Can You Tell the Difference Between a Medium Format Camera and a Cellphone?

The cameras in phones have come a long way, but can they stack up against the best of the best? When they both have over 100 megapixels, do they compare?

Cellphone cameras have come a long way since the Kyocera VP-210 (The first commercially availible cellphone with a camera), and with the help of computational photography making them reach even greater heights thanks to HDR, night mode, and the like. While 12 megapixels seems to be about average some phones, like the Samsung Note 20 Ultra I will be using in this comparison, have upwards of a whopping 108 megapixels on the “standard” lens. And that got me thinking, just how good have cellphone cameras become? What is holding cellphone cameras back, if anything?

I was recently sent the Fujifilm GFX100 and 30mm f/3.5 to review, which is coming soon, and felt it was a perfect combo to compare to my Note 20. The Note 20 has a full frame equivalent of 26mm at 108 megapixels, while the GFX and 30mm combo is 24mm full frame equivalent at 102 megapixels. This is just for fun, and not to be taken seriously in any way.

The Images

I wanted a mix of images for this comparison as the 24/26mm focal length is very versatile. However, as someone that mostly photographs people, I was definitely heavy on that front. I didn’t shoot any street images because, frankly, I’m trash as a street photographer. So the question is… Can you guess which is which? Answers will be written down below!

With this first image, I wanted to shoot something that has lots of detail, with all of the bricks and glass, and the wispy clouds in the sky, I feel that detail is one thing this photo doesn’t lack. Overall a nice, simple, image.

For the second image, I wanted to really push dynamic range, with deep shadows and the bright sky, and even some dappled light. I really like the leading line here, and you can see how the different camera lenses render the scene differently, with some parts stretched and others squished from distortion, or lack thereof.

This third photo I wanted to do something relatively editorial, and I have to say… I actually prefer the shot from the phone on this one! But the question is, which one is the phone, and which one is the Fuji, can you tell? The model for this shot is Lincoln Linker who killed it!

This shot, and the last shot, are probably the easiest shot to guess if you know what to look for. Starring Emerjade in an awesome Canadian tuxedo. Two shots left to go, then I’ll reveal the answers!

This penultimate shot was the hardest to expose, placing Emerjade right under the pink umbrella with the sun just off camera left made things very tough, even for the medium format GFX 100. The dynamic range in this photo was extreme but both cameras, in the end, held their own.

And our last photo, something simple and symmetrical. Another easy shot if you know what to look for! 

The Answers

Here are the answers, how many did you get right?

Shot 1: Left – GFX, Right – Note 20 Ultra

Shot 2: Left – GFX, Right – Note 20 Ultra

Shot 3: Left – Note 20 Ultra, Right – GFX

Shot 4: Left – GFX, Right – Note 20 Ultra

Shot 5: Left – Note 20 Ultra, Right – GFX

Shot 6: Left – Note 20 Ultra, Right – GFX


There are a few things that give away different shots. For one, Samsung really likes to over sharpen their images, so for example, in shot 6 the trees, and shot 3 in Emerjade’s jeans, you can really see the over sharpening. On the Note 20 Ultra, in the 108 megapixel mode you are also locked to jpg, with no raw option. The lack of raw, coupled with Samsung’s over-processing means that when it comes to cropping in too far, or editing too much the image breaks apart rapidly.

There is also the matter of resolving power. While the GFX and Note 20 can both take fantastic images, things break apart when you try to zoom in. I think this is simply because a plastic lens just cannot resolve that much detail, especially on a sensor that small. In order for the cameras to be able to be truly comparable, we would need raw output of the full 108 megapixels, as well as real, high quality, glass lenses. 

In the 100% crops, you can see, very easily, which image belongs to the Samsung, and which belongs to the Fujifilm. The Samsung image is full of this wormy noise, and lacks the true resolving power of the fantastic GFX 30mm (Review coming soon). Because of this, Samsung over-sharpens the image to try and compensate for the lack of detail, and it looks fine most of the time, but if you zoom in too far, things break apart.


Overall, I think that this little test really shows that Chase Jarvis was right when he said “The best camera you have is the one you have with you.” While the 100 megapixels of the Note 20 Ultra is really more like 50 when you account for resolving power, it’s a fantastic camera but I think I’ll use it more in the 12 megapixel pixel binned mode. 

Something I noticed was that on top of the high megapixels, the dynamic range of the Samsung actually overpowered that of the Fuji. You can see this best in image number five, in which the sky is totally blown out on the GFX, and the detail is still there on the Note 20 thanks to the automatic HDR and the computational photography, and all of the behind the scenes magic that we take for granted on our cellphones. 

While cellphones have computational photography on their side, mirrorless cameras and DSLRs have interchangeable, glass lenses, bigger sensors, full raw capability, the ability to easily use flash, etc., so it’s not necessarily apples to apples.

How did you do? Did you guess all of the images right, or did you get some wrong? What do you think of the advancements cellphones have made? Sound off in the comments below!


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