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Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) Camera review: A slight Qualcomm advantage

Reading Time: 15 min read
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camera

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 5G is the least expensive of the company’s current high-end S21 series. Here we examine the version based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 chipset, which is sold in the US and China (we’ve previously reviewed the global version, powered by Samsung’s own Exynos chip).

The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) features a 120 Hz 6.2-inch AMOLED screen with a hole punch for the selfie camera. It has 8 GB of memory with either 128 or 256 GB of storage. There are three cameras on the back; the main wide and ultra-wide modules have 12 MP sensors. The tele camera starts quite wide (76˚ field of view) but uses its 64 MP sensor to retain detail while zooming in, with the output binned down to 12 MP.

Read on to find out how the S21 5G (Snapdragon) performs in our DXOMARK Camera tests.

Key camera specifications:

  • Standard-wide: 12 MP 1/1.76-inch sensor with 1.8μm pixels, 26 mm-equivalent f/1.8 lens, dual-pixel PDAFOIS
  • Ultra-wide: 12 MP sensor with 1.4μm pixels, 13 mm-equivalent f/2.2 lens
  • Tele: 64 MP 1/1.72-inch sensor with 0.8μm pixels, 29 mm-equivalent f/2.0 lens
  • LED flash
  • 8K at 24 fps, 4K at 60 fps (tested), HDR10+

About DXOMARK Camera tests: For scoring and analysis in our smartphone camera reviews, DXOMARK engineers capture and evaluate over 3000 test images and more than 2.5 hours of video both in controlled lab environments and in natural indoor and outdoor scenes, using the camera’s default settings. This article is designed to highlight the most important results of our testing. For more information about the DXOMARK Camera test protocol, click here. More details on how we score smartphone cameras are available here.

Test summary


Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)
119
camera
124
photo
73
zoom
101
video

Pros

  • Fairly neutral white balance and accurate color rendering in stills and video
  • Stills exposure accurate in bright to moderate light
  • Detail is high in stills and video in bright to moderate light
  • Mostly accurate depth estimation in portrait mode, natural blur effect
  • Ultra-wide field of view very wide
  • Stabilization works well when walking
  • Video autofocus usually accurate

Cons

  • Autofocus failures and instability in photo mode
  • Luminance and chroma noise often visible in stills
  • Limited dynamic range in backlit portrait scenes
  • Hue shift, color quantization, flare, color fringing, aliasing, moiré, ringing artifacts (especially in videos)
  • Poor image quality at medium and long zoom ratios, low detail and visible noise
  • Noise usually visible in videos in moderate to low light

With an overall score of 119, the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) falls a bit short of the top-ranked phones in our database but is competitive with devices in the Premium ($600-799) price segment. Apple’s iPhone 12 outscores it by just a few points (122), while the global (Exynos) version of the S21 comes in a few points lower (116).

The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) has particularly accurate white balance, with nicely rendered colors under a variety of conditions.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) main camera captures generally pleasing photos under most conditions. Color is particularly accurate. Its photo score of 124 is not bad for its price class but there are devices that outscore it, such as the iPhone 12 (132). Issues with autofocus reliability, noise, and limited dynamic range hold the score down.

The Zoom composite score of 73 is respectable, though it’s far from the best-scoring phones in our ranking: wide performance is very good, but the tele end of the zoom is less impressive. The video score of 101 is acceptable but a bit a lackluster compared to the better performers in its class (such as the iPhone 12, which scores 112) .

The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) is broadly competitive with other phones in its price category and delivers generally satisfying imaging performance, but it doesn’t push the limits of what a phone in its class can do.

Below you can find detailed analyses and image samples for all Photo, Zoom, and Video sub-attributes, along with comparisons with one of the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s competitors, the Apple iPhone 12, and with the international version Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos).

Photo

The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) achieves a Photo score of 124. In this section, we take a closer look at each sub-attribute and compare image quality against competitors.

