2019 photography showdown: Huawei P30 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy S10 vs Google Pixel 3

It’s tough to go wrong with a flagship smartphone camera these days, but if you’re after the crème de la crème, just a handful of names stand out. The Google Pixel 3 and its machine learning-enhanced camera continues to be the tech enthusiasts goto handset for consistently great pictures. Likewise, recent Huawei handsets have built a solid photography reputation for the company, The new P30 Pro takes low light and zoom capabilities another step further. Samsung also scores consistently well in all photography tests and the Galaxy S10 remains a great shout if you love taking pictures.

But which one is the best? That’s what we’re here to find out with today’s comprehensive shootout. We’re going to look at everything from landscape and macro shots, to HDR, low light, and zoom capabilities. Images have been compressed and cropped in the article for the sake of bandwidth, but you can find uncompressed images in this Google Drive folder. I hope your bandwidth is ready for all these pictures.

Detail, exposure, and color

Huawei P30 Pro camera sample of a street and houses
Google Pixel 3 camera sample of a street and houses
Samsung Galaxy S10 camera sample of a street and houses

This first picture gives a good overview of how these cameras handle a scene with a range of details and colors. At 10MP, 12MP, and 12MP respectively and minimal noise in this scene, all three cameras offer a very similar level of detail. None of them present any major issues with post-processing, such as oversharpening, or exposure either.

The biggest difference here is color saturation and white balance. The Huawei P30 Pro takes on a slightly warmer tint with more natural, subdued colors on this overcast day. The Pixel 3 has a more neutral white balance but boosts colors such that the clouds take on a blue hue. Nice looking but not strictly true to the scene. The Samsung Galaxy S10 offers a similar white balance and a small boost to color that’s closest to how the scene actually looks.

Huawei P30 Pro camera sample of a post box
Google Pixel 3 camera sample of a post box
Samsung Galaxy S10 camera sample of a post box

Roles reverse in this second snap. Here the Huawei P30 Pro has the better color and white balance accuracy. Although it verges on overexposing the window. The Galaxy S10 attempts to make the colors pop a little too much, erasing subtle highlights and details from the post box and over-pinkening the brickwork. Meanwhile, the Pixel 3 is a tad darker than its rivals, reducing the pop of the shadow.

Huawei P30 Pro camera sample flower close up
Google Pixel 3 camera sample flower close up
Samsung Galaxy S10 camera sample flower close up

This indoor flower example highlights this trend further. The P30 Pro is notably more exposed, compensating for darkness on the left by blowing out the light on the right. The result is a slightly over brightened subject. The Pixel 3 is the polar opposite, darkening the flowers too much in an attempt to keep the highlights in check. The Galaxy S10 wins in terms of exposure and color vibrancy. The flowers are perfectly exposed and the phone’s auto-HDR effect (which doesn’t seem to switch off regardless of the toggle) balances out the dark and bright backgrounds perfectly. You can even see the blue of the sky.

Huawei P30 Pro painting camera sample
Google Pixel 3 painting camera sample
Samsung Galaxy S10 painting camera sample

Let’s return the focus to colors for a moment. Again the P30 Pro is subtly warmer than the other two. I quite like the look, but it’s not entirely accurate. The Pixel 3 ramps up the colors, particularly the yellows, and darkens the blacks a little too far. It pops, but isn’t very accurate. The Galaxy S10 again clocks in the more balanced color presentation.

As expected, all three of these cameras produce excellent pictures in good lighting.

This last general comparison shows off the wide-angle lenses on the Huawei P30 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10. The Pixel 3 lacks this shooting option. The S10 has a wider lens to fit more in the scene and again its colors pop more than the P30. However, the P30 boosts the highlights to produce a more textured look on the grass and trees. Both are pretty good but suffer from a lack of detail and blurring at the edges of the lens.

Samsung Galaxy S10 wide angle Huawei P30 Pro wide angle Samsung Galaxy S10 wide angle

Huawei P30 Pro wide angle

Generally speaking, the Huawei P30 Pro produces a warmer white balance and more subdued colors. The handset also prefers a slightly brighter exposure than its rivals. The Pixel 3 is almost the opposite, often producing darker looking pictures with a lot more color saturation. The Samsung Galaxy S10 is somewhere in between, although occasionally boosts colors even more than the Pixel 3.

