High-quality photography has become the defining feature of today’s flagship phones. Not only do companies such as Samsung and Apple have to keep up with the competition, they are expected to set the pace of innovation for the industry at large. That’s why it’s critical for phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus — a premium device if there ever was one — to have the absolute best camera possible.
Did Samsung play catch up or leap ahead? Find out in Android Authority‘s Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus camera review. (Our full review of the phone is available here.)
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus camera review: Specs
As you might expect, Samsung threw everything and the kitchen sink into the Galaxy Note 10 Plus camera hardware. It has a familiar spec sheet, practically mimicking that of the Galaxy S10 Plus in terms of components. The new tool is the depth camera, which adds, uh, an extra dimension to what the Note 10 Plus can do with portraiture. We’re pleased to see 60fps shooting in 4K, as well as the newer tool of live bokeh in video.
- 16MP sensor
- ƒ/2.2 aperture
- 123-degree field-of-view
- 12MP sensor
- Dual Pixel autofocus
- ƒ/1.5+ƒ/2.4 apertures
- 77-degree field-of-view
- 12MP sensor
- ƒ/2.1 aperture
- 45-degree field-of-view
- Depth Vision camera:
- ƒ/1.4 aperture
- 72-degree field-of-view
- 10MP sensor
- Dual Pixel autofocus
- ƒ/2.2 aperture
- 80-degree field-of-view
- 4K/UHD at 60fps
- Live Focus (bokeh)
- Zoom-in mic
Samsung took steps to simplify its camera application a bit, and for this I am thankful. A double press of the power button will launch the camera in about half a second. It can also be opened via the lock screen or home screen.
As with most camera apps, simple toggle-style controls line the left edge of the screen (settings, flash, timer, aspect ratio, filters), while the shutter button, modes, and zoom controls are on the right.
With three lenses from which to choose, you now have a more advanced slider for selecting your shot. Little tabs let you quickly jump between the ultra-wide, standard, and telephoto lenses. Of course, you can always use the pinching gesture to fine-tune the exact amount of zoom you desire. The Note 10 will switch between lenses automatically.
Looking at the modes, you have photo and video, super slow-mo and slow-mo, live focus photo and live focus video (bokeh/portrait), Instagram and panorama, and night, pro, and hyperlapse. Each individual mode allows you to customize the behavior to a small degree, such as selecting bokeh styles, and controlling slow-mo/hyperlapse frame rates. The sheer number of modes makes switching between them cumbersome because so many are off screen, so to speak. Thankfully you can edit the line-up, putting your favorites closer to the center.
It’s not super simple to use, but it feels more streamlined than previous generations of the Samsung camera app.
Samsung’s “scene optimizer” is on by default. This is the camera’s artificial intelligence functionality. It analyzes what you’re shooting in real time and adjusts the settings on the fly to get the best result. You’ll see scene names pop up on the screen, such as landscape, backlight, or portrait. I’m glad Samsung allows you to turn the scene optimizer off. Moreover, I’m glad the button is available directly in the viewfinder (the little blue globe).
The settings provide users with lots of latitude to adjust the app’s behavior, such as altering the resolution, adding/subtracting GPS data, using grid lines, and so on.
It’s not super simple to use, but it feels at least a little more streamlined than previous generations of the Samsung camera app.
- Ease of use: 7
- Intuitiveness: 7
- Features: 10
- Advanced settings: 10
Every camera should do well in full daylight thanks to the wide availability of light and the Galaxy Note 10 Plus doesn’t fall short.
What we see here are quintessential results from a Samsung device. Everything looks sharp and colors pop. Samsung is known to boost saturation levels, and it’s fairly obvious here with the bright reds and deep blues.
Shots like this are the easiest to get right, and Samsung delivers pleasing results.
The detail available in the harbor shot is quite good, particularly in the upper right corner where boats are clustered tightly. The fact that the trees in both the harbor and house shots have any color and detail at all speaks to the power of Samsung’s control over dynamic range.
Shots like this are the easiest to get right, and Samsung delivers pleasing results.
Take what I said above about oversaturated color and apply it here as well. The purple in the first shot was not that vibrant, nor that obvious in real life. The Note 10 Plus took what was there and amplified it. The picture looks great, but it’s not accurate to what I saw in Potsdammer Platz.
The boat and truck shots, on the other hand, are practically perfect in terms of color representation. These scenes look identical to what my eye saw. Perhaps some would like to see the red on the truck pop a bit more, but I like this result better. Had the camera over-saturated the reds, we’d have lost the detail in the wood slats on the building.
Many photos are oversaturated; however, people may find this is exactly what they want.
I think the berries turned out pretty well.
When I look at the wide selection of shots I’ve taken with the Note 10 Plus over the last few weeks, many show signs of over saturation. However, many people may find this is exactly what they want.
Here are a variety of shots using the Note 10 Plus telephoto camera to get close to the subject. The results are uneven.
The first photo is the best of the bunch, but I think that’s because I was closer to the subject than I was in the other shots. Focus, colors, and temperature all look good in that shot. The night-time tower shot is a bit of a mess, with grain and loss of detail clouding the image and light smudging the exposure. I think the third shot looks okay at a glance, but if you zoom in on the buildings or clouds you’ll see noise and loss of detail.
If one zoomed shot did really well, it’s the balloon, which shows accurate color and a good amount of detail.
The zoom lens appears to work best when you have lots of light available.
Here we see shots taken in a variety of light settings, which impacts detail to a degree.
The first shot shows a lot of the finer details in each of the individual rocks, despite the uneven lighting, but the second shot loses tons of details in the background. Zooming into that photo at all reveals a mess of pixels and grain in the crowd.
Samsung’s over-processing drains detail when you get close.
