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iPhone XS Max vs Note 9: Which phone has the best camera



iPhone XS Max and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 are two of the best phones you can buy for images and video. Each has two rear cameras, dual optical image stabilization and uses a combination of software and brute force hardware processing effect to make images and video look great.

According to Apple, the iPhone XS Max, XS and XR have an identical standard camera with a wider lens than last year's iPhone X-26 millimeter instead of a 28 millimeter. It's a 32 percent bigger sensor that Apple claims lets 50 percent more light than iPhone X.

A photo from iPhone XS Max of the band Flogging Molly plays a CNET Smart Home Sessions concert.


Patrick Holland / CNET

For more of the differences between iPhone cameras, check out CNET's photo and video comparison between iPhone XS and X .

The biggest addition to the iPhone XS Max is Smart HDR that takes a quick exchange of multiple images at different exposures and combines them to produce an image that retains more detail in both the brightest and darkest parts of picture. It's more advanced than previous iPhones, but other phones like Google Pixel 2 have used similar mixed HDR / calculation methods. The recently announced Pixel 3 has even more software camera features . [Taenraskeiton Pixel 3 camera photographs if you are interested).

Note 9 has a double aperture (f / 2.4 as standard and f / 1

.5 for low light) HDR and scene optimizations that identify a scene from one of 20 different subject categories such as landscapes, pets and food. Optimizations improve the settings to make the design as ideal as possible, similar to what is featured on the Huawei P20 Pro and LG V35 ThinQ .

  cafe-note-9

A photo taken by a cafe in Nob Hill. I like the way the note 9 caught late afternoon light that lights inside the coffee bar.


Patrick Holland / CNET

I took the iPhone XS Max and Note 9 around San Francisco to the heights of the Twin Peaks, mission streets and the lower level of Xfinity CNET Smart Living Home to see how each handled real-world situations.

iPhone XS Max and Galaxy Note 9 rear camera specifications

iPhone XS Max Galaxy Note 9
Rear camera Dual 12 Megapixels Dual 12 Megapixel
wideangle 26 millimeters f / 1.8 26 millimeters f / 1.5 – f / 2.4
telephoto lens 51 millimeter f / 2.4 52 millimeters f / 2.4
Stabilization Optical Optical
Optical zoom 2x 2x
Digital zoom 10x 10x

iPhone XS Max Bends Its Dynamic Range

Overall, the images from the iPhone XS Max have better dynamic range than those from Note 9. It comes a lot from the new Smart HDR feature. Take a look at the pictures I took of Senor Sisig's food product in the assignment. The one from the iPhone XS Max keeps the highlights in the clouds and in the yellow building on the left side of the picture.

Note 9 showed its image brighter, showing more detail in the shadows on the shelves of the caravan but cutting the highlights in clouds and yellow buildings. The IPhone XS Max image also has more color saturation than not 9.

Notice the differences between the pictures below taken by a couple staring over San Francisco from Twin Peaks. The IPhone XS Max shows its dynamic range that holds the details of the white shirt and does not break the shadows of the clips to black as note 9. When you take the picture with note 9, I saw the "sky" icon for the scene optimization that seemed to increase the contrast.

I like how Samsung's scene optimizations are not over-the-top like Instagram filters. They are subtle, but have a major impact on image quality like Smart HDR on iPhone XS Max.

In the pictures below I took a picture of a cappuccino and a hand pie from Four Barrel coffee. Note 9 discovered food and optimized photo settings accordingly, while the color temperature of the plate and the wood table became more neutral. The resulting image has fine golden colors in the crust and in the foam of cappuccino. Note 9 neglects the white balance here.

iPhone XS Max brings out the highlights of the handpath, but makes it look almost orange. Notice how everything, the food, the plate and the table have a warm tone.

Interesting discovery: iPhone XS Max I used was gold, and when it was out, the glass returned as a mini-gold light reflector.

Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS Max Both have optical zoom

One of the most underrated features on both phones is the optical zoom that lets you get closer to your subject twice, without compromising the image.

The pictures below were taken late tomorrow at this sky blue colored building in the mission. The IPhone XS Max does a wonderful job with the colors and exposes the details of the shadows. Note 9 has more contrast, but still looks pretty good.

But when you start using digital zoom, images from both phones look a bit sloppy. Here's a photo taken with 10 times digital zoom on iPhone XS Max and one from Note 9 that focuses on Salesforce Tower. Both look pretty rough, although the iPhone XS Max has a smattering more color saturation.

iPhone XS Max and Note 9 let you adjust blurred images

One of the coolest features on these phones is portrait mode … or "live focus" as Samsung calls it.