All three are clearly very capable shooters, but there are key differences between their main sensors and image processing algorithms.

High Dynamic Range

High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a helpful tool for balancing exposure in tough shooting environments. These often include scenes with a bright light source behind the subject or low light scenes with a single light source. Good HDR improves over and underexposure when compared to regular photographs.

This shot below might not look tricky because all the results are surprisingly good. But without HDR on, the foreground cactus looks completely black or the window becomes blown out.

Huawei P30 Pro cactus HDR camera sample
Google Pixel 3 cactus HDR camera sample
Samsung Galaxy S10 cactus HDR sample photo

The Huawei P30 Pro provides a good all-round HDR look. The background overexposure is kept to a minimum, while the foreground is lit up enough to ensure that all the small details are discernable. Galaxy S10 is even better in this regard, further reducing the overexposure in the clouds while maintaining foreground balance.

The Pixel 3 is a little different. The background is more overexposed than its competitors and the foreground a little darker. However, the phone has done a better job than the other two at enhancing the details and lighting between the cactus spines and the body. The color of the plant pot is also more pronounced. Perhaps the best way to describe this is that the Pixel 3’s HDR is more subject-focused, while the other two are frame focused. Unfortunately, the Pixel 3 takes longer to snap HDR shots than its rivals.

Low-light performance

Low-light performance and HDR often go hand in hand, as is the case when shooting in low light with the Google Pixel 3. The phone takes a few seconds to gather multiple exposures and stitch them together for a brighter, less noisy picture. Although as you can see in the example below, the result is still rather noisy, a little dark, and color saturation is dialed up a notch too far.

Huawei P30 Pro low light camera sample
Google Pixel 3 low light camera sample
Samsung Galaxy S10 low light camera sample

The Samsung Galaxy S10 produces a similarly passable result, but there are clear issues. The image is still a little noisy, the phone struggles to focus in the dark, and the colors are a little washed out. The obvious winner in this example is the Huawei P30 Pro. The enhanced low-light capabilities of its new SuperSpectrum sensor produces results that are low in noise and offer well-balanced colors and dynamic range. The focus is also spot-on, likely thanks to the time-of-flight sensor.

In this next example, we turn the lights off and switch to the phones’ various Night Mode options. Put bluntly, the Samsung Galaxy S10’s night mode is not in the same league as the technology offered by Huawei and Google. It’s overly noisy and focusing took too many retries to count. Samsung’s implementation is fine in better lighting conditions, but it can’t handle ultra-dark environments as well as its competitors.

The Galaxy S10’s low light capabilities fall well short of other flagships.

Huawei P30 Pro Night Mode camera sample
Google Pixel 3 Night Mode camera sample
Samsung Galaxy S10 Night Mode camera sample

The Google Pixel 3 does a phenomenal job by comparison, capturing plenty of detail and color. If there’s one drawback it’s that the result is still too dark and noisy in the shadows. Furthermore, the white balance is a bit too cool.

There isn’t a huge amount of difference between toggling Night mode on and off with the P30 Pro, that’s just how good the new sensor is in ultra-low light. Although using it captures a bit more light and reduces the red tint to the color balance. Huawei’s Night mode captures even more light than Google’s, resulting in very low noise. However, detail capture isn’t perfect and the image is a tad little too yellow. You can fix this in post-processing for a great result, but it’s a shame Huawei can’t get this right out of the box.

Zooming in

With a 5x telescopic lens dedicated to zooming, the specs heavily suggest that the Huawei P30 Pro is going to come out on top in any zoom test. However, the Samsung Galaxy S10 offers a 2x telephoto lens and Google touts its own Super Res Zoom technology too. So let’s find out just what level of decent zoom quality is achievable on each handset.

Our first example is a picture of text in a book taken in so-so lighting conditions. At 2x, the Huawei P30 Pro’s Hybrid Zoom technology makes out the text well enough but produces a somewhat soft result. By contrast, the Pixel 3’s zoom algorithm dials up the sharpening filter, which introduces artifacts in the book edge. The text is legible, but the image isn’t pretty. The Samsung Galaxy S10 provides by far the greatest clarity and sharpness at 2x. There’s a little bit of noise in the darker areas, but it’s hands-down the winner.

