Samsung were brighter, more attractive, they often benefited from contrast. This year, Samsung decided to make its flagship line natural, more precisely, the same as in the iPhone, to be honest. And it worked!

What did Apple do in 2021? We took pictures like on Samsung! And they did it too. The companies just swapped places, each with a million studies that showed the need to adopt the approach of a direct competitor. But in the end everything looks extremely funny.

As I said above, in the spring we will compare the images in other conditions. By that time, in one of the firmwares on the 21st line, they will again roll back the “naturalness”, make a choice in favor of the same approach that has always been. But I would rather see the ability to choose between these two options, so that I, as a user, will be entrusted with the switch, the way I want to see my pictures (Pro mode already allows this, but it is not always convenient for everyone). At the moment, ordinary people have voted for the iPhone 12 Pro and how the pictures from it look like (with the amendment that these are not hundreds of photos, different scenes, and so on).

From the side conclusions that can be drawn from this comparison. In Ultra, night shooting due to stitching of several frames often gives “soap”, which is not on the younger model. And disabling high resolution also makes this device play (but the comparison was like this, we set the default settings, no one could get an advantage even by switching to another mode).

For thoughtful buyers, I can note that each device has its own strengths and weaknesses, scenes that it can shoot optimally. This year, Samsung’s algorithms that process the shots look worse than on the iPhone. Alternatively, you can forget about it or shoot in RAW (the same Pro mode), which allows you to get the most out of the picture, but only a few need it.

What are your thoughts on what kind of camera and how it shoots? What do you need from a camera in a mobile phone?

PS Do I need to make a comparison of the capabilities when shooting in RAW and what you can get from each camera, what information to extract from it?

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