Pixel 6 Pro vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: Which camera is better?

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The Pixel 6 Pro (left) and the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

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Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra and Google’s Pixel 6 Pro were both among our top-rated phones of 2021. With their impressive performance, glorious displays, and feature-rich experiences, both phones deserve the titles of “top” Android handsets and are still worth considering, even as The new 2022 phones start to appear.

And they both have amazing cameras, with the S21 Ultra particularly impressive with its amazing 10x zoom lens, while the Pixel 6 Pro manages to give the iPhone 13Pro one run for your money.

But which camera is better? Is it still all about that zoom on the S21 Ultra? I took both phones out for a spin to see what’s what.

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Pixel 6Pro.

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Galaxy S21 Ultra.

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In this first outdoor shot using the main cameras on both phones, there’s little to choose between. The S21 Ultra’s photo is perhaps a little warmer overall, but exposure, contrast and detail are basically identical.

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Pixel 6Pro.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

And it’s the same story here: both phones captured sharp, well-exposed images, but the S21 Ultra’s image has warmer tones, which gives a nice sunset feel to the image.

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Pixel 6 Pro, 4x telephoto zoom.

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Galaxy S21 Ultra, 10x telephoto zoom.

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Switching to the maximum optical zooms of both phones from the same shooting position, it’s clear what a difference the S21 Ultra’s massive zoom makes. At 10x, it manages to get very close to the buildings, allowing for a different composition.

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Pixel 6 Pro, 4x zoom.

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Galaxy S21 Ultra, 10x zoom.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

And it’s not just for travel photos; this zoom can also be great for getting up close to local wildlife. The Pixel 6 Pro’s 4x zoom can take great photos, but it just doesn’t have the range of the S21 Ultra’s 10x zoom.

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Pixel 6Pro.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

A solid balance of exposure from both phones in this sunny outdoor scene. The S21 Ultra’s photo has a bit more contrast, which isn’t always a positive thing, but it did help to make the shadows on the ground more defined here.

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Pixel 6Pro.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

That added contrast on the S21 Ultra is more pronounced here, with much deeper blues seen in the sky and their reflection in the water. For a quick snap that might be preferable, but I’d rather have a more natural looking image straight from the camera to apply more contrast – or other effects – later if I choose to. That’s why I shoot in raw format on my DSLR and that’s why I prefer the Pixel 6 Pro photo here.

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Pixel 6 Pro, super wide lens.

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Galaxy S21 Ultra, super wide lens.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The situation is identical when I switched to super wide lenses on both phones; this contrast boost from the S21 Ultra is particularly noticeable, and I’m not interested in how strong and oversaturated the photo looks here.

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Pixel 6Pro.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In night light, this color balance played in the S21 Ultra’s favor, with vibrant green grass visible in its photo, against the muddy, greenish-brown tones of the Pixel 6 Pro. The S21 Ultra’s photo is also sharper, with more noticeable clarity on grass blades.

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Pixel 6 Pro, night mode.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Galaxy S21 Ultra, night mode.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Taken using night mode, both phones did a solid job of capturing this night scene, with great overall brightness and contrast. However, I prefer the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo as its color balance is less purplish and fine details are clearer overall.

Overall, it is evident that both phones can get excellent images from their cameras. General. I prefer the look of the Pixel 6 Pro thanks to its more natural approach to color and contrast in a scene. Samsung phones have always had a tendency towards high contrast and saturation in images and the S21 Ultra is no exception.

However, there’s no escaping that the S21 Ultra remains unparalleled when it comes to zoom abilities. The 10x optical lens lets you take pictures you just can’t get on the Pixel 6 Pro or almost any of its top rivals. If zoom skills are paramount in your photography, then the S21 Ultra is the phone for you. If you’re more concerned about overall image accuracy and tend to prefer wider-angle shots, you’ll feel right at home with the Pixel 6 Pro.


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