Huawei P30 Pro 2x zoom crop camera sample
Google Pixel 3 2x zoom crop camera sample
Samsung Galaxy S10 book 2x crop sample photo Huawei P30 Pro 3x crop sample photo
Google Pixel 3 3x crop sample photo
Samsung Galaxy S10 shed 3x crop sample photo

The Pixel 3 begins to deteriorate at a 3x zoom. White balance has shifted well into the reds in the above example and the denoise and sharpening algorithms produce a muddy painted look. Overall, detail capture is very poor even in great light. The Galaxy S10 and P30 Pro are vastly superior and a tough to tell apart. The P30 Pro pulls slightly ahead on texture detail, as seen in the wood around the window and the branches on the roof. This is due to the phone pulling data from its 5x zoom camera and stitching that together with the main sensor’s Hybrid Zoom.

Huawei P30 Pro 5x zoom crop camera sample
Google Pixel 3 5x zoom crop camera sample
Samsung Galaxy S10 5x zoom crop camera sample

The Huawei P30 Pro pulls far ahead at 5x, where the periscope camera kicks in. Details, white balance, and exposure are all exceptional. The Galaxy S10 holds up OK at 5X, although we can clearly see blurring and lack of details at this long range. I don’t even think I need to mention the Google Pixel 3’s capabilities at 5x. They’re simply non-existent.

In summary, the Galaxy S10 is best when zooming to just 2x. Beyond 2x, the Huawei P30 Pro is the clear winner and it’s lead greatly increases as you up the zoom factor. I should also mention that the P30 Pro’s 40MP main camera produces better results than its 10MP zoom at 2x. It’s often worth shooting in this mode if you intend to crop in.

The Galaxy S10 offers a decent zoom, but Huawei’s 5x periscope camera takes the crown.

Bokeh blur (portrait mode)

Bokeh blur, or portrait mode, has become a staple of the smartphone photography experience. These three handsets offer unique ways to calculate the necessary depth map and edge information to add in software bokeh. The Huawei P30 Pro offers a dedicated time-of-flight (TOF) sensor that physically measures distance using infrared light. Meanwhile, Google relies on a combination of multiple-image, object/face detection, and sharpness to gather data from normal photos.

Huawei P30 Pro bokeh blur camera sample
Google Pixel 3 bokeh blur camera sample
Samsung Galaxy S10 bokeh blur camera sample

With solid objects, all three cameras do a pretty decent job at detecting edges. The quality of the blur is nice on all the handsets too. Although Google’s is perhaps overly strong and dramatic, with a very sharp cutoff between the foreground and background. This produces some harsh edges and a few errors along the wooden table edge and at the back of the skull.

The P30 Pro and Galaxy S10 do a better job at gradually blending in and out of focus, as we can see small amounts of bokeh creep in at the foreground edges. Their results are certainly more realistic. However, both do seem to encounter an error at the top of the skull.

Huawei P30 Pro glass bokeh camera sample
Google Pixel 3 glass bokeh camera sample
Samsung Galaxy S10 glass bokeh camera sample

Edge detection errors are more pronounced in this second shot due to the transparent glass. This type of issue persists with hair in portraits too. Note that the Huawei P30 Pro blurs the foreground on the upper left side of the bulb. Likewise, the Pixel 3 struggles near the top of the bulb and we can see sharp edges along the sides as well. The Galaxy S10 is excellent around the bulb but seems to have confused the background picture frame with the foreground. Sadly, all three cameras have clear detection issues, although you often have to pixel peep to find them.

Despite Google’s good level of detection, you can’t go back and change the focal point or adjust the amount of blur once you’ve hit the shutter. Both Huawei and Samsung allow for this, and also offer a range of additional effects. Huawei’s bokeh is the most pleasing to look at, as its strength realistically increases further into the background. The P30 Pro’s ToF sensor also detects edges much more consistently and at greater shooting distance than the Pixel 3 and Galaxy S10.

