Night vision

OnePlus 9 Pro vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: Which takes better night photos?

We pitted the OnePlus 9 Pro against Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra in shoot-out to see which phone has the superior camera for taking night photos.

The Hasselblad camera system on the OnePlus 9 Pro is the best on any OnePlus phone. If you haven’t read my review, you can find that here with tons of photo comparisons. Today, we’re focusing just on the OnePlus 9 Pro’s low-light and night photography. Specifically, how it compares to Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra.

But first, let’s get to know the cameras on each phone...

OnePlus 9 Pro:

Wide: 48-megapixel f/1.8 with OIS + EIS

Laser Autofocus

Ultra-wide: 50-megapixel f/2.2 (freeform lens with 113-degree FOV)

Macro mode

Telephoto: 8-megapixel f/2.4 with 3.3x optical zoom + OIS

30x digital zoom

Selfie: 16-megapixel f/2.4 + EIS

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

The OnePlus 9 Pro’s main 48-megapixel camera uses a Sony IMX 789 sensor. It’s massive for a phone and its ability to collect tons of light means low-light photography, even without Nightscape (OnePlus’ name for night mode), gets a big boost.

In this photo of a street taken at almost midnight, the OnePlus 9 Pro takes a brighter image with more details in the shadows.

OnePlus 9 Pro

Galaxy S21 Ultra

I gotta hand it to OnePlus. Nightscape has come a long way and it’s incredible on the OnePlus 9 Pro. You can see the individual bricks in this building that you simply can’t in the S21 Ultra night mode shot. I’m actually floored by not only the shorter exposure time on the 9 Pro (usually 2-3 seconds faster than the S21 Ultra), but the clarity. Just look at the dynamic range in the rain on the ground, too. Spectacular!

OnePlus 9 Pro

Galaxy S21 Ultra

The 50-megapixel ultra-wide camera on the OnePlus 9 Pro is very good. Like extremely good. On auto mode, it demolishes the S21 Ultra’s ultra-wide. Observe how much more detail there is in the shadows and how much sharper the OnePlus 9 Pro photo is. I didn’t even need to turn on night mode here.

OnePlus 9 Pro

Galaxy S21 Ultra

Night portrait photos still have a ways to go, especially when it comes to autofocus. The OnePlus 9 Pro shot skews warmer when for colors compared to more blue-ish hues on the S21 Ultra. Bokeh rendering is quite different too. Less gaussian blur-like on the 9 Pro.

OnePlus 9 Pro

Galaxy S21 Ultra

The selfie camera on the 9 Pro is showing its age. Most phones usually turn the screen into a flash by momentarily flashing white before you take a selfie in low light. By default, the 9 Pro didn’t do that... ever. But the S21 Ultra did. In this comparison, one photo looks really dark and the other looks too bright. A good night selfie portrait would ideally land in the middle, preserving some feeling of darkness while maintaining enough detail.

OnePlus 9 Pro

Galaxy S21 Ultra

While we’re testing the selfie camera at night, here are regular selfies. Just like the portrait mode selfies, the OnePlus 9 Pro didn’t turn the screen into a flash to illuminate my face. The result is a more natural night selfie, but one without as much detail. The S21 Ultra lit up my face and exposed my clothing, but it’s clear I had an extra light boost.

OnePlus 9 Pro

Galaxy S21 Ultra

The OnePlus 9 Pro has a bad 3.3x telephoto camera. At night, the optical zoom takes mushy photos with lots of image noise compared to the S21 Ultra’s 3x optical zoom. Granted, the latter looks soft without manual focusing, but had I tapped to focus, it would definitely have been the better shot.

OnePlus 9 Pro

Galaxy S21 Ultra

At longer range zoom, the OnePlus 9 Pro gets crushed. Even though the S21 Ultra’s second telephoto takes grainy photos at 10x optical zoom, it still looks better than the OnePlus 9 Pro’s 10x digital zoom. It’s no contest. Color is a different story. On the 9 Pro, you can actually see the blue light coming in from this person’s apartment, which is what it looked like IRL.

OnePlus 9 Pro

Galaxy S21 Ultra

The OnePlus 9 Pro’s main and ultra-wide cameras are *chef’s kiss* for night photography. The images don’t lie. Where the OnePlus really lags is with the telephoto and selfie cameras — the hardware is literally from years ago and it shows. Portrait photography at night still needs work, too. But that goes for every phone, including the iPhone.

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