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My camera test of the two best flip phones was frustratingly close

The back of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 4.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 (left) and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Fingers were pointed accusingly in Samsung’s direction when the Galaxy Z Flip 5 was launched — largely due to the cameras, on paper, not being upgraded over the Galaxy Z Flip 4. But was this indignation justified?

The only way to find out is to put the new Galaxy Z Flip 5’s camera against the Galaxy Z Flip 4’s and play spot the difference. Here’s what happened when we did exactly that.

The Galaxy Z Flip cameras

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 4 camera modules.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 (left) and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

On the back (or the front, depending on what way you look at it) of the Galaxy Z Flip 5 are a pair of 12-megapixel cameras for main and wide-angle duties, making it fairly basic compared to the Galaxy Z Fold 5 as there is no telephoto camera at all. The selfie camera at the top of the screen has 10 megapixels.

This is exactly the same hardware specification as the Galaxy Z Flip 4, so it’s easy to see why people doubted Samsung had made many improvements to the latest model. However, internally it’s a different story. The Galaxy Z Flip 5 uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor, complete with its specially tuned image signal processor (ISP) and other software enhancements for less noise and better lowlight performance. Samsung has also used new lenses for the cameras on the Z Flip 5.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 4, open showing the screens.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 (left) and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

These are the same changes to the camera system as we saw on the Galaxy Z Fold 5, and a lot of the findings we had when comparing it to the Galaxy Z Fold 4 are also seen in the Z Flip series photos below. At the very least, this backs up Samsung’s claims that the processor, software, and lenses have altered the cameras over the last models. But is the camera better?

Galaxy Z Flip 5 vs. Flip 4: main camera

There are some interesting differences between the first two photos taken with the main camera, and it really shows how the software and processor upgrades have helped take the Z Flip 5’s camera to the next level. Take a look at the texture on the chalkboard in the Galaxy Z Flip 5’s photo and the way it has handled the blacks and whites. There’s a depth and tone that’s missing from the Z Flip 4’s photo, and I think it has nailed the focus better too.

The second photo was taken in low light inside a church, and while the Z Flip 4’s white balance is a little more accurate (a theme that continues throughout our test), again, there is so much more detail in the Z Flip 5’s image — from the texture on the walls to the grain in the wood. However, much of this is really only noticeable when you directly compare the two photos together, so if you own the Z Flip 4, you aren’t hugely missing out.

Our third photo shows how Samsung has toned down the colors with the Galaxy Z Flip 5’s camera. Take a look at the flowers in the background for evidence where the Galaxy Z Flip 4’s preference for over-saturation is clear, but the Z Flip 5’s photo shows more detail through its more natural color treatment. This change doesn’t mean the Z Flip 5’s photos don’t pop, they just do so in a less eye-watering way than before.

The next photo demonstrates where the Z Flip 4 can still hold its own, especially when white balance and contrast are challenged. The older phone does a better job of making the scene more attractive than the Z Flip 5, regardless of whether it’s technically more accurate or not. Most will prefer the starker white and deeper blacks, especially as there isn’t a huge amount of difference elsewhere in the photo. Most of the time, the Galaxy Z Flip 5’s main camera improves on the Galaxy Z Flip 4’s, and it’s enough to see it win this category.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5

Galaxy Z Flip 5 vs. Flip 4: wide-angle camera

The first photo is more evidence of the change in saturation levels between the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Z Flip 4, and the difference is obvious. The Z Flip 5’s photo is certainly more natural looking, despite the sky being an odd shade of blue in places, while the Z Flip 4 adopts that hyper-real color profile many expect from Samsung. Zoom in, and detail is the same though, but changes to the exposure mean the Z Flip 4’s photo lowers the shadows for a sunnier, brighter image.

Taking a wide-angle photo inside is very interesting, as there is very little difference between the two photos aside from tiny changes to the exposure and colors, but not enough to make one photo better than the other. The final set of photos below once again illustrates how close it is between these two wide-angle cameras, and the differences are so negligible it’s impossible to say one is better than the other. The Z Flip 5’s colors are slightly more vibrant but not necessarily more realistic, and the level of detail, noise, and smoothing are almost identical in both.

