Every year, tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee (better known as MKBHD) performs a blind test of a smartphone camera. While the test is far from scientific – and Brownlee himself points out several flaws in the video, like the lack of control or reference photos – it’s interesting how people view the footage, especially when you compare them side by side. .
The test involves taking photos with a variety of smartphones and pitting them face-to-face in social media votes. Brownlee subscribers can vote on pairs of photos they think are the most beautiful. Each winner moves to face the winner from another group.
Brownlee’s test always includes some surprising upsets, often with smartphones praised for their excellent cameras being knocked out of the test early. For example, last year the iPhone 11 Pro was knocked out in the first round by the OnePlus 7T Pro. If you were hoping this year would be different thanks to the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s camera improvements, we’ve got some bad news – the OnePlus 8T knocked it out in the first round. In fact, Brownlee notes at the start of the video that an iPhone never came out of the first round, and that is true this year.
Other surprises include the OnePlus 8 Pro getting knocked out by the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra. The Mi 10 Ultra then beat the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra in the semi-finals. Another surprise was the Pixel 5, which lost to the Zenfone 7 Pro in the second round. The Zenfone 7 Pro won the competition against the Mi 10 Pro.
Contest reveals more about how people see photos than phone cameras
While seeing the results is interesting, perhaps the most intriguing part of the video is when Brownlee reviews what the competition has revealed about how people view the photos. First, Brownlee explains that things like exposure, white balance, and saturation often become deciding factors in direct comparisons. In the case of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, it tends towards a cooler white balance, which caused some issues in the first comparison photo and ultimately led to the loss.
However, Brownlee also notes that exposure, white balance, and saturation can be easily changed after taking a photo. So while the iPhone’s default unmodified output might have been lost, it wouldn’t be difficult to change the image’s white balance and exposure to better reflect what you want to capture. The most important factors, according to Brownlee, are things like detail and dynamic range.
The other thing Brownlee is talking about is squeezing on Twitter and Instagram. The two services compress the images that users upload to them, but they do it differently. Brownlee used the final comparison photo as an example – the Zenfone 7 Pro won on Twitter but lost on Instagram due to differences caused by compression, but overall had enough votes to beat the Mi 10 Ultra.
What does all this mean for smartphone cameras? Well, not much, really. Most flagship smartphones take great photos across the board, and with a few tweaks to things like exposure or white balance, they’ll look great. Plus, thanks to compression, when you share a photo on social media, it may not even look like the way you originally took it. Still, it’s an interesting test and the results are always surprising.