Backs of the Huawei P30 Pro, Google Pixel 3, and Samsung Galaxy S10

The verdict

Clearly, all three of these flagship smartphones are very capable shooters. I don’t have any major qualms about the image quality provided by any of these smartphones, although each still has its own distinct set of pros and cons.

The Google Pixel 3 aims for consistency and simplicity. Quickly point and shoot and you’re guaranteed a decent, if not always excellent picture virtually every time in nearly any shooting environment. There’s minimal messing about with settings and lens toggles, and if you need a small zoom, bokeh, or to shoot in low light, the Pixel 3 can handle it. The trade-off is a lack of flexibility compared to its multi-camera rivals.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 is more capable in terms of zoom and wide-angle shots than the Pixel 3, yet still clearly offers a phone-optimized camera experience. The handset also has probably the best HDR implementation out of any phone I’ve used so far. Color saturation can sometimes be overdone, but this isn’t a bad thing if the picture’s destination is social media. The phone’s tradeoff is that the S10’s low light capabilities are notably behind the curve.

Pick the Pixel 3 for consistency, the P30 Pro for flexibility, or the S10 for something in between.

This leaves us with the Huawei P30 Pro – by far the most flexible shooter out of the three. It offers superior zoom, low light, wide-angle, bokeh, and even a high-resolution shooting option that we haven’t touched on here. Better still, the oversharpening and heavy post-processing from last year’s P20 Pro is a thing of the past. The only drawback is that its white balance regularly shifts too warm and it can tend towards overexposure in well-lit scenes. But this isn’t a problem if you plan to edit most of your pictures.

In summary, pick the Google Pixel 3 if you’re after a consistent, simple smartphone camera. The Galaxy S10 is excellent if you want a bit more flexibility without an overload of options. Finally, the Huawei P30 Pro is simply fantastic if you’re an adventurous photographer happy to line-up the perfect shot and make the odd crop or adjustment in post.

Google Pixel 3 camera shootout

Smartphone cameras have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. The Google Pixel 3 hasn’t improved too much on the Pixel 2’s impressive performance, but it does a few key things differently. To see just how well the Pixel 3 stacks up against the rest of the premium smartphone crop, we put it up against the Pixel 2, iPhone Xs Max, LG V40, Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and Huawei P20 Pro (I unfortunately did not have access to a Mate 20 Pro at the time).

In this shootout, you’ll be able to clearly see where each device leads the pack, where things are too close to call, and where things go terribly wrong. Night Sight was not officially available on my Pixel 3 at the time these shots were taken, so we’ll have to come back to that. Let’s dive right in. To truly see the differences, you can see all of the hi-res original photo samples for each device at the links below:

Exterior building

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

Both Pixels have high contrast and saturate the red in the vehicle nicely. The iPhone handles the red similarly but is a little flatter throughout. Both Pixels look slightly underexposed compared to the rest of the phones, with the shaded areas of ivy under the scaffolding particularly losing detail where the dynamic range of other phones pick up more detail.

The V40 and Note 9 struggle to clearly define the smaller text on the signs and the P20 Pro’s heavy processing doesn’t do it any favors. Huawei’s device does manage to get as much detail as the top contenders, though. Especially if you zoom into the brick wall. You can clearly see more sharpening in the newer Pixel compared to last year’s model and less noise overall.

The V40 is the worst performer here, followed by the Note 9 and P20 Pro, with the iPhone Xs Max and two Pixels at the top — which you prefer will depend on whether you like the higher contrast and darker result of the Pixels or the flatter and more evenly exposed iPhone shot.

Manhattan skyline – wide

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

On a gloomy day in NYC, the iPhone Xs Max managed to add the most texture to the flat gray sky. The Note 9 and P20 Pro had the best white balance despite the tricky lighting, while the Pixel 3 and iPhone Xs Max tried too hard to turn the sky blue (which it most definitely was not).

Zoom in on the Empire State Building and you can see the Pixels and iPhone produced very similar detail and clarity. The Note 9 and P20 Pro exhibit the same degree of sharpening which looks great at a distance but a little fake up close. The V40 is far too muddy and noisy to be a contender here.

