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Can a $450 phone beat the Samsung Galaxy S23’s cameras? It’s close

Samsung Galaxy S23 and Galaxy A54 in hand
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Samsung has a typical release schedule each year that starts with the main flagship devices. After that, there are some new, budget-friendly options.

So far in 2023, Samsung has given us the flagship Galaxy S23 lineup, which includes the S23, S23 Plus, and the S23 Ultra. Though the S23 Ultra is no doubt the most powerful of the trio, the standard S23 is also great for those who want a more compact smartphone that still packs a punch.

Samsung also updated its newest midrange line, the Galaxy A-Series, with the Galaxy A54. It looks very similar to the S23 in terms of design and camera layout, but without the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip and a telephoto lens.

But what if you are looking at these devices just for the cameras? Which one is better? Even though they both look similar, that doesn’t mean the photos will come out the same. Let’s take a look at how the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S23 and A54 perform against each other.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. A54: camera specs

Samsung Galaxy S23 and Galaxy A54
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Before we examine some photos taken with both phones, let’s look at the specs for both. On the surface, they both have a triple-lens camera system, but they are not the same.

On the Samsung Galaxy S23, we have a 50MP main camera with f/1.8 aperture, dual-pixel phase detection autofocus (PDAF), and optical image stabilization (OIS). There is also a 12 ultrawide camera with f/2.2 aperture and 120-degree field of view (FOV), as well as a 10MP telephoto with f/2.4 aperture, PDAF, OIS, and 3x optical zoom. The selfie camera is 12MP with f/2.2 aperture and dual-pixel PDAF.

The Samsung Galaxy A54 also has a 50MP main shooter with f/1.8 aperture, along with PDAF and OIS. The ultrawide camera is 12MP with f/2.2 aperture and 123-degree FOV. Unfortunately, the Galaxy A54 does not have a telephoto lens — instead, that third camera on the rear is a 5MP macro lens with f/2.4 aperture. The selfie camera is an impressive 32MP with f/2.2 aperture.

Specs-wise, the Galaxy S23 definitely looks more impressive since it has the telephoto lens, which is absent on the A54, And macro lenses are far less impressive on smartphones in general. The A54 does have that 32MP selfie camera, though!

Now, let’s see how the cameras actually perform.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. A54: main camera

We’ll start by taking a look at the main cameras. Again, they are both pretty similar because they’re both 50MP.

Spring finally brought us some gorgeous blooms this year in California, thanks to the enormous amount of rain we got this past winter. Here’s a pink rose at the park. Both photos look the same, except the S23 version appears to be more vibrant, especially the petals and the leaves from the bush. You also get more texture and finer details from the S23 photo over the A54 version. but they’re both very similar overall.

One thing that we noted in our Galaxy A54 review is that — though Samsung is known for making colors appear oversaturated in general — the A54 takes it to a whole other level. That’s apparent in this shot of the rose garden at the park. The Galaxy A54 version is overly saturated where the sunlight hits the plants and trees, and as a result, a lot of finer details are lost because it looks much more muddled. Though the Galaxy S23 image is still very bright, it’s more realistic and true to life than the A54 version. The sunlit plants and trees don’t appear washed-out, and you can make out the individual leaves much better. Contrast is also better with the S23.

Here’s an image of my daughter standing near a park monument. Excuse her hair — there was a bit of draft at that moment.

The S23 picture looks better in terms of showing the details and texture of the monument — and even the finer details in my daughter’s hair that’s sticking up. But the S23 doesn’t seem to get the skin tone or clothing color completely accurate, as the A54 version is more true to life in that regard, though the rest of the image looks a bit washed-out.

This image features many decorative paper lanterns at a fancy Chinese restaurant nearby. Both the Galaxy S23 and A54 captured the lanterns well, but the S23 does a better job of getting the details and textures of each lantern, even the ones off in the distance toward the left side. The S23 photo is also closer to reality, as the overall warm tone adds to the ambiance of the restaurant. The Galaxy A54 image leans toward the cooler side, and some of the colors and patterns on the lanterns are washed-out because of it.

