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Galaxy S10 vs. Pixel 3 photo comparison: Which has the better camera?

Galaxy S10+ and Pixel 3 XL
Galaxy S10+ and Pixel 3 XL

All three generations of Pixel phones have set new standards for smartphone photography. Historically, the only phone that really outdoes a Pixel's camera is the next Pixel. Others get close, and offer different experiences, but ultimately come up short to Google's phones in terms of outright photo quality. Samsung has a great reputation for having very consistent, capable smartphone cameras — but its slow iteration over the last few generations hasn't looked great considering the consistent improvements Google has made.

The Galaxy S10 adds a new ultra-wide camera in addition to the standard and telephoto lenses, and has new software, processing and features to make use of all three. While Google continues to lean heavily on software processing to make the most of its single camera that doesn't look particularly good on paper but has consistently produced amazing photos. Now it's time to see how well the Galaxy S10 challenges the Pixel 3's camera.

Good lighting

Galaxy S10 (left) / Pixel 3 (right) — click images to view larger

This plays out as expected, having spent plenty of time comparing Samsung and Google's last-generation flagships. Though the components and software have been updated slightly, the philosophies remain the same and play out in all of the photos the Galaxy S10 and Pixel 3 take.

The Galaxy S10 takes brighter and more colorful photos every time — whether it's accurate or not.

The most apparent difference between these cameras is that the Galaxy S10 takes brighter, more colorful photos every single time, leaving the Pixel 3 looking a bit more dim and dull by comparison. But that isn't to say the Galaxy S10 is accurate — far from it, as the Pixel 3 typically recreates a scene far closer to the way your eyes see it. Sometimes the Pixel 3's photos are so dim that they require tap-to-focus or post-processing just to get them up to a "normal" level. The characteristics carry on to white balance and color temperature, where the Galaxy S10 consistently takes warmer photos overall, again not natural to the scene, while the Pixel 3 is cooler and more natural — though in this case, the Pixel 3 often goes a bit too far in the other direction.

The Pixel 3 retains detail and textures the way you'd expect a high-end camera to.

Samsung's approach makes sense. People generally want to see bright, colorful photos — not necessarily the most accurate photos. Bumping up the brightness, saturation and warmth is something you see across the photography world as an easy "fix" for making even mundane photos seem more interesting to the eye. But if you value having your photos represent the real world, and want to leave the selective editing to yourself, the Pixel 3 is going to provide a better baseline to start with.

The other fundamental difference between how Samsung and Google process photos is in detail and textures. Samsung consistently flattens and crushes fine details in photos, smoothing things out to a high degree. This gives photos a great look at a glance, and sharp edges are retained, but it isn't particularly appealing when viewed large or up close. The Pixel 3 retains dramatically more detail in photos, even under close inspection, but can leave a little bit of grain or noise in some places — but it's once again authentic to the actual scene. You see texture where there should be texture.

Bad lighting

Galaxy S10 (left) / Pixel 3 (right) — click images to view larger

There's no way to say this nicely ... Google is still the easy winner when it comes to troubling lighting conditions. And that doesn't just mean "dark" scenes — it also applies to indoor shots and scenes with mixed lighting.

Google is still the easy winner when it comes to troubling lighting conditions.

This is where Google's reliance on software processing really shows its strengths. In low or mixed light scenes, the Pixel 3 can bring out brightness and details without relying on simply ramping up the ISO or using a single long exposure. Its HDR+ processing manages to bring out light without causing the usual downsides of grain or a lack of details. Low light photos come out crisp just as they do in the day, and what's really impressive is how well the Pixel 3 can still manage to produce proper colors and white balance that are accurate to the scene.

Night Sight mode just takes things to a new level, where no other phone — let alone just the Galaxy S10 — is playing. There are ways in which the Galaxy S10's camera can somewhat compete with the Pixel 3 in poor lighting, but if the Pixel 3 goes into Night Sight mode it isn't even a competition anymore. Sure it takes a much longer time to take those photos, but the result is amazing shots that no other phone can take.

Samsung's camera tries to rely on old photography principles, with little advanced software processing to fill the gaps.

Samsung's tendency to over-smooth textures and flatten out details does not pair well with low-light scenes, where it can often give a soft, blurry or watercolor-like look to photos. It's particularly noticeable in people's faces, which just turn into a blotchy mess. Despite having a large sensor and fast aperture, the Galaxy S10 still leans heavily on typical photography principles to try and get more light in the photo: a higher ISO and longer shutter speed, which just don't do enough. Even the "scene optimizer" that is supposed to detect low light situations and adjust accordingly doesn't seem to do a whole lot.

The best way to handle really dark scenes on a Galaxy S10 is to use Pro mode, or at least work with the manual exposure slider in auto mode, to force the Galaxy S10 to try and take a dark photo. Samsung's desire to brighten up every photo to an extreme really works against it in poor lighting, and if you can force the ISO to stay low it can take a better photo. But even still, it isn't going to match the Pixel 3.

