The two biggest smartphone manufacturers in the world are Samsung and Apple, with each boasting huge sales and loyal fans who love to pick up the latest and best flagship.

Both companies are always keen to boast about how good the on-board camera is on their top-end models, with it often playing the key part of any marketing message.

Having reviewed both the Samsung S23 Ultra and the iPhone 14 Pro, we know that they’re both excellent performers when it comes to photography. Both offer a huge amount to all types of photographers.

But which is best? There’s only one way to find out… we’ve taken a close look at both models in a head-to-head fight which aims to find out which is the best smartphone for photographers.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: Camera Specs

Close up of iPhone 14 Pro and Samsung S23 cameras

Photo credit: Amy Davies.

Both the iPhone 14 Pro and the Samsung S23 Ultra haven’t strayed too far from their respective predecessors, so if you’ve used an iPhone 13 Pro or a Samsung S22 Ultra then you should pretty much know what to expect.

With the iPhone 14 Pro you get a triple-lens configuration, comprising a standard lens, an ultra wide (0.5x) and a telephoto (3x). For the first time in an iPhone, the pixel count has risen above 12MP, as the standard sensor has 48 megapixels. Both the ultra wide and the telephoto stick with the 12MP options.

Having a higher resolution main sensor means that there’s also a selectable “2x” option in the native camera app, even though there is no 2x lens (the phone will crop into the full resolution to provide a 2x equivalent). A digital zoom is also available beyond 3x, going up to 15x.

For the Samsung S23 Ultra, we get four lenses, rather than three. Here we have a main lens, an ultra wide (0.6x) and two telephoto options (3x and 10x). There’s also a “Space” zoom option which sees the digital zooming capability rise up to 100x, with a 30x also selectable on screen.

The big news here with the S23 Ultra is the ridiculously high pixel count for the main sensor, which comes in at a whopping 200 megapixels. Samsung has been no stranger to high pixel counts, with the S22 Ultra boasting a 108MP sensor, but this takes it into another league. The additional sensors for the Samsung are 12MP (ultra wide) and 10MP (3x and 10x).

It’s worth noting that with both the iPhone 14 Pro and the Samsung S23 Ultra main sensors, although pixel count is higher, by default images will still be output at 12MP thanks to pixel binning. You can elect to record at higher resolutions if you feel so inclined with the use of special modes.

The main (1x) lenses for both the iPhone and the Samsung are very similar. The iPhone 14 Pro has a 24mm equivalent focal length and an f/1.78 aperture, while the Samsung S23 Ultra has an ever so slightly wider 23mm equivalent focal length and an f/1.7 aperture. Both have optical image stabilisation. The ultra wide lenses on both models are 13mm equivalents, and both have an aperture of f/2.2.

For the 2x lens, the iPhone 14 Pro’s is 72mm equivalent, with an aperture of f/2.8, while the Samsung’s is 70mm with an aperture of f/2.4. The Samsung’s additional 10x lens has an equivalent of 230mm, but the aperture drops down to f/4.9.

Looking at these specifications purely on paper, the Samsung comes out better, with its extra lens, higher resolution main sensor and slightly wider aperture for the 3x lens, but we’ll see how they actually compare in real-world shooting below.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: Camera apps and shooting modes

iPhone 14 Pro and Samsung S23 side by side camera app open

Photo credit: Amy Davies.

As has been the case for several generations now, the iPhone 14 Pro’s native shooting app is relatively limited in comparison to the Samsung S23 Ultra.

With the iPhone 14 Pro, you get a standard shooting mode, and other options including Portrait, Video and “Cinematic” Video. There is no “Pro” or “Advanced” option giving you control over certain shooting parameters such as ISO, though you can record in raw format if you’d prefer and make adjustments after the fact. There are plenty of third-party apps available if you want this kind of control, too.

Both the smartphones offer a night mode, but with the iPhone it’s an automatic function which activates when low light levels are detected. The Samsung will operate in the same way, but you can also select it manually if you prefer. Both also have a macro mode, but this time both are automatic functions which start when you bring the smartphone close to a subject – with both switching to the ultra wide lens to record close-ups.

