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Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Pixel 7 Pro camera test: it’s not close

It’s 2023, and you’re looking for a smartphone that takes incredible pictures. There are few better options available than the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and Google Pixel 7 Pro. They both deliver two of the most capable camera systems on the market today, with powerful imaging hardware and sophisticated software to boot.

But which of these phones has the best camera performance? The Galaxy S23 Ultra has a state-of-the-art 200-megapixel camera that promises to be a game-changer, but the Pixel 7 Pro is a well-established camera champ that’s tough to beat. We put the two phones head-to-head in a camera shootout to see what would happen.

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Pixel 7 Pro: camera specs

As with any good camera comparison, we’ll kick things off by looking at each phone’s camera specs. At the heart of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is a 200MP camera. You can take full 200MP pictures if you wish, but the real draw is how it uses pixel binning to deliver 12MP images that are full of detail, have great colors, and can capture a lot of light in dark environments.

It’s joined by two 10MP telephoto cameras — one set at 3x optical zoom and another with 10x optical zoom using a periscope zoom system. There’s also a 12MP wide-angle camera with a 120-degree field of view, plus a 12MP selfie camera.

Move over to the Google Pixel 7 Pro, and you get a 50MP main camera that also uses pixel binning to deliver excellent 12MP images. That main camera is accompanied by a single 48MP telephoto camera with 5x optical zoom, a 12MP ultra-wide camera with a 126-degree field of view, and a 10.8MP selfie camera.

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Pixel 7 Pro: main camera

The main camera is the one you’ll likely be using the most, so let’s start there. As mentioned above, both the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro use pixel binning by default to produce 12MP images from their cameras. You can force the S23 Ultra to take full 200MP photos, but for the sake of this comparison, we kept both phones in their 12MP modes.

Starting with the photo of downtown Manhattan, we have a gorgeous view of a bright blue sky with a sea of Citi Bikes below it. It’s a scene that both phones handle with ease, though the Pixel 7 Pro comes out ahead. Look closely at the Citi Bikes, and you see a lot of noise in the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s photo. The Pixel 7 Pro brightens them more and preserves a lot more detail in the process. The same is true of the white truck in the right corner. In the S23 Ultra image, the door is grainy, and the front grille is barely visible. In the Pixel 7 Pro shot, everything is as clear as you could ask for. Combined with a more realistic sky, the Pixel 7 Pro’s image has a lot of advantages.

Our next photo is a shot of the Vessel tourist attraction in NYC with a fairly overcast sky behind it. Both the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro produce great results here, and this time, it’s quite a bit harder to discern any clear differences. But they are there! Look in the far-left corner, and the S23 Ultra gives the sliver of blue sky a much more vivid hue, while the Pixel 7 Pro retains a more lifelike appearance. The Pixel 7 Pro gives parts of the Vessel a slightly darker brown color, but it’s a very subtle difference. Overall, there’s little to complain about with either photograph.

The S23 Ultra’s tendency to produce punchy and vivid colors often works in its favor, but there are times when it goes a bit overboard. The above shot of the pasta dish is a great example of this. The Galaxy S23 Ultra’s photo gives the pasta an intense orange color, with the saturation turned up to 11. It’s bright and eye-catching, but it ends up being a bit too much. The Pixel 7 Pro’s image, by comparison, is much more realistic. The food still looks appetizing without appearing to have come from a cartoon.

But it’s only sometimes that the S23 Ultra goes overboard with its colors. Other times, it easily comes out on top. The photo of the sandwich was taken in a restaurant with a very intense light directly overhead. It was a challenging shot, and both phones show it. The Galaxy S23 Ultra again favors big, bold colors, giving the sandwich and fries a distinct yellow color. It’s not 100% accurate, but the sandwich looks rather tasty — which is not a word I’d use to describe the sandwich in the Pixel 7 Pro’s photo. Here, it appears dull, lifeless, and not like something I’d want to sit down and eat.

We’ll end the main camera showdown with a picture of the neon OnePlus sign. The Galaxy S23 Ultra allows the sign to pop wonderfully while retaining great detail in the bench and wall. The Pixel 7 Pro doesn’t know how to handle the shadows from the light, fuzzes up the detail in the wall, and creates a much less impressive image because of these things.

