What is the best cam­era phone?

Android Advisor - - Round-up -

Best over­all cam­era phone: Huawei P20 Pro

Although we’ve picked the P20 Pro as our win­ner, the truth is there are no bad cam­eras in this group test. In our opin­ion the Huawei P20 Pro is the best all-rounder. This is de­spite its overzeal­ous pro­cess­ing and crazy greens, which you can turn off if you like. Ul­ti­mately, the P20 Pro has the best zoom of any phone you can cur­rently buy and also does a bril­liant job with its night mode that pro­duces no­tice­ably bet­ter pho­tos than its ri­vals.

Its other main weak­ness is that only 1080p video at 30 frames per sec­ond is sta­bi­lized. That makes the other modes – in­clud­ing 4K – es­sen­tially use­less. If you pre­fer to record at 60 frames per sec­ond, the Galaxy S9 Plus is a bet­ter choice.


The HTC U12+ is ex­cel­lent if you mainly take pho­tos in good light. It’s ca­pa­ble of ex­cep­tional shots, and also su­perb 4K60 video. Its weak­ness is in very low light and it’s a shame the tele­photo cam­era isn’t used for video. Bear in mind the phone it­self has is­sues, too.

Sam­sung’s Galaxy S9 Plus of­fers very good pho­tos and videos. It takes de­cent pho­tos from the 2x tele­photo cam­era and its per­for­mance in low light.

The Google Pixel 2, in­clud­ing the XL, is still an ex­cel­lent choice if you want sharp pho­tos with nat­u­ral-look­ing colours, but the lack of a tele­photo cam­era could be a deal-breaker for some.

1. Huawei P20 Pro Price: £799 from fave.co/2OB8dsY

Huawei has quickly built a rep­u­ta­tion for great phones, but thus far its Le­ica-branded cam­eras haven’t been too im­pres­sive. That all changes with the P20 Pro. There’s still too much em­pha­sis on pho­tos – video qual­ity lags be­hind ri­vals – but if your pri­or­ity is tak­ing great pho­tos day and night, the P20 Pro is the smart­phone to buy.

It’s the first phone to have three rear cam­eras, a 40Mp main cam­era, an 8Mp tele­photo cam­era (3x zoom) and a 20Mp monochrome cam­era. Along with what Huawei calls the NPU – a Neu­ral Pro­cess­ing Unit – and the cam­era app it­self, you can point and shoot and get re­mark­able images from the P20 Pro.

That’s be­cause it chooses the mode au­to­mat­i­cally, then ad­justs set­tings within that mode to best suit

the scene in front of the cam­era. For ex­am­ple, point it at a per­son and if you’re close enough, it’ll switch to Por­trait mode and blur the back­ground.

The same sort of thing hap­pens with scenery, food, pets and on the beach. There are even pre­sets for ‘blue skies’, ‘green­ery’ and ‘flow­ers’. If you dis­like that the green­ery mode makes grass and trees look too bright and un­nat­u­ral (which it does), just tap the ‘x’ when the scene tag pops up: do it enough and the phone will learn you don’t want to use that mode.

If you’re used to an iPhone, the Ap­ple-like cam­era app will be fa­mil­iar. It even of­fers mov­ing pho­tos and at­tempts to em­u­late Ap­ple’s Por­trait Light­ing

with­out suc­cess. One of two high­lights is the night mode. Other phones claim to have night modes, but Huawei’s is the first that’s able to keep the shut­ter open for six sec­onds and de­liver a sharp photo. Usu­ally you’d need a rock-solid tri­pod for that, but some clever pro­cess­ing makes it pos­si­ble to do this even if you have shaky hands.

The other stand-out fea­ture is the 5x hy­brid zoom. The 3x zoom lens is used in tan­dem with the 40Mp cam­era to pro­duce sharp tele­photo shots with good de­tail lev­els: far bet­ter than you could gain from dig­i­tal zoom on other phones.

What about qual­ity? By de­fault, pho­tos have a very pro­cessed look. This di­vides opin­ion: some peo­ple re­ally like the in­tense sharp­en­ing and eye-pop­ping

colours. Oth­ers hate it and think it ru­ins the pic­tures. We think that, for the ma­jor­ity of the time, the P20 Pro’s pho­tos are ex­cel­lent. They of­fer great de­tail, biting sharp­ness and great dy­namic range. They’re also in­stantly ready to share on so­cial me­dia with­out edit­ing.

