Image Quality

We're fans of the overall color and quality of the images from the Galaxy S9+, and it also handles flare really well.
Out-of-camera JPEG | wide-angle lens | ISO 50 | 1/4342 sec | F2.4

It's clear from Samsung's product pages and in-store displays that photographic capability and quality on the Galaxy S9 and S9+ are big selling points. We found in our testing that the S9+ was a capable snapshot companion, with a generally good wide-angle camera that churned out well-exposed shots with quick and accurate autofocus.

But as we've said, low-light shooting and portraits can be disappointing. Read on to see our results in practice.

Key takeaways:

  • Exposure usually well-judged, colors generally nice and punchy
  • Fast aperture on wide-angle lens benefits image quality in very low light, though the camera often chooses F2.4 even in moderately low light, resulting in blurry images
  • Telephoto lens struggles regardless of light levels, especially in 'Live Focus' mode
  • Low-light shooting in auto mode gives long shutter speeds, and therefore blurry images if there's any movement in the scene
  • HDR images may have slight to severe detail loss
  • Sharpening is fine for viewing on the phone, looks 'blocky' at 100%

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Friends, family and lifestyle

The dedicated 'food' mode is pretty nice, allowing you to select an area of the frame that your food occupies, and then subtly blurring the rest of the frame as well as boosting saturation.
Out-of-camera JPEG | wide-angle lens | ISO 50 | 1/60 sec | F1.5

The smartphone is the camera that's always with you, ready to document and share your daily life at a moment's notice. From a friend's barbecue to your child's first steps, we think the Galaxy S9+ is great at a number of things, but needs work in other areas.

If you think you'll be using the telephoto lens often or if you think you'll be shooting a lot of portraits, it's best to take a closer look at the Apple iPhone X or even the Pixel 2 which crops the image from its main camera to simulate a longer focal length. They both perform more reliably than the telephoto lens on the Galaxy S9+, which can struggle to hit focus in almost any conditions.

Samsung Galaxy S9+
ISO 640 | 1/60 sec | F2.4
Google Pixel 2
ISO 410 | 1/120 sec | F1.8
The S9+ used too slow a shutter speed here and didn't freeze our subject, partially due to its insistence on using F2.4 instead of F1.5. Additionally, the S9+ tries to reduce noise by taking 12 consecutive photos in a burst, but it doesn't do a good job - that shirt used to read "Mommy had a little lamb" before the writing got smeared or disappeared altogether. The Pixel 2 fares far better with its faster shutter speed and more sophisticated multi-frame averaging. These photos were taken under the same lighting conditions, with the toddler in question moving around constantly, as toddlers are wont to do.

Going one step further, if you're planning on using your phone to photograph and active toddler or new baby, it's best to look elsewhere. Even on the wide-angle lens, the camera tends to use the slower F2.4 aperture and therefore longer shutter speeds in moderately low light levels, and the camera doesn't do a great job of detecting motion, so you will end up with lots of blurry shots. The Galaxy does average many frames together to create a single image like the Pixel 2, but it does a lackluster job in comparison.

What we like:

  • Good, punchy colors with generally pleasing skin tones
  • Snappy, accurate autofocus with the wide angle lens (including tracking autofocus)
  • 'Beauty' filters are pretty amusing
  • 'Pro' mode gives you manual control, but is finicky to adjust on the fly to capture a moving child, for instance
  • 'Food' mode boosts saturation and slightly blurs surroundings; it's a nice effect
  • 'Sports' mode tends to use the wide aperture, raise shutter speeds to freeze motion
Out-of-camera JPEG | wide-angle lens | ISO 50 | 1/1399 sec | F2.4

What we don't:

  • Telephoto lens focuses slowly, prone to mis-focusing altogether even in bright light
  • Camera biases towards slow shutter speeds to keep ISO down, moving subjects can come out blurry
  • Skin smoothing can be overly aggressive
  • It's far too easy to accidentally swipe and enter selfie mode and miss your shot
  • Noticeable shutter lag in 'Auto' mode, is worse with telephoto lens due to poor focusing than wide angle

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Low light

With stationary subjects, the S9+ turns in a really good performance in low light conditions.
Out-of-camera JPEG | wide-angle lens | ISO 50 | 1/10 sec | F1.5

Not everyone wants to carry an extra camera with them out to a candlelit dinner or to take a cityscape image at night, so we evaluate how the latest smartphones handle low light scenes. The Galaxy S9+ exhibits pretty good image quality as light levels drop, as we can confirm that the camera combines 12 images to aid in noise reduction. That's all well and good until your subject starts moving, that is; it's clear that the Galaxy's motion compensation and image alignment techniques aren't as advanced as those offered by Google in the Pixel 2.