Finally, here are more traditional red paper lanterns strewn across a park play area by strings. This was taken as the sun was setting, and with that in mind, the more realistic image is the Galaxy S23 version. The evening sky in the A54 photo is too bright and saturated for a sunset, and it’s hard to pull details from the tree leaves. The S23 picture appears sharper and more detailed, with the warmer tone making things appear more true to life, including the buildings in the background. The red on the lanterns is more accurately reflected in the S23 version as well, with the A54 making them appear overly saturated.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S23

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. A54: ultrawide camera

What about the ultrawide camera? It does appear that the Galaxy S23 and A54 have pretty much the same ultrawide camera, as they’re both 12MP with f/2.2 aperture. The only minor difference is that the S23 has a 120-degree FOV while the A54 is 123 degrees.

Here’s an ultrawide shot of the rose garden at the park. Though the A54 has a tiny bit larger FOV, it really makes no difference in the long run. The Galaxy A54 appears to be slightly washed-out in terms of color, especially on the ground. The S23 photo is also a tad brighter and has more detail, texture, and contrast — making it the better photograph.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S23

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. A54: zoomed images

I won’t go too in-depth on this because it’s a little unfair to compare one device to another when it lacks a telephoto lens. Of course, the Galaxy A54 is going to not do well on zoomed-in images since it only has digital zoom compared to the S23 with a telephoto lens for optical zoom capabilities. But let’s take a quick look at how the 3x and 10x zoom on both phones compare.

The first image is a 3x zoom of a palm tree. With the telephoto lens, the Galaxy S23 is able to get in a bit closer than the Galaxy A54, and it captures the colors, details, and even texture better than the A54 — unsurprisingly. With the A54 image, the colors are darker, making it harder to see the texture on the tree trunk and fronds. Even the blue sky has grain and noise to it, which is completely absent in the S23 version.

Take a look at the 10x zoom, and the A54 does even worse. It’s very clear that the Galaxy A54 is not meant to take zoomed-in shots, as the palm tree now looks like a very bad watercolor painting. Any and all detail is lost as it all looks muddled together, and in no way, shape, or form does it look good. The S23’s optical zoom only goes up to 3x, so the 10x is digital, but it looks much better than the A54 image. You can still see the details on the fronds and trunk, though there is some loss of quality, but nowhere near the level of the A54. Essentially, the Galaxy S23 image at least still looks like a photograph, versus a bad painting.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S23

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. A54: portrait

Every phone these days has to have portrait mode, as it’s incredibly popular. With portrait mode, you’re able to take portrait photos of people with a blurred background, similar to what you get with true DSLR cameras.

Here’s a portrait of my husband at the park on a clear and sunny day, approaching the evening. Edge detection works very well on both phones, with no blurred edges in either photo. However, you can tell that the bokeh effect is much stronger on the A54 than the S23, which you may or may not like. I also noticed that the Galaxy S23 version seems to have more vibrant colors, which unfortunately affects the skin tone — my husband seems to have more red blotches in this version, which is not accurate in reality. The Galaxy A54 seems to get the skin tone better, though the shirt is a bit washed-out.

My daughter makes another appearance in this portrait photo where she’s sitting in wood chips at the playground. The S23 version has overly bright colors, especially on her shirt and feet, and I feel like there wasn’t enough bokeh effect going on in the background here. The A54 portrait has a better bokeh effect and even keeps her feet in focus (at least up to the bottom of the pant leg). The colors feel more natural in the A54 version as well, and I prefer the stronger bokeh effect here.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy A54

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. A54: night mode

But not every photo we take happens during the day when it’s usually a well-lit environment. Night mode is available on both phones, so I went for an evening stroll with my family for some tests.

Here are some more lanterns hanging on strings in a play area next to the Anaheim Packing District (it’s always insanely busy here). The Galaxy A54 once again shows off its tendency to oversaturate the colors, as the sky looks way too bright blue for the evening sky, the lights in the lanterns appear washed-out, and the red is overpowering. The tassels and fringe are blurry, and there’s a heavy blue tint in the parking lot. The Galaxy S23 image is more realistic with the sky, the lanterns retain detail and texture without being washed-out where the lights are, and the parking lot and buildings’ true colors are accurately reflected.

