Camera performance is a big focus for smartphone companies nowadays, especially when it comes to high-end phones. The Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8 Plus, which were launched in India a few weeks ago, are no different. These are Samsung’s top Android phones and they come with cameras that are supposed to be best in the class. We reviewed the two phones several days ago and found that they click absolutely fantastic images. There is no doubt that these are the best Samsung phones when it comes to clicking pictures. But that brings up the question? Is the Galaxy S8 also the phone with best camera? How does it fare against the Google Pixel, which is widely believe as the best shooter among the phones right now?
(In all images in this article, the left picture is clicked with Pixel and the right one is by the Galaxy S8. For bigger image sizes click thumbnails at the end of the article)
To check this, we clicked with some photos with both the Galaxy S8 and the Google Pixel. The scenes were same and the fact that both use a 12-megzpixel sensor meant that the image sizes in pixels were also same. The results that India Today Tech got from the two cameras was that the Galaxy S8 was, most of the time, able to match if not surpass the mighty Pixel. This was unexpected actually. But then the images, they don’t lie.
I will go into a basic analysis of what the Galaxy S8 and the Pixel captured, but before that a few words on the hardware of the two phones.
12 megapixels vs 12 megapixels
Both the Pixel and the Galaxy S8 come with 12-megapixel image sensors. Both also have only one rear camera, unlike the phones like the iPhone 7 Plus and Micromax Dual 5 that have two cameras. But that is where the similarities end.
The Pixel has the Sony-made IMX378 image sensor. This sensor, and its big size (7.81mm), is the reason why the Pixel is so good, especially in the light. The large image sensor also means the camera creates the photo with large pixels, which are better at dealing with low light and help the photo get better image data. The overall effect is that a photo when processed using a large image sensor is likely to have more dynamic light, better colours, more details and overall more pleasant photos.
The interesting bit is that the Galaxy S8 in India too comes with a large sensor. And that is a huge surprise, and the reason why it competes so well with the Pixel. This is unlike in the US and other markets where the Galaxy S8 has a different image sensor. In India, the Galaxy S8 — and the Galaxy S8 Plus — comes with the Samsung-made S5K2L2 image sensor. This uses Samsung’s own ISOCELL technology and has a physical size of 7.81mm. This means, the image sensor in the Indian variant of the Galaxy S8 is as big as the one in the Pixel.
This information on S5K2L2 comes from Wikipedia as Samsung doesn’t specify details of this sensor on its website, but the large size is something that makes sense given the performance of the S8 camera that I tested.
While the image sensor size is one area where the Galaxy S8 matches the Pixel, in the lens department it surpasses the Google phone. The Galaxy S8 comes with a F1.7 lens, which not only allows it to capture more light but also helps it get more creamy or blurred background. The Pixel, meanwhile, uses a F2.0 lens.
With hardware that is so similar, we saw that the Google Pixel and the Galaxy S8 (India version) capture images that are very similar. The big difference between how these phones perform comes from the way they process images and how they expose a photo. All images were shot on auto mode, just the way regular consumers shoot them. In summary, here is what I found:
1- The Galaxy S8 and the Pixel both capture brilliant colours. But the S8 produces more cleaner and more saturated colours. This is because of the exposure that S8 almost always gets right in good and decent light. It tends to expose keeping in sight the shadows produces images that have a sort lustre to them. The Pixel tends to expose for the highlights and hence produces slightly underexposed images compared to what the S8 manages.
2- The same thing that gives the S8 an edge in good light turns against it in low light. In low light, by metering the photo for highlights, the Pixel provides more balanced image (see the example of the DLF Mall of India). The S8, on the other hand has overexposed highlights.
3- Both phones do a brilliant job of handling noise, especially in low light. But the S8 deals with noise in a better way, even if occasionally it leads to loss of detail.
4- Pixel captures more true-to-life colours, although many users may find them relatively dull compared to what S8 can manage. 5- Occasionally, the S8 shoots images that have a magenta tinge in them. The Pixel images are more true-to-life.
6- Both phones deal with the HDR in a fantastic way, although in such scenes (unless it is not too dark) Galaxy S8 manages the shadows in a better way.
Surprising performance from Galaxy S8
When I went into this comparison, I had thought that the Pixel will come up superior, the way it has done umpteen of times in the last six odd months. The camera in the Pixel is absolutely fantastic and in the last few months we have seen it beat from Galaxy S7 to the iPhone 7 with ease. But with the Galaxy S8, this didn’t turn out to be the case. And it was only after I had clicked all the photos and was seeing them on the big screen that I figured that something was amiss.
Samsung has not advertised what sensor it is using in the Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8 Plus. But most of the time people have found it is the Sony-made IMX 333. But this is a smaller sensor compared to the one in the Pixel and yet I found the Galaxy S8 not only matching the best in the business but also surpassing it occasionally. So I used an app to get the camera details of the Galaxy S8. And that explained it all. The Indian variant of the Galaxy S8 actually has a different sensor. It’s not IMX 333. It is Samsung’s own sensor, that is as big as the one in the Google Pixel. It is the S5K2L2.
Now, not enough details about features of the S5K2L2 area available from Samsung. The company doesn’t talk about it and neither lists it on its website along with other image sensors it makes. But it is definitely not a small image sensor and Wikipedia is to be believed its good performance is definitely because of its large size.
Some more image samples (for bigger sizes, click on the thumbnails at the end of the article).