Which flagship camera takes the best night photos?
Well, there were some surprising differences I discovered that I wanted to share with you.
Photos, videos, portrait shots, zoom and even time lapses, there’ll be something for everyone in this review.
I’m going to score them from 1 to 4 points as we go, but pay attention to the shots you usually capture, it's those photos you will most likely take the more often.
Free to comment if you disagree with the scores - just be nice down there!
First up we have shots taken using the main camera on each phone. All of these were shot at the highest possible settings but without going into Pro or Raw modes as I just wanted to compare what comes straight out of camera.
This image had lots of colour and light from all directions.
The only bad shot from the 4 here was actually the Pixel 8 Pro. Which totally missed the focus on me, even though the colours were the most accurate in this shot, so I'm going to give that 1 point.
The S23 Ultra went overboard with the processing and loses a lot of the detail, so only 2 points for them. The Xiaomi was actually the best overall in terms of colour balance and exposure, but if you zoom in it just isn’t in sharp focus- 3 points. And to those asking why we don’t have the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, it’s not actually available here in the UK. Therefore I decided to go with the best Xiaomi phone that’s available globally.
So the winner here goes to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, with 15 points, even though I’m not a fan of the added saturation, it’s crushed the darker areas and perhaps over sharpened in other areas, it’s done the best job at keeping the subject in focus. Which is kind of the point here when taking a photo of someone.
Next up is this building shot.
None of them are necessarily bad shots here.
Pixel wins for being most colour accurate and pulled details out on the ground so 4 points for them.
I put iPhone second at 3 points.
S23 Ultra third although it tried to expose the shop windows which then gave this yellow glare that doesn’t look good, just 2 points for them.
Xiaomi comes last place here. Colours are slightly too warm and it loses a lot of detail in some areas., just 1 point.
Another building shot here. Looking in from the outside.
This one is really close. I had to really zoom in to look around in this image. The Pixel I think actually wins here. It keeps the detail, and it’s not too warm inside, so 4 points.
The iPhone next, though it is too warm it has kept the detail. 3 Point to them.
The S23 Ultra next, it loses detail as you zoom in on the inside, and also there’s some strange green and purple colour issues going on in the white chairs which is why I scored it 2 points.
The Xiaomi 4th as there’s just an overall lack of detail, sorry, 1 point!
A shot of this beautiful Cathedral here.
iPhone, hands down wins with the detail and light that it was able to pull out of the image. Incredible work so 4 points!
Next is very close for me but I think the S23 Ultra wins in 2nd place at 3 points. As the Pixel 8 Pro loses a lot of detail in the grass and darker areas I'm giving it just 2 points. The Xiaomi loses a lot of detail across the whole image so only 1 point for them.
This was probably the most challenging shot of all.
Pure darkness, I couldn’t even see where the camera was it was so dark, and it was a struggle to focus the cameras because the camera couldn’t see me to focus on me either. All the shots we took were handheld, so there’s no ‘ideal or unrealistic scenario’ of capturing these perfect tripod shots when nobody carries around a tripod with them.
BUT, the Xiaomi 13T Pro surprised me most, and actually comes out with the best shot here. It’s the most detailed. The colours are accurate, it’s crazy how it manages to pull colour out of what was essentially a black hole. I'm giving it 4 points.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max next at 3 points.
I do like the background of the S23 Ultra’s picture. But as far as me and the path I’m stood on, it’s pretty bad, so 2 points.
And the Pixel really struggled to do anything here, so one point.
But the main camera isn’t the only camera that gets used. Often, it’s the Ultrawide camera, which typically performs poorly in low light. So let’s start with our next shot comparison.
The iPhone again is the darkest image of them all and has a lot of noise so 2 points only.
The Xiaomi loses an awful lot of detail on me and is very noisy in all areas therefore, just 1 point.
And I’m going to call a tie between the Pixel 8 Pro and the S23 Ultra. The S23 Ultra does lose a lot of the detail around my face and has really saturated colours whereas the pixel once again struggles to nail the focus on my face, 3 points each.
Next up, and you’ll start to see a trend with the iPhone in these photos where it didn’t think it was dark enough to kick in night mode, and you’ll see how that impacts these photos as we go.
So iPhone - Last Place as it's way too dark, just 1 point.
It’s close between the next 3. But the S23 Ultra didn’t blow out the highlights like the others did which gets it 2 points.
The Pixel retained a little more detail. It’s interesting to see how each brand leans on their strengths. Pixel is more about the software processing, whereas Samsung is more about the Hardware. But 3 points to the Pixel.
The Xiaomi did a good job but lost some detail and once again went a little too warm with the colours so 4 points only.
Ultrawide of a carpark now with some yellow leading lines as well as some bright light sources.
The iphone nailed this shot. Focus, Colours, lighting, contrast, detail, even just about the stars, 4 points.
Next is close but it’s the Pixel 8 Pro for the colours, and you can see quite a few stars in the shot too, for that I'm giving them 3 points.
The Xiaomi 13T Pro also didn’t do too bad a job - 2 points to them.
But the S23 Ultra just seemed to miss here. Half of the image is blurry, only 1 point for this reason.