On iPhone, portrait mode is amazing. Not only can I change the lighting look of people's faces, but also the amount of background noise after a picture is taken. As with previous Samsung phones, Note 9 lets you change background breaks both before and after an image is taken, but iPhone makes it more comfortable.

Portrait photos from the iPhone also have more detail and sharpness in people's faces and colors are more saturated than those from note 9 that really look softer even with beauty mode turned down completely – although some may prefer that look. Notice in the pictures below how much Note 9 scores. I was in the same place when I took both of the pictures.

In the case of low light, note 9 switches to f / 1.5 aperture – the widest of any smartphone – and show scenes brighter than iPhone XS Max . Note 9 low-light photos definitely have less noise than the iPhone XS Max, but the images are very soft and suffer from blown highlights and motion sharpness.

Slides from iPhone XS Max has more sound, but is sharper and keeps highlights. Unless I take pictures of something static, I almost always prefer low-light images from iPhone XS Max over Note 9.

Video on iPhone XS Max has a new feature called Auto Low Light FPS

Both of these phones are two of the best to capture video. However, the iPhone XS Max has better image quality, color and can capture video at 4K resolution of 24 fps.

Note 9 records good videos, but sometimes they can look over sharply. Watch the video provided with this article to see the recordings taken with both phones.

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iPhone XS Max vs. Galaxy Note 9 camera shootout



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Low-light video from note 9 looks soft and has a lot of noise while the footage is recorded while the iPhone XS Max looks decent due to a new feature called Auto Low Light FPS that automatically changes the image rate in low – Light conditions from 30 images per second to 24 to improve image quality. By changing the frame rate (and possibly shutter speed), the iPhone XS Max is able to expose each frame a little longer. Although the difference is not night and day, there were improvements in color saturation and the amount of image noise.

iPhone XS Max selfies are improved

As for selfies, iPhone has finally come up with Samsung. Gone are the gray-washed suicides from iPhone X. Features from both phones are good and have a nice color.

But when I tested these phones, a little hubbub bubbled unfortunately the iPhone XS "beauty gate" bubbled up. In a nutshell, some people think that the iPhone XS and XS Max images look "soft" as a beauty mode found on some Android phones. But check out CNET's story explains why your self-help really looks different on iPhone XS than they did on iPhone X. For the post, I like selfies from the iPhone XS Max.

You can take portrait mode for selfies with the iPhone XS Max that looks great (the rear camera version looks even better) while note 9 has a selective focus that can be operated at best. Take a look at the pictures below.

  selfie-compare [19659067¡selfie-compare” height=”0″ width=”970″/>

A left is of course taken with selective focus on note 9. To the right is a portrait mode taken on the iPhone XS Max. Notice the differences between sharpness and complexion.


Patrick Holland / CNET

I hope you have long arms because self-video on both phones is really cropped. Colors look more saturated on note 9 and the image is a bit thinner on the iPhone.

Galaxy Note 9 has a professional camera mode

For me, the iPhone XS Max's native camera app is easier to navigate than Samsung offers. And while it's nice to have so many modusal options, the Galaxy Note 9 standard application can be overwhelming and sometimes nice to use. Many times when I touch a point to focus, it reads my gesture like a sweep and switch from rear camera to front camera. It's nothing worse than having a friend, hold a bag while claping the screen because the camera switched to self-esteem.

I should mention that I accidentally hit the Bixby "key" on the side of the phone many times when shooting pictures. Not only is it annoying to close Bixby and switch back to the camera program, but sometimes if I'm not fast enough, Bixby's voice begins to speak, which just made everything worse. I'm not against Bixby … just the button like you can and probably should deactivate .

I like the Pro 9 mode on Note 9 that gives me more control over shutter speed, ISO and aperture of my images. I find myself experimenting with things like long-exposure images with artificial lashes or adjusting the white balance to my taste.

  arch-iphone-low-light

Look at the light strip!


Patrick Holland / CNET

Then note 9 includes S-Pen that doubles as the remote control for the shutter so that you get a picture while away from the phone. Every time I showed this, my friends had so much fun to use it.

But the iPhone can do something similar to its included EarPods. You can activate the shutter by pressing the volume button – if you are within the length of the cord. And if you have an Apple Watch you can use the Camera Remote app to not just take a photo with iPhone, but get a preview of it too.

So which phone does the camera have better?

By the end of the day, both the iPhone XS Max and Galaxy Note 9 are significant improvements over last year's models. The IPhone XS Max has better image quality, wider dynamic range, higher quality video and the interface is much easier to use. These features are all very important to me, and although the Brand 9 camera is still excellent, XS Max easily gets my voice as the better of the two.


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