By de­fault, pho­tos are 10Mp, not 40Mp. The rea­son for this is be­cause three-quar­ters of the pix­els are thrown away. This ‘pixel-bin­ning’ isn’t a new tech­nique but it has the ben­e­fit of cre­at­ing a sharper photo. If you force the P20 Pro to cap­ture at 40Mp, you’ll no­tice the im­age is much softer, even if there’s more de­tail when you zoom right in.

Colours are also much more nat­u­ral and con­trast is set to a more sen­si­ble level, too.

Video is very good (see fave.co/2v8mCVq), as long as you’re happy to use the de­fault mode – 1080p at 30fps. It of­fers nicely sta­bi­lized footage with

good fo­cus, very lit­tle noise and good stereo sound. Nat­u­rally, you get much more de­tail in the 4K mode, but all the sta­bi­liza­tion is dis­abled which makes it very shaky, even if you stand still. It’s also dis­ap­point­ing that there’s no sta­bi­liza­tion for 60fps video, and no op­tion to record at 60 frames per sec­ond in 4K at all.

Un­like the Galaxy S9+’s su­per slo-mo, Huawei’s is all man­ual, so it’s down to you to tap the record but­ton at ex­actly the right mo­ment, and it’s easy to miss the frac­tion of a sec­ond you wanted.

Still, there’s a lot to like: sev­eral fo­cus­ing sys­tems are used to en­sure fast and ac­cu­rate fo­cus in all light con­di­tions, and there’s even pre­dic­tive fo­cus us­ing ‘AI’ that’s help­ful if you’re try­ing to pho­to­graph a flower that’s be­ing blown around by the wind.

Also, the P20 Pro’s Por­trait mode de­liv­ers some of the best blurred back­grounds of any phone

cam­era, ac­cu­rately de­ter­min­ing what is the sub­ject and what isn’t.

Selfie lovers will be drawn in by the 24Mp front cam­era. How­ever, although it does take good pho­tos, the Pixel 2 XL’s 8Mp cam­era takes much bet­ter-look­ing self­ies. But in dim light, the P20 Pro again comes into its own, de­liv­er­ing sur­pris­ingly sharp self­ies. As you can see be­low, it ap­plies some pro­cess­ing in the por­trait mode (right) which makes skin tones look un­nat­u­ral.

The Huawei P20 Pro is – in our opin­ion – the best choice for most peo­ple. It’s ver­sa­tile thanks to its 3x and 5x zoom modes, and lets you take sharp pho­tos even in the dimmest con­di­tions.

2. Sam­sung Galaxy S9+ Price: £869 from fave.co/2Ma4rVH

The Galaxy S9 is in­ter­est­ing be­cause its main cam­era has a vari­able aper­ture. This has been done be­fore only once or twice on a phone cam­era, but is stan­dard on com­pact cam­eras and DSLRs, and cer­tainly isn’t new tech­nol­ogy.

The iris can switch be­tween only two aper­tures: f/1.5 (big­ger) and f/2.4 (smaller). How­ever, that’s still use­ful as it can open up to let in more light at night, and close up in bright light to of­fer sharper pho­tos.

In terms of specs, the S9 Plus is very sim­i­lar to the iPhone X with a pair of 12Mp cam­eras, one with a 2x zoom and both with op­ti­cal sta­bi­liza­tion. How­ever, Sam­sung has added a 960fps slo-mo op­tion in

ad­di­tion to 240fps at 1080p, some­thing you won’t find on the iPhone. For nor­mal video, you get the same op­tions as the iPhone, which means 4K video at 24-, 30- or 60fps. Pick the lat­ter and you’re lim­ited to five min­utes, but it’s un­wise to even shoot for that long as the file sizes be­come un­man­age­able, de­spite the fact it records in the same HEVC for­mat as the iPhone.

You’ll find ad­vanced con­trols in Sam­sung’s cam­era app, much like Huawei’s. As well as be­ing able to ad­just ISO and shut­ter speed you can choose the aper­ture man­u­ally (in­clud­ing for video). Some will love this, but for the most part you want to point and shoot and let the phone worry about get­ting the set­tings right.

