The Ultimate Smartphone Camera Battle 2023: Pixel 8 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro Max, and Canon Compact Camera - An In-Depth Comparison
Welcome to the 2023 edition of the smartphone camera shootout. For the last two years we have performed this shootout with usually the best (read: most expensive) smartphones on the market. This year, although we are once again pitting the best of the best against each other, we are also including a couple of more affordable smartphones just to see how relative the performance really is and are you really getting that much bang for your buck paying the ultra-premium prices. The entrants in the shootout are the usual top end but unfortunately this year OPPO did not release their Find X6 Pro here (the top-rated smartphone camera on DxOMark) and their Find N3 arrived too late so we are including their flagship from last year, the Find X5 Pro. Adding in another wrinkle to the shootout we are also including a more traditional compact camera – is an ultra-premium smartphone better than a dedicated compact camera? Phones (and a camera) included in 2023 are: Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max — $1,849Google Pixel 8 Pro — $1,699Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra — $1,949Asus ZenFone 10 — $1,299OPPO Find X5 Pro — $750 refurbishedMotorola Edge 30 Ultra — $1,399Canon PowerShot G7x Mark III — $1,069
The Hardware Differences At the top end of the spectrum there really is not much difference in the camera hardware with each manufacturer trying to set themselves apart with their software. Google has been the best at this for the last few years but Apple are making a concerted effort and now have some amazing software features on their iPhones. The other manufacturers have their own versions of each software enhancement, each with varying levels of success. We can’t list all the software features here but for those interested, here are the hardware details:
Google Pixel 8 Pro Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra OPPO Find X5 Pro Wide: 50MP, f/1.7 Long Tele: 48MP, f/2.8 Ultra-Wide: 48MP, f/2.0 Wide: 48MP, f/1.8 Ultra-Wide: 12MP, f/2.8 Tele: 12MP, f/2.2 Wide: 200MP, f/1.7 Ultra-Wide: 12MP, f/2.2 Tele: 10MP, f/2.4 Long Tele: 10MP, f/4.9 Wide: 50MP, f/1.7 Ultra-Wide: 50MP, f/2.2 Tele: 13MP, f/2.4
Asus Zenfone 10 Motorola Edge 30 Ultra Canon G7x Mark III Wide: 50MP, f/1.9 Ultra-Wide: 13MP, f/2.2 Wide: 200MP, f/1.9 Ultra-Wide: 50MP, f/2.2 Tele: 12MP, f/1.6 20.1MP 1-inch stacked CMOS sensor 24-100mm focal range Before looking at the images it is important to keep in mind that the Samsung Galaxy S23 is operating on hardware that is nearly 12 months after release and the X5 Pro from OPPO, nearly two years. The Motorola itself is also over 12 months old but these are the best each of them have at this stage so that is their entry into this shootout. It is also something to keep in mind when considering the images.
The Motorola above looks a bit washed out compared to the rest. The OPPO Find X5 Pro takes a great picture but seems to lack the fine detail we see in the last four. The Samsung and the iPhone 15 are incredibly similar with the iPhone providing a bit more detail. Both of these tend to saturate the colours a lot more than they are in reality so are a true and accurate representation of the scene. The last two cameras, the Pixel 8 Pro and the Asus ZenFone 10 both provide accurate colours but the Pixel 8 Pro gives more detail. So, which is best? You could say the Pixel 8 Pro based on colour reproduction and detail but the Galaxy S23 and the iPhone 15 Pro Max provide an image that is pleasing to the eye by oversaturating the colours. For me the Pixel 8 Pro produced the best overall image but all of the last four mentioned are easily passable and all great at capturing that memory in a pleasing format. The Canon G7x Mark III captured the detail quite well but seemed to lack a bit on the shadows. This is where the computational photography of the smartphones comes in handy and shadows are enhanced while also having their detail captured.
The above images are all a much of a muchness as the saying goes. All provide great detail and also good colour reproduction although the moto was a bit washed comparatively again. This was a relatively ideal scenario for the cameras so I’m not surprised all did well. Same for the graffiti images below.
On the above images the ZenFone 10 really went to town on the green grass but this time the Samsung and iPhone seemed to accurately represent that colour — it may well have been their AI helping with the colouring of the grass. The exhibition building on all of the images looks a slightly different shade with the closest representation of the colour somewhere between the Samsung and the Pixel 8 Pro. The Canon produced the closest representation of the actual building but once again seemed to lack the dark shading of the phones. Is it possible that the smartphones use their AI to enhance shadowing and aren’t a true representation of what was actually seen in that environment?
All of the above are great photos. Good colouring, great detail and good focus. Inside a well-lit room you would expect as much.
