Yes, it's the iPhone that has taken the top spot in the smartphone camera blind test - the iPhone 12 Pro Max, to be exact. Out of more than 15,000 votes, Apple's flagship received an average of 37% of all votes across eleven categories. The lead proved to be unassailable where night shots were concerned in particular.
The three runners-up after the iPhone 12 Pro Max did not throw any surprises. The Oppo Find X3 Pro took the silver medal with an average of 19% of all votes, followed by the uber-flagship from Samsung, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with 17.6% of all votes with the OnePlus 9 Pro breathing down Samsung's neck with 17.3% of all the votes. As for Xiaomi's entry, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, it fared the worst of the lot, garnering a mere 9% of the total votes.
A very similar pattern can be observed from a different perspective: let's award points instead for each category as per the ranking. If we award five points for first place and one less for each place after that, Apple will still take the top spot with 42 points. Oppo and Samsung will be tied in second place at 35 points each, while the OnePlus 9 Pro lands in fourth place with 33 points. And what about Xiaomi? It lags far behind at 22 points with their Mi 11 Ultra.
One more thing to take note of before we look at the categories in detail: This blind test also appeared on our global NextPit domains NextPit.de, NextPit.fr, and NextPit.com.br. We included the global votes for scoring purposes. There were no major discrepancies observed from country to country; but don't be surprised if the image results don't exactly match the results in the blind test.
1. Main camera (daylight, city)
For the first category, the Oppo Find X3 Pro snapped its way to the top spot. Interestingly, this Oppo smartphone is the farthest removed from the DSLR in terms of image quality. On this rather dull day, the Find X3 Pro captured images of the sky with a bluish tint, while the buildings also look much more colorful than in real life.
But in this Instagram age, being too colorful might end up being interpreted as less realistic, and so the more color accurate iPhone 12 Pro Max and Galaxy S21 Ultra will have to settle for second and third place, respectively.
However, one thing has been made clear here: It is not only about image quality, but also about preferences when it comes to interpreting a category. Of course, the results of our blind test are anything but objective. Therefore, don't put too much weight in the voting results, but take a look at the photos and decide for yourself which one you like best.
|Reference: DSLR||Image 1.1: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 40 percent|
|Image 1.2: OnePlus 9 Pro, 12 percent||Image 1.3: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 22 percent|
|Image 1.4: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 14 percent||Image 1.5: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 12 points|
2. Main camera (maximum resolution)
Is having a 108-megapixel camera really necessary? That's the question behind this image comparison, and all of your answers do seem to point to a big, fat "No!". The OnePlus 9 Pro takes first place here with its 48-megapixel main camera and by a significant margin, might we add. The 20-by-20-percent crop from the large image highlighted in the image below was always good for a vote.
As with all categories, we photographed a subject three times with each smartphone and selected the best photo afterwards. Before each individual photo, we used our finger to set the autofocus on the blossom of the apple tree to be enlarged. However, not all smartphones have an optimal focal system, which will obviously affect the final outcome of the picture quality while transforming this resolution test into one that concentrates more on focus.
But that itself is also a challenge for current, comparatively large sensors found in modern smartphones: The larger the sensor, the higher the actual focal length of the lenses that carry the same equivalent focal length. And this in turn results in a shallower depth of field while increasing the demands on precise autofocus.
Comparison images: maximum resolution
|Reference: DSLR||Image 2.1: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 13 percent|
|Image 2.2: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 1 percent||Image 2.3: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 10 percent|
|Image 2.4: OnePlus 9 Pro, 59 percent||Image 2.5: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 17 percent|
3. Ultra wide-angle (nature)
Green and blue: these are the dominant colors in landscape photos. And this category is very much about which smartphone reproduces them in the most visually appealing manner - even if the result does not necessarily correspond to reality. The winner here is the Oppo Find X3 Pro, which tends to capture very vivid colors. Whether that's a good thing or not remains a matter of taste.
Comparison images: Ultra Wide Angle Nature
|Reference: DSLR||Image 3.1: OnePlus 9 Pro, 19 percent|
|Image 3.2: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 17 percent||Image 3.3: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 16 percent|
|Image 3.4: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 40 percent||Image 3.5: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 8 percent|
4. Ultra wide-angle (city)
Our city category with ultra-wide angle shots shows very similar leanings toward categories 1 and 3: The Oppo Find X3 Pro adds a blue tint to the gray sky here, with the clouds looking downright radiant. The colors in the graffiti are also much brighter than in real life. Boom!
The masses didn't care: 45 percent voted for the Find X3 Pro. Second place goes to the OnePlus 9 Pro with 20 percent of the votes, followed closely by Apple, Xiaomi, and Samsung - where all three were separated by less than 1 percent difference in votes.
Comparison pictures: Ultra Wide-Angle (City)
|Reference: DSLR||Image 4.1: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 11 percent|
|Image 4.2: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 45 percent||Image 4.3: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 11 percent|
|Image 4.4: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 12 percent||Image 4.5: OnePlus 9 Pro, 20 percent|
5. Telephoto portrait (2x)
When it comes to portraits, the iPhone 12 Pro Max came out on top. Compared to the competition, the slightly warmer colors and more pleasant skin tones stood out for you. OnePlus and Xiaomi in particular are clearly too cold here, which you also punished through your votes.