In this image, we’re looking up from the middle of four palm trees that are lit up by some color-shifting lights. This is a good example that demonstrates the A54’s overly vibrant colors since the parts of the fronds that are blue appear way too saturated and harsh, to the point where details are lost. There also appears to be a bit of noise in the dark sky in the center. Meanwhile, the S23 image doesn’t overdo it with the blue lighting, as you can still make out the individual fronds better. You can also see the texture in the crown shafts, and the night sky is inky with no noise.

For this last image, we’re looking at the neon sign of a now-defunct Umami Burger. The A54 version makes the green light appear a bit washed-out, especially on the building wall. The S23 version is more true-to-life in terms of color, and it’s easier to see the individual neon light tubes since the light doesn’t appear to “bleed” out like in the A54 image.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S23

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. A54: selfie camera

Finally, we have the selfie camera. Though the Galaxy A54 seems to be more impressive in terms of numbers with the 32MP front-facing camera, does it really make a difference?

In this first selfie example, it’s during the early evening, when the sun is starting to set. Both phones do pretty well here, though the colors in the background on the A54 image look a tad washed-out in terms of the sky, trees, and palm tree trunks. My skin tone looks very close in both versions, but the S23 has slightly more detail and texture in my face. The A54 version also makes it harder to make out individual hair strands compared to the S23. But overall, both images are actually very close, so it’s hard to have a winner here — it’s a matter of preference.

Everyone loves taking portrait selfies, right? Here, I’m standing in front of some pretty greenery and flowers. At first glance, you can see the Galaxy S23 version looks more vibrant overall — the sky, green leaves, pink flowers, and even my sunlit face and transition lenses. The Galaxy A54 version looks a tad washed-out in comparison, and I look a little lighter than I actually am. The bokeh effect is stronger on the A54, however, which I like. Edge detection on both is a little wonky, though, as a chunk of my hair strands on the left of the A54 image is blurred out and blending in with the greenery behind me, and the same problem is present in the S23 image on the right side. Plus, both phones seem to have some trouble around the top of my head, which is always an issue with software-based portrait modes. Again, it’s a matter of preference here, but I am going with the A54 version.

And finally, here’s a lowlight selfie I took in front of those pretty lanterns. The A54 version looks a bit soft on the details, and the overall image leans toward the warmer side. The Galaxy S23 selfie has me more in focus with a higher level of detail, but the lanterns behind me appear a little washed-out from the lighting. The S23 also looks more accurate in terms of overall color and tone.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S23

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. A54: verdict

Samsung Galaxy S23 in hand against green background
Galaxy S23 Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Going into this camera comparison, we probably didn’t have a doubt that the Galaxy S23 would perform better overall. After all, it’s the base model of Samsung’s flagship lineup. But the Galaxy A54 also performed pretty well — especially considering that it’s the more budget-friendly option.

In his Samsung Galaxy A54 review, Digital Trends’ Andy Boxall noted that the phone tends to have amplified reds, blues, and greens, to the point where it can be out of control. I did notice this issue when I was doing this comparison, and I’m not a huge fan. It definitely robs the realism from a lot of photos, which is not great, in my opinion. But if you’re a fan of those overly saturated photos, then the Galaxy A54 can be good for that. Personally, I prefer the images that I got with the S23.

And despite the selfie camera having more megapixels on the A54, there honestly is not too much difference with the S23. However, it’s apparent in lowlight environments that the A54 does indeed struggle with those selfies, whereas the S23 handles them slightly better. I also noticed that the A54 has a bit of lag compared to the S23 when trying to capture a subject in motion, so keep that in mind too.

Again, it’s not surprising that the Galaxy S23 is the better camera overall. But the A54 did well, although it’s a little inconsistent. If you can live with some super-saturated photos sometimes, then the Samsung Galaxy A54 is still a really good camera performer for $450.

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Christine Romero-Chan
Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade. She graduated from California…
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