Best Camera Phones

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: “The best camera is the one you have with you”. Since everyone basically always has their phones on them- there are many situations where we have to use our phones and luckily the technology has greatly improved. Having hiked long trails with heavy gear including DSLR’s, lenses and tripods I can tell you that many photographers would love to be able to get the same quality from a camera phone. We are still quite far away from the day when your camera could shoot as well as a DSLR, but we are seeing very exciting innovations and improvements to the camera you always have with you.

Jump straight to each segment:

Overall Winner

Best of the Best

Best Value

Best on a Budget

There are ways to really boost the capabilities of a Camera phone and phones have even been used in the past to shoot scenes in films that have made it to the Oscars and film festivals. There are subscription apps like Lightroom Mobile that allow you to capture RAW format uncompressed images on your phone. Its also a great convenience to be able to edit the photo directly in the app on your phone without having to transfer it to your computer. There are also many devices designed to stabilize your Camera phone like the DJI Osmo Mobile (a gimbal for your phone) and there are tripods mounts that can be used with your camera phone. Since camera phones have fixed non-interchangeable lenses and smaller sensors I don’t expect them to ever fully replace dedicated Cameras but they are getting much better. Recent innovations in camera phones have introduced things like “depth of field look” and bokeh look, which is copying the look you could previously only get with a DSLR or mirrorless camera using a specific lens and aperture. Though not really an organic version of this look; which is achieved using two of the lenses on the camera phone, it’s a marvel to think that it is possible.

 

OVERALL WINNER
Motorola MOTO Z with Hasselblad TrueZoom Camera Attachment


Sensor Resolution: 12 Megapixel 1/2.3 inch CMOS

Lens: 25-250 mm (10X optical zoom) f/3.5-6.5

Video: 1080p HD Full HD at 30fps.

Pros: Shoots in RAW format natively.  An actual point and shoot camera with great optics.

Cons: No 4K Video. A bit bulkier than a normal phone when camera is attached. Could have a higher megapixel count

Motorola’s Moto Z phones have a ground-breaking innovation they allow for a camera, projector, and speaker attachment to the phone. The camera attachment is made by the highly respected Hasselblad. It slides on to the back of the Phone. It has a great telephoto 10X optical zoom, a physical shutter, and can shoot RAW images without a special paid app. Low light sensitivity could be better and it would have been nice to have 16 or 20 megapixels to be able to print larger pics. I’m not putting this camera phone in a category because since it is basically a point and shoot camera that attaches to the phone, so I think it deserves to win hands down. Now the only camera that you have on you always is a real point and shoot. A fantastic device if you already like android phones and need an optical zoom.

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BEST OF THE BEST



BEST OF THE BEST

Sensor

Lens

Video

#1 WINNER

iPhone X

12 Megapixel Dual 

Wide-angle: f/1.8, Telephoto: f/2.4, 10 X Digital zoom

4K UHD up to 60 fps, 1080p HD up to 240fps

#2 WINNER

iPhone 8 Plus

12 Megapixel Dual

 Wide-angle f/1.8, Telephoto: f/2.8, 2 X Optical zoom

4K UHD up to 60 fps, 1080p HD up to 240fps

#3 WINNER

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

12 Megapixel Dual 

Wide-angle f/1.8, Telephoto: f/2.8 2X Optical Zoom

 4K UHD at up to 30 fps

 

#1 WINNER
iPhone X

Sensor Resolution: 12 Megapixel Dual Camera.

Lens: Wide-angle: f/1.8, Telephoto: f/2.4, 10 X Digital zoom

Video: 4K UHD up to 60 fps, 1080p HD up to 240fps

Pros: Optical image stabilization. Good lens speed and low light performance. Deeper pixels (for enhanced detail and color)

Cons: Expensive. Not the best optical zoom.

The iPhone X really breaks new ground with its camera functionality. Usually I wouldn’t bother with the details of a front facing camera but on this phone an exceptional array of new functions has been added. There is a Portrait Lighting mode which allows you to change the lighting for selfies. The rear camera lenses are faster for low light and include optical stabilization. Being able to shoot 4K is very nice. They’ve added a cinematic stabilization feature for 1080p video which is very useful. Being able to shoot slow motion at 240fps in Full HD is incredible- something that many professional cinema cameras and DSLRs cannot do.

