Much praise has been bestowed on the iPhone 13 Pro’s camera system in the past weeks, with some reputable outlets calling it the best smartphone camera. But what if I told you there was another smartphone released recently, one that has unfortunately been buried by the onslaught of iPhone media coverage, that can go head-to-head with the iPhone 13 Pro, and more than hold its own? I’m talking about the Vivo X70 Pro Plus (or, as per official styling, X70 Pro+). I have been using it side-by-side with an iPhone 13 Pro or 13 Pro Max (the two Pro iPhones have identical cameras) for the past two weeks, a period in which I snapped hundreds of photos all around town. More often than not, I’ve preferred the shot from Vivo’s cameras.
But that’s just my personal preference, and there’s more to a smartphone camera than just still photos. So in this article, I’m going to share photos and videos I’ve captured and share my own observations.
Click to expand: Vivo X70 Pro+ and Apple iPhone 13 Pro/Pro Max: Specifications
Vivo X70 Pro+ and Apple iPhone 13 Pro/Pro Max: Specifications
|Specifications||Vivo X70 Pro Plus||Apple iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888+||Apple A15 Bionic|
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Optical in-display fingerprint reader||Face ID|
|Front Camera(s)||32MP||12MP TrueDepth camera system|
|Audio||Stereo speakers||Stereo speakers|
|Software||FunTouch OS 12 over Android 11||iOS 15|
|Other Features||Dual physical SIM||Dual physical SIM or Dual eSIM support|
Apple iPhone 13 Pro vs Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Main Camera
Comparing the cameras of an iPhone against a Chinese Android flagship used to be a story of software vs hardware. In the past, Apple would use relatively pedestrian camera hardware and then lean on its software smarts to produce a good image. Chinese Android brands, on the other hand, have been chasing higher megapixel counts and larger sensors for years — but they suffered from inferior software processing.
Apple and Vivo have taken steps in the other camp’s direction here. With the iPhone 13 Pro, Apple’s marketing team focused heavily on its “all-new camera sensors,” which in the case of the main 12MP camera is a larger 1/1.65 inch sensor, with a faster f/1.5 aperture too. Vivo, on the other hand, actually reused the same 50MP GN1 sensor of the X60 Pro Plus, and then leaned on its self-developed V1 imaging chip to handle ISP (image signal processing).
In other words, Apple chased flashier camera hardware numbers, while Vivo has developed its own SoC to handle the entire image processing pipeline the way Apple has for years.
The result? Both phones have awesome cameras that are much improved over their 2020 releases. With good lighting, shots from both phones look superb.
Both phones have some sort of filter options — the iPhone has “Photographic Style” while Vivo has “Zeiss true color.” I ignored both and shot on the default mode for both phones. We can see that Vivo generally dialed up the contrast, while the iPhone has more muted, true-to-life colors. This has been the case forever — the iPhone generally tries to show photos the way the eyes perceive it. For this particular above set, which camera performed better comes down to personal preference.
However, once we ramp up the difficulty by shooting in more challenging conditions, such as against harsh light or in high-contrast scenes, the iPhone 13 Pro has a tendency to over-expose the source of bright lights.
If you look out the window of all four of the above shots, you can see the iPhone 13 Pro’s shots show a bright white screen in place of what is the sky in Vivo’s shots.
You can argue that the iPhone is just “keeping the shot realistic” here, that Vivo’s images look overly processed, almost like it’s CGI’ed a sky into the shot. But in some instances, the iPhone 13 Pro over-exposes so bad that no justification can be made. Like the below shot — that’s not a stylistic choice, that’s just blowing out lights.
The problem becomes more noticeable at night, at least in a city like Hong Kong, where there are lots of bright neon lights to contrast with the darkness of night.
And while the iPhone 13 Pro’s image sensor is larger, it’s still smaller than the X70 Pro+’s 1/1.31 inch sensor. So if we take closer shots of objects/subjects, the X70 Pro+ images exhibit noticeably stronger natural bokeh for that extra depth-of-field. However, in these same close-up shots, I think the iPhone 13 Pro’s cameras produced more detailed textures and colors of these deceased sea animals.
Low Light Shots
Because the X70 Pro+ has a larger image sensor, it takes in more light naturally. But the iPhone 13 Pro has a really good night mode that kicks in seamlessly to even the playing field. So for the most part, in moderately low light photos, shots are quite even. These are generally excellent nighttime shots that phones from a couple of years ago would have fumbled on.