Related: Google Pixel 3 vs Huawei P20 Pro camera comparison

Manhattan skyline – zoomed

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

The P20 Pro has a 3x optical zoom while the iPhone Xs Max, LG V40 and Note 9 all have 2x optical. The Pixels use digital zoom only. As you might expect, the 3x optical zoom on the P20 Pro reveals far more detail on the Empire State Building’s spire and it is the only camera to clearly recreate the horizontal lines on the building at the base of the Empire State. Looking at the 2x optical devices, the Note 9 and iPhone Xs Max are the best up close, producing very similar results. The Note 9 manages slightly better detail and better contrast than the iPhone.

When zooming, the Pixels struggle due to the lack of a secondary lens – but are still comparable to the LG V40 which has a 2x lens.

The Pixels struggle without a secondary lens, but their images are still comparable to the LG V40 (which has one). The Pixel 3 has significantly less noise than the Pixel 2 and resolves more detail, as seen in the glass building at the base of the Empire State. The Pixel 3’s processing starts to wade into P20 Pro territory with artificial sharpness replacing the noisy realism of the Pixel 2. I prefer this approach — less noise and sharper detail — but it likely won’t please fans of previous Pixels. The V40 is again quite muddy with plenty of artifacts surrounding the buildings.

Mural

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

This colorful mural of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat reveals a lot about how each camera saturates color. Looking at the yellow triangle in the center, the iPhone and Pixels saturate it a lot, while the P20 Pro (with Master AI enabled) sits at the other end of the spectrum. The iPhone and Pixels saturate to the same degree but the Pixel 3 plucks out slightly greater texture on the wall. In terms of realism, I’d say it’s a close race between these three phones. The Note 9 exhibits a metric ton of detail — it’s actually too much — by unrealistically enhancing the edges of every single part of the wall.

Diner interior

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

There are three parts worth noting in this dark interior: the wine glasses on the table, the window to the left of frame, and the dark area behind the bench closer to the camera.

All phones handle the glasses similarly. The Note 9’s effort is a little noisy, but maintains fine detail the best. The Pixels are noisier and demonstrate less sharpness, but the Pixel 3 slightly outperforms its predecessor. The iPhone really struggles to define the edges of the glasses or napkins with the image breaking down noticeably. The P20 Pro shot is the worst of the bunch. Given the gloomy interior, all phones performed pretty admirably.

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

The window is where things get interesting. The Pixel 3 is by far the best here, capturing the most realistic and detailed scene. The Pixel 2 is more blown out and demonstrates far less dynamic range. The P20 Pro is less detailed, but still quite realistic. The iPhone has better clarity but the flat coloring generates a bizarre otherworldly scene. Once again, the V40’s aggressive processing produces a comically bizarre-looking result. The Note 9 is just plain fuzzy.

As for the third factor (the back of the bench), this is a clear way to distinguish dynamic range capabilities. The more detail and better exposed this shaded area is, the more a phone can do to level out exposure in a scene with multiple light levels. The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 2 are the obvious winners here, with a wider well-exposed area and more texture in the details. The Huawei P20 Pro follows with fair quality, but the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, LG V40, and iPhone Xs Max fail miserably. Balancing out the glasses against the window and the bench, the Pixel 3 is the clear winner here.

Evening exterior

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

At first glance, the street scene at dusk shows just how far low light performance and noise reduction has come. There’s still plenty of light in this scene though and it proves tricky for more than a few of these phones. The P20 Pro does the best job of not blowing out the shop’s interior, though it leans heavily on processing to define features around the neon open sign to the right of the open door. The V40 and Note 9 follow not too far behind. While the Pixel 2, Pixel 3 and iPhone Xs Max all blow out the interior highlights, all three show much greater detail on the shelves inside. The three results are almost indistinguishable up close.

The Note 9 resolves the least detail on the white window ledges at the top of the building and is much darker than the other shots. The V40 doesn’t capture much more detail on the ledges but does lighten up the left side of the building noticeably. The P20 Pro provides marginally better detail, but only the Pixels and the iPhone offered realistic-looking detail, where we can clearly make out the brickwork. The iPhone exhibits less noise in this area, however, and overall comes out on top.

The P20 Pro provides marginally better detail but it isn’t until you get to the Pixels and iPhone that realistic-looking detail is visible.