Exposure and Contrast

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

83

111

Huawei P50 Pro
Best: Huawei P50 Pro (111)

In these tests we analyze target exposure, contrast, and dynamic range, including repeatability across a series of images. Tests are undertaken in a wide range of light conditions, including backlit scenes and low light down to 1 lux. The score is derived from a number of objective measurements in the lab and perceptual analysis of real-life images.

These samples show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s exposure performance in backlit conditions compared to the competition.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), highlight clipping
Apple iPhone 12, highlight and shadow clipping
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), highlight clipping

Color

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

102

106

Huawei P50 Pro
Best: Huawei P50 Pro (106)

In these tests we analyze color rendering, skin tones, white balance, and color shading, including repeatability across a series of images. The score is derived from a number of objective measurements in the lab and perceptual analysis of real-life images.

These samples show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s color performance in outdoor light compared to the competition.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), accurate white balance, pleasant skin tones
Apple iPhone 12, slightly less saturated color
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), accurate white balance, pleasant skin tones

Autofocus

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

90

109

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
Best: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max (109)

In these tests we analyze autofocus accuracy and shooting time, including repeatability, in the lab. We test focus failures, depth of field, and tracking of moving subjects using perceptual analysis of real-life images.

This graph shows autofocus performance of the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) in outdoor 1000 lux light compared to two competitors.

AF speed and accuracy at 1000 lux, 2 EV brightness range: Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) is slower than comparison phones.

Texture

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

95

111

Xiaomi Mi 11
Best: Xiaomi Mi 11 (111)

In these tests we analyze texture on faces and objects, including objects in motion, in a range of light conditions, using several lab test setups and perceptual analysis of real-life images.

These samples show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s texture performance in outdoor light compared to the competition.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), crop: good detail
Apple iPhone 12
Apple iPhone 12, crop: good detail
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos)
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), crop: good detail

This graph shows the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s texture measurements in the lab.

Texture comparison: good texture across all light levels

Noise

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

71

99

Huawei P50 Pro
Best: Huawei P50 Pro (99)

In these tests we analyze noise on faces and objects, including objects in motion, in a range of light conditions, using several lab test setups and perceptual analysis of real-life images.

These samples show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s noise performance in low light compared to the competition.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), low light
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), crop: good detail
Apple iPhone 12, low light
Apple iPhone 12, crop: good detail
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), low light
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), crop: good detail

Bokeh

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

70

80

Huawei P50 Pro
Best: Huawei P50 Pro (80)

For these tests we switch to the camera’s bokeh or portrait mode and analyze depth estimation, bokeh shape, blur gradient, and repeatability, as well as all other general image quality attributes mentioned above. The score is derived from perceptual analysis of real-life images.

These samples show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s bokeh simulation in daylight compared to the competition.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), good subject separation, natural blur
Apple iPhone 12, more depth-sensing errors, less natural blur, green color cast
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), good subject separation, natural blur

Night

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

59

82

Huawei Mate 40 Pro+
Best: Huawei Mate 40 Pro+ (82)

In these tests we shoot a selection of images in pitch-black darkness as well as with city lights in the background providing some illumination. We shoot sample images with the camera at default settings in both flash-auto and flash-off modes. We analyze all image quality attributes but we pay particular attention to exposure, autofocus, and color. We do not test night modes that have to be activated manually.

These samples show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s night performance in flash-auto mode compared to the competition.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), flash-auto: unnatural skin tone with flash
Apple iPhone 12, flash-auto: good exposure, natural color
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), flash-auto: good target exposure, better skin tone

Artifacts

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

63

75

Google Pixel 4
Best: Google Pixel 4 (75)

In these tests we check images for optical artifacts such as vignetting, flare, lens softness in the corner, distortion, and chromatic aberrations, as well as for processing artifacts such as ghosting and fusion errors, hue shift, and ringing.

This sample shows hue shift, color fringing, aliasing, and maze and moiré artifacts.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), artifacts
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), crop: hue shift, color fringing

Preview

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

60

77

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
Best: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max (77)

In these tests we analyze the image quality of the preview image and the differences between preview images and captured images, particularly in terms of exposure, dynamic range, and bokeh effect. We also check the smoothness of the field-of-view changes in the preview image when zooming with both buttons or when using the pinch-zoom gesture.

