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Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: Which takes better night photos?

We pitted Samsung and Apple's latest phones against each other in a night photography shoot-out to see which one has the superior camera for taking photos at night.

Raymond Wong / Input

This isn't a review of the Galaxy S21 Ultra or its regular camera capabilities. You can read our in-depth review here. This is a head-to-head showdown between the S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras for low-light and night photography.

Before we dive into the comparisons, let's see what cameras each phone is working with.

Galaxy S21 Ultra camera:

Wide: 108-megapixel f/1.8 with OIS

Laser Autofocus

Ultra-wide: 12-megapixel f/2.2 (120-degree FOV)

Macro mode

Telephoto 1: 10-megapixel f/2.4 with 3x optical zoom + OIS

Telephoto 2: 10-megapixel f/4.9 with 10x optical zoom + OIS

100x Space Zoom

Selfie: 40-megapixel f/2.2

iPhone 12 Pro Max camera:

Wide: 12-megapixel f/1.6 with OIS

Ultra-wide: 12-megapixel f/2.4 (120-degree FOV)

Telephoto: 12-megapixel f/2.2 with OIS

12x digital zoom

LiDAR Scanner

Selfie: 12-megapixel f/2.2

When it comes to general night street photography, you can see the Galaxy S21 Ultra kicks ass. Dynamic range is good and exposure is often better than on iPhone 12 Pro Max. There's also a big difference in color temperature. The iPhone 12 Pro Max tends to be warmer. Maybe too warm to set the mood.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

iPhone 12 Pro Max

What makes a good night shot? A good balance between the light and the dark. A brighter image may look better, but shadows and contrast are key, too. Personally, I think the S21 Ultra image looks better.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

iPhone 12 Pro Max

There's no contest which phone takes better night photos at maximum zoom. The S21 Ultra can capture the moon – craters and all — and the iPhone 12 Pro Max just can't.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

iPhone 12 Pro Max

The next shot is a more fair zoom comparison. The Galaxy S21 Ultra's 10x optical zoom vs. the iPhone 12 Pro's 10x digital zoom. S21 Ultra still stomps on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It's not even close.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Ultra-wides are dangerously similar. Again, there's a difference in color temperature with the S21 Ultra skewing more blue and the iPhone 12 Pro more orange. The S21 Ultra shot is sharper, but the black sky also isn't as black.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

iPhone 12 Pro Max

One of the worst things about the iPhone 12 Pro Max's camera is lens flaring. It's especially noticeable in night photos. Compare these two shots. There's less refraction and thus green circles/flares in the center of S21 Ultra image.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Shooting through glass is a challenge for any camera, let alone a phone camera. But the S21 Ultra does a terrific job. Great exposure. Great dynamic range. Great detail. Great sharpness. Are you getting it?

Galaxy S21 Ultra

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Selfie round goes to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It has sharper details and better dynamic range. The Galaxy S21 Ultra completely wrecks my face with face smoothing and soft details. Sure, my face looks baby soft, but that's not reality. I can Facetune my own face thank you very much.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Night portrait mode with the selfie camera is a different story. The iPhone 12 Pro Max really struggles when there isn't enough light. Winner goes to the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Galaxy S21 Ultra

iPhone 12 Pro Max

It's pretty clear the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the better camera for taking night photos in most situations. Good luck with the iPhone 13 Pro Max, Apple.

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