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#2 WINNER
iPhone 8 Plus

 

Sensor Resolution: 12 Megapixel Dual Camera

Lens: Wide-angle f/1.8, Telephoto: f/2.8, 2 X Optical zoom

Video: 4K UHD up to 60 fps, 1080p HD up to 240fps

Pros: Deeper pixels (for enhanced detail and color)

Cons: Optical image stabilization on wide angle lens only.

This camera phone is very similar to the iPhone X. It doesn’t have the Truedepth system on front camera and the image optics in the lenses are not as good as the X. Also the telephoto lens is a bit slower than the X. If you’re looking to save a bit of cash this device is about as close as you can get to the iPhone X and if you’re main objective is to shoot with the rear cameras this one is a real winner. The Slow Sync Flash is an amazingly useful addition to functionality. I really like the enhanced bokeh mode in Portrait Lighting. This feature allows you to change the lighting on faces in portraits using an algorithm.

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#3 WINNER
Samsung Galaxy Note 8

 

Sensor: Dual 12 Megapixel Cameras

Lens: Wide-angle f/1.8, Telephoto: f/2.8 2X Optical Zoom

Video: 4K UHD at up to 30 fps

Pros: Optical image stabilization on both lenses. Bokeh effect. HDR Video. Pro Mode.

Cons: Lacking the full HD high frame rate for slow motion of iPhone X and 8 Plus. Expensive.

This is a fantastic camera phone that takes beautiful pictures. Its pictures however, have slightly inferior sharpness and detail compared to the iPhone X and 8 Plus. Another downside is that the native camera app doesn’t have many options and there isn’t much to do in there. It’s sort of bland compared to Apple’s app. The Note 8 is a very capable camera phone that has Samsung’s best phone cameras to date. I really love the depth-effects you can put on portraits with this phone, and its phenomenal low- light performance. With Pro Mode on you can manually control the camera for professional-like results.

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BEST VALUE



BEST VALUE

Sensor

Lens

Video

#1 WINNER

Samsung Galaxy S8

12 Megapixel Single

26mm f/1.7 

4K UHD up to 30 fps

#2 WINNER

Google Pixel XL

12.3 Megapixel Single 

f/2.0 

4K UHD up to 30fps. 1080p video up to 120 fps

#3 WINNER

OnePlus 5

16 Megapixel and 20 Megapixel Dual

f/1.7, and f/2.6

4K UHD up to 30fps

 

#1 WINNER
Samsung Galaxy S8

 

Sensor: 12 Megapixel Single

Lens: 26mm f/1.7

Video: 4K UHD up to 30 fps

Pros: Fast lens, Simultaneous 4K video and image recording. Great low light performance. Pro mode.

Cons: Only one sensor/lens.

If you’re not into having a giant phone like a Samsung Note or iPhone plus then this could be the camera phone for you. Its slightly bigger than the iPhone 7 and 8 but not as big as the 7plus and 8plus. The only downside is that in the smaller phones such as this one you lose the second back camera/sensor. Consequently, some of the cool bokeh and depth of field effects are lost as well as optical zoom. The low light performance on this camera phone is unrivalled. The S8’s has amazing color reproduction and excellent detail and sharpness. The S8 has built in optical image stabilization. A great buy.

 

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#2 WINNER
Google Pixel XL

 

Sensor: 12.3 Megapixel Single

Lens: f/2.0

Video: 4K UHD up to 30fps. 1080p video up to 120 fps.

Pros: Gyro video stabilization. Slow motion capture in full HD.

Cons: Lens blur effect doesn’t work well.

This is a nice alternative if you want something other than Apple or Samsung. This is a great camera phone with very good low light performance. The camera has no shutter lag whatsoever thanks to powerful processing and allows for HDR+ capture by default. Noise is greatly reduced thanks to a different approach to image merging. Great device overall.