For the S23 Ultra you have additional shooting options available directly in the native camera app, with a “Pro” mode giving you control over a wide array of shooting settings. It’s also here where you’ll be able to record in raw format with the S23 Ultra (note, you can’t shoot in raw format in the standard shooting mode).

Also available for the S23 Ultra is an “ExpertRAW” app which is separate but can be accessed via the normal native camera app. Here you get even greater control over shooting, as well as the ability to connect to Lightroom mobile if you have an Adobe CC subscription.

Again, here on paper, the Samsung S23 Ultra storms to victory with much more flexibility within the native camera app, perhaps making it more appealing to enthusiast photographers who want a high degree of control.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: General image quality

iPhone 14 Pro and Samsung S23 Ultra side by side image quality

Photo credit: Amy Davies.

If we look at general images taken with either smartphone, both take excellent photos, particularly where light levels are good.

Both are capable of producing a good overall impression of detail, and both show off impressively vibrant colours. It seems that in the standard shooting mode, the Samsung’s a little punchier than the iPhones, which gives quite an attractive look, but is a little less realistic than the iPhones. We can also see this under artificial light, where the Samsungs come out a little yellower than the iPhones – but you might think that the iPhone’s colour is a little too cold.

The differences between the two here are minimal and perhaps only evident when looking directly at two shots of the exact same scene side by side – which is not something that most ordinary users will be doing of course.

As we’d expect, the Samsung offers better zooming capability, since it has that extra lens. To get 10x from the iPhone you’d need to digitally zoom, and that produces lesser quality results. The 30x digital zoom option on the Samsung is actually fairly decent, and while the 100x “Space Zoom” is essentially a marketing gimmick, there might be the odd occasion where being able to zoom that far trumps the idea of high image quality.

It’s easier to see more obvious differences when look at specific types of subjects, as below.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: Low light

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: which smartphone is best for photographers? iPhone 14 Pro Night Mode

Taken with an iPhone 14 Pro in Night Mode with 1x lens, 1/15 sec. at f/1.8, ISO 1250. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

Both of these smartphones put in an excellent performance in low light, and if you have either one you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

As we’d expect, the best results from both come when using the 1x lens. Here we can see an excellent overall impression of detail and attractive colours from both. In our example shot here, the Samsung’s is a little less detailed if you examine closely, but it’s also a little cleaner in terms of noise – while the sky has been reproduced a bit more dramatically.

The iPhone’s seem to have more details in some areas, such as the brickwork on the church, but it’s perhaps an overall ‘flatter’ look.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: which smartphone is best for photographers? Samsung S23 Ultra Night Mode

Taken with a Samsung S23 Ultra in Night Mode with 1x lens, 1/17 sec. at f/1.7, ISO 1250. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

It’s a similar situation when comparing the ultra-wide angle lenses, with both being very good in this shooting condition, but the iPhone having perhaps a smidge more detail, but the Samsung being slightly more attractive to look at.

The 3x lens has done a good job in both situations, with again the Samsung giving the more attractive appearance. The Samsung’s 10x lens has struggled somewhat in the low light – probably not surprising considering the f/4.9 narrow aperture, but considering the iPhone has nothing at all to offer there, then of course it’s better by default.

There’s really not a lot in it when comparing these two in low light and it might come down to personal preference here.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: Macro

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: which smartphone is best for photographers? iPhone 14 Pro Macro

Taken with an iPhone 14 Pro in Macro, 1/72 sec. at f/2.2, ISO 400. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

As already mentioned, both smartphones have a macro mode which automatically activates when it detects you are very close to a subject.

When this happens, either phone will switch to shooting with the ultra wide lens. This means that sometimes in lower-light situations, you might find that the results are less favourable, and occasionally it’s better if you switch it off and go with the main lens if you’re not super close to the subject.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: which smartphone is best for photographers? iPhone 14 Pro Macro

Taken with a Samsung S23 Ultra in Macro, 1/52 sec. at f/2.2, ISO 80. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

You can switch off the macro focusing at the tap of a button and directly compare how it appears with either. It’s worth noting that with the Samsung, if you choose to shoot in high resolution mode, you won’t be able to activate macro focusing, so if you want high-resolution extreme close-ups, you’ll be out of look here.

Either way, both produce excellent results which show plenty of detail. You can be practically touching the subject and the phones will still focus with both devices.

