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Best smartphone cameras: Galaxy S7 vs. iPhone 6s vs. Nexus 6P vs. Lumia 950  December 10, 2017 – 08:18 am
Microsoft Lumia 950 camera

Spec showdown

One final thing before we dive into the photos: let's talk specs.

Category Apple iPhone 6s Huawei Nexus 6P Microsoft Lumia 950 Samsung Galaxy S7
Megapixels 12MP 12.3MP 20MP
Resolution 4032x3024 4000x2992 4992x3744
Aspect Ratio 4:3
Sensor Size 1/3" 1/2.3" 1/2.4" 1/2.6"
Pixel Size 1.22μm 1.55μm 1.12μm 1.4μm
Aperture ƒ/2.2 ƒ/2.0 ƒ/1.9 ƒ/1.7
Focal Length 29mm 26mm

But what do all those numbers mean?

Megapixels is shorthand for the total number of pixels on the camera sensor. The pixels are arranged in a grid, with "1 megapixel" meaning "1 million pixels." So the Lumia 950's 20MP camera has 20 million pixels on it. More megapixels equal a more detailed image. Smaller-resolution photos might look fine on your phone or computer, but once printed at poster size they might fall apart in quality. Thankfully, the minimum 12MP sensors we're looking at here have enough detail that an 8x12-inch print would look fantastic, and even a full 24x36-inch poster would look pretty good.

Resolution is essentially a different way of looking at the pixel count. Megapixels are computed by multiplying the horizontal pixel count by the vertical pixel count, and those two numbers just so happen to be the resolution.

Samsung Galaxy S7 cameraAspect ratio is an abstraction of the resolution that will give you an idea of how "wide" an image is. Your smartphone, computer, and TV all likely have 16:9 displays, which is to say that for every 16 units on the long side, you'll find nine on the short side. The 4:3 aspect ratio is a more "traditional" shape, narrower but taller, and what were used to from old film photography and pre-HD televisions. Most phones give you options for aspect ratios and total resolution.

Sensor size is a the physical size of the sensor. Having more megapixels doesn't necessarily mean you have a larger sensor, it might just be more but smaller pixels packed into the same space. Sensor size is measured in fractions, to the larger the number (i.e. the smaller the denominator), the larger the sensor. Of our four phones, the Nexus 6P has the largest sensor while the iPhone 6s has the smallest, but they're all fairly close to the same size — just 0.1 inches separate the two.

Pixel size is where sensor size and megapixels meet — it's a measure of the actual size of the actual individual light-sensing pixels on the sensor plate. Because we're talking about putting millions of pixels on a plate roughly the size of your pinky finger nail, we measure these in micrometers (μm). The larger the individual pixel, the more light it collect, and thus the better quality and brighter image it should able to produce. Still, we're talking about impossibly small things here — the Nexus 6P has the biggest pixels in our comparison at 1.55μm, and that's still 1/50th the width of a human hair. In a word: tiny.

Aperture is the size of the opening through which light flows to the sensor. It, too, is expressed as a fraction (the ƒ is standing in place of the number 1). The larger the number, the wider that opening, and thus the more light that gets through. (Because of this fractions thing, it seems a bit backward. An aperture of ƒ/1.7 lets in more light than ƒ/1.9 — because fractions.) A consequence of the wider aperture is a narrower depth of field — the range in front of and behind your focused subject that will also be in focus.

iPhone 6s Plus camera appFocal length is a holdover from the olden days of film cameras, measuring the distance from the lens to the film. In essence, it's an indicator of how wide your photo will be, except that it's an inverse — the longer the focal length, the narrower your field of view. Think of it as looking through a tube — the longer the tube, the less of what's on the other end you'll be able to see.

The Photos

Okay, let's get to it. We've laid out the photos in a grid so you can easily compare them side-by-side. They are arranged in this order: iPhone 6s, Nexus 6P, Lumia 950, Galaxy S7.


As you might be noticing, none of these is a particularly bad camera. In fact, we'll say they're all pretty great, so our analysis here is going to trend towards nit-picky preferences. Your opinion may differ, and that's OK. When it comes to indoor photography, none of these phones come up short. The Galaxy S7 tended to produce photos that were a little more saturated than the rest, but when it came to balancing darks and lights it was hard to top the Lumia 950's HDR "Rich Capture, " which was able to accurately and cleanly bring out detail and visibility in the windows photo. As things got darker the iPhone and Lumia struggled a bit, though, with the iPhone producing a photo darker than the rest and the Lumia ramping up the brightness too much to the point that it was blowing out light sources and washing blacks with gray.


When it came to outdoor shots, things started to get interesting. The Nexus 6P occasionally struggled with brightness, sometimes producing photos that were overexposed, and other times offering conspicuously dim photos in acceptable lighting conditions. The iPhone 6s Plus, Lumia 950 and Galaxy S7 all were consistently great in direct sun and under cloud cover, though the GS7 tended to produce images that were more vibrant and a touch brighter. While the iPhone's colors may have technically been more accurate, it's hard to argue that the GS7's results don't look better.

Panoramas unfortunately leave the Lumia 950 out of the equation (as with the RAW and manual photography statements, we're going with the default app on these phones, and the Lumia Camera app does not support panoramas). The GS7 and iPhone both offer sweep-style panoramas, while the stock Google Camera app on the Nexus requires the user to pause and let the phone take photos at specific points. Under favorable lighting conditions either method will produce fine results. But under less-great conditions (backlit, or dark as you'll see below), the Nexus-style approach seems to yield sharper, brighter, and better balanced results.

As dusk began to set, the iPhone and Lumia photos reflected the yellowing of the light, while the Galaxy and Nexus compensated by tweaking things towards toward the blue side of the color spectrum. For portrait photography that may be ideal, unless you're into the jaundiced look, but it's not exactly an accurate reflection of the conditions in which the photo was taken.


When it started getting dark is when things started to go south for the iPhone. While it excels at well-lit photographs with accurate colors and sharp details, the small sensor and tight aperture mean that there's simply not nearly as much light getting into your photos. And so the cameras with larger sensors and wider apertures tended to perform better.

iPhone 6s Plus camera iPhone 6s Plus camera app Nexus 6P camera app Microsoft Lumia 950 camera app


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