The two city shots are better, clearer. The red bricks look mostly sharp and all the mortar lines between them are visible even when zoomed in closely. Similarly, you’re able to spot individual people on the sidewalk in the fourth shot and see that they are wearing different clothing.
In other words, detail will vary depending on your environment. Samsung’s over-processing drains detail when you get close, particularly in low light.
Similar to daylight shots, in landscape photos you’re looking for sharp focus throughout, good exposure, and pleasing color. The Galaxy Note 10 Plus manages to do a good job with these images, all things considered.
To be frank, I’m surprised the first shot turned out at all. The sun was directly above my subject, albeit behind some clouds. Even so, the sky isn’t blown out and the grass looks pleasantly green.
The second and third shots show lush vegetation under a bright blue sky and wispy clouds. Each has good white balance, nice color, and detail throughout the depth of the image.
The fourth shot is a bit oversaturated as far as the color is concerned. Even so, the greens look nice, color temperature is spot on, and there is still visible detail in the park far in the background.
When taking portraits, or “Live Focus” as Samsung calls it, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus offers solid results that could still be a touch better.
Exposure, color temperature, and overall appeal of these photos is practically flawless. They mirror reality in just the right ways, while also enhancing the color just a little bit.
The first problem we see is in the level of beautification. The skin has been glossed over so much that it looks like everyone is wearing eight pounds of makeup. Here’s the worst part: The default setting for skin smoothness is two out of ten! You can ramp it up way further if you want to, though this turns your friends and family into mannequin facsimiles of themselves. Turning it off entirely delivers more natural-looking results.
Exposure, color temperature, and overall appeal of these photos is practically flawless.
Then there’s the blur. These shots all used the default blur setting, but you can ramp up not only the amount of blur, but the shape of the blur. Some of the blur shapes (radial, lines) are neat, but I found they too often interfere with the clarity of the subject.
Last, the Note 10 Plus did a good job outlining the subjects in photos one, three, and four, but the second shot reveals a poor outline around the girl’s hair. You can see how the tree next to the statue remained in focus while the rest of the shot was appropriately blurred.
Despite the inconsistencies here, I think most people are going to like what they see.
Balancing light with the dark is no easy task. HDR on modern smartphones requires blending a handful of images that are exposed at different values to create a single shot. Not every phone can do it well. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 Plus delivered mixed results.
The first sample was a fairly dark hallway with bright, penetrating sun beaming through the windows. The Note 10 Plus opted to prioritize the darker regions of the shot and blew out the windows. I think the balance could have been a little better.
In the second shot, the event-space shot turned out nearly perfectly. In real life, those tables were a bit shiny and the areas along the wall were dark. The Note 10 Plus pulled detail out of the shadows while preventing the tables from becoming overexposed.
The third shot was difficult. Those white chairs in the foreground were reflecting the spot lights. The Note 10 Plus really toned down the exposure, but still managed to keep detail in the ceiling.
Balancing light with the dark is no easy task. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 Plus delivered mixed results.
The final shot was another challenge. The foreground was an illuminated table and the background was dark, moving people. I feared the entire thing would be blown out. Instead, we have decent detail in the subject (the phones) and the background. Still, there’s plenty of noise.
If the Note 10 Plus stumbles anywhere, it’s with low-light photography. The examples above are not terrible, but each shows Samsung’s weakness in capturing the right balance of light, color, and detail.
The city shot is a bit of a mess. Light smudges are everywhere and grain besots the sky with noise. The buildings are exposed about right, but everything else is a mish-mash. The second is simply too dark and flat. Both the building and the people could be brighter and more colorful. The white car resulted in too much of the background becoming totally lost. There was far more detail visible in real life.
Samsung is far behind low-light killers such as the Google Pixel 3 and Huawei P30 Pro.
The tree is perhaps the most disappointing. It was a really neat scene that my real camera balanced perfectly. The Note 10 Plus overexposed the trunk and kept the nearby bushes too dark, negating the effect of the shot.
Here are a handful of selfie shots taken indoors, in harsh sun, and under even, cloudy lighting. For the most part, these images are totally fine. They are in focus and the color and temperature are correct, though some detail is missing here and there. The background is blown out in the first shot, but that’s not overly surprising.
As with portraits, the bigger problem is the beautification. The faces are a bit too smooth in some instances, which creates an unnatural look. I wish the Note 10 Plus defaulted to portrait mode when shooting selfies, but it does not. As with the primary camera, you can control blur and beautification before the shot if you wish.
Selfies taken in the dark aren’t at their best. The screen-based flash leads to overexposed faces more often than not.
The Galaxy Note 10 Plus records video at a wide variety of resolutions and speeds. Topping it out will give you 4K video at 60fps, which produces sharp yet smooth results. The high resolution means lots of detail is captured, and the high frame rate means motion looks almost life-like.
Video didn’t bowl me over, but it didn’t disappoint me, either.
Overall I was pleased with the performance of the Note 10 Plus when recording video. The footage I captured of my sister’s wedding (in 1080p @ 30fps) had a nice look to it that leaned perhaps toward the warm side. It was also somewhat grainy. Samples I took at the highest settings were cleaner.
Shooting outdoors always gets the best results, but stuff captured in low-light scenes is good enough.
It didn’t bowl me over, but it didn’t disappoint me, either.
Last year’s Note 9 had just two rear cameras: standard and telephoto. Samsung had to add wide-angle to the mix in order to catch up to competing flagships. Further, I think the extra depth camera helps generate the improvement in portraits that people seek from their phone.
However, Samsung appears to have bungled the low-light situation a bit. The shots taken at night simply aren’t up to par with the competition. It’s this factor alone that I think drags the whole system down a bit. My guess, however, is that most people will be willing to forgive Samsung the blunder given the camera’s other strengths.