Smartphone camera shootout: Galaxy S7 vs. iPhone 6S

Let the games begin: We tested the Samsung Galaxy S7 against Apple's iPhone 6S to see which flagship device has the best overall camera.

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Why OIS matters

Unlike the Galaxy S7, Apple’s iPhone 6S does not offer optical image stabilization, which is a problem (the larger, pricier iPhone 6S Plus does). The image sensor in a smartphone is already so much smaller than a traditional camera, and without OIS it’s hard to keep the shutter open long enough to let in plenty of light. So images are either too dark, too noisy, or blurry from your hand shaking.

galaxys7 watersplash

The Galaxy S7’s fountain is a sparkling blue, with splashes you can very well distinguish.

iphone watersplash

The iPhone 6S’s splashes muddled together. 

The iPhone 6S certainly struggled in this test. In this photo above of the fountain spout, the iPhone 6S shot at half the speed and half the ISO of the Galaxy S7. This resulted in a blurry stream.

galaxys7 pigeonfly

This pigeon flew away from me and not only did the Galaxy S7 capture her, but nailed the focus on her, too.

iphone pigeonfly

The iPhone 6S could not keep up with the pigeon, however. 

We see the same result in this photo of a pigeon flying away (with a dumpster in the background—poor framing on my part). The GS7 shot at a higher shutter speed than the 6S, which managed to capture the bird’s flapping, while the 6S’s pigeon appears blurry against a similarly blurry background. The GS7 isn’t entirely excused, however, because if you zoom in, you’ll notice the halo effect around the bird’s body that’s a result of over-sharpening.

Shooting in the dark

With an aperture of f/1.7, the Galaxy S7 is already capable of taking in more light than the iPhone 6S’s f/2.2 lens. I took both phones into our pitch-black photo testing lab to show exactly how those numbers translate into photos.

galaxys7 insidethecase

Squint just a bit. You’ll see the outline of the inside of a computer case in this photo taken by the GS7.

iphone insidethecase

All that the iPhone 6S could capture was a faint blip of the LED lights.

If you squint a bit, you can see the outline of an open computer case with the GS7’s photo, while the 6S barely managed to capture the two LED lights. The metadata showed that the 6S shot at a higher shutter speed of 1/15 and an ISO of 2000 to compensate for the lack of lighting, compared to the GS7’s longer shutter speed of 1/4 and ISO 1250. Because the GS7 employs OIS, the shutter can stay open longer to capture more light.

galaxys7 outdoorlight

I was shocked to see so much chromatic abberation with the Galaxy S7. This photo is not easily editable.

iphon6s outdoorlight

The iPhone 6S’s backyard photo is the clear winner because it doesn’t have any purple fringe, though there’s some distortion if you blow the photo up to its full size.

I then took some shots out in my backyard to see how the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6S each handle soft night lighting. The Galaxy S7 experienced some intense chromatic aberration around the string of lights. The worst part is that there’s not much editing I can do to this photo to try and fix it, either.

galaxys7 outsidenight

The Galaxy S7 tends to skew towards yellow and green hues, in spite of the lighting situation. 

iphone6s outside night

The iPhone 6S skews red-orange, which matches its white balance hue in daylight.

You can see the difference between Apple and Samsung’s white balance in low-light environments, too. In the photo above, the 6S skews red-orange, while the S7 gravitates more towards yellow-green. I prefer the iPhone’s coloring, though there’s a ton of noise in both photos that would make it difficult to edit either one. The Galaxy S7 picked up a lot more detail in the lower pot.

galaxys7 outdoorcat

The Galaxy S7’s low-light photo is sharper, which leads to a more detailed image.

iphone 6s outdoorcat

The iPhone 6S offers a little less oomph.

Again, Samsung’s wide aperture and sharpening seems to pay off in low light situations. I like that I can see the distinction in the texture of the teak patio furniture in the GS7’s result, and though the coloring is a bit off, it’s more appealing to look at. 


Back in the day, when I used an iPhone 4S as my daily driver for about six months, I remember being really impressed with the phone’s panoramic stitching abilities. I’m happy to report that the four generations later, the iPhone still does a great job stitching together panoramas.

galaxys panorama

The Galaxy S7’s Panorama file is massive, and though it can go farther to either side than the iPhone’s panorama mode, it’s not as detailed.

iphoto6s panorama

The iPhone 6S appears clearer and more true-to-life. I would rather have an untouched panorama photo to show than a massive file that requires editing before I can do much with it.

