Low light photos compared: iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro vs Samsung S21 Ultra

Technology

The iPhone 13 Pro launches Friday and some of the biggest improvements are in low light photography and battery life. So how does the new flagship from Apple stack up against last year’s model and Samsung’s top of the line S21 Ultra? I took some photos in low light to find out.

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Let’s start with a wide shot of a parking garage with a satellite dish on top. All three shots look similar, but you can see differences in how the tree on the right is rendered. At full screen, you can see more detail in the garage on the Samsung shot, but all three of these are perfectly acceptable.

iPhone 12 Pro
iPhone 13 Pro
Samsung S21 Ultra

Next up, a planter with my sneakers in the picture. On iPhone 12, my shoes and the plant are equally in focus, but I prefer how the Samsung made my shoes out of focus slightly to draw more attention to the plant in the center of the screen. iPhone 13 Pro did a nice job here, with the plant sharp and in focus and the shoes out of focus. I’m also noticing that all the Samsung pics just look brighter in general.

IPhone 12 Pro
iPhone 13 Pro
Samsung S21 Ultra

Now, on to a textured wall. iPhone 12 Pro exposes it in a warmer color, while the iPhone 13 Pro and Samsung are truer to life. Detail is definitely better in the Samsung photo as opposed to iPhone 12 and it looks like the texture is over sharpened in the iPhone 13 rendition.

IPhone 12 Pro Max
IPhone 13 Pro Max
Samsung S21 Ultra

Now on the the ultra-wide angle lens. All three of these shots do a nice job of capturing the skyline. Looks like the iPhones got two stars in the shot, while Samsung missed them. iPhone 13 captures the sky in a different hue, perhaps it’s more lifelife.

IPhone 12 Pro Max Wide Angle
IPhone 13 Pro Max Wide Angle
Samsung S21 Ultra Wide Angle

Now with the moon in the shot using the standard lens, we get three very similar pictures. Color temperature on the Samsung is more realistic. There’s a lot of ghosting in the sky going on in the iPhone pictures. You can tell iPhone applied nighttime mode to these shots.

IPhone 12 Pro Max
Iphone 13 Pro Max
Samsung S21 Ultra

Just for fun. A zoomed in moon shot. Samsung nails it, but this is more of a party trick. I don’t expect too many people to base their smartphone purchase on a moonshot, but it is impressive that Samsung can do this handheld at 30x zoom. iPhone 12 Pro is at 10x, iPhone 13 Pro is at 15x.

iPhone 12 Pro
iPhone 13 Pro
Samsung S21 Ultra

Inside now, ultra-wide angle in a well-lit TV studio. Tough to tell a major difference here, all the photos look excellent.

IPhone 12 Pro Max

iPhone 13 Pro Wide Angle
Samsung S21 Ultra Wide Angle

Conclusion: I’m surprised the iPhone 13 Pro photos aren’t all that much better than the iPhone 12 Pro since there’s been so much talk about the improvement in low light. I’m also impressed how much Samsung can keep up with the latest iPhone even though it launched months ago.

You can’t go wrong with any of these devices, but it is nice to have the increased zoom capabilities on the iPhone 13 Pro (3x vs 2x on iPhone 12) and up to 10x optical on the Samsung.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments on my Facebook page!

Listen to the Rich on Tech podcast for answers to your tech questions.

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