The Galaxy Note 8 is the first Samsung flagship to have a dual camera. It's a milestone for the brand, even if others have already done it. Samsung played it safe with the Note 8 and didn't make any risky changes, so from my perspective, the dual camera is its most exciting feature. Therefore, we're devoting an entire article just to the main camera of the Galaxy Note 8.
As with the iPhone 7 Plus, the two lenses in the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 differ by a factor of two in terms of focal length. In the app, there is a 2x button, which allows you to jump between the two lenses. Alternatively, of course, the pinch-to-zoom gesture can also be used, and when you go beyond 2x magnification, it switches automatically.
In addition to the 2x optical zoom, the Note 8 also offers digital zoom up to 10x. At this level, the images produced effectively have a resolution of just 800 x 600 pixels and are interpolated again to 12 MP. Reasonably good photos can be expected at up to 4x magnification.
I've consciously decided not to bring up the OnePlus 5 in this discussion for several reasons. First, the Note 8 and iPhone 7 Plus are in another price range. Second, I find the camera configuration of the OnePlus 5 to be screwy. If you want to know more about it, we've compared the OnePlus 5 and iPhone 7 Plus cameras in detail.
The aperture of a lens describes how much light reaches the image sensor: the smaller the number, the more light reaches the sensor. More light allows for faster shutter speeds or lower sensitivity, and thus, less noise and blur from shaking.
The wide-angle lens of the Galaxy Note 8 has an aperture of f / 1.7. The telephoto lens has double the focal length and an f / 2.4 aperture - thus, it's exactly one f-stop less. So, in order to photograph with the telephoto lens, you basically need twice as much light. The iPhone 7 Plus has the same problem, with an f / 1.8 aperture in its wide angle lens and f / 2.8 in the telephoto one.
While the difference between f / 1.7 and f / 1.8 is almost negligible, the difference between f / 2.4 and f / 2.8 is more noticeable. The latter corresponds to half a stop - what takes the iPhone 7 Plus 1/10th of a second to photograph, takes the Note 8 only 1/15th of a second, that means less chance of shakiness.
Optical image stabilization
The optical image stabilization should make a big difference here. In the iPhone 7 Plus, only the wide angle lens has OIS, while on the Note 8, both lenses have OIS. This is a welcome change, since unsteady hands are more of an issue at high focal lengths than with wide angle shots.
The bottom line here is that the Note 8 will produce better performance with high focal length, zoomed-in shots than competitors without optical image stabilization or those that only get light information from a second black-and-while lens.
A bit surprisingly, I discovered that the second lens doesn't have dual pixel auto focus. It's possible that the aperture of the telephoto lens is not sufficient for this purpose, as phase detection sensors require a certain amount of light to hit the sensor. Unfortunately, we didn't get any further information from Samsung on this topic, but we will keep you up to date as soon as we know more.
Bokeh or portrait mode
Like all dual camera smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 also has a bokeh mode. The phablet takes a photo of the same image with both lenses and calculates a depth map of the subject based on the offset between the two lenses. This makes it possible to distinguish the foreground and background from each other - and to blur the background for a DSLR portrait look.
This feature is nothing new, but Samsung still manages to add a few touches that put it ahead of the competition. Namely, there's a live preview, which shows the intensity of the bokeh effect and allows you to adjust it via a slider. The only other phone on the market now that can do that is the Nokia 8. When using the bokeh mode, the Note 8 also saves the original, unedited versions of the photos from both lenses, allowing you to change the intensity of the effect later if you decide to.
For the sake of mentioning it, the front camera has 8 MP, auto focus and an f / 1.7 aperture. But it lacks extras like selfie flash or a front dual camera.
Here's the bottom line: The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 has the most promising camera on the smartphone market. Instead of coming up with a unique innovation, the South Korean firm took the Apple route. After other manufacturers introduced a new feature that was still a little rough around the edges, Samsung worked out the kinks and is now presenting a more refined final product to the masses.
As long as our detailed, final review of the Note 8 doesn't reveal any bad surprises, I would wager that the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 would be the winner in any head-to-head comparison with phones already on the market. Your move, Apple.