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Friday, 3 March 2017

Food Photography - Which Has the Best Phone Camera: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge or iPhone 6s?


I was recently approached by the mobile network provider Three, to review their new Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge for food photography. I am an iPhone 6s user, and an Apple die-hard, but decided to take on the task as I am a long-standing Three customer.

I have lost count of how many years I have been with Three, and as a food and travel writer, I can’t think of a better network to be on. This is mostly because of their “Feel At Home” countries, an ever-expanding list (currently 42, including almost all of the EU, the USA, Australia, and as far as Indonesia, Hong Kong and Macau), for a full list of countries, check the link here. I write this blog post from Sri Lanka, another Feel At Home country where I can surf the net, make phone calls and send text messages all using my UK contract allowance at no extra cost. It’s brilliant.

Anyway I digress. The purpose of this feature is to compare the cameras in my beloved iPhone 6s with the SamsungGalaxy S7 Edge, and how they fare in my food photography. I also describe the digital SLR camera and lens I use, recommend some excellent photo-editing applications for your phone, and share some tips on dealing with low light food photography situations.


Food photography using your phone camera

Phone cameras have come such a long way in the last few years. Today, I can get better photos from my camera phone than I was able to get from a domestic Sony digital camera just a couple of years ago. However, it’s surprising to note that even today, the quality of images varies tremendously from phone to phone.

For my food photography, I use a combination of my Canon DSLR 5d Mk III and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, a fantastic bit of kit which is ideal for what I do, but also came at a huge cost. I am no professional photographer and I have very limited interest in learning the technicalities of cameras and photography – these bore me to death. Little by little though, I have been learning how to get the best out of my camera by asking questions, online research, and by trial and error.

But I still take lots of pictures using my iPhone 6s, because like everyone else I carry it with me all the time, and it’s the easiest way to share images on social media. My social media channels (Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook) are an extension of The London Foodie blog, so having a phone with the best camera I can get is paramount.

Use of photo editing software and filters

In addition to the practicality of having a phone with a good camera with me all the time rather than carrying a heavy camera around, there are several excellent photo-editing apps which are easily available to download on the mobile.

The two most popular apps are Lightroom and Snapseed.  I have both on my phone but I mainly use the latter – Snapseed is a great app to bring out the colour and light from your images which suffer when taken in low level light.

iPhone 6s Image - Before Snapseed Editing
In addition, Snapseed allows you to photoshop particular areas of a picture, if say one corner of an image is too dark, that can be corrected with this app. It also allows you to “heal” bits of an image, for instance deleting an unwanted person or object in the background.
 
iPhone 6s Image - After Snapseed Editing
There are also several filters to choose from in the app, although I find this feature too gimmicky for my taste – over the years I came to the conclusion that when editing images, less is definitely more or else you can end up with something that looks artificial and tortured.

Using your phone camera in low lighting settings

I never use flash in food photography, especially in a restaurant setting where it would be intrusive for other diners. Although I have seen flash being used by professional photographers with great results. But if you don’t know what you are doing, flash can completely kill the image, bleaching the food’s colour and making it look dull and flat. 

So when visiting to review a place with challenging light conditions, like dinner at a dimly-lit restaurant, I always take my iPad with me. I discovered a few years ago that bringing the well-lit white screen of the iPad close to a dish being photographed is a good way to provide discreet but uniform light, with minimal glare or unwanted reflection. I use this trick all the time.

If I happen not to have my iPad with me, but have a supportive and self-confident companion with a smartphone, I tend to use their phone torch with the light diffused by a napkin wrapped around the torchlight. This is my second-best option, but is far preferable to using direct torch-light, which again kills most food images.

If all else fails, I take my plate to where the light is – a bar, another table, even sometimes the kitchen, though of course this will not make for a very pleasant dinner.

Comparison of Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge vs iPhone 6s

While no phone compares to a good dedicated camera, the iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge are believed to be two of the best options on the market. But how do they compare?

For this comparison, I have used the both phones’ automatic camera settings, and have not manipulated the images in any way – no editing or filters. This is the setting most people use on their phones.

