In broad daylight, all four phones take very nice photos with their main cameras - but you already knew that. Each has its own particular 'look,' but even those lines are becoming more blurred.
Perhaps the most distinct of these is the Xperia. Its images have the most contrast, which means that in certain demanding scenes, you might be left with somewhat deeper shadows (the cars in the castle sample) or clipped highlights (the snail). It wouldn't be correct to single out the Xperia by calling its dynamic range the narrowest. It's just that it doesn't apply its HDR algorithms with quite as much fervor as a Galaxy or an iPhone does.
The Xperia is also a little conservative when it comes to color saturation - we've been conditioned towards livelier output, though it will still produce nice colors in most situations. Even so, if you prefer a more 'photographic' and less 'social media' vibe, the Xperia will be a perfect match.
Speaking of, the Galaxy is perhaps the most 'social media' of the pack. A healthy dose of saturation alongside some added warmth, particularly in the greens, make for arguably the most easily likable colors, if not the most 'correct'. Having said that, it was a revelation that the skies which Galaxies have historically rendered as very cyan have been tweaked to a more realistic blue.
A cliche if we've ever heard one, the iPhone's colors are more true to life. It's particularly so in duller scenes where the Galaxy will give reality a bit of a boost. However, feed the Pro Max some orange fall leaves, and it'll give the Note a run for its money for color pop.
The Mate 40 Pro surprised us in this head-to-head. Specifically, it was comparatively less enthusiastic in the fall leaves scenes than both the iPhone and the Galaxy, perhaps even the Xperia. We'd be pleased with its output in these samples in isolation, but it did stand out in the pool. Weirdly enough, it's happy to match the competitors in color saturation for 'man-made' objects, just not leaves. The Mate's skies turned out different in these shots, too, with a faint purple tint next to the almost identically blue rivals.
With all cameras here matched at 12MP, it's no surprise that the level of detail is very similar between the four. The Note isn't as aggressive as Galaxies once were with sharpening, and grass doesn't look overprocessed. If anything, it's the iPhone's rendition of random textures that bothers us more.
The Mate's grass is hit or miss - if the sensor is badly out resolved, textures get an artificial look, but if the pixels are enough, it looks good (snail shot). It is a bit lacking in micro-contrast - the stone masonry in the castle sample could use some better definition. The Xperia's rendition of fine detail is very natural too, but here we can point out that sharpness does deteriorate towards the extreme corners.
Noise performance is excellent on all four cameras.