Experience

One thing we've learned from years of using Pixel cameras is that quality of photos isn't always matched by quality of experience taking them. Even with the latest models, Google's been unable to get its camera software to run as consistently or as quickly as Samsung. The camera app regularly has trouble opening up for quick captures, can be sluggish to save photos, and is just generally slow compared to the competition. It's an inconvenience at best and a major frustration at worst.

Samsung has camera speed and consistency locked down, plus an ultra-wide camera that's a joy to use.

Samsung has the camera speed and consistency locked down, and it's one of the biggest benefits. The camera is always ready to go, will capture without question and switch modes or change settings immediately. Samsung also offers far more options for different shooting modes and tweaks within each mode, including a comprehensive Pro mode that lets you control every aspect of the camera. It's able to strike a good balance between being easy to use for novices and capable for enthusiasts.

The Galaxy S10 also has the distinct advantage of its new triple camera setup, with an ultra-wide camera that's a joy to shoot with. Its telephoto camera is closely matched by the Pixel 3's really good digital zoom, but nothing Google does can recreate the interesting point of view offered by the ultra-wide camera. Sometimes photography isn't just about the quality of the shots, but the perspective that can be captured and the fun that it offers.

Which camera is best?

It's obviously telling that as of this writing the Pixel 3 is our pick for the best Android camera. Even though it lacks the Galaxy S10's ultra-wide and telephoto cameras, and can face performance issues, you just can't deny that its shot-to-shot photo quality is exceptional. The differences are particularly noticeable in low light scenes, where the Pixel 3 somehow performs almost as well as broad daylight.

The best possible photos come from the Pixel 3, not the Galaxy S10 series.

The Galaxy S10 has its own appeal for people who want to be able to open up their phone's camera and capture instantly with incredible consistency and know that they're getting an above-average photo that can go straight online. And even those who want to tinker and play with their camera will see benefit in Samsung's more robust camera software. It's a great overall package. Plus, the ultra-wide camera offers a cool perspective that you can mix in with all of your other photos.

But if you're looking for the best photos possible, in as many situations as possible, the Pixel 3 or 3 XL will do a better job of providing that than the Galaxy S10 series.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

