Galaxy S9+ Versus Pixel 2 XL Camera Shoot-Out, Crowning A New Image Quality King?

Samsung Galaxy S9+
Mobile device makers have made a concerted effort to improve camera performance on each new generation of smartphone. While there is still a gap between a handset and a Digital SLR (DSLR), today's phones are capable of taking excellent photos. It's become a point of focus, and with the advances in imaging, like Bokeh effects, armchair photographers can snap some truly remarkable looking shots. Two recent flagships, Samsung's Galaxy S9+ and Google's Pixel 2 XL, both have been praised for their photo taking capabilities. Is one appreciably better than the other? The only way to find out is through a good old fashioned shoot-out.

Before we get to the picture comparisons, let's cover some specs. The Galaxy S9+ is one of a growing number of phones to employ a dual rear camera array. In this case, it sports a pair of Super Speed Dual Pixel 12-megapixel cameras, one of which is strapped to a wide angle lens. Somewhat unique to the Galaxy S9+ is that one of the cameras is a dual-aperture lens supporting f/1.5 and f/2.4 modes (the telephoto lens is locked at f/2.4). According to Samsung, the f/1.5 aperture setting is the widest, brightest setting among any smartphone camera on the market currently, with 28 percent better reception of light.

Google Pixel 2 XL

The Pixel 2 XL, meanwhile, features a single 12.2-megapixel camera with an f/1.8 aperture, laser autofocus, and dual pixel phase detection. While it lacks a second lens, Google uses its algorithmic magic to assist with taking photos, and specifically to ensure the subject is in clear focus while blurring out the background. Google bills this as a smart camera, and it's a definite upgrade over the shooter found on the original Pixel XL.

On To The Shoot-Out

We chose a variety of lighting conditions because that is what you will encounter in the real-world. This also gives us a more robust comparison of the overall performance of both phones. To kick things off, let's have a look at some knick-knacks in an indoor setting.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Google Pixel 2 XL
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Left (desktop) or Top (mobile), Google Pixel 2 XL Right

Managing Editor Marco Chiappetta: There is much less noise on the Galaxy S9+, but it seems like the Pixel 2 XL has better white balance (the white looks tannish to me in the S9+ shot). It appears the Pixel 2 XL is more color accurate here, but Dave would know best since he took the shots.

Editor-in-Chief Dave Altavilla: Color accuracy here is the best capture for by the Galaxy S9+, with also much less noise. Note that this is an indoor, relatively well-lit shot, with LED soft white lighting. Notice the color differences between the chair rail and table. The Galaxy S9+ shot is more vibrant, where the Pixel 2 XL seems a bit drab.

Contributing Editor Chris Goetting: I also felt this was a "clear win" for the Galaxy S9+. Color accuracy aside, in my eyes the Galaxy S9+ produced a photo that is more polished for sharing online, whereas the Pixel 2 XL seems like it would benefit from some enhancing in Photoshop to make it pop.

On to the next one...

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Google Pixel 2 XL
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Left (desktop) or Top (mobile), Google Pixel 2 XL Right

Marco Chiappetta: Way less noise on the Galaxy S9+, and probably a toss up for color accuracy. The Pixel 2 XL does a better job with the differing lighting conditions though.

Dave Altavilla: There is less noise in the Galaxy S9 shot but the Galaxy S9 has more difficulty with the light variation. And it doesn't adapt quite as well in that shot because the window seems to be activating the f/2.4 aperture lens and thus making the rest of the shot dark.

Chris Goetting: I think the St. Michael shot looks better on the Pixel 2 XL. It better captures the details in his wings and you can see the dynamic range is better with details outside the window.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Google Pixel 2 XL
Samsung Galaxy S9 Left (desktop) or Top (mobile), Google Pixel 2 XL Right

Marco Chiappetta: The Galaxy S9+ has less noise and better sharpness, but whites appear off to me. You can make out tons of detail in Yogi's fur on the Pixel 2 XL, that's not there on the S9+. It's very easy to see if you switch between the two shots quickly.

Dave Altavilla: This one goes to the Galaxy S9+ in my opinion with better, more balanced light capture, fewer shadows, and better color. However again, the Galaxy S9+ can look a bit over-saturated to some eyes.

For the next couple of sets, we're going to look at Yogi posing like a champ on a staircase. The first set represents a low light setting, and the second set will be with better lighting.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Google Pixel 2 XL
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Left (desktop) or Top (mobile), Google Pixel 2 XL Right

Marco Chiappetta: Here again the Galaxy S9+ produces a shot with less noise and better sharpness, but with loss of detail in Yogi's fur.

Dave Altavilla: The unlit shot of Yogi on the stairs seems like a win again for the Pixel 2 XL with better clarity, while the Galaxy S9+ looks over processed.

Now let's have a look at the same subject and setting, with brighter ambient lighting...

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Google Pixel 2 XL
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Left (desktop) or Top (mobile), Google Pixel 2 XL Right

Marco Chiappetta: There is way less noise and better sharpness on the Galaxy S9+ once again, though it may be a bit too saturated.

Dave Altavilla: This one seems like a win for the Galaxy S9+ with better overall lighting response, though again slightly over saturated—notice the glare from the dog tag on the Pixel 2 XL at an identical angle to the photo that was taken with the Galaxy S9+.

Chris Goetting: Yogi pics come down to taste. The S9 initially impresses more with brighter exposure but the details are washed out in the carpet and fur compared to the Pixel. In all of them, I think the Pixel represents a "truer" image while the S9 gives a more pleasing image for stuff like social media.

We'll give Yogi a well deserved rest here and take a look at a macro photo comparison with a different subject...

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Google Pixel 2 XL
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Left (desktop) or Top (mobile), Google Pixel 2 XL Right

Dave Altavilla: Macro shot of the camera goes with a slight edge to the Pixel 2 XL, with better lighting and definition (slightly).

Paul Lilly: I agree, the Pixel 2 XL takes this one with better lighting, ultimately resulting in a clearer shot. It's easier to make out the details in the Pixel 2 XL's photo, though it's not a runaway victory.

We'll wrap things up with an outside shot of some freshly fallen snow...

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Google Pixel 2 XL
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Left (desktop) or Top (mobile), Google Pixel 2 XL Right

Marco Chippetta: The Galaxy S9+ looks more white and bright to me. There's definitely more accuracy and sharpness in the tree branches on the Pixel 2 XL though; they look over processed on the Galaxy S9+ to me (some branches almost look outlined).

Dave Altavilla: The snow blind shot seems like a clear win for the Galaxy S9+, with better definition in the trees and much less muddy overall, though again, to some tastes it may appear slightly over-processed.

Paul Lilly: Guys, let's not overthink this one. If you walked outside, which snow would your rather eat, what appears on the left (Galaxy S9+) or the right (Pixel 2 XL)? I'm chomping on the whiter fluffy stuff on the stuff, therefore in this highly scienfitific analysis I've concocted, the Galaxy S9+ wins here.

Smartphone Camera Image Quality: The Verdict

Our collective takeaway is that these two phones are highly competitive when it comes to snapping photos, and both are easy to coax great imaging from in auto mode, which is how the typical user is likely to take pictures. Overall, the Galaxy S9+ is a little better in most situations, and so it earns the victory in a head-to-head shoot-out by a slim margin. It's close though, and there are certainly some instances where the Pixel 2 XL produces a better looking photo. Finally, if you're looking for the full resolution images, direct from these phones, you can download the Galaxy S9+ shots here, and the Pixel 2 XL shots here