Next up is some video still images, and if you use an iPhone you might be thinking, ha, we’ve got this one… But actually, you’d be wrong. The Pixel 8 Pro, the Xiaomi 13T Pro, and the S23 Ultra all beat the iPhone in some of these tests…
Starting with a simple time lapse set it up in my back garden with some bright lights and the dark sky to see how they handled the contrast between the two.
The Xiaomi 13T comes out the gate with a stunner! Great detail on the brightly lit sections, detail on the grass is great, and the sky is exposed nicely so you can see the stars and the light clouds which are passing overhead. Really great job! So 4 points to the 13T Pro.
iPhone comes a close second, I’ve only docked points because the detail of the trees isn’t as good as the Xiaomi here. 3 Points
S23 Ultra next as the quality was good on what was lit, but otherwise, the sky isn’t really exposed all that well so it’s difficult to see the stars passing, for that reason, just 2 points.
And the same with the Pixel but an even more awful exposure. Given that most of the image is dark you’d think it would have been able to do a better job at brightening up that sky, but apparently not so just 1 point.
I honestly thought the S23 Ultra and Pixel would be scoring way more wins than they are right now. Thankfully I dual carry both an iPhone and an Android Phone, currently that’s the Pixel 8 Pro, so I kind of get the best of both worlds.
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This was a tricky shot, both to physically capture and for the cameras. We had to prop all 4 phones up on the floor so excuse the wonky angles.
These were all shot in 4k 30fps.
The Pixel is my favourite here. It exposed the whole image nicely whilst keeping the detail. 4 Points.
Then the iPhone 15 Pro Max at 3 points and the Xiaomi 13T Pro at 2 points.
And then the S23 Ultra I gave 1 points which was very noisy in pretty much all areas.
Here’s a shot looking inside a restaurant.
None of them actually did a bad job here I don’t think, other than the choice of exposure each phone made.
Interestingly, I actually think the Pixel 8 Pro has done the best. BUT it’s oversaturated the image. You’ve got the detail in the Ivy’s sign at the top, the blinds, the contrast with the dark umbrella and there’s very little noise so I'm giving it 4 points.
Then the S23 Ultra. It’s done a respectable job even though it’s shot a little too dark, but the lights aren’t blown out like on the iPhone which means it earns 3 points.
iPhone next at 2 points and the Xiaomi last for being noisy and blowing out the highlights, just 1 point.
Next up with shots of me walking towards the camera with a mixture of lighting.
The iPhone here looks kind of unfocussed. It looks a little blurry.
I actually prefer the Pixel and Xiaomi. It seems to nail the focus and colours, though there is some noise on the Xiaomi.
So, 4 Points to the Pixel 8 Pro, 3 points to the Xiaomi 13T Pro, then I think it’s going to have to be 2 points to the S23 Ultra and just 1 point to the iphone 15 Pro Max. As someone who has used an iPhone since, basically forever, I’m actually stunned at how badly it’s performing here… Especially since the 13T Pro is half the price of the 15 Pro Max. Crazy.
In this shot we tested taking photos of some passing traffic. I wanted to also see which cameras suffer from lens flare and those reflections that you get with bright lights.
The Xiaomi 13T Pro wins hands down with 4 points. You can make out the detail in the brickwork, colours are good, there is a bit of noise. But I’d choose a little noise over totally washing out the detail like you see on the other 3 clips which look like those buildings are painted solid brown, grey, white and red. Which they’re not.
It’s marginal, but the iphone just comes in next at 3 points.
The Pixel 8 Pro gets 2 points whilst the S23 has the white balance totally off so that comes in last place with 1 point. But, as you can see. The S23 Ultra suffers with way less lens flare than the other phones. It’s still there, but it’s not as noticeable. And the iPhone seems the worst, even though they have a new coating on their lenses this year which should reduce this from happening.
This next shot had some challenging lighting, along with the very dark sky.
The S23 Ultra does the best job at 4 points, the iPhone is also great but suffers from the bright lights reflecting yet again in the lens! That cool new coating that Apple has applied to the lenses this year hasn’t made the blindest bit of difference… 3 points!
The Pixel here is quite noisy, but the Xiaomi feels jittery so I’m going to tie them both at 2 points each.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to use the Portrait modes a LOT to snap photos when I’m out. I love the creamy backgrounds it gets you.
But how does that perform in low light? Let's find out!
I’m looking for good edge detection here.
iPhone 15 Pro Max definitely comes in first place here, absolutely spotless edge detection! 4 Points!
And actually the Xiaomi Second place at 3 points though it’s a little soft around the edges, the blacks aren’t as crushed as they are in the S23 Ultra which got just 2 points.
And the Pixel 8 Pro. Last place, unfortunately the edge detection is really bad here, just 1 point.
This next one is a really challenging lighting situation. Bright lights behind me, not much light actually on me. And as you can see we have some interesting reflections going on with the lights behind me.
But it’s clear that the S23 Ultra is the absolute winner here. It’s managed to pull enough light out of nowhere to pull me out of the image without blowing out the background too much. But, it did cut off the top of my hair. So, not perfect! And also it’s a bit weird that the patch of grass to my left is in focus but the rest is blurry. 4 Points.