If you really want pixel peep and zoom in, Vivo’s shot is a bit brighter and sharper, but we’re in nitpicking territory.
The iPhone has arguably been the best phone for capturing videos for a good decade, but Android smartphones are closing the gap. In the below video sample, shot in 4K/30fps, you can see the Vivo’s X70 Pro+ actually has superior stabilization, particularly when I run (at the 0:10 mark). At night, the Vivo video footage is brighter with punchier colors.
But the iPhone 13 Pro still wins overall for me for a few reasons. It processes human skin tones on video much more naturally (I look overly pale in the Vivo footage), and the iPhone can switch between lenses in an almost seamless manner. Virtually all Android phones show a slight hiccup when switching between lenses mid-filming. In fact, Vivo’s X70 Pro Plus can’t switch between the ultra-wide and the main camera at all once you’ve begun rolling the camera. And I haven’t even talked about Cinematic mode, of which I’m a fan.
All in all, the iPhone 13 Pro still keeps the crown of the best video camera, but it’s much, much closer in 2021 than it was a couple of years ago.
Overall, if I must pick a winner, I’d say I prefer Vivo’s images better. Colors look more aesthetically pleasing to me, and there isn’t that over-exposure problem. But the iPhone’s main camera has a more responsive shutter. Vivo, like many other Android flagships, has a split-second delay between tapping on the shutter button and the picture actually snapping. The iPhone still captures better videos and close-up shots.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro vs Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Ultra-wide camera
The iPhone 13 Pro’s ultra-wide camera has improved over the last two years, thanks to a faster aperture (which takes in more light). For the most part, the iPhone 13 Pro’s ultra-wide shots look very good — it’s just no match for the Vivo X70 Pro+’s ultra-wide, whose shots almost always have better sharpness and proper exposure particularly in high-contrast scenes.
This isn’t too noticeable in daytime shots….
….unless you blow these images up to full size on a large monitor. For example, let’s take a closer look at the first set of samples, of a bustling street market in Hong Kong. The below collage are 100% crops of each image.
The center of the image is quite close, although you can see the iPhone 13 Pro’s image has more noise (look at the pavement) and image sharpness is just a tad softer. If we look at the edges of the ultra-wide shots, the differences become more apparent.
There’s noticeably more noise in the corners of the iPhone 13 Pro’s ultra-wide shot. This is the case if we zoom in 100% to the other set of daytime ultra-wide shots, of the highway overpass too. Vivo’s shot keeps the texture of the road and highway overpass cement block better. It’s just a sharper image all around.
This gap in image integrity widens at night. Not only is Vivo’s shot almost always sharper, but Vivo’s shot is usually properly exposed without suffering from the over-exposure problem of the iPhone 13 Pro images too. Below are two ultra-wide shots of a Chinese village, captured at night.
Even from the above framing, you should be able to see the X70 Pro+’s image is sharper. But zoom in 100%….
…and the difference is night and day. One more set.
All great. Now zoom in.
Before iPhone fans grab the pitchforks, keep in mind this is nitpicking on my end here (I’m supposed to!). For the most part, people aren’t taking ultra-wide shots to pixel peep on a larger monitor. They’re taking them to post to Instagram or Facebook. Once you decide to do that, the iPhone 13 Pro’s ultra-wide is still quite good. But calling it the Best would be technically incorrect and doing a disservice to the progress that Vivo has made.
Here are some more ultra-wide samples from both phones.
Both phones’ ultra-wide sensor can double as a macro lens — and it kicks in automatically for both phones when you get close enough to a subject. This is where the iPhone 13 Pro wins, as its macro mode can get closer to a subject and produce more accurate colors.
Vivo’s ultra-wide camera is built on a “gimbal camera system” that first made its debut in the Vivo X50 Pro. I’ve tested this gimbal system thoroughly in the past, and my takeaway is it does bring extra stabilization in extreme situations like running and climbing stairs. This is still the case here, as you can see the X70 Pro+’s footage is noticeably less shaky at the 0:03 mark as I am walking upstairs. Likewise at the 0:28 mark, when I’m running, the iPhone’s footage is much shakier.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro vs Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Portraits
The iPhone 13 Pro’s telephoto zoom lens got an upgrade this year, from the previous 2x (or 2.5x for the iPhone 12 Pro Max) to 3x this year. Not only is the focal length range longer, the image sensor is also larger, which along with Apple’s software smarts produces some really impressive portraits with excellent edge detection and a semi-natural bokeh (software still plays a role).