One more subject I would like to touch on is motion blur. Because these shots are taken in the dark, the shutter speed usually needs to slow down, which might affect the image if there are moving objects or you just happen to have shaky hands. The LG V40 and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 can’t manage freezing the moving cars, for example. This would look cool if done on purpose and the shutter speed was even slower, but it just looks like a mishap here. For these specific photos, much of the detail is lost. This could be simple over-softening, though.

Portrait mode

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

First up, faces. The first thing to notice here is the iPhone Xs Max’s exposure is darker than the Android phones. It also over-saturates the skin, making it far pinker than the rest. The Note 9 and P20 Pro show evidence of a residual beauty mode, even though I had all settings turned off, with the pores on my nose noticeably less visible on the Note 9. Both the P20 Pro and Note 9 are also softer on detail. Sharpness is better on the Pixel 3 than the Pixel 2, most easily seen in the whiskers of my beard while the iPhone sits somewhere in the middle. The Pixel 3 wins this part.

Now, on to portrait mode background blurring.

Before we move onto edge detection around my hair, let’s look at the earbud cables in these portrait mode selfies. Only the Pixel 3 manages to keep them entirely in the foreground, but that was also the only shot where they lay close to my face. The Note 9 does a decent job keeping the earbud cables in focus. The iPhone Xs Max and P20 Pro do a comically bad job of blurring them out. The V40 gets the wires wrong, but does a better job of obfuscating them than most.

My unruly hair is the ultimate test for portrait mode edge detection and I’m yet to see any phone do a really good job of it.

My unruly hair is the ultimate test for portrait mode edge detection and I’ve yet to see any phone do a really good job with it. Surprisingly the LG V40 managed the best here, with only a little weird blurring going on where the skyline in the back meets my hair. Notably, the wild strands at the top of my head remain in focus, something no other phone got right.

The Note 9 did perhaps the best job at gradually blurring out my hair realistically (rather than having the hard edge between foreground and background hair most phones demonstrate), but I think the overall image is just too soft. The iPhone attempts a similar graduated effect but fails at it. Both the Pixels do a decent job at cutting my head out, but the effect is unrealistic. The P20 Pro does a decent job until you get to my right cheek when everything goes to crap fast.

While no phone did an exceptional job, it’s still interesting to see the approach each camera takes: whether it tries to differentiate between hair at the front of my head and hair at the back, or if it takes all of my hair as foreground and only tries to separate the actual background.

All phones did a nice job on the actual background, but I prefer the added detail in the water closer to the bottom of the frame in the shots by the iPhone, Pixel 3 and Note 9 to the generic background blur of the V40. Given the iPhone’s issues with skin and horrendous earbud treatment, it’s out of the running for me. The Note 9 managed the background and earbud wires well but the super soft skin is wrong. That leaves me with the Pixel 3, which handled the earbuds well (perhaps through unfair advantage), did a pretty good job on my hair, and handled the background nicely with plenty of good detail in the face.

Old building

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

In the high contrast shot of the corner of the old brick building, none of the cameras manage to get much out of the cloudy sky. The iPhone Xs Max fails the most miserably, completely blowing out the right-hand side of the shot while turning the left hand side unnaturally blue. The P20 Pro gets the best texture across the sky, followed by the Note 9. Note: In all of these shots, the focal point was on the front-most corner of the building.

Looking at the rest of the shot, the P20 Pro turned the sky too gray, messed with the white balance and made the building a little too orange. I suspect this was the work of Master AI, but I can’t recall if it kicked in or not when I took the shot. The other phones handled colors much better, barring the iPhone which overexposed the shot.

If we zoom into the set of windows at the corner above the white wall, we can see only the iPhone managed to properly outline the columns inside and does a good job at creating realistic detail on the building’s exterior. Both Pixels are very close to the iPhone and look almost identical to one another. The Note 9 and P20 Pro exhibit similar sharpening around the brickwork and windows, with just a bit more contrast in the P20 Pro. Neither looks terribly good up close. The V40 is muddy and lacks detail once again. This one definitely goes to the iPhone and the Pixels.