It’s close but I’d say the Pixel 8 Pro then does a good job, even though there are some obvious reflections going on there. 3 Points.
Then I’m going to draw the iphone and the Xiaomi 13T Pro. Xiaomi handles exposure better but has the worst light reflections of the 4, but the iPhone, whilst the quality is there, it’s far too dark. So 2 points to each there.
This shot is also just really interesting to see how each camera handles the dropoff of background blur that you’d normally see on professional cameras. I think the iPhone and Xiaomi do the best job at a more natural falloff. Whereas everything on the Pixel is blurry, and the S23 Ultra had that miss on the left side.
Now, this one is a polarising one. I asked so many friends about what they thought about these 4 shots.
The Xiaomi came out on top for the brightest image and being the most colour accurate.
The S23 Ultra had the best separation in terms of portrait mode.
Pixel didn’t do a bad job either, but the hair gets lost in the darkness. The iphone… well, it’s kind of unfair here as unfortunately this one wasn’t shot on portrait mode on the iPhone. But I still wanted to use this shot as it’s really interesting to see how each phone handled things differently.
I think it’ll come down to personal preference with this shot.
I’m very impressed with what the Xiaomi’s done here. But if I was to pick just one to upload to Instagram or something. It would probably be the S23 Ultra here. So let’s go with the S23 Ultra and Xiaomi 13T Pro joint first at 4 points, then the Pixel 8 Pro with 3 points and the iPhone 15 Pro Max, 2 points.
This one, this was a front facing portrait shot. Interesting results.
The iPhone… wow. Total focus miss. It just feels like I’m really, really blurry so only 2 points. Slightly better than the Xiaomi though, which is the only photo which doesn’t mirror it by default, though you can change that in the settings. 1 Point
Then we have the Pixel, did a reasonable job, though it missed the top part of my hair so 3 points.
And the S23 Ultra in all it’s spotty, hairy glory, in first place for the front facing camera, 4 points.
Let’s look at some Zoom shots now!
Here’s 5x Zoom on all the cameras Shots.
iPhone takes the win here for evenly exposing the image, though it does have a 5x Optical Lens so 4 points.
The Pixel 8 Pro coming a very close second which also has a 5x lens, though it did blow out the clock face, so just 3 points.
Then the S23 Ultra for being a little too noisy, which has a 10x lens so it was digitally zooming in from it’s 3x lens, 2 points for them.
And the Xiaomi losing a lot of detail from zooming in on it’s 2x lens which means just 1 point.
Zooming in to 10x now, which only the S23 Ultra has a native 10x optical zoom lens, and the results are, Interesting!
All the 3 remaining photos here are surprisingly similar, given the S23 Ultra has the advantage here with the 10x lens.
And whilst the flag was sharper on the iPhone, it had a lot of noise. I think the Pixel actually has the better image here. The face on the statue at the bottom is the most visible of the 3, and the top looks less like a watercolour painting. So I’m going to go with Pixel to win, with 4 points.
Iphone Second - 3 points
S23 Ultra third - 2 points.
With the Xiaomi falling, rather ungracefully, into last place at 1 point.
Let’s go to 25x Zoom now. Which at night and in this low light is really the maximum you can go before things get to potato quality.
The obvious miss here is the Xiaomi 13T Pro, and this was just because I really struggled to keep the phone steady enough to focus and take the photo. I actually thought I did get it, but obviously not… so 1 point.
But I’d have to say, of all the 3 remaining shots. I know they’ve made decisions in terms of what to expose for. But the S23 Ultra does look the best in my opinion. It exposed the clock face beautifully. So 4 Points there
I’ll then go Pixel next for exposing the clock face evenly at 3 points and then the iphone as the clock face itself looks blown out, just 2 points.
But what happened in this next test is one that, genuinely surprised me.
I wanted to test the consistency of zooming between the lenses, and the best way to test that is to zoom in on some rich colours to check for shift in the lenses as they switch, as well as a change in colour.
The iphone had the smoothest zoom, without a doubt, BUT. It also has a tendency to hold on to the 2x lens and then digitally zoom, instead of switching over to the 5x lens. You can clearly see it gets really pixellated, and then after a bit of fudging around does it switch to the zoom lens and the image instantly sharpens up.
S23 Ultra - Other than the fast brightness changes between switching lenses. Colours are generally good and there’s no major shift in lenses. Not bad.
Pixel 8 Pro? This one seems to jump between lenses. Even though the colours aren’t bad.
The 13T Pro, you see a small jerk when the lenses change, and it’s like someone switched a flashlight on. But other than that it’s fairly smooth.
Iphone 4 Points. Even though it has those digital zoom issues here, that’s not what we’re testing for right now. Since how often do you film yourself zooming into the floor at night. Not very often!
S23 Ultra 3 Points
13T Pro 2 Points
Pixel 1 Point
So, it seems that the iPhone wins. But that’s not the full story.
Technically the Pixel 8 Pro wins if you care more about photos than video, with 59 points. But even then, If you take a lot of portraits, the Pixel misses edge detection, quite a lot.
Let me know what you think!
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