In some situations, the Galaxy Z Flip 5’s wide-angle camera can take very different photos from the Galaxy Z Flip 4’s camera, but absolute evidence of improvements is thin. In other situations, the two cameras perform in an identical manner. It’s going to have to be a draw here.

Winner: Draw

Galaxy Z Flip 5 vs. Flip 4: portrait mode

If you’re waiting for big changes with portrait mode, then you’re going to be disappointed. In the photo of the tires, both have very accurate edge and depth recognition, plenty of detail, and essentially the same exposure and background detail. There is a slight difference in contrast which gives the Z Flip 5’s tires a slightly darker hue, but that’s about all.

The second photo of the upright signpost doesn’t reveal any differences either, with the same depth of field and edge recognition, and again, a slight difference in contrast that alters the colors. Both cameras take the same photo, with minute alterations that do not make one better than the other.

Winner: Draw

Galaxy Z Flip 5 vs. Flip 4: night mode

In low light, the Z Flip 5’s upgrades mean its photos are more colorful than the Z Flip 4’s, but like the Galaxy Z Fold 5, it can misjudge white balance and focus in some situations, whereas the Z Flip 4 remains controlled and natural. The first photo demonstrates the color differences, but the Z Flip 4’s photo is much sharper, and although there is a little more noise, the Z Flip 5’s smoothing robs it of some detail.

The second photo shows where the Galaxy Z Flip 5 really can succeed, with a far sharper, better-focused image with less blur. The Galaxy Z Flip 4’s photo can’t compare and is noticeably worse, but still manages to have a more pleasing white balance. However, it doesn’t always work out this way, and the Z Flip 5 can be terribly inconsistent too. The photo below shows what I mean.

This wasn’t the only photo I took in low light where the Z Flip 4 managed to take a far better photo in a challenging environment. It’s clear which photo is “better.” When the Galaxy Z Flip 5 succeeds in taking a great lowlight photo, it does really well, but it doesn’t do it all the time. The Galaxy Z Flip 4 is the same, but neither fails in the same way or in the same lighting conditions. It makes it hard to choose a winner, as which takes the better photo will depend on the environment itself.

Winner: Draw

Galaxy Z Flip 5 vs. Flip 4: selfie camera

There is no contest between the selfie cameras, and it’s almost hard to believe the two are the same sensor. What a shame the other categories aren’t so clear! The Galaxy Z Flip 5 captures more detail, has a more accurate skin tone, more vibrant colors, and a more natural bokeh effect when using portrait mode. The Galaxy Z Flip 4’s selfie camera is far worse than the Z Flip 5’s.

One other note on the selfie camera is that you don’t have to use it, as both flip phones have the ability to use the main cameras for selfies, with the cover screen acting as a live preview. The Galaxy Z Flip 5’s 3.4-inch, 720 x 748 pixel Super AMOLED cover screen provides a far better experience than the Z Flip 4’s 1.9-inch, 260 x 512 pixel Super AMOLED screen. Both make use of Samsung’s excellent “open palm” gesture to activate the shutter hands-free though, but you can actually see what’s going on with the Z Flip 5 rather than squinting at the Z Flip 4’s small cover screen.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5

Does the Galaxy Z Flip 5 have the best camera?

The back of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 4.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 (left) and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Galaxy Z Flip 5 wins our test, but it hasn’t beaten the Z Flip 4 completely, as the older phone still managed to match the new camera in several categories. Yes, Samsung has upgraded the camera for the Galaxy Z Flip 5, but the photos it takes aren’t radically better, just improved. You can safely buy the Z Flip 5 knowing it has a great camera.

This is a very similar conclusion to the one we reached when comparing the Galaxy Z Fold 5 camera to the Z Fold 4. The small alterations mean you will be happy taking photos with the new phone. However, I always rather liked the Galaxy Z Flip 4’s camera, so if you own one already, then upgrading to the Galaxy Z Flip 5 for the camera alone is probably not worth it unless you take a lot of selfies.

The back of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 4.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 (left) and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The reasons to upgrade from the Z Flip 4 to the Z Flip 5 actually come from other hardware changes, most obviously the bigger, more feature-packed cover screen. It’s a small update this year, but we’d like to see something more for the Galaxy Z Flip 6 and yearn for a telephoto camera and an optical zoom to be added into the mix, but whether Samsung can squeeze an extra camera into the small phone remains to be seen.

Editors' Recommendations

Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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