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#3 WINNER
OnePlus 5

 

Sensor: 16 Megapixel and 20 Megapixel Dual

Lens: f/1.7, and f/2.6

Video: 4K UHD up to 30fps.

Pros: Amazing lossless optical zoom. Nice megapixel count. Pro Mode.

Cons: No Image stabilization.

The OnePlus 5 has an amazing camera system. The dual cameras enable you to capture stunning portraits with bokeh and other blur effects. The optical zoom is remarkable. Pro Mode enables manual control over many settings for pro-like shots. Time-lapse mode, slow motion and panorama are easy to use on this device. The front facing camera has a huge unrivaled 20 Megapixel sensor- which enables the sharpest and best selfies. Unfortunately, the phone doesn’t stabilize 4K footage but I suspect this will be added via software update soon. This phone is really cool!

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BEST ON A BUDGET



BEST ON A BUDGET

Sensor

Lens

Video

#1 WINNER

Huawei P9

12 Megapixel Dual 

27mm f/2.2 LEICA Optics

1080p Full HD up to 60fps

#2 WINNER

Motorola Moto G5 Plus

 12 Megapixel Single

f/1.7

4K UHD up to 30fps

#3 WINNER

LG G5

16 Megapixel plus 8 Megapixel (dual)

 29 mm f/1.8, 12 mm f/2.4

 4K UHD up to 30 fps

 

#1 WINNER
Huawei P9 

 

Sensor: Dual 12 Megapixel

Lens: 27mm f/2.2

Video: 1080p Full HD up to 60fps.

Pros: Native Raw Capture. Leica optics. Pro Mode.

Cons: No 4K video.

The P9 has an interesting setup which was co-produced by the legendary Leica company. The dual cameras work in concert to give you some pretty neat effects like Bokeh. There are many fun modes like “Light Painting” which lets you get some very arsty and pro-like shots. The camera has great low light capability as it combines data from an RGB camera and a black and white camera. The black and white camera is able to capture 300 percent more light than a normal sensor. The monochrome shots have great contrast and detail and sets this camera apart from many other camera phones. This is a very capable camera phone at a great price. I was a bit disappointed that there isn’t 4K video- this may or may not be a deal breaker for you. Being able to capture RAW images natively makes this a phenomenal device.

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#2 WINNER
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 

 

Sensor: 12 Megapixel Single.

Lens: f/1.7

Video: 4K UHD up to 30fps.

Pros: Great camera for the price.

Cons: Noisy in low light conditions. No image stabilization.

The G5 captures absolutely stunning detailed photographs and for an unbelievable price. It offers very good color reproduction. The camera works very well in ample lighting conditions but it’s a bit weaker when it comes to low light. Lack of image stabilization makes shooting in 4K is very shaky- so you might want to couple this camera with a stabilizer, tripod, or DJI Osmo mobile.

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#3 WINNER
LG G5

 

Sensor:16 Megapixel plus 8 Megapixel (dual)

Lens: 29 mm f/1.8, 12 mm f/2.4

Video: 4K UHD up to 30 fps.

Pros: Native RAW capture. Amazing dual cameras for a great low price.

Cons: Wide angle shots aren’t as sharp.

Being able to capture RAW images natively without an pay app is absolutely incredible if you want pro-like shots that can be edited properly. For the price getting all of this and then 4K video as well is remarkable. When shooting on the wide angle (8 megapixel) camera you immediately notice a loss of sharpeness. It is convenient though so if you want a sharper shot of that exact frame you can just try to step backwards and then use the 16mp camera (if there’s enough space behind you). This system is designed for you to use the two cameras independently rather than to combine the sensors for depth effects. This is a fantastic camera phone for the price.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

The camera technology in smartphones has grown rapidly. The use of dual cameras for depth effects on the larger phones seems to be here to stay. Getting bokeh and depth of field effects without the expensive and heavy gear is quite a marvel. Although not quite as amazing as the real thing from full size cameras its quite a cool thing to be able to do on a camera phone. If you have a good story you can definitely shoot meaningful pro-like video and photos on these cameras and you don’t necessary always have to have a bigger mirrorless system or DSLR on you. It’s good to know that the camera you always have on you has become so much better.