It has been almost a year since Samsung’s first flagship of 2021was unveiled. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra still has one of the most formidable smartphone cams. Since we’re unlikely to see Google’s Pixel 6 Pro land in India,  it’s really down to the S21 Ultra or Apple’s new Pro devices, if you’re looking at buying the best mobile shooter. This year, both the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max come with identical camera specs and improvements over last year’s 12 Pro twins. We pitted the S21 Ultra against the 13 Pro Max in our camera showdown. First, let’s get the spec sheet out of the way:

 

  Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra iPhone 13 Pro Max
Primary 108MP / f/1.8 aperture.

1/1.33” sensor

12MP / f/1.5 aperture

1/1.66” sensor

Ultra-wide 12MP / f/2.22 aperture

1/2.55” sensor

12MP / f/1.8 aperture

1/3.4” sensor

Telephoto 10MP / f/2.4 aperture

1/3.24” sensor / 3x zoom

12MP / f/2.8 aperture

1/3.4” sensor / 3x zoom

Periscope 10 MP / f/4.9 aperture

1/3.24” sensor / 10x zoom

 

Optimal lighting/Everyday scenarios

No clear winner here. Both cameras expectedly deliver great results when the light is perfect for photography. Whether it’s colour, exposure, white balance or capturing details, both shooters don’t disappoint. Earlier Samsung’s colours used to look aggressive and the iPhones’ were at the other extreme. These differences are hardly noticeable now. The new iPhones offer a choice of shooting modes (from rich contrast to vibrant) that offer extra flexibility. In my tests, the ultra-wide images shot on the ultra-wide lens of the iPhone 13 Pro Max had a slight edge over the S21 Ultra. Also, we preferred images shot on Portrait mode on the iPhone. This might boil down to a personal preference though.

Shot on Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

 

iPhone 13 Pro Max
Shot on iPhone 13 Pro Max

 

Lowlight

Last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max narrowed the gap with Samsung’s earlier flagships in an area where the latter’s devices had dominated over the last few years. The iPhone 13 Pro Max takes it a step further—Apple claims a 1.5x over last year’s 12 Pro Max, and this is evident in our tests. This year, the Pro versions offer night mode on all three lenses, whether you’re shooting ultra-wide or 3x. All this adds up. The iPhone and the S21 Ultra are almost evenly matched. The Samsung shoots better lowlight images once you toggle the cam to night mode but the Pro Max does it without that extra step.

iPhone 13 Pro Max
Low light (left) and Macro (right) shot on the iPhone 13 Pro Max

Videos

iPhone has always had an edge in this area and the 13 Pro Max retains that over the S21 Ultra. The 13 Pro Max twins also offer the new ‘Cinematic Mode’, one of the talking points of this year’s quartet. This feature was showcased at the iPhone 13 launch event with a clever parody of Knives Out, showcasing the ability of the device to automatically transition focus while filming in real-time. You can also edit the depth-of-field effect in the video, even after recording. Samsung has had this feature before the iPhone—Portrait Video, and it’s almost as good. Both cameras excel across video shooting scenarios, and Samsung also offers a Super Slow-mo mode.

Selfie shooter

The Ultra offers more flexibility with ultra-wide-angle portraits than the iPhone. Otherwise, it’s pretty even between these two selfie cams. We prefer Samsung’s background blur, as that looks more natural. The iPhone 13 Pro twins shoot terrific selfies with warm tones and also offer a host of filters.

Zoom photography

This is where the S21 Ultra hits it out of the park. I was at Kabini, Karnataka recently and got to test the 10x zoom capabilities of the device. I managed to snap an image of Saya, Kabini’s elusive black panther and get up close with some of the rare birds there. While both devices perform equally well until 3x zoom, Samsung displayed a huge edge once you cross the 5x threshold where its dedicated periscope lens takes over.

Samsung Ultra Zoom
Black panther shot using 10x zoom on the Samsung S21 Ultra

 

Samsung Birds Zoom
Birds at Kabini using Samsung’s 10x zoom

Bottomline

There’s no clear winner here. Both devices do extremely well across most scenarios. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the better all-round cam, it’s more versatile thanks to its zoom capabilities, while the iPhone 13 Pro Max has an edge in the video department and for ultra-wide images. It also delivers stellar lowlight images. Your choice might boil down to an iOS vs Android decision. But remember the Ultra also offers a price advantage.