These samples show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s preview performance in portrait mode.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), preview: clipped highlights
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), final image: greater dynamic range than in preview

Zoom

The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) achieves a Zoom score of 73. The Zoom score includes the tele and wide sub-scores. In this section, we take a closer look at how these sub-scores were achieved and compare zoom image quality against competitors.

Wide

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

46

57

Huawei P50 Pro
Best: Huawei P50 Pro (57)

In these tests we analyze the performance of the ultra-wide camera at several focal lengths from 12 to 20 mm. We look at all image quality attributes, but we pay particular attention to such artifacts as chromatic aberrations, lens softness, and distortion.

These samples show the performance of the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s ultra-wide camera in outdoor conditions compared to the competition.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), ultra-wide: very wide field of view
Apple iPhone 12, ultra-wide: very wide field of view
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), ultra-wide: very wide field of view

Tele

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

91

140

Huawei P50 Pro
Best: Huawei P50 Pro (140)

In these tests we analyze all image quality attributes at focal lengths from approximately 40 to 300 mm, paying particular attention to texture and detail. The score is derived from a number of objective measurements in the lab and perceptual analysis of real-life images.

These samples show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s and its competitors’ tele performance outdoors at a 90 mm-equivalent zoom setting.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), 90 mm zoom
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), crop: reduced detail
Apple iPhone 12, 90 mm zoom
Apple iPhone 12, crop: very low detail, underexposure
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), 90 mm zoom
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), crop: better detail

Video

The Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon) achieves a Video score of 101. A device’s overall Video score is derived from its performance and results across a range of attributes in the same way as the Photo score. In this section, we take a closer look at these sub-scores and compare video quality against competitors.

In our Video tests we analyze the same image quality attributes as for still images, such as white balance and color rendering, but we also include such temporal aspects as speed, and smoothness and stability of exposure, and autofocus.

NOTE: The sample video clips in this section are best viewed at 4K resolution

Exposure and Contrast

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

90

103

Huawei P50 Pro
Best: Huawei P50 Pro (103)

These video stills show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s video exposure characteristics in low light compared to the competition.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), video still, underexposure in low light
Apple iPhone 12, video still, better exposure in low light
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), video still, underexposure in low light

Color

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

95

105

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
Best: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra (105)

These video stills show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s video color in indoor light.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), some visible white balance instabilities.
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), good white balance.

Autofocus

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

89

108

Huawei P50 Pro
Best: Huawei P50 Pro (108)

These sample clips show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s video autofocus performance in low light.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), slower autofocus, better stabilization
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), some visible “jello” effect

Texture

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

70

97

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
Best: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra (97)

These video stills show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s video texture in indoor light compared to the competition.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), video still
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), crop: good detail
Apple iPhone 12, video still
Apple iPhone 12, crop: good detail
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), video still
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), crop: good detail

Noise

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

69

105

Huawei Mate 40 Pro
Best: Huawei Mate 40 Pro (105)

These sample clips show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s video noise performance in indoor light.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), visible noise but good detail
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), more noise, less detail

Artifacts

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

76

94

Oppo Find X2 Pro
Best: Oppo Find X2 Pro (94)

For video artifacts, we check for the same kinds of artifacts mentioned in the Photo section, along with such video-specific artifacts as frame rate variation in different light conditions, judder effect, and moving artifacts (artifacts such as aliasing, color quantization, and flare can often be more intrusive when moving than in a still image).

This video still shows ringing artifacts.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), video still
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), crop: ringing

 

Stabilization

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)

98

102

Huawei P50 Pro
Best: Huawei P50 Pro (102)

In these tests we analyze residual motion when handholding the camera during recording, as well as when walking and running with the camera. We also look for stabilization artifacts such as jello effect, sharpness differences between frames, and frame shift (abrupt changes of framing).

These sample clips show the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon)’s video stabilization in laboratory conditions.

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Snapdragon), efficient static stabilization
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (Exynos), less effective stabilization

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