Here we get into the tougher photos — the close to dark, late dusk images. This is where the smartphones come into their own with their computational photography and image sharpening, Although the Canon G7x Mark III captured more light, the smartphones were all able to capture (or is it create?) more detail and sharpness in the image thanks to their post-processing. As with the previous images, the smartphones excel here thanks to their computational photography and once again the Samsung and Apple phones tend to over saturate the colours in certain areas but the detail both produce is exceptional. Asus and Google produce the most accurate colours out of the smartphones but that is being picky as they all look great.
The above night images follow the same as previously.
It’s a bright, middle of the day photo. Is there even a loser here? We are ALL winners in the daylight.
Have smartphones taken over from a dedicated camera (without a tripod) for night photography? These are yet more examples that point to yes.
There are big differences here with the macro photography. The Samsung isn’t good at all with it way over-sharpened. The Moto isn’t bad but the OPPO is not as good as it once was (when they had a dedicated macro camera on the phone. The iPhone has a greater depth of field compared to the Pixel 8 Pro and it better focussed. The Canon G7x Mark II wins this one hands down. A creative, traditional camera image done best by a traditional camera.
It’s probably not fair to put the Canon in the selfie contest as it is difficult to use and operate in this manner but still did a decent job with the image. Certainly acceptable that’s for sure. The smartphones were all quite good at this but the Google, Apple and Samsung performed the best.
All portrait mode selfies were good but remember on the Apple and Google phones ANY and all photos can have their depth of focus adjusted to provide that portrait blur. Aside from once again slight differences in colour shades the images were all well above an acceptable pass.
The above is a typical story of all the other night images. The smartphones have better detail and sharpness than the Canon but some of the colouring is slightly off on a couple of them.
Conclusion: What is best? Before we discuss what is best in my opinion it is important that I say this first. None of them are bad. All of them are decent cameras that will produce a quality of image approximately proportionate to the price you pay for each device — but all are good enough. As for the best camera, on the basic point and shoot auto image, without going into the software and changing the image yourself the Pixel 8 Pro is my favourite, mostly because to me it feels like the iPhone 15 Pro Max just over saturates the colours too much. Google has always prided itself on producing real-to-life colour in its images and this shows in these images. In saying that, the difference between the Google Pixel 8 Pro, and the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max is miniscule at best. Both produce great images and both have great post-processing options to further process and alter or fix your image. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is a great smartphone camera too although some of the post processing doesn’t seem to be up to the standard as that in the Pixel and the iPhone. It could also be that the phone itself is eight months older and its hardware older than that. The Asus ZenFone 10 produces amazingly accurate colours in images with great detail but is just not up to the standard of the ultra-premium Google, Samsung and Apple smartphones. The OPPO Find X5 Pro is coming up to two years old early next year and is showing its age. Hopefully OPPO can bring their smartphone camera behemoth to use next year after this year’s best smartphone camera (Find X6 Pro) didn’t make it outside of China. The Motorola to be honest is not up to the standard of the other smartphones in this shootout and considering the price of it is still close to $1,000AU it is a tough sell. Motorola have focussed on other areas though and still have the best flip phone on the market in my opinion. Its camera is still excellent but just not iPhone or Pixel standard. The Canon PowerShot G7x Mark III produces consistent images with extremely accurate colours. Its zoom is less than the high-end smartphones and has fewer stabilising features than the smartphones. It may bring in more light in low light images but it lacks the post-processing of the smartphones to sharpen and optimize the image in post processing. At $1,000 some may prefer this over a smartphone but it’s a tough sell in this day and age when everyone has a smartphone and if you are going to spend $1000 on a dedicated camera why not just spend that on a smartphone and get a camera which is better at many images. Final word In 2023 all smartphones at the upper end of the price bracket produce comparable images and you really cannot go wrong with any of them. I will have a deep dive into the extra features of the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the Pixel 8 Pro in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned for that one. Smartphones produce images that are pleasing to the eye but the compact camera produces images that accurately capture the colours in the environment. It is a topic a lot deeper than what this article covers but are we doing ourselves a disservice using smartphones solely as the device to capture our memories. As Nilay on the Vergecast said recently, “the smartphone camera is no longer a reliable narrator of events.” Especially with all the recent additions of AI software to post-processing options (remember the flack Samsung copped for using AI to improve their photos of the moon?) it is something we possible need to be careful of. Slightly enhancing the colours, the sharpness with better image stabilization is handy but at what stage is it too much? I’ll leave you with that thought and conclude that the Pixel 8 Pro is possibly the best smartphone camera of those we tested with the iPhone 15 Pro Max not far behind. A more affordable option that is still impressive is the Asus ZenFone 10. What did you think of the images above?