Two phones, one epic vacation. Which one is better at documenting it all? That's what we aim to find out.
Hauling around a full-size kit of lenses for a DSLR is not exactly the ideal way to travel. Unless you're an avid photographer and you enjoy the immersive experience of shooting and editing, the vast majority are generally fine documenting leisure time with the camera that's already in their pocket. Shooting in unpredictable circumstances is also a fantastic way to gauge how effective a camera is in varying situations, which is why I wanted to share some of my findings from a recent trip to Iceland I took with the Galaxy S8+ and Pixel XL in tow.
Outdoor and everywhere
Overcast weather is difficult to shoot in, no matter the hardware you're shooting with. But I was repeatedly impressed at how able both the Pixel XL and Galaxy S8+ were at adjusting to some especially blase conditions. Both the Pixel XL and Galaxy S8+ were particularly apt at capturing minor details of the scenery at hand, like white-painted houses in the background and a neighboring row of pine trees. You can also easily discern the majestic mountaintop in the background in both compositions, as well as the varying layers of clouds covering it.
Scenery shot with the Pixel XL (left) and Galaxy S8+ (right).
What's most noticeable in this first shot is that there's a major difference in post-processing between the Pixel XL and Galaxy S8+. Samsung's photo editing algorithm is automatic; I avoided using the available manual mode for most of the trip, because I didn't have much time to adjust it at each location. But since I shot everything in automatic mode — with HDR turned on — each photo was automatically contrasted and saturated. It's not always obvious, but in this particularly scenery, you can tell that the blonde grass had been made brown, and it's almost as if the overcast weather is more prominent compared to the Pixel XL's end result.
More scenery shot with the Pixel XL (left) and Galaxy S8+ (right).
In the below examples, you'll see that sometimes, the Galaxy S8+'s post-processing algorithm can sometimes add a bit of "oomph" to an otherwise dull photo.
If you like particularly contrasted photography and you want your blues to stick out and your reds to pop, the Galaxy S8+'s camera produces just that. It also has the propensity to deepen colors and shadows, however, in a way that it sort of darkens a photo more on an already dreary day. But in some instances, having deeper shadows and hues can add more oomph to a photo, too.
There's a major difference in post-processing between the Pixel XL and Galaxy S8+.
The Pixel XL's end result, on the other hand, not only appears to be less processed, but it also seems to retain more detail. A quick zoom into the photo in Adobe Lightroom revealed that trees in the background are more discernible on the Pixel XL, though that wasn't always the case across the board. In the final waterfall photo shown above, the Pixel XL failed to focus on the background, so you can barely see the mountain tops as well as you can on the Galaxy S8+'s result. It's also a great anecdote of the issues that arise when you're quickly pointing and shooting at a scene rather than taking the time to compose it.
The Galaxy S8+ can produce some stunning up-close shots with the aid of Selective focus and its built-in manual mode.
When it came to focusing photos and achieving the "up close" effect, the Galaxy S8+ produced more favorable results. If I needed additional help, I could use the GS8+'s built-in manual mode (which also allows you to show in RAW — though I did not utilize that ability on my trip) or the selective focus mode.
A selfie taken with the Pixel XL.
Your selfies will appear phenomenal regardless of the hardware you're shooting with, too. On the Galaxy S8+, you're equipped with 8 megapixels with auto focus and an f/1.7 lens. You'll get decent low light photos just as you would with the rear-facing camera, and with the aid of auto focus, the GS8+ will have a simpler time attempting keeping the faces in focus. It's one of the few phones available with auto focus on the front.
The GS8+ has a little more to offer, particularly when it comes to software.
On the Pixel XL, you're equipped with 8 megapixels and an f/2.4 lens. It's not as capable in low light situations as Samsung's hardware, but it's still just as capable at taking front-facing photos. The GS8+ has a little more to offer, however, particularly when it comes to software capabilities. For instance, I could choose to take a wide-angle selfie if I needed to fit in a few more people at a time into a photo. One word of caution, however: I took a couple of pictures with the varying beauty modes set to more than half their capacity and the photos came out slightly silly. If your goal is to take shots of yourself with stunning scenery in the background, keep it simple.
Taken with the Pixel XL.
Taken with the Galaxy S8+.
Admittedly, I didn't take too many panoramas on my trip, despite the incredibly illustrious scenery. Part of the reason is that I never found them to be a particularly good archiving the moment. And in this instance, it felt like even though the Pixel XL offered more options for capturing the scene — like Photosphere, which you can use to upload your own journeys to share with others through Google Maps — the Galaxy S8+ was more successful at stitching images.
Shot in 1080p with the Pixel XL.
Shot in 1080p with the Galaxy S8+.
With video stabilization activated, the Pixel XL and Galaxy S8+ both appear to employ a bit of the "strafing" effect. The Pixel XL is not very good at picking up audio, however; I found the Galaxy S8+ to be better at picking up my voice despite the harsh wind, whereas the Pixel sounded drowned out. The Galaxy S8+ also has extra software features I found helpful to use, like an easy editing video feature, which made it so that I could record long shots and still be able to choose snippets to share on social media without downloading another app.
Which one is the better travel companion?
I was already impressed by the Pixel XL's abilities on my last adventure, and it was just as consistent this time around. I found its photos to be the best composed and the color profile of each retained enough dynamic range so that I could adjust the exposure and put a filter over it after the fact. The Galaxy S8+'s end results were just as compelling, however, even with some photos appearing overly processed. If it bothers you, there are enough options you can enable to forfeit all that and go manual. I was also really impressed by the Galaxy S8+'s ability to shoot video, particularly when it came to recording sound.
But in the end, even with all the fancy features baked into the Galaxy S8+, I still stuck with the Pixel XL as my main shooter, simply because it's the only other phone at present that offers unlimited backup to Google Photos.