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Google Pixel 3, Huawei, OnePlus 6, Samsung Night Modes Compared

With the announcement of Google's new Night Sight mode, we thought we'd compare some of the premium smartphones from Google, Huawei, Samsung, OnePlus, and Sony to see how they compare for night shooting.

|  Samsung Galaxy Note9 in Camera Phones
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Top Smartphones For Low-Light


Huawei, OnePlus, and now Google are offering special night shooting modes, called "Night", "Night Scape" and "Night Sight" - these modes are designed to work in low-light, handheld, and much like the Olympus Live Composite mode*, they are designed to capture all of the light in the scene, without the lighter areas becoming overexposed (in theory). They use a number of shots, combining them to reduce noise, with motion detection to detect (and avoid) image shake, as well as applying or recovering dynamic range in the photo. *The Olympus Live Composite mode is designed to be used on a tripod. 

With so many smartphone offering dedicated night modes we thought we'd shoot the same scene with some of the latest smartphones to see how they compare. 

We've also included the Sony Xperia XZ3, which, has high ISO speeds up to ISO12800, however, with an f/2.0 aperture the lens isn't as bright as the others here, and the sensor has smaller pixels than the other cameras, due to using a 19mp sensor. There's also no optical image stabilisation. 

The Samsung Galaxy Note9 offers a bright f/1.5 aperture lens, as well as Scene Optimiser which will automatically switch to a Night mode. The Note9 offers "HDR for low-light" - the HDR capabilities reduce noise to keep details clear and colours vivid without washing out light sources. 


Here's the scene taken with a mirrorless camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, using a lens with a wide aperture, of f/1.7. This was using a tripod, a low ISO speed, of ISO200, and with the aperture wide-open, at f/1.7, using a prime lens. We didn't use the Live Composite mode for this shot. 


Night | 1/4 sec | f/1.7 | 15.0 mm | ISO 200
Night | 1/4 sec | f/1.7 | 15.0 mm | ISO 200


This is quite a tricky scene, the water is almost completely black, and the lights on the building in the middle are constantly changing, so a long exposure results in all the colours merging into one. Using a low ISO speed results in a cleaner image, and the reflections in the water look particularly good. 


Huawei P20 Pro - Night mode

Handheld Night Shot | 5 sec | f/1.8 | 4.0 mm | ISO 1250

Handheld Night Shot | 5 sec | f/1.8 | 4.0 mm | ISO 1250


Handheld the camera has struggled to produce a sharp, blur-free photo. On a tripod, the camera will extend the 5-6 second exposure up to 25-26 seconds! The level of detail isn't great though, with images look particularly soft, compared to the other cameras we've used. 


Huawei P20 Pro Low-light images


Huawei Mate 20 Pro - Night mode

Handheld Night Mode | 4 sec | f/1.8 | 4.0 mm | ISO 1000
Handheld Night Mode | 4 sec | f/1.8 | 4.0 mm | ISO 1000


Like the P20 Pro, on a tripod, the camera will extend the 4-5 second exposure up to 22 seconds! The Mate 20 Pro tends to use quicker shutter speeds compared to the P20 Pro, and the resulting image has less blur than the P20 Pro. The images are a little better than the P20 Pro, but detail is still quite low. 


Huawei Mate20 Pro Low-light images


Google Pixel 3 - Night Sight

Handheld Night Sight | 1/11 sec | f/1.8 | 4.4 mm | ISO 296
Handheld Night Sight | 1/11 sec | f/1.8 | 4.4 mm | ISO 296


Handheld results are good, without being too over the top, although the colour is quite strong. On a tripod, there isn't a massive difference, however, the camera has reported using a lower ISO speed. With the night sight mode, Google says that the EXIF data isn't entirely accurate as the mode uses a combination of photos and merges them together. The level of detail captured is impressive, although there is more noise in the sky in the image. 


Google Pixel 3 Low-light images


OnePlus 6 - Night Scape

Night Handheld | 1/5 sec | f/1.7 | 4.2 mm | ISO 3200
Night Handheld | 1/5 sec | f/1.7 | 4.2 mm | ISO 3200


Using the night mode handheld, the image has ended up with a blurred photo. The Huawei night modes are designed to work handheld, so we were expecting to be able to do the same thing with the OnePlus 6 Night Scape mode. In fact, that's what the presentation of the OnePlus 6T suggested was possible with the Nightscape mode. The image, due to blur, is the worst on offer here.  


OnePlus 6 Low-light images


On a tripod, the HDR has gone crazy and produced an awful looking photo - the image should be sharp as it's on a tripod, but somehow it's not. We much prefer the results using the standard camera settings for this shot. 


Sony Xperia XZ3

Handheld Low Light | 1/16 sec | f/2.0 | 4.4 mm | ISO 2000
Handheld Low Light | 1/16 sec | f/2.0 | 4.4 mm | ISO 2000


The Sony Xperia XZ3 will auto detect a low-light scene, and in manual mode, you can select the HDR option. None of these settings really seem to go beyond what is possible with manual mode, and selecting a lower ISO speed. Noise is an issue unless you set the camera to ISO100, which then means you'll need to use a tripod. Due to the lack of optical image stabilisation, the camera is likely to use a higher ISO speed, in order to maintain a quicker shutter speed. 


Sony Xperia XZ3 Low-light images


Samsung Galaxy Note9

Handheld Low Light | 1/8 sec | f/1.5 | 4.3 mm | ISO 500
Handheld Low Light | 1/8 sec | f/1.5 | 4.3 mm | ISO 500


The Samsung Galaxy Note9, with a brighter f/1.5 lens, can capture more light and uses a lower ISO speed than some of the cameras here. For a standard shooting mode, with Scene Optimiser switched on, the camera has produced a good result.  


Samsung Galaxy Note9 Low-light images


Night Shooting With a Smartphone 

It's quite impressive what the cameras can capture using just the standard photo modes, thanks to optical image stabilisation, and a prime lens with a bright aperture. Viewed resized or on a smartphone, the results can look really good. But when you zoom in to the image to look for detail, this is where you see that some of the night modes aren't all they're cracked up to be. 

The night modes particularly on the Huawei smartphones can result in soft blurry images but do manage to capture a good amount of light. The OnePlus 6 gives images that are far too "HDR" processed, and the image is also blurry (easily the worst here - however, the standard photo, without the Night mode is still good), although hopefully this mode will be improved with future updates.

The Google Pixel 3 Night Sight mode gives a great balance between a normal looking photo, and a night photo, with extra detail. The Pixel 3 gives the best detail of all the smartphones, for this scene, thanks to "Super Res" technology. 

The Sony Xperia XZ3 suffers with noise, and the lack of optical image stabilisation also doesn't help. 

The Samsung Galaxy Note9 does a reasonable job, thanks to an f/1.5 aperture lens, OIS, and despite the lack of a "special" night mode, it does a good job by automatically detecting the scene. 

Overall, smartphones are making some impressive strides in image quality, however, none quite match the image quality on offer from the entry-level mirrorless camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II used here for these low-light shots. 


Low-light Smartphone Winners: Huawei Mate 20 Pro, P20 Pro, Google Pixel 3, Samsung Galaxy Note9
Low-light Smartphone Losers: OnePlus 6, Sony Xperia XZ3

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Jarno 2 Germany
30 Nov 2018 4:43PM
How about comparing classical long exposure and RAW processing for the smartphones too? Especially the 40MP Sensors could deliver great results.

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