We took over 200 photos with the Galaxy S24 Ultra vs iPhone 15 Pro Max — here's the winner

Samsung Galaxy s24 Ultra vs iphone 15 pro max cameras
(Image credit: Future)

One of the first things we did shortly after getting our hands on the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra was to test out its camera — with more scrutiny than any other model before due to its supposed camera downgrade. Now that we’ve had nearly a month using it as a daily driver, we decided to pursue a more comprehensive camera shootout against the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Both flagships top our best camera phones list, but our Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max face-off awarded the overall win to Apple — with only a single point separating the two. It was a close call like no other, so we thought we’d pit the two against each other again, but this time focusing strictly on the cameras and nothing else.

In our Galaxy S24 Ultra review, we noted how its Galaxy AI features were the main driving force of its upgrades. But in this Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max head-to-head comparison, we’re going to investigate how their cameras have turned out long-term. In fact, we took over 200 snapshots between the two, capturing the same images and inspecting every pixel to see which one comes out on top.

On paper, the specs favor the Galaxy S24 Ultra with its 200MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP 3x telephoto, 50MP 5x telephoto, and 12MP selfie cameras. These numbers seemingly crush the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s arrangement, which consists of a 48MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 12MP 5x telephoto, and 12MP selfie shooters. But as we all know, you can’t always just rely on the specs.

We’re grading the phones based on the following categories below. Even though we’ll focus on one set of photos, you can also look through the corresponding galleries to see how they perform against each other. Here’s what we found.

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: main camera performance

Our first comparison brings us to their main cameras, since they’ll be doing most of the heavy lifting of the bunch. The Galaxy S24 Ultra puts out excellent results, but we’re inclined mostly to say the main factor under bright conditions is how they produce colors.

There’s just something about the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s shot that makes all the colors pop out a lot more, which could be attributed to its higher contrast and saturation. If you also look closely at the details in the stone pathway, there’s a little more definition from the iPhone.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro Max

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: daytime landscape

That same description about the iPhone’s photos popping out more is evident with the above shot of the New York Public Library. The columns on the facade of the building are more pearly white than the low contrast look we see with the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s photo. Even though we like how the shadows get a boost with the Galaxy S24 Ultra, like in the shaded areas in between the columns, the higher contrast of the iPhone makes the inscriptions on the building more legible.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro Max

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: daytime portrait

Both phones handle portrait mode very well, making the differences between them harder to discern from a cursory look. The iPhone 15 Pro Max certainly has the truer-to-life colors, but it doesn’t totally blur out my colleague’s glasses as better than the Galaxy S24 Ultra — which you can see around his eyebrow. There’s this sheen over the entire photo from the iPhone, giving it that same pop we explained already, but the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s shot simply looks more natural in tone

Winner: Galaxy S24 Ultra

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: daytime selfie

Flipping it around for selfies, it’s pretty unanimous here that the iPhone 15 Pro Max looks much better — mainly for the fact that it’s a brighter image. Details are nicely produced on both, such as the freckles around the face and individual strands of hair, but we can’t stop noticing the brighter tone of the iPhone.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro Max

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: macro

Not surprisingly yet again, the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s brighter image proves to be the main factor in this macro shot of this fruit tart. Detail capture is excellent on both images, but the glistening look of the red strawberries from the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s macro shot draws out the details hidden in the shadows there we can’t see as well as with the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro Max

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: wide angle

From a relatively close distance, we managed to get nearly the entire span of the Bryant Park Grill with their respective ultra wide angle cameras. The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s stronger dynamic range performance is again on display here when you look at how the stone pathway is boosted to better tone out the exposure throughout the entire scene.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro Max

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: daytime zoom camera

This one’s tricky because there’s something interesting happening in the background when we switch zoom range. At 5x zoom, it’s nearly a tie with both phones delivering excellent results. Although, that strong dynamic range performance continues to boost the shadows by just a little bit with the iPhone. 

However, when we push them to 10x and 25x zoom, the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s sharper look becomes more apparent. If you take a look at the 25x zoom shots in the gallery below. Samsung’s image processing is adding what appears to be a little over sharpening to bring out more of the definition around the brickwork.

