Does the iPhone SE or Galaxy A51 have the best camera? Here are the pros and cons

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Lexy Savvides / CNET

the Samsung Galaxy A51 It is a power of $ 400 (£ 329, AU $ 599) with four cameras that give flexibility for photography, from ultra wide angle to macro. But the new Apple iPhone SEDespite having only a rear camera, it has smart photography features taken from more expensive models like the iPhone 11. This is how these two $ 400 phones compare in everything from portraits and landscapes to video recording.

Read more: iPhone SE 2020 is proof that Apple won't actually bring back the little phone


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iPhone SE or Galaxy A51: Battle of the $ 400 phone cameras


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The Galaxy A51 has more cameras for variety.

Right away, the Galaxy has four rear cameras: a 48-megapixel f2 main camera, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle, a 5-megapixel macro camera, and a depth sensor. The iPhone SE has a single 12-megapixel rear camera at f1.8.

But while the variety sounds great on paper, in practice, I found myself getting a lot of use from just two of the four. The depth camera, for example, doesn't really take photos. Only used for live focus shots (or portrait mode).

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Lexy Savvides / CNET

In addition to using the main camera, I found that the ultra-wide camera on the Galaxy A51 was more practical than the macro camera and was what I missed the most when taking photos on the iPhone SE. That's because I was able to shoot a larger area without having to physically backtrack. Use the sliders in the image below to see the difference in perspective from wide to ultra wide.

That doesn't mean that the A51's macro camera is a failure. For macro photos, there is no competition: the Galaxy A51 can capture photos at a much closer range than the iPhone SE, although it needs much of light to get the best out of this camera. I got the best results from taking photos of plants outside on a bright sunny day, while anything I tried to take indoors turned into a blurry and unfocused mess.

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One of my successful macro photos.

Lexy Savvides / CNET

Also, there is no optical image stabilization (OIS) on any of the Galaxy A51's cameras, unlike the iPhone SE which has OIS on the rear camera.

Neither phone has optical zoom, so I relied on digital zoom to zoom in on objects: 5x on the SE and 8x on the A51. Both produce an acceptable 5x shot, but the iPhone image looks less sharp and "crisp" than the A51.

The vivid photos of the Galaxy A51 versus the natural look of the iPhone SE

The Galaxy A51 has a scene optimizer that is turned on by default. The camera automatically detects the subject in the frame, such as food or landscapes, and then enhances the photo. Causes colors to come off the screen, but in some cases, particularly with food or flower photos, the scene optimizer makes images look too Oversaturated The iPhone SE produces a more natural-looking shot, which I like better than the Galaxy A51's vivid colors. Your personal preference may differ from mine.

Both the Galaxy A51 and iPhone SE have an HDR mode to help balance shadow and bring out detail, and both phones did such a good job that I found it difficult to separate HDR performance from each other.

When looking at photos at a reduced magnification on a computer screen, there wasn't much to separate the two at all except color saturation. But when I took a closer look at the 100% crop, many photos I took with the regular Galaxy A51 camera seemed less detailed than the equivalent shot on the iPhone SE.

Portrait and night modes are closer than you think

Both phones can help your subject stand out by blurring the background to achieve an effect similar to a photo taken on a DSLR with a wide aperture.

IPhone performs this blur or "bokeh" effect more naturally, especially if you take the effect to extremes and want to blur the background as much as possible. But the Galaxy A51 has better edge detection thanks to that depth camera, so there was more definition between my subject and the background. Sometimes fine details like hair confused the iPhone SE, so some of these details got lost in the blurry background.

The iPhone SE can only take photos in portrait mode of people, while the Galaxy A51 works on any subject, including pets. You just need to make sure your animal friend stays still while taking the photo.

Only the Galaxy A51 offers a dedicated night mode for taking photos in low-light situations. While this sounds great for the A51 on the surface, the iPhone SE can take comparable photos even without that mode. The iPhone SE produced a usable night photo as long as I kept my hand steady. But I had to do the same for the A51 when using night mode.

The Galaxy A51 captures more sharpness and retains the most outstanding details than the iPhone SE at night, but not much. It also generates a smaller 8 megapixel file when using night mode.

Selfies are more natural on iPhone SE

Although the Galaxy A51's front camera offers more megapixels (32!), The iPhone SE produces photos with more natural colors. In my opinion, the Galaxy A51 oversaturated the red channel so much that my brown hair looked almost copper in some selfies. The A51 captures a sharper shot overall than the iPhone SE's 7-megapixel front camera, but the iPhone's colors and skin tone look more lifelike.

However, for video resolution, the Galaxy A51 has the advantage. You can take 4K video from the front camera while iPhone SE peaks at 1080p. You can see a sample of both in the video on this page.

IPhone SE takes advantage for video

I shot all the video on this page on both the iPhone SE and Galaxy A51 and found that the iPhone definitely worked better overall here. In good light, the image looks cleaner with less noise than the Galaxy and OIS on the iPhone makes a big difference when recording video. The clips I shot on the 4K handheld looked super smooth on the iPhone SE compared to the same resolution on the Galaxy A51, which has no OIS. You can get 1080p digital image stabilization on the Galaxy and it helps if you're shooting on your handheld.

The iPhone can also shoot at 4K / 60 fps, while the A51 can only shoot at 4K / 30. Autofocus on the Galaxy A51 is not as smooth as on the iPhone SE. For many clips, especially when shooting a static subject, I had to lock focus before shooting to keep things smooth. I noticed that the autofocus contracted when shooting a moving subject on the Galaxy A51. On the iPhone, the movements seemed smoother and more cinematic.

The audio from both is fine, but the iPhone sounds fuller and rounder compared to the clips from the Galaxy, despite both phones recording in stereo.

Does the iPhone SE or Galaxy A51 have the best camera?

Both $ 400 phones have capable cameras that exceed the asking price. Galaxy offers more flexibility if you want to be able to switch between different scenarios, such as using ultra wide angle or macro. But the iPhone has stronger video recording, and in some cases the camera captures more detail at full magnification. Regardless of which phone you choose, you'll get a lot of camera for your money, but I'd personally choose the iPhone SE for its more powerful video recording. I would choose the Galaxy A51 if I wanted the flexibility of an ultra wide angle lens.

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