Samsung Galaxy Note 2 vs Note 3: Camera Shootout

November 4, 2013 - Written By Nick Sutrich

In our last comparison series between the Galaxy Note II and Note 3, we look at one of the most important parts of a modern smartphone: the camera.  As has been the trend in recent years, the camera of the Galaxy Note 3 is a considerably better camera than the one on the Galaxy Note II, or at least it looks that way on paper.  Pictures taken with the Galaxy Note 3 sport over 60% more pixels than ones taken with the Note II, meaning the possibility of clearer, sharper pictures with more detail should be even more achievable than ever.  We’ve also learned a thing or two in years past when it comes to sensor size though, and that is that a larger sensor means better pictures, so while megapixels aren’t the end-all-be-all factor of better pictures, they can help things quite a bit.  Samsung has upgraded the sensor size from a paltry 1/3.2 on the Note 2 to the same 1/3.06 from the Galaxy S4, meaning that while we’re talking a 60% increase in the number of pixels present in any given picture taken from the Note 3 vs the Note II, we’re only talking a 5% increase in sensor size to accept more light into those pixels.  This means that while darker shots might be a hair better with the Note 3 vs the Note 2, we’re still not talking HTC One levels of awesome low-light shots here.  Still an improvement is an improvement and we’re certainly thankful for this progress.  For now let’s move on to the actual samples, shall we?

For the first set of shots we’ll focus on plants, since those seem to be colorful and full of detail.  From the first two shots of the red bromeliad you can see the Note 3 is more vibrant and features deeper shadows than the Note 2.  I took all these shots by holding the phones side by side, so any difference in the angle is due to that.  I did this to try to account for any light changes that would normally happen during the day because of clouds, sun, etc.  The second set of shots is pretty identical, with color reproduction essentially the same on both.  What I did notice is that the light settings on the Note 3 seem to be more balanced overall, and you don’t see that smartphone haze or glow when lots of bright light meets shadows.

Our next set of images gives a bit of contrast with these sticks in the yard, showing lots of shadowing and bright light, in addition to a variety of colors.  The biggest difference here is not just in the shadows, in which the Note 3 again seems to have deeper blacks and doesn’t get as washed out as the Note II does, but the Note 3 also seems to have a deeper field of view, keeping more things in the picture in focus.  This is readily apparent by the background in the picture with the bundle of sticks, and the foreground in the picture with the single stick.

Next up are some of my favorite kinds of shots: macro.  The macro on the Note II is incredible, and I’ve taken some amazing pictures with the device in my year’s time with it.  The Note 3’s, however, is a mixed bag.  While it excels at macro shots of wide subjects, like the tree bark, which is still a macro shot but the subject takes up the whole picture.  The spider picture, on the other hand, was incredibly difficult to take in the first place.  I had to take 4 shots with the Note 3 before I was happy with the result, whereas the Note II caught the spider in 1 shot.  The Note II also did a considerably better job with focusing in on the single small target, which is something the Note 3 struggles with consistently.  Hopefully Samsung can fix the software here, because it’s unfortunately impossible to get the same kind of macro shots with the Note 3 as you can with the Note II.

Next up are some wide outdoor shots, the first of which is at a small pond with houses surrounding it.  Notice on the Note II’s picture how the treeline in the background isn’t in focus, and it’s got a strange hazy blue tint to it.  The Note 3 not only has this treeline in focus, but it’s also got darker shadows and correct lighting/coloring.  Overall the Note 3’s picture looks sharper too thanks to the 60% more pixels that the 13MP camera offers over the 8MP camera on the Note II.  In the second shot the Note 3’s darker shadows actually cause it to lose a little bit of detail, particularly when it comes to the palms in the background.  Again you can see the blueish haze tint on those same trees in the Note II’s picture.  This one is probably up to preference as far as which you like better.

Thanks to the slightly larger sensor, the Note 3 takes in a little more light than the Note II, helping in situations like this where the light is very bright in some spots, the subject is very dark and the overall lighting conditions are fairly dark.  The Note II has trouble focusing in general and gets a little blurry, while the Note 3 seems to have no issue at all.  Speaking of lots of dark vs. light photos, the HDR algorithm seems to be improved on the Note 3, even if just a little bit.  You can see the light coming through the leaves on this papaya plant on the Note 3’s shot, and the clouds have more detail.  Again thanks to the 13MP camera on the Note 3, the leaves of the oak tree in the background are much crisper and more detailed than the Note II’s 8MP shot.

Essentially the Note 3’s camera is a cast improvement in every single area except for macro shooting.  As can be seen in this final shot comparison using a medium-sized subject and trying to focus in on the minor details of the flower.  The Note 3 has less bloom, better color accuracy and higher detail, but again fails to focus in on the center of the subject because it is too close, whereas the Note II has no issue grabbing it right away.  Overall the Note 3 will be giving you considerably better photos in many cases, with just a few outliers here and there.  Check out our full Galaxy Note 3 review right here if you’re interested in learning more about the Galaxy Note 3.