Fruit and vegetable stand

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

All six phones did a great job with the produce stand at night, mainly differing in saturation and white balance. Looking at the pickles and tomatoes on the corner, the Pixel 3 does a much better job than the Pixel 2, handling both the highlights on the tomatoes and detail on the pickles better. There’s also a bit less noise. The iPhone handles the highlights well too, but doesn’t get as much detail as the Pixel 3. The V40 is a little soft and washed out, but not terribly so. The Note 9 produces a slightly more lively palette, but lacks details on the pickles. The P20 Pro processes too hard as usual, with too much contrast and no real detail.

Dynamic range is important in night time photography (especially when artificial light is present). With darkness and harsh lights, shadows are tough to deal with. To see performance in this matter just look at that shadow under the shelf above the pickles, right below the watermelon in the center. How much can you see down there?

All six phones did a great job of the fruit and veg stand at night, but I’m giving this one to the Pixel 3.

The Huawei P20 Pro’s aggressive approach to crushing blacks performs the worst in this area. The contrast is too high, so the shaded area is almost totally blacked out. The iPhone Xs seems to do pretty well at this, and the Pixel 3 is probably the next best contender. The other phones provide varying degrees of OK.

Looking at the top left corner of the shot, the P20 Pro again crushes the blacks in the hanging flowers and is altogether too contrasty. The Note 9 and Pixel 2 get a little noisy on the white underside of the roof but both offer similar levels of detail. The iPhone displays less noise than the Note 9 or Pixel 2. The V40 does a surprisingly good job in this section, with little noise and good detail, but the contrasty processing lets it down a bit, producing an unrealistic effect under scrutiny. The Pixel 3 produces less noise and more detail than the Pixel 2 in this section and is altogether a more balanced and pleasing result overall. I’m giving this one to the Pixel 3.

Low light bar interior

Google Pixel 3 camera
Google Pixel 2 camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
iPhone Xs Max camera
Huawei P20 Pro camera
LG V40 camera

The bar interior shows just how far smartphone cameras have come in low light situations. The Pixels handled the lamp very well, again with less noise and better detail in the Pixel 3. The V40 brings out the shadows just as well, but over-processes too much, highlighting edges at the cost of realism. The Note 9 seems a little soft and the P20 Pro completely blows out the lamplight. Both phones get the white balance wrong. The iPhone balances out the extremes very well but captures the least lively lamp shade.

White balance isn’t just about being warmer or cooler, it’s also about the tint — the balance between green and purple. See how the V40 image looks really purple? It is way off. You can tell the difference in things like the skin and the paper by the lamp.

The bar interior shows just how far smartphone cameras have come in low light situations.

The iPhone struggles to bring out the alcohol bottles on the bottom shelf but is arguably more authentic looking than some. The Pixel 2 lightens things up a bit but is again quite noisy. The Pixel 3 reduces that visible grain and adds a little sharpening for better definition without going overboard. The Note 9 has a natural look in this area, even with the yellowish white balance. However, it can’t produce as much detail as the P20 Pro, which for a change doesn’t overdo the processing. As expected, the V40 does, and ends up looking a little cartoonish. All in all, every phone did great in this very tricky situation but I’m giving this one to the Pixel 3 as well.

Conclusion

The story the images above tell is pretty consistent. For starters, each phone performed very well across a variety of different scenarios, barring perhaps the LG V40. These days you need to really nitpick a flagship phone’s camera to claim it’s significantly better than the rest — they’re all just that good.

I would happily trade in a perfect shot every now and then for an almost-perfect shot every single time – that is what the Pixel 3 provides.

Some conclusions are clear, as you likely noticed with the recurring observations I made about phones in different sections. These results are not one-off accidents, but because of how each company has tuned its image processing and the capabilities of the hardware. While each camera performed exceedingly well in several specific areas or lighting conditions, I can confidently say the Google Pixel 3 performed the most reliably the most often. I, like most people, would happily trade in a perfect shot every now and then for an almost-perfect shot every single time — that’s what the Pixel 3 offers. For that fact alone it is my choice here.

Note: We’ll be comparing the Pixel 3 to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro soon enough, and as soon as Night Sight is officially available we’ll be revisiting the Pixel 3 camera.

Next: Here’s what the Pixel 3’s Night Sight can do