Vivo’s X70 Pro+ meanwhile, uses a 2x zoom lens for portraits, and in general, I think the iPhone wins this round. The iPhone’s 77mm 3x focal length is a more ideal focal length for portraits (Vivo’s shots seem just a tad further away than I’d like) and the X70 Pro+’s edge detection is just not as accurate.
Particularly in the last two sets of photos (the one shot at night, and the one of the wooden figure), Vivo’s depth perception and the software-generated bokeh are noticeably imperfect in both shots.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro vs Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Zoom shots
The iPhone 13 Pro has one zoom lens — a 3X telephoto zoom — while the Vivo X70 Pro+ has two zoom lenses — a 12MP 2X telephoto and an 8MP Periscope 5x zoom. On paper, Vivo takes this one right? The results are actually closer, at least in short zooms.
The iPhone’s 3x zoom is a more useful short zoom than Vivo’s 2x zoom in my opinion, and shots at 3x-4.9x are wins in the iPhone’s favor. In the below sample, the iPhone’s 3x optical zoom shot is slightly sharper than the X70 Pro+’s hybrid 3x zoom shot.
Once we hit 5x, then the X70 Pro+’s Periscope sensor kicks in, the X70 Pro+’s shot is clearly a more detailed, cleaner image. Because the iPhone’s 1x has a tighter field-of-view than Vivo’s 1x, the iPhone’s 3x and 5x zoom shots are closer too.
The quality gap widens if we go to 15x zoom.
So this really comes down to preference, because I know plenty of people who say short zoom is more important, and they never need anything beyond 5x. But me personally, I love zooming 10x, 15x into subjects across the street, or up a tall building, etc. We can call this one a tie.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro vs Vivo X70 Pro Plus: Selfies
As expected, Apple’s selfies tend to be warmer and more realistic, while Vivo’s selfies will whiten and smoothen my skin, even when I don’t turn on any type of beauty filter. Usually, this comes down to preference, but in the dozen or so selfies I captured, I prefer the iPhone 13 Pro’s selfies most of the time.
It’s not just that Vivo’s software makes my skin appear paler than I am, but also sometimes the X70 Pro+’s selfie will misfire. Like the below set, I turned on portrait mode for both, but only one phone produced that artificial bokeh I was going for.
In the below set, in which I purposely shot against very harsh sunlight to see how the cameras handle exposure, we can see the X70 Pro+ botched the first picture, completely blowing out the sky, while Apple found balance. This is ironic because, with the rear-facing main camera, it’s the other way around.
Vivo finally takes a win in the last set of selfies above, also against harsh backlight. But for the most part, the Apple selfie camera is more consistent and trustworthy. For selfie videos, both phones capture stabilized footage and pulled in light at a similar level, but the iPhone’s microphone is superior. My voice sounds too digitalized/processed in the X70 Pro+’s footage.
And then of course, the iPhone 13 Pro’s Cinematic mode also works for selfies, adding another strength to the iPhone 13 Pro’s selfie footage.
Conclusion: Two very competent camera phones, but I prefer the Vivo X70 Pro+
Let’s do a tally of the scorecard. Vivo’s X70 Pro+ wins the ultra-wide in a landslide, while Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro takes the portrait and selfies in conclusive fashion. For the main camera and zoom lens, I personally prefer the X70 Pro+’s cameras, but that can be up for debate. For example, while the X70 Pro+ main camera doesn’t over-expose like the iPhone’s, and colors seem more pleasing to my eyes, and on the other hand, one can argue the iPhone’s more responsive shutter and superior video recording evens the playing field.
Ultimately, these conclusions don’t surprise me. I’ve long thought iPhone cameras were the best for videos, selfies, and portraits, while top Android cameras produce punchier, more Instagram-worthy night landscape city shots. I’ve tested enough cameras to say that, in my opinion, the Vivo X70 Pro+ is the best all-around Android camera phone right now. But we’ll see what happens when the Google Pixel 6, which uses the same main image sensor as the X70 Pro+, hits the market in a few weeks.