36 Comments
  • Why isnt the P30 Pro in this conversation?
  • I think it still hurts too much to admit Huawei do better photography than Google. Google wins most things on here by default
  • Your Chinese loving company has an additional 2 more lenses plus they have to partner up with a high-end camera company Leica. That's the only reason why they even can compete. Google, Apple and Samsung do pretty much everything their own.
    Heck even Samsung with it's additional camera lenses only wins in areas that those lenses gives it an advantage over Google's single camera lense.
  • Haa. The P30 can even out perform the Pixel in Nightsight mode when it's just using the default camera. That's before it even uses night mode. Galaxy S10 isn't even close
    And iPhone doesn't even deserve a mention these days let's be honest Pixel 4 will be the one to beat again in October though
  • Oh yes the iPhone X deserves to be mentioned. Go look in YouTube for camera comparisons with the S10+, XS Max, Huawei Pro and Pixel 3 and the iPhone still does an amazing job! Definitely beats them colour accuracy! Here's just a few; Huawei P30 Pro vs Samsung S10 Plus vs iPhone XS Max Camera Test Comparison
    https://youtu.be/Y7dwBw09MLQ The Blind Smartphone Camera Test (2019) - S10+ vs iPhone XS Max vs Note 9 vs Pixel 3 XL!
    https://youtu.be/pt0t8aG-Kx4
  • Dude, I'm not even gonna waste my time looking. My wife has an XS Max and the camera doesn't come remotely close to my Mate 20 Pro. They'll give the tiniest upgrade to the camera with the X1 and you'll lap it up as usual.
  • Then don't talk sh*t about it when these reviewers comparing it to other models still show the evidence in the comparison shots for you to see how it still beats and can compete.
  • Sure, it's easy to go through YouTube and hand pick the reviews that suit your own narrative. iPhone's are years behind in every aspect these days and you know it. They used to be great but they've stagnated for years now and Apple don't know how to progress. The poor sales don't lie either. I can't believe I kept going back to iPhone's for so long before cutting loose after the iPhone 8 Plus
  • I didn't have to "hand pick" these reviews just to "suit my own narrative" for you. They are plenty more out there with the same comparison results. While Apple is stagnant in some areas they still lead in other areas.
  • Is that why you're always in Android forums trolling? To see what influences Apple has had or really to see where Apple will be in a few years time?
  • I have a pixel 2 XL and prior to that had a BB Dtek60 but recognize how Apple has an influence on the industry. More than any other company. In a way I do come here for articles bec it relates to me, others are informative and others are rumors which it amazes me how only one company like Apple has so much influence on so many Android companies in the Android space especially in recent years with Google. It's more like how Google is trying to make Android more like iOS than the other way around. And when ppl like you defending your Chinese loving company Huawei make comments I will comment back
  • Don't you love your own country? Think it would be a little strange if a Chinese company/brand didn't love China 🤔
  • Those reviewers are showing their personal shots and opinions of the phones camera. Dov is also telling you his personal experiences and opinions about it but you're gonna ignored it cause it's not what you want to hear lmao.
  • So I'm suppose to believe his personal experience over the reviewers where I can actually see the comparison shots for myself and judge? Btw, those reviews don't have a clear winner. Basically shows the strengths and weaknesses of each phone. Some phones have more strengths and weaknesses than others and etc. The reviews was only mentioned bec dov1978 said XS Max can't compete when it absolutely can compete as per the comparison shots side by side, lmao.
  • Because most of his readers are american.
  • Because it's not main stream
  • It's mainstream worldwide... Just not in the US
  • That's an accurate assessment. Samsung seems content with "good enough."
  • This. Samsung has the best overall package on Android. They know they don't have to have the best camera as long as it's good enough for most people which it is.
  • There are a lot of people that would rather take photos that are brighter and more colorful than accurate. I am sure Samsung knows this. It's nice there are options depending on what you are hoping to achieve with your photos.
  • but the lack of detail for me outweighs the gain in color or brightness. I can easily hit "auto-fix" in photos app and make the photo brighter WITH the details on the pixel 3. I had the S10+ and also have the Pixel 3 XL. No comparison on cameras. Pixel was hands down winner. However, look, feel, features again, no comparison, the S10 was the clear winner. Just depends on what you want.
  • Yup and this is stated clearly this way in the article. What folks on here may see and want is likely not what most "normal" buyers notice or care about, I have found. Samsung pleases most of the people, those who want bright, colorful photos.
  • My s10plus cameras are good enough for me. The super steady mode is excellent and I can't believe how well it works. Plus the display and HDR10+ content!
  • Went from pixel to pixel 3 recently and the new camera is superb. The colors are spot on in all lighting situations. Some will like the synthetic samsung approach though. And face it even the cheapest metro pcs phone has a decent shooter nowadays.
  • Both cameras are great and it really boils down to whether you want an antiquated looking phone with a huge notch or a beautiful bezeless phone loaded with the latest technology. Personally I'd rather have a P30.
  • How can a notch be antiquated?
  • I agree the Pixel 3 wins in low to "medium low" lighting. But the Pixel 3's video is poor compared to the S10's, and outdoor shots are more accurate (even when brightened a bit) on the S10. The Pixel 3 darkens and "contrasts" outdoor, well-lit shots WAY too much to where it's not realistic. Honestly my experience has differed from Andrew's on this - the S9 was the same way for me. Outdoor shots were brighter, yes, but much closer to reality; while the Pixel's were too dark outdoors. Maybe my eyes just see things differently. So IMHO it likely depends on the scenario you use most. If you're taking well-lit shots all the time, then the Pixel 3's lower light advantage becomes much less important and I'd take the S10 all day long. If you take videos all the time, the S10 should win, hands down. Pretty much the only situation where I'd recommend the P3 is if you're someone who takes most of their shots in lower light situations and you're someone who doesn't take much video. Edit: Also, while the S10 still can't compete with the P3 in low light, the software used for its HDR has greatly improved and it does a much better job than the S9 (and prior) at avoiding blowout in light spots in dark situations.
  • I'm thinking along the same lines as you. I have a Note 9 with ported Pixel 3 camera software as well as an LG V40 which is also loaded with Google camera software. So I have the best of all worlds and am camera ready no matter what the scenario. These devices are feature filled, functional and most of all, fun. Hopefully I won't be phone shopping for some time to come.
  • deleted because got message page was down
  • Where are the comparisons between the S10 and Pixel 3 for telephoto and wide angle? Oh, right, the Pixel 3 would lose those comparisons, and AC can't allow the Pixel 3 to lose at anything.
  • the S10 looks better in bright light and pixel in low light. I don't hate either one. both are pretty great.
  • All the reviewers say the Pixel has the best detail however when we take photos we seldom pixel peep. The average phone owner never zooms in far enough to even notice there is a difference. So not sure why the reviewers always bang on about it and as they always add when zoom in and look at it on a big screen. Seriously who does that? Its honestly which photo looks the best despite the OS.
  • im just not buying the pixel "still has problems opening bs" furthermore i have the s10 and the pixel 3 , honestly the s10 does take some really nice photos, BUT the shutter speed is no where close to as good as the pixel 3. not to mention samsung changed around the zoom from how it was before one ui . now its just horrible. the way pixel and apple does it with a douple tap to zoom is really great for those time whenever speed counts.
    i missed a few shots a disney with the s10 fiddling with the zoom.
  • « But if you're looking for the best photos possible, in as many situations as possible«  Honestly i think this is more true for the Samsung phone. The difference in camera quality is not important enough to offset the lack of options in the pixel phone (no « telephoto lens », no wide angle, etc.).
    And how come those comparisons never even mention video?!
  • Not making the original files available is not fair: small images can look good even when taken with a bar of soap; so, the small pictures you share do not allow one to see whether your choice of camera is really objective and justified.
    Some of the Samsung photographs are out of focus; is that intentional?
  • Please...we need more Galaxy S10 articles...