I copied as a footnote a table of general specifications, focusing primarily on the display and camera functionalities, to compare the hard facts between the Galaxy S7 Edge and the iPhone 6s. I leave it to you to analyse this technical information, as this review is about my personal experience of using both phones’ cameras specifically for food photography.

You will probably note from this table that the camera specification for both phones is very comparable, except that the lens aperture differs.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge has a f/1.7 lens, compared with the iPhone 6s’ f/2.2. But what does this imply? It means that Samsung S7 lens has a wider aperture, and hence it will allow more light into the image whenever the lens opens. Don’t be confused by the lower denomination of the Samsung’s f number – the lower the number, the wider the aperture.

The Money Shots

I chose a lunchtime restaurant at King’s Cross’ The Lighterman, in a naturally well-lit dining room, to photograph the food using the  iPhone 6s and SamsungGalaxy S7 Edge cameras.

The first two shots, of deep-fried squid with chilli sauce, show a small but important differences. The Samsung in my opinion has sharper detail, and the image is brighter though colder.  The iPhone image has a yellowish tone to it, being warmer, and when you look closely the details are fuzzier.

Samsung S7 Edge

iPhone 6s
The next pair of images is a platter of starters. Here once again, the iPhone image is warmer, and the colours in my opinion are more intense. For me the Samsung image has let too much light in and the resulting photograph is over-exposed and bleached. However, the details are again sharper. 

iPhone 6s

Samsung 7 Edge
The next photographs from a dish of seared salmon and pineapple with diced red onion and micro-coriander, avocado and lime purée, though very similar at first glance, show startling differences in picture clarity, especially in close up.

Samsung S7 Edge

iPhone 6s
To illustrate this point, I have blown up the same image so that you can appreciate their detail. Notice the minute veins and creases visible on the back of the micro-coriander leaf from the Samsung image, which are blurred on the corresponding iPhone picture.

Samsung S7 Edge
iPhone 6s
Finally, the dessert was chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet, fresh raspberries, lemon and lime zest, hazelnut and caramel.  Here, to conclude, we see a similar pattern – the iPhone image is warmer, darker, though the colours seem to have been tinted and the details are less clear. The Samsung on the other hand has let more light in, the colours are brighter and more true to the original (compare the blue colour of the plate between the two images – the iPhone’s is grey). Look also at the finely grated hazelnut over the chocolate mousse – it is much clearer in the Samsung image than the iPhone’s.

iPhone 6s

Samsung S7 Edge
Another common theme we have seen in all the images is that the Samsung photos are about 50% larger in Mb size, and the ISO used from the automatic setting is much higher in all the images.

Verdict

Technically speaking, the Samsung Galaxy S7Edge phone camera has slightly higher specification, and delivers clearer, brightly coloured food images, if somewhat overexposed under certain conditions. The wider lens aperture (f/1.7 vs f/2.2) allows more light into the image and the camera should fare better in low light levels. In addition, this phone camera offers a range of food related filters to photoshop with not found on the iPhone 6s.

The iPhone 6s takes warmer photographs, and is less prone to over-exposure, but suffers from a lower level of detail. The images seem fuzzier and of lower resolution though the range of colours is sometimes truer to the original than the Samsung S7 Edge.

However, having now both phones, I still do not believe I will be switching from my iPhone 6s to a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. From my perspective, the slight benefits of the Samsung camera do not outweigh the hassle of changing phone brands with everything that entails.

The Hard Facts: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge Vs iPhone 6s

GENERAL
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
iPhone 6s
Price (32GB model)
£589 on samsung.com/uk
£499 on apple.com/uk
Release date
February 2016
September 2015
Dimensions (mm)
150.90 x 72.60 x 7.70
138.30 x 67.10 x 7.10
Weight (g)
157.00
143.00
Battery capacity (mAh)
3600
1715
Colours
Black, Gold, Pink Gold, Silver, Blue
Silver, Gold, Space Grey, Rose Gold
DISPLAY
Screen size (inches)
5.50
4.70
Resolution
1440x2560 pixels
750x1334 pixels
CAMERA
Rear camera
12-megapixel
12-megapixel
Flash
Yes
Yes
Front camera
5-megapixel
5-megapixel
Aperture
f/1.7
f/2.2




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