Winner: Galaxy S24 Ultra

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: nighttime high-contrast

Nighttime high-contrast scenes test how the phones deal with few, very specific sources of light illuminating a given scene. The above shots are an example of this, and quite frankly, each has its own merits.

This one’s tougher because the iPhone 15 Pro Max seems to boost the exposure throughout the entire scene to make it brighter, but at the expense of the highlights. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S24 Ultra seems to be the opposite, preserving the highlights a little better — but by making the entire shot look a little under-exposed.

Winner: tie

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: nighttime selfie

Taking a photo during the nighttime, it’s a close call between them both because they deliver their own set of favorable qualities. For example, the details in the facial hair are sharper with the Galaxy S24 Ultra — while the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s selfie pops with this sheen around the face.

Winner: tie

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: nighttime zoom

Apple is clearly boosting the exposure in this clock tower zoom shot. The shadowed areas are undoubtedly brighter with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, but the fine details in the brick work seem to disappear into a mushy texture — whereas they’re better preserved by the Galaxy S24 Ultra despite its darker composition.

Winner: Galaxy S24 Ultra

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: nighttime main camera

By this point, there’s no arguing how the main camera of the iPhone 15 Pro Max delivers the brighter picture between the two — and this nighttime shot proves it yet again. Not only does the asphalt get an exposure boost, but the vibrant colors with the iPhone 15 Pro Max gives it the more attractive, overall shot.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro Max

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: colorful scenes

When the scene is dominated by a plethora of colors, it’s really hard for us to choose a definitive winner. The floral shot proves this because depending on your preference, you could find any one of them to be the better one. The pinks, purples, and reds all have vibrant tones, while the yellows and greens get enough saturation to balance out the shots.

Winner: tie

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: verdict

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

Every photo tells a different story, as well as a different outcome. While our face-off dials into one set of images between all the categories, you’ll see in the galleries how there’s a common theme.

We’re referring to the undisputable stronger performance of the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s main camera — delivering the brighter image time after time, no matter the situation. However, the Galaxy S24 Ultra more than holds its own when it comes to portraits and low-light shots. And the S24 Ultra wins in the telephoto zoom department. It does come in very handy in certain conditions.

This Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max camera face-off shows why Apple’s flagship continues to top our best camera phones list, but you’ll still get excellent photo quality from Samsung’s flagship. 

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John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.

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  • MrMLK
    Interesting article, but what I got out of it mostly is that the two camera are close enough that nobody should be selecting either phone based on the camera.
    Reply
  • john_velasco
    MrMLK said:
    Interesting article, but what I got out of it mostly is that the two camera are close enough that nobody should be selecting either phone based on the camera.
    If zoom is important to you, then I'd say the S24 Ultra. If not, iPhone 15 pro Max.
    Reply
  • Schwann7
    I have to say, I'm on a 15PM currently. Everyone talks about how Samsung over leverages AI to create detail, and over saturates colour. But this comparison really showed the opposite. I have been happy enough with my photos, but I really, REALLY appreciated the natural appearance of the S24 pictures in natural light. MUCH more than the PM, which creates a lot of artificial detail. Great reminder that picture perfect is subjective!

    If a good enough deal comes along, I'll be open to switching.
    Reply
  • Sactravas
    admin said:
    Now that we've been using the Galaxy S24 Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro Max for an extended amount of time, we decided to see how their cameras really stack up after we took over 200 photos with them.

    We took over 200 photos with the Galaxy S24 Ultra vs iPhone 15 Pro Max — here's the winner : Read more
    To me the iPhone photos look over exposed, yes at times the colours look brighter but the rest of the photos tend to look very over exposed hence why they look brighter. Over exposed in pictures isn't good, however the s24 ultra at times looks under exposed which is why they are darker, but to me my preference is the under exposed pictures rather than the very washed out look like the iphone appears to be more consistent of.

    Was this potentially done to premote Iphone promo?

    That being said I'm sure with some setting tweaks they would both look very good; more natural in looks.
    Reply