iPhone 13, Galaxy S22, Pixel 6 show that Apple, Samsung and Google don’t take ultra-wide cameras seriously

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No drama, but the facts are as follows…

The ultra-wide-angle photo quality on iPhone 13, Galaxy S22 and Pixel 6 is quite disappointing. Sorry… everyone.

The quality of the ultra-wide-angle camera on the current flagships from Apple, Samsung and Google may not look like much Unfortunately in isolation. But phones like the OnePlus 10 Pro, Xiaomi 12 Pro, Huawei P50 Pro and especially the Vivo X80 Pro show that The Big Three’s UWA snappers leave a lot to be desired. Aside from that, the ultra-wide-angle cameras on iPhone 13, Galaxy S22, and Pixel 6 are also noticeably weaker than the lenses on Apple, Samsung, and Google flagships.

All of this gives me the impression that the folks at Cupertino, Gangnam, and Mountain View don’t care too much about their ultra-wide angle cameras. And that’s quite surprising, because the majority of users and even tech enthusiasts seem to like the ultra-wide angle camera more than the telephoto/zoom cameras on the current flagships.

I vividly remember how tech geeks lost their minds when Google chose to use a 2x zoom instead of an ultra-wide angle for the Pixel 4 (Google’s first flagship dual-camera). all the anger earlier (thanks to LG). So the general consensus is that: “ultra wide angle cameras are more fun and convenient than zoom cameras“But they often have weaker sensors and therefore inferior photo quality. But it doesn’t have to be that way…

So let’s take a look at a few examples comparing the ultra-wide-angle cameras of the iPhone 13, Samsung S22, and Pixel 6 with their main cameras…

As you can see, the first set of ultra-wide-angle photos don’t look bad, because we don’t inspect them closely. The night mode images are good, but the ones without the night mode show the raw capabilities of the primary and ultrawide sensors on the iPhone 13 and Pixel 6, losing the UWA cameras bad

The clock and backpack samples show the lack of detail in ultra-wide-angle photos in mixed lighting conditions (room light). The ultra-wide angle cameras show a significant amount of noise, artifacts and loss of detail.

I didn’t have the Galaxy S22 with me, so I had to ask a colleague to take some samples for me at the office. As you can see from the sunflower photo, the Galaxy’s ultra-wide-angle lens doesn’t do much better than the Pixel and iPhone when it comes to low-light conditions. If I had to rank them, the Galaxy would take first, the Pixel second, and the iPhone last, which (unsurprisingly) coincides with their UWA camera sensor sizes.

The Vivo X80 Pro is much better than the iPhone 13 Pro, Galaxy S22 Ultra and Pixel 6 Pro when it comes to ultra-wide-angle photo quality

That said, none of them hold a candle to the Vivo X80 Pro spinning circles around all three, as you can see in these samples (Night Mode OFF), taken by Ben Sin (XDA) and Danny Winget (YouTube). Vivo’s phone has a 1/2-inch ultra-wide-angle camera sensor, which is much larger than the sensor used in Apple, Samsung and Google phones.

Not only does this make it the best ultra-wide angle snapper out there, but it also brings it very close to the primary camera quality of the X80 Pro, which should be the case on all flagship phones, if you ask me. †

For the record, the Vivo X80 Pro also has much better HDR compared to all the other phones on the market, so that’s it. If you find the night shots coming from the Vivo a little too bright (and they are), you can always turn down the brightness while editing too. The same can’t be said about the noise and lack of detail in the iPhone, Galaxy and Pixel images…

I love zoom cameras, but will focusing on them make Apple, Samsung and Google forget about the ultra-wide angle camera?

Optical zoom over an ultra-wide angle camera, any day of the week

I think it’s important to mention that I don’t think ultra wide-angle cameras on phones are essential† Don’t get me wrong – they are a lot of fun to have and functional in the right scenarios, where you are not working with too much space. But 8/10 times you could step back and take a picture with a wider perspective by using your primary snapper. Unless you’re a real estate agent who needs to make rooms look bigger than they actually are.

On the other hand, zoom cameras are much more useful for things like portrait, street, architecture and wildlife photography, making them more versatile and applicable in different usage situations. Therefore I will always have a prejudice against them. It’s not the first time I’m giving this example, but if I had to choose whether to equip the vanilla versions of the Pixel and iPhone with just one extra camera, I wouldn’t blink twice before choosing a good telephoto lens (the Pixel 6 Pro’s 4x camera would be perfect), rather than a UWA snapper.

It’s important to note that the reason manufacturers choose UWA cameras over zooms for their more affordable phones may be the price, and the fact that they’re easier to implement in a multi-camera system. For example, they don’t need autofocus and OIS unless they have Macro mode and gimbal stabilization (like on the Vivo X70 Pro).

iPhone 14, Galaxy S23 and Pixel 7 need brand new ultra-wide-angle cameras

That said, I also think that if manufacturers (as big as Apple, Samsung and Google) keep pushing ultra-wide angle cameras, they should make these as well as possible† Preferably as good as the competition, and then even as good as the standard camera on their respective flagships.

I know this can be challenging, and I realize that the iPhone’s camera system comes close thanks to the unified color profile, resolution, and smooth transitions across all three lenses. But… it’s not enough.

Hardware matters too, and as of right now, only Chinese phone makers seem to be really trying their best. As I mentioned, the Vivo X80 Pro uses a 1/2-inch ultra-wide-angle sensor, while the iPhone 13 has a 1/3.4-inch sensor. There is a big difference. And that’s a shame, because the phones from Apple, Samsung and Google are certainly not cheap… Right?

So let’s not go with tiny UWA camera sensors, Big Three?

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