Although both are very good, the Samsung S23 Ultra provides the brighter and crisper results – especially if light levels are a little lower.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: Portrait

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: which smartphone is best for photographers? iPhone 14 Pro Portrait Mode

Taken with an iPhone 14 Pro in Portrait mode with 3x lens, 1/61 sec. at f/2.8, ISO 250. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

Both smartphones have a mode named “Portrait” which is designed to create shallow depth of field effects. They can be used for both human and non-human subjects.

With the iPhone 14 Pro you can shoot photos at either 1x, 2x or 3x, depending on how much background you want to show. For the Samsung S23 Ultra you get just a 1x or a 3x option.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: which smartphone is best for photographers? Samsung S23 Ultra Portrait Mode

Taken with an Samsung S23 Ultra in Portrait mode with 3x lens, 1/50 sec. at f/2.4, ISO 100. Photo credit: Amy Davies.

Both produce great results for both human and non-human subjects. The Samsung S23 Ultra has produced better results here, being more realistic and more flattering to the subject. The Samsung at 3x has done a better job with the tricky outline of the hair and the colours look great. The Samsung seems to have improved greatly from the S22 Ultra, which we found to be less favourable for portraits than the iPhone 14 Pro.

That said, if you viewed the iPhone’s in isolation away from the Samsung’s, you would also think they were great.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: Video

Both the iPhone 14 Pro and the Samsung S23 Ultra have excellent specifications for video, but if you are insistent on 8K recording, only the S23 Ultra will give you that. It’s been increased to 30fps compared to the S22 Ultra, but it’s safe to say it’s probably still quite a niche request for the average consumer.

As such, 4K is where we’ll compare them more readily, with both producing great results at 4K/60p. Both offer advanced stabilisation options, with the Samsung’s known as “SuperSteady” and the iPhone’s “Action Mode”. Both are stabilised as standard too.

If you’re an advanced video shooter, the Samsung S23 Ultra has a “Pro Video” mode which gives you more control over shooting parameters, though the iPhone 14 Pro has a “ProRes” mode which is designed for better colour and less compression.

Both create excellent video, but with its extra lenses, the Samsung’s is better for zooming than the iPhone.

There’s also other video modes, including slow motion and shallow depth of field effect. With the iPhone 14 Pro that’s called “Cinematic” and the Samsung S23 Ultra it’s “Portrait” video. In use, the iPhone’s gives a slightly more natural look, with the S23 Ultra’s being a bit unrealistic at times.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: Screen and Design

iPhone 14 Pro and Samsung S23 ultra side by side screen and design

Photo credit: Amy Davies.

For the iPhone 14 Pro, you get a choice of two screen sizes. You can either have a 6.1” screen, or a 6.7” inch screen, with both having exactly the same camera set up. The smaller phone is much more pocket-friendly, and, is much easier to use for other phone functions such as typing emails and and so on. You can use the 6.1” version one-handed quite easily (assuming averagely-sized hands).

Meanwhile, the Samsung S23 Ultra is a much beastlier offering at 6.8”. This is pretty much impossible to use one-handed (again assuming averagely-sized hands) and therefore is perhaps less appealing to some.

That said, that ultra-large screen is fantastic for viewing your photos and videos which really pop on this device. If you place the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the Samsung S23 Ultra next to each other, there’s not a huge amount of difference in terms of screen quality, although the S23 Ultra has a slightly higher resolution than the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Both have IP68 water and dustproof ratings, meaning they can easily withstand rain, or even being fully submerged in shallow water. The Samsung S23 Ultra has a Gorilla Glass Victus 2 screen, while the iPhone 14 Pro has a Ceramic Shield screen. Both should withstand ordinary scratches and dents quite easily, though of course it’s always worth investing in a case.

In terms of aesthetics, the iPhone 14 Pro has a boxier / squarer design than the S23 Ultra, which is sleeker in appearance. This is a matter of personal preference, ultimately, but we’d say that the S23 Ultra is probably the more attractive of the two.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: Battery Life and Capacity

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra battery life and capacity

Photo credit: Amy Davies.

Apple doesn’t like to release detailed specifications for several features, including battery. However, we can see from the quoted video playback life of 23 hours (iPhone 14 Pro) or 29 hours (iPhone 14 Pro Max) that it’s reasonably similar to the S22 Ultra’s 5000mAh battery, which apparently is capable of 26 hours of video playback.