In the end, the Galaxy is so reluctant to decrease exposure time or raise ISO value that your images may be blurred - this is similar to what we see from Apple's iPhone X, but Google's Pixel 2 does a much better job overall.

What we like:

  • Fast F1.5 aperture lets in more light in dark conditions, allowing images to have less noise / grain
  • Very low noise levels, though noise reduction may be too aggressive for some tastes
  • Optical image stabilization makes it easy to hand-hold shots of static subjects, like a fancy dish at a fancy restaurant, without blur from shaky hands
  • Wide-angle camera uses phase-detection autofocus to focus quickly and accurately in all lighting conditions
I really wish the S9+ would have boosted the ISO a few stops rather than shooting at this slow of a shutter speed.
Out-of-camera JPEG | wide-angle lens | ISO 50 | 1/4 sec | F1.5

What we don't:

  • To keep noise levels low, the Galaxy smooths away a lot of detail at high ISO values
  • Telephoto lens, with slower aperture and smaller sensor, is so bad in low light that the Galaxy simply zooms in digitally with the wide-angle camera when light levels drop, resulting in detail and resolution loss
  • Hesitant to raise shutter speeds, resulting in very blurry images if your subject is moving

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For this image, the Galaxy S9+ did a good job identifying the edges of the subject and isolating him from the background, but this is more the exception than the rule; subjects often look 'cut out,' and focus can miss altogether far too often.
Cropped out-of-camera JPEG | telephoto lens | ISO 40 | 1/120 sec | F2.4

Images with subjects and blurry backgrounds were once exclusively in the realm of large-sensor, interchangeable lens cameras. Through computational wizardry, the latest smartphone cameras are getting really good at simulating this effect without the bulk of a dedicated camera setup, but we have some serious reservations with this feature - called 'Live Focus' - on the Galaxy S9+. Both the Apple iPhone X and Google Pixel 2 do portraits far better than the Galaxy.

What we like:

  • Having the dedicated telephoto lens gives higher resolution than using a wide-angle lens and cropping in, like the regular Galaxy S9 and Google Pixel 2
  • Optical image stabilization keeps blur from handshake to a minimum
  • Automatically captures a wide-angle photo with every portrait image
  • Can adjust the level of background blur, as well as shapes of out-of-focus highlights, after the photo has been taken
  • Allows for background blurring with selfies
It doesn't matter how much light you give the S9+, the phone struggles with focus and proper subject isolation in Live Focus mode. Forcing HDR to be enabled in later images didn't help with the blown highlights on my subject's forehead, either.
Out-of-camera JPEG | telephoto lens | ISO 32 | 1/389 sec | F2.4

What we don't:

  • Live Focus / Portrait mode effectively unusable in even moderately low light
  • Even in bright daylight, 'Live Focus' portrait shots can be out of focus
  • Lack of phase detection autofocus pixels on the telephoto lens makes focus so slow and unreliable that you're often better off cropping in a wide-angle image
  • Lots of shutter lag (the time from when you hit the shutter button to when the camera actually takes the photo), largely from the hunting focus
  • Subjects need to be very still; shutter speeds can be slow, resulting in blurry images, compounding the issue of frequent improper focus
  • Quality of 'cut out' around hair in particular is lacking
  • Struggles greatly with backlit subjects and underexposure when HDR is enabled in this situation, and resolution takes a hit as well

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In most cases, the Galaxy S9+ does great for casual daylight shooting, with good exposure and dynamic range with HDR enabled.
Out-of-camera JPEG | wide-angle lens | ISO 50 | 1/200 sec | F2.4
Photo by Jeff Keller

Whether you're taking a photo of a sunset on the beach or a gritty urban environment, it's important to have proper exposure, good dynamic range for high-contrast scenes and plenty of detail when you zoom in. In terms of outright detail capture, the Galaxy S9+ is easily on par with the Apple iPhone X, though it lags behind the Google Pixel 2.