Scanning through the dozens and dozens of photos I’ve taken with both phones, I regularly see Galaxy S23 Ultra photos I prefer, and then ones I like better from the Pixel 7 Pro. Google’s HDR processing is still a champ for bringing out great detail in darker areas, while Samsung’s vivid colors can do a great job of boosting photos when they really need it. Both phones trade punches pretty evenly with their unique advantages, and it’s why I’m calling this one a draw.

Winner: Draw

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Pixel 7 Pro: wide camera

The Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro both share a 12MP resolution for their respective wide-angle cameras, but the Pixel 7 Pro’s sensor gives you a slightly wider view (126 degrees instead of the 120 degrees you get on the S23 Ultra).

Starting with the photo of the boat next to the dock, the Galaxy S23 Ultra comes out with a strong lead right off the bat. The water has more depth to it, the blue sky pops more, and it all contrasts nicely with the brown dock leading to the red boat. The Pixel 7 Pro’s photo is a bit dull by comparison. It also overexposes the white paint on the boat and doesn’t hold as much detail in the dock. The S23 Ultra easily takes this one.

Our next stop is a mural atop the High Line park in NYC. Once again, the Galaxy S23 Ultra delivers a bluer, punchier sky that really jumps out at you. All of the colors of the mural are also brighter, whereas they appear drabber in the Pixel 7 Pro photo. Zooming in too much on either shot reveals that finer detail is lacking, but that’s typically the case with any wide-angle camera.

Finally, we have the photo of the large wheel by the dock. This one does a good job showing the wider field of view from the Pixel 7 Pro’s camera. It’s not a significant difference, but it is there. Otherwise, the same strengths of the Galaxy S23 Ultra remain present. Samsung’s photo has a bluer sky, a warmer hue for the wheel, and just has more life than the Pixel 7 Pro’s shot appears to have.

Even with its wider camera, the Pixel 7 Pro loses this round to the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Winner: Galaxy S23 Ultra

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Pixel 7 Pro: telephoto camera

There are a lot of impressive things about the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera system, but the star of the show is its telephoto performance. The two telephoto cameras give you options for 3x and 10x optical zoom, with the option to go all the way up to 100x zoom. The Pixel 7 Pro has a single 5x optical zoom range and supports a total zoom up to 30x.

We’ll begin with a simple 3x zoom shot. The S23 Ultra gives us a much brighter sky (almost to a fault), while the Pixel 7 Pro is more grounded in reality. Both images are really solid, but zoom in closely, and the S23 Ultra already shows its zooming advantage. The Galaxy S23 Ultra retains more detail in the base of the Little Island structure, and even in the buildings in the distance. It’s not an immediately apparent advantage, but it is there.

Next is a 10x zoom photo of The Edge in NYC. The Pixel 7 Pro doesn’t do a bad job, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra is clearly ahead. The brown metal structure is a blurry mess in the Pixel 7 Pro’s photo, but it’s sharp and detailed in the S23 Ultra’s shot. The same is true of the building in the bottom-right corner and The Edge itself. The Pixel 7 Pro’s photo is usable — just not as good.

Take a 30x shot with both phones, and there’s no competition about which one wins. The Galaxy S23 Ultra delivers a photo that’s surprisingly detailed, clearly showing the fine lines throughout the building, the balcony, and even the people standing on it. The Pixel 7 Pro does its best, but its photo is noisy, lacking detail, and just not particularly good to look at.

Going back to a 10x zoom photo, a seagull decided to pose for a nice portrait. The Pixel 7 Pro does a surprisingly good job here, considering that its optical zoom maxes out at 5x, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra still has it beat. Zoom in on the bird, and you’ll see considerably more detail in its feathers and feet.

Finally, the 10x photo of the boat drives home the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s zooming dominance. In its photo, you can clearly make out fine details on the boat, the rust toward its underside, and the buildings behind it in the distance. These things are still technically visible in the Pixel 7 Pro image, but they look worse in every way — softer, blurrier, and with inferior colors.

This should go without saying, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra wins the telephoto camera category.

Winner: Galaxy S23 Ultra

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Pixel 7 Pro: portrait mode

A good portrait mode is a must for any modern smartphone, so how do the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro fare in this department? We’ll begin our analysis with the portrait mode photo of the drink in the Delta Sky Club. The drink is noticeably brighter in the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s photo compared to the Pixel 7 Pro’s image. Zoom in closely, and there’s a bit more detail in Samsung’s photo as well.