More importantly, in real-world usage we’ve found that both models easily last a full day when using the phone relatively normally – such as a mixture of checking emails, taking pictures, recording video, browsing web pages and the like.

The S23 Ultra lasts longer than the iPhone 14 Pro, sometimes stretching long into the second day if you’re not hammering something like video recording. However, if you have the iPhone 14 Pro Max, then you’ll likely also make a second day with similarly cautious use.

Both of the smartphones offer fast charging, where you can give the phone a quick boost by using a high-powered charger (noting that neither device comes with any charger of any kind – only a power cable, so you’ll have to buy it separately if you don’t already have one). Both also offer wireless charging.

When it comes to capacity, it’s worth investing as much as you can afford if you think you’ll want to shoot lots of photo and video, since neither give you the option to expand your storage after the fact. With both however you can opt to store your pictures etc. in cloud-based servers, freeing up space on your phone.

The iPhone 14 Pro offers a minimum storage of 128GB, rising up to 1TB, while the Samsung S23 Ultra’s minimum amount is 256GB, also rising up to 1TB.

With the S23 Ultra you get less RAM (8GB vs 12GB) if you opt for the 256GB memory option. This is not something which changes between storage options for the iPhone 14 Pro – though with that model it’s worth just noting that if you want to shoot 4K in ProRes video mode, you will need at least the 256GB version.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: Price

Neither of these smartphones are going to be found in any lists of best budget smartphones. Both are expensive propositions, as we’d expect for top-of-the-line smartphones.

The cheapest iPhone 14 Pro is $999 / £1099 for the 128GB capacity model, with the most expensive being $1499 / £1649 for the 1TB version. If you want the larger screen iPhone 14 Pro Max, then pricing starts at $1099/£1199 for the 128GB, rising up to $1599 / £1749 for the 1TB version.

Meanwhile, for the Samsung S23 Ultra, the prices are very similar for the equivalent screen size and memory. Here, the price starts at $1199 / £1249 for the 256GB version, going up to $1619 / £1599 for the 1TB version.

If we compare prices like for like in terms of specs, we can see that the two are actually fairly evenly matched. However, for those on perhaps a strict budget, it’s possible to pick up the iPhone 14 Pro’s camera prowess for cheaper if you’re happy to go for a smaller screen size and lower storage, making that the more affordable option.

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra: Verdict

iPhone 14 Pro vs Samsung S23 Ultra

Photo credit: Amy Davies.

As ever, picking a winner between two excellent flagship smartphones is quite difficult. It’s safe to say that if you choose either one you’ll see a nice boost to your photography if you’re coming from older models.

When it comes to image quality, both are fairly evenly matched across a variety of genres. There’s more flexibility with the Samsung as you have that extra zoom lens, and of course, the ability to change settings yourself in the “Pro” mode will be very appealing to many photographers.

For specific subjects, such as low light, macro and portrait, we’ve found that the Samsung just about edges in front of the iPhone, though both are excellent at all three test subjects. Video quality is great for both models, but again, the extra flexibility and options of the Samsung might be more appealing to some.

The operating system is likely to be the deciding factor for many, which of course has nothing to do with the quality of the camera. If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, it’s perhaps more difficult to be tempted away to the Android side, while there’s plenty of people who simply prefer the way Android works. Neither side is wrong or right, it’s down to personal preferences.

Then there’s aspects such as screen size. Having a very large screen is great for some, but awkward for others. It’s good to have the option with the iPhone to not lose out on camera functionality if you do want a smaller device.

Overall here, although there’s not an enormous amount in it, we’d say that the Samsung S23 Ultra comes out on top. It produces slightly better images in a range of different shooting conditions, offers more flexibility and the device itself arguably looks better too – if you can handle a big screen that is (and have the cash to pay for it). For all of these reasons, we think it retains Samsung’s crown and can be called the best smartphone for photographers in 2023.

Related articles:

iPhone vs Android: Which is better for photography?

iPhone 14 Pro vs Google Pixel 7 Pro

iPhone 14 Pro Review: is this the best iPhone for photographers?

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Review: the ultimate camera phone?

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