What we like:

  • Generally good exposure and color
  • Enabling HDR meaningfully increases dynamic range for high-contrast scenes
  • Both wide-angle and telephoto cameras resist flare really well (they don't lose contrast when you shoot into the sun or another bright light source)
  • Panorama mode works well, with good exposure and stitching for subjects moving at moderate speed
  • Telephoto lens gives you additional compositional options without cropping in on the wide-angle image and losing resolution
I like this exposure and the telephoto lens is great for compositional alternatives compared to the wide-angle lens, but click through and you'll see this is out of focus. Luckily, I took a few shots of this and got other in-focus images, but this shouldn't have happened in the first place.
Out-of-camera JPEG | telephoto lens | ISO 32 | 1/4021 | F2.4

What we don't:

  • Telephoto lens can still miss focus even in bright light
  • HDR images can often (unpredictably) lack resolution, either overall or in various parts of the frame (compare the trees in the background at the edges of the frame, compared with the center)
  • Because of some unique features, there's limited support in third-party programs to shoot in Raw (impossible to dictate lens, aperture used at this time)
  • No Raw capture option in default camera app
  • Impossible to dictate which lens to use in 'Pro' mode of default camera app (only pinch-to-zoom is available, will hesitate to actually swap to the telephoto lens versus cropping in)
  • HDR images can sometimes have an unpleasant, unrealistic look

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Studio scene

Daylight wide lens (HDR enabled)
ISO 50 | 1/165 sec | F2.4

Daylight tele lens (HDR enabled)
ISO 40 | 1/120 sec | F2.4

Our studio scene comparison tool is geared toward the testing of traditional cameras, but we've put our Galaxy S9+ in front of it to see what's what. Here are the key takeaways that we found interesting.

Key daylight scene takeaways:

  • Both the telephoto and wide-angle lenses are very close to the 'correct' exposure and white balance using their full auto mode
  • The wide-angle lens shows better detail than the telephoto, with the caveat that there's some odd 'ghosting' around high-contrast edges in some areas, possibly due to the close distance to the scene and lens sample variation
  • Even at low ISO, the red color patch shows lots of noise; more than either the Google Pixel 2 or Apple iPhone X
  • There's apparent 'haloing,' distinct from the ghosting, around the color patches that is indicative of large-radius sharpening
  • Generally exhibits better detail than the Apple iPhone X, but at the expense of more noise left behind
  • Skin tones are generally more pleasant than Google Pixel 2

Wide-angle low light, HDR forced on
ISO 500 | 1/9 sec | F1.5

Wide-angle low light, HDR disabled
ISO 250 | 1/13 sec | F1.5

Wide-angle low light, zoomed to 2x, HDR disabled
ISO 250 | 1/17 sec | F1.5

Key lowlight scene takeaways:

  • We actually were unable to shoot the telephoto lens on our studio scene in low light; the default app would only allow a cropped-in view from the wide-angle lens and third-party apps were also unable to offer a way to switch manually
  • We noticed that force-enabling HDR in low light (Auto HDR leaves it off) results in a remarkable loss of detail. This isn't so apparent in the daylight scene, but it does show up to a degree in real world shooting, even in bright light
  • Like the daylight image, we find exposure to be well-judged, with the auto white balance leaving some warmth from the tungsten bulb without over-or-under-correcting
  • Detail levels look good in the non-HDR shot, but keep in mind this is at ISO 250 at 1/13s shutter speed - other real-world high ISO images lose much more detail, and many subjects will be blurred due to the slow shutter speeds

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Raw capture

This image had to be processed through DC Raw because Adobe Camera Raw appeared to double-apply embedded vignetting correction. In any case, this is a good example of why it's best to just stick to JPEGs on the Galaxy S9+.
ISO 50 | 1/370 sec | F1.5

At the time of this writing, capturing Raw DNG files on the Galaxy S9+ is something we wouldn't recommend. Adobe Camera Raw doesn't play nicely with the files, and it takes a lot of work to get the images to look as sharp and vibrant as the out-of-camera JPEGs while also not being overwhelmed by noise.

If you do want to experiment with it, you can enable it via digging through the settings menu for the 'Pro' camera mode, or using a third-party app of your choice.

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