The app it­self is our least favourite, but it’s easy to get used to its odd­i­ties. Over­all, there are too many icons on screen and too many modes and op­tions. The main list at the top picks out ‘FOOD’ along­side AUTO, PANORAMA and AR EMOJI. Apart from SU­PER SLO-MO there’s no video mode: you have to press the but­ton with the red dot, as op­posed to the white cir­cle, to start record­ing a video.

And although the mo­tion de­tec­tion win­dow is use­ful when shoot­ing at 960fps, it isn’t per­fect. It will let you record sev­eral slo-mo clips within one video, but it won’t nec­es­sar­ily choose the mo­ments you would. You can trig­ger it man­u­ally, but this is eas­ier said than done.

Por­trait mode is called ‘Live Fo­cus’ and works on both the front and back cam­eras. It’s most ef­fec­tive on the rear, though, as the two cam­eras al­low for much bet­ter depth de­tec­tion. You can ad­just the amount of

blur (and, sep­a­rately, beau­ti­fi­ca­tion) to suit. Use­fully, you can ad­just the blur­ri­ness af­ter the fact, and also tog­gle be­tween the close-up and wide-an­gle ver­sions of the shot. It also does a good job for self­ies.

Video qual­ity is on a par with Ap­ple’s iPhone X (see fave.co/2vaIUWv), so it’s very good. 1080p footage is nicely sta­bi­lized, but much softer than the sharp and de­tailed (but wob­blier) 4K video. The stereo au­dio also sounds good.

The Hyper­lapse video mode is fun to use, but any phone can shoot hyper­lapse – in­clud­ing the iPhone. Hyper­lapse is sim­ply time-lapse video shot while mov­ing around.

When it comes to pho­tos, the S9 Plus does an ex­cel­lent job for the most part. You won’t no­tice the ef­fect of the vari­able aper­ture, as it’ll mainly stick to f/2.4 in day­light. Colours and con­trast are great, but it does mess with skin tones. Be sure to put the beauty slider to its ‘0’ po­si­tion to dis­able this ef­fect (if you don’t like it).

In low light, the S9 Plus out­per­forms the iPhone X. Its pho­tos have more de­tail and less noise, and it also keeps high­lights un­der con­trol where the iPhone suf­fers from flare. The P20 Pro re­mains the best op­tion for shoot­ing in low-light, how­ever.

3. HTC U12+ Price: £699 from fave.co/2x2FiJu

The U12+ may be fun­da­men­tally flawed, but if HTC can fix its but­ton woes with a soft­ware up­date it may just be worth buy­ing be­cause of its sen­sa­tional photo and video qual­ity.

On the rear are two cam­eras: a 12Mp Ul­traPixel sen­sor paired with an f/1.75 lens for ev­ery­day shots and a 16Mp sen­sor with a 2x tele­photo lens that has an aper­ture of f/2.6. That main cam­era takes ex­cel­lent

pho­tos in just about all con­di­tions (bar­ring ex­treme low light) and is a joy to use thanks to its su­per-fast fo­cus­ing, which is also fan­tas­ti­cally ac­cu­rate us­ing both laser and full-sen­sor phase-de­tec­tion.

Pho­tos also ben­e­fit from ‘HDR Boost 2’, which is an im­proved ver­sion of what you’ll find on last year’s U11. It com­bines mul­ti­ple frames al­most in­stan­ta­neously and leads to images which oc­ca­sion­ally beat even the Pixel 2 for dy­namic range.

Colours, de­tail and ex­po­sure are ex­cel­lent in just about ev­ery photo you take, and white bal­ance is no­tice­ably bet­ter than the com­pe­ti­tion, too. That means true-to-life colours un­der all light­ing con­di­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, all of this is true only if

Huawei P20 Pro

5x hy­brid zoom

Por­trait mode

Selfie mode

Sam­sung Galaxy S9+

When it comes to pho­tos, the S9 Plus does an ex­cel­lent job for the most part

The P20 Pro re­mains the best op­tion for shoot­ing in low-light

Here’s a cropped por­tion from a photo taken us­ing the 2x tele­photo lens

HTC U12+

Colours, de­tail and ex­po­sure are ex­cel­lent in just about ev­ery photo you take

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