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iPhone 12 Pro, Note 20 Ultra, and Pixel 5 cameras compared in a blind test

Published Oct 27th, 2020 6:50AM EDT
iPhone 12 Pro Camera
Image: Apple

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  • The iPhone 12 Pro, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and Pixel 5 feature some of the best camera systems available on smartphones this year.
  • There’s no perfectly objective way to compare these cameras’ performance, so that’s where a blind test can come in handy.
  • A YouTube channel shot 25 samples with each phone and then compared the results without knowing what device was used to capture the best shots.

With October almost over, all the hot new smartphones of the second half of the year have been announced. Most of them are already available in stores, except for the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max, which will arrive in just a few weeks. Now that the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are out, we have plenty of in-depth reviews of the new devices, as well as camera reviews and performance tests. The inevitable comparisons are also here, and there’s no question about who the winner is. The A14 Bionic chip is no match for this year’s best Android phones. In fact, last year’s A13 processor is still better than all 2020 Android flagships.

Things aren’t as clear in the camera department, as all the new flagships pack various hardware and software upgrades that should improve the overall quality of photos and videos. Ranking phones using a camera score is the wrong way about comparing the photo and video quality, yet some people still do it. You can’t benchmark everything about photography objectively. If the camera is the thing you’re interested most in your next smartphone, then you need to be able to compare some of the best options out there without any bias. Thankfully, there’s a great video that lets you perform your own blind tests and determine which sort of camera experience you like most.

Vadim, Max, and Angelica are the three siblings who recorded the unbiased camera test for their YouTube channel Max Tech. Vadim took photos with three devices, including the iPhone 12 Pro, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and Google Pixel 5. He then displayed versions of the same scene shot on each device side by side in a random order, with his brother and sister picking their favorite.

The video is nearly 13 minutes long and contains plenty of photo samples used to test the three camera systems. We’re looking at indoor, outdoor, low-light, ultra-wide, portrait modes, and zoom samples for all three smartphones. Max and Angelica, who were not involved in the process of snapping the samples, pick their favorites, explaining what they like most about one of the three images. Then Vadim reveals which phone took the “winning” shot.

You can play the game along, pause the video, inspect the images, pick your own favorite, and keep track of the scores. By the time the video finishes, you might get a sense of what camera experience you want from your next smartphone.

Unsurprisingly, there was no clear winner in this blind test. Both Max and Angelika picked nine samples for both the iPhone 12 Pro and the Note 20 Ultra, and seven samples for the Pixel 5. The conclusion isn’t that the iPhone 12 Pro and Note 20 Ultra are better than the Pixel 5. But there are advantages and disadvantages to each camera system.

It’ll be up for you to decide what compromises to make with whatever camera system you end up with. And more seasoned photographers may find ways to make up for the downsides of either camera system.

What this unbiased camera test doesn’t show is the video recording capabilities of each device.

That said, the camera alone should not be the only deciding factor when buying a phone, especially in a year like 2020, when high-end smartphone purchases might be a luxury for many people. But if you do happen to use your phone to take a lot of pictures, you might need to consider getting multiple devices that would have a different use in different conditions. The Max Tech video follows below.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.