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.
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.
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
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?
iPhone 13 – Primary Camera (Night Mode), Ultra Wide Camera (Night Mode ON), Ultra Wide Camera (Night Mode OFF).
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.
Pixel 6 – Primary vs ultra wide-angle camera with night mode (matched for zoom).
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.
So let’s not go with tiny UWA camera sensors, Big Three?