Best phone cameras
JIM MARTIN tests the best smartphones on the market to see which has the best photo and video skills
Flagship phones have got to the point where raw performance doesn’t really need to get much better, and so they are differentiated by their design, battery life, unique features, and photography capabilities. We’re focusing on the latter here, given that for many people a smartphone now replaces a physical camera. Our aim: to discover what is the very best phone camera money can buy, for photos, videos and even selfies.
We’ve tested and compared four phones with the best cameras currently available: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, Google Pixel 2 XL, HTC U12+ and the Huawei P20 Pro. You won’t find every flagship phone here, as we’re including only those phones which have cameras good enough to be called ‘the best’. That isn’t determined by specifications or features, it’s judged by the quality of the photos and videos they produce. It’s why you won’t find the Sony XZ2 or OnePlus 6 here, among others.
How we test
Rather than using controlled conditions and attempting to compare the cameras scientifically, we took photos and videos just as anyone would. That means using the default settings out of the box and taking pictures hand-held, not with a tripod.
We’ve kept the comparisons to the core functions: photos with the main camera (including portrait modes with blurred backgrounds), selfies and videos. Although you won’t find side-by-side comparisons, we also tested out other modes offered including slo-mo and took photos using each phone’s second camera, where possible.
The experience of taking photos is almost as important as the results, so the stock camera app is a key factor in our reviews as this can make the difference between a phone that’s a joy or a pain to use as a camera.
Our main aim is to give you a very good idea of how each phone performs in the real world, let you see examples of the photos and videos it takes and be able to decide for yourself – bearing in mind your own priorities – which phone you should buy.
Note that not everyone agrees on the definition of ‘best’. Some prefer processed images which are sharpened and have saturated colours, while others prefer a more natural look. Plus, the screen on which you view the photos and videos has an influence too.
We judged everything not on each phone’s own screen but on a calibrated Philips Brilliance 272P. This is a 27in 4K display which allowed us to see all the detail in UHD video. Remember that your own display may have a lower resolution, and may not produce accurate colours.