As far as cropping the subject from the background is concerned, no smartphone camera is perfect in this department. It is no wonder here: with the many strings in the foreground and struts in the background, the subject herself is also really challenging to capture well. However, the iPhone definitely did a very good job with the cropping and, in combination with the pleasant color reproduction, deservedly emerged as the clear winner in this category.
Comparison images: Telephoto 2x
|Reference: DSLR||Image 5.1: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 5 percent|
|Image 5.2: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 25 percent||Image 5.3: OnePlus 9 Pro, 9 percent|
|Image 5.4: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 20 percent||Image 5.5: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 41 percent|
6. Telephoto nature (5x)
Does having a greater zoom number help more? Not necessarily, because Oppo has clearly overdone it in this department, and our readers clearly don't agree with its implementation. OnePlus and Samsung performed best in this category with balanced color reproduction, followed by the Mi 11 Ultra. The iPhone missed the mark by a surprisingly wide margin on this one.
Comparison images: Telephoto nature (5x)
|Reference: DSLR||Image 6.1: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 21 percent|
|Image 6.2: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 7 percent||Image 6.3: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 28 percent|
|Image 6.4: OnePlus 9 Pro, 34 percent||Image 6.5: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 9 percent|
7. Telephoto city (4x)
For our next category, we ventured out into the city again with a fairly balanced result this time around. Oppo can again be identified immediately through its oversaturated colors, which seemed to go down best with the majority. Behind Oppo would be Samsung and Apple, where both offer far more neutral shades.
It is possible that the two have their votes split equally between them, and thus were neck-to-neck in the votes. Contrast turned out to be surprisingly flat for the OnePlus (dark trees!), while Xiaomi emerged with rather low detail no thanks to the large gap in the focal length range.
Comparison pictures: Telefoto City 4x
|Reference: DSLR||Image 7.1: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 21 percent|
|Image 7.2: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 28 percent||Image 7.3: OnePlus 9 Pro, 17 percent|
|Image 7.4: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 22 percent||Image 7.5: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 12 percent|
8. Telepphoto city (20x)
In the 20x photo, Samsung can finally take maximum advantage of its telephoto lens found in the Galaxy S21 Ultra - and hence it clearly remains ahead of the competition by racking up 47 percent of the votes. However, the photo is somewhat underexposed.
Surprisingly, the iPhone 12 Pro Max made it to second place with a very washed-out photo. While the detailed reproduction is clearly worse than, for example, Xiaomi's handiwork, it was most probably the more balanced exposure that earned your votes.
Comparison pictures: Telephoto city (20x)
|Reference: DSLR||Image 8.1: OnePlus 9 Pro, 2 percent|
|Image 8.2: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 8 percent||Image 8.3: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 27 percent|
|Image 8.4: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 47 percent||Image 8.5: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 15 percent|
9. Night photo (main camera)
For our last three pictures, we're going into the dark - and the iPhone comes out tops here. We took this photo with all smartphones in standard photo mode. 68 percent of the votes went to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The Apple smartphone simply managed to deliver a balanced and high-contrast photo here despite the poor lighting conditions.
Comparison pictures: Night photo main camera
|Reference: DSLR||Image 9.1: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 68 percent|
|Image 9.2: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 12 percent||Image 9.3: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 11 percent|
|Image 9.4: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 6 percent||Image 9.5: OnePlus 9 Pro, 3 percent|
10. Night photo (ultra wide-angle)
The tenth category clearly shows how large an influence the photo processing software plays these days. The iPhone 12 Pro Max, with night mode cranked up all the way, still managed to let in a remarkable amount of light under such low light conditions. This is despite the fact that the competition is theoretically better, at least in terms of hardware. It is indeed a pity as I had expected far more from Oppo's handset.
A comparison with a Huawei smartphone would have been exciting here - and you also noted that in the comments. However, we decided against it in the run-up to the blind test because the Huawei flagships do not play a major role for most users due to the current market situation.
Comparison pictures: Night photo ultra wide-angle
|Reference: DSLR||Image 10.1: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 2 percent|
|Image 10.2: OnePlus 9 Pro, 13 percent||Image 10.3: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 1 percent|
|Image 10.4: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 0 percent||Image 10.5: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 84 percent|
11. Night photo (main camera, extremely dark)
I was thoroughly impressed with this subject and the subsequent processing. Of course, the photo captured by the iPhone 12 Pro Max is not a prime testament to detail. However, Apple's smartphone does deliver more detail to the image than I could get out of the photo using the 5D Mark III.
And Xiaomi also performed surprisingly well here. Although the photo is significantly darker, it really does offer a lot of detail - even more than the iPhone after some brightening. Clearly for a handheld device, the iPhone 12 Pro Max's photo simply looks the best at first glance.
Comparison images: Night photo main camera
|Reference: DSLR||Image 11.1: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 1 percent|
|Image 11.2: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, 93 percent||Image 11.3: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, 3 percent|
|Image 11.4: OnePlus 9 Pro, 2 percent||Image 11.5: Oppo Find X3 Pro, 0 percent|
Which smartphone is your personal favorite?