Both phones do a really nice job with the bokeh effect, though there are a couple of areas where the S23 Ultra comes out ahead (see the top left of the glass, plus the top of the spear). I also prefer the more intense blur effect the S23 Ultra delivers.

Next is the portrait mode photo of the succulent. This is a great example of the Pixel 7 Pro’s excellent HDR processing; it manages to bring out finer details in the succulent’s leaves that aren’t as easily visible in the S23 Ultra picture. That said, Samsung again does a better job with the actual portrait effect. The cutout for the succulent is much cleaner, and the blur effect does a better job of hiding the building in the background.

Finally, there’s the portrait mode photo of the binoculars overlooking Chelsea. This is a tricky subject, and neither phone handles it perfectly. But just like with the last two photos, it’s the Galaxy S23 Ultra that ends up taking the better shot. The Pixel 7 Pro’s blur effect around the top of the binoculars is noticeably choppy, while it looks excellent in the S23 Ultra image. Samsung continues to deliver more pleasing colors, too and keeps churning out a stronger blur effect for the background.

This is an easy one to call — the Galaxy S23 Ultra takes this round.

Winner: Galaxy S23 Ultra

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Pixel 7 Pro: night mode

Just as important as portrait mode — if not more so — is night mode. How do the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro perform when the lights go down? We begin with a photo of a hot toddy in a dimly lit hotel bar. The Galaxy S23 Ultra keeps the scene a bit dark, as it appeared in real life, with a nice natural blur and a pleasing color for the drink. The Pixel 7 Pro attempts to brighten the scene more, and while it makes the background more clearly visible, it also makes the drink look rather unpleasant.

In the next photo of downtown New York at about 8 p.m., there’s a lot to take in. We’ll start with the sky. There’s a lot of light bleed in the Pixel 7 Pro photo that the Galaxy S23 Ultra manages to hide better. It gives the sky a darker, truer appearance, and allows you to spot a few stars that aren’t visible in the Pixel 7 Pro photograph.

The buildings in the far-right corner are dark and noisy in the Galaxy S23 Ultra image, but are clear and fairly detailed in the Pixel 7 Pro’s shot. The brick building above the Detroit Pizza sign is stripped away of its detail in the Pixel 7 Pro picture, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra retains it much better.

The pictures of the Corner Bistro sign look very similar at first glance, but there are a few things worth pointing out. Zoom in, and the sign is sharper in the Galaxy S23 Ultra photo. There’s also far less noise in the building behind it, and the brick building the sign is attached to has a lot more detail compared to how it looks in the Pixel’s image.

Google’s Pixel 7 Pro is a strong night mode performer, and a camera I’d happily use in the dark. But when it comes down to it, the Galaxy S23 Ultra gets the win.

Winner: Galaxy S23 Ultra

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Pixel 7 Pro: selfie camera

Finally, let’s take a quick look at the selfie camera. Taken in front of a window during an overcast afternoon in Michigan, both phones deliver fine selfies. The detail isn’t great on either of them, but they get the job done.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra does a slightly better job retaining the detail in my shirt, but I much prefer how the Pixel 7 Pro handles my skin. I’m pale, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra makes me look completely lifeless. I also think the Pixel 7 Pro delivers slightly better edge detection than the Samsung phone.

It’s a close one, but the Pixel 7 Pro wins the selfie round.

Winner: Pixel 7 Pro

The Galaxy S23 Ultra is the new camera champ

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra next to the Google Pixel 7 Pro.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

After six rounds, the Galaxy S23 Ultra won four, the Pixel 7 Pro won one, and the phones tied in one. In other words, Samsung comes out ahead with a clear victory over Google.

It’s important to remember that the Pixel 7 Pro remains an excellent camera smartphone. But compared head-to-head with the Galaxy S23 Ultra, Samsung delivers a more capable photography suite. The main camera ultimately comes down to your personal preference for color reproduction, but with wins for the ultrawide camera, telephoto camera, portrait mode, and night mode performance, Samsung comes out swinging.

The Pixel 7 Pro is still a great choice if you want a great point-and-shoot camera experience, but when it comes down to it, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the new camera champ. And it’s not just the Pixel 7 Pro it beats: We recently put the Galaxy S23 Ultra up against the iPhone 14 in a camera test similar to this one, and it came out victorious there, taking the trophy in four of the five tests. There’s a reason it’s the best Android phone you can buy today.

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