I took three panoramas in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood from our office’s rooftop terrace. The iPhone’s remains the champion. It’s clearer, and you can see more detail. The Galaxy S7 locked on to the exposure of the buildings, severely overexposing the sky.

I can see stitching errors in both photos, but I feel like Samsung’s penchant for getting in more detail and more scenery is at a disadvantage here. It’s nice for your own personal memory making, but if I’m showing off a mountain side, I don’t want the panorama to be so big that I have to crop it. The Galaxy S7’s saving grace in this particular situation is that you can turn your panoramas into a shareable video, which should make posting to social media an easier venture. 


In keeping with our tradition of testing each smartphone’s selfie capabilities, I just had to compare these two 5-megapixel front-facing cameras.

galaxys7 selfie

The Galaxy S7’s wide-angle front-facing camera makes my selfies look far away. And though my face looks fine, I noticed the GS7 spent more time working on the contrast for the background than the actual subject—which is me!

iphone6s selfie

The iPhone 6S shot straight and narrow, without doing too much post processing. My face is closely toned to the way I look in real life.

The iPhone 6S did not mirror my photo, like the Galaxy S7. It’s actually brighter, and rather than focusing on how to contrast the background, it focused on capturing the details of my face. The Galaxy S7’s wider camera angle makes me look like I’m farther away, too, when all I did was strap each smartphone to the GorillaPod and shoot a selfie at arm’s length. The iPhone’s view is better for a solo selfie, but the Galaxy S7 makes it easier to fit your friend in frame with you.

Vain photographers can at least appreciate the Galaxy S7’s wealth of customization options for the selfie, including the ability to soften or slim your face. But be forewarned that if you increase any of those filters to the highest strength, you’ll start to see some unnatural distortion, and then you’ll look like a bad Photoshop job. 

Extra features 

The iPhone 6S may preserve more dynamic range than the Galaxy S7, but it’s subpar in its feature set. Apple limits its users to six basic functions, including a Time Lapse mode, Slow Motion video mode, an Instagram-ready square photo mode, and a Panorama. Automatic HDR is also available, along with eight different colored image filters, but if you want anything else you’ll have to download an app for that. 

The Galaxy S7 is more versatile. There are ten different camera modes, including a Selective Focus option, which helps better fake the macro shot, as well as a video collage mode, live broadcasting mode, and a gimmicky Virtual Shot mode, which makes neat 3D photo animations. (I’ve posted a few to Instagram.) The crown jewel of the Galaxy S7 is its Pro mode, however, which converts the smartphone into a manual camera of sorts. It’s not as robust as an actual DSLR, but if you find you don’t like the look of the overly saturated, overly sharpened photos that Samsung produces, you at least have the option to take matters into your own hands. What’s more: the Galaxy S7 lets you save RAW images, which retains way more information than a normal JPEG would. 

Every phone has its thorns

gs7vsiphone6s  5 Florence Ion

In their own right, both the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6S both feature capable cameras. It’s just that one offers a tiny bit more choice over the other.

Samsung’s claim that the Galaxy S7 has a better camera than the iPhone 6S is one side of the story. It’s true that the iPhone doesn’t produce photos that are as vibrant, but you can easily toss those pictures through an app to polish them up a bit before sharing them with the Internet. And like Apple, Samsung pushes its preferences on users by asking them to trust their image processing engine. The results are more vibrant and colorful, but often overexposed and overly-sharpened. Samsung’s saving grace in this fight is that it offers a manual mode with adjustable camera settings.

While no phone has a perfect camera, you want the phone that will produce the best-looking photo right out of the box. In that case, I’m entirely in favor of Samsung’s end results, even if they are a little over-processed at times. But you don’t have to resign yourself to that, either. If you don’t want Samsung to do what it does with your photos, you can choose to do something differently with the manual mode. Apple’s iPhone doesn’t offer that, and though its photos offer enough dynamic range for anyone who gravitates towards the iOS platform and likes a little edit-ability in their photos, it’s not the most versatile smartphone camera. 

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