What’s the top-performing camera phone you can get right now

What’s the top-performing camera phone you can get right now:
Finding the best smartphone camera is no easy task these days. Most all flagships now come packing some serious camera tech and software, and while certain brands and models may excel in certain areas, it’s pretty much a neck-and-neck race.

Some phones perform better in low light, others have HDR modes that are way ahead of the competition, and then there are those that are not as good for stills, but are great for video. It’s not easy picking the best of the best, especially if you don’t get the chance to try out many, many phones for yourself.

Thankfully, that’s our job here at PhoneArena! We’ve thoroughly tested all smartphones featured on this list, and in our opinion, they boast the best-performing cameras on the market right now.

So, with that out of the way, which are the best camera phones you can get right now, in 2018?

Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL

 

Cons

  • Google Camera lacks a manual mode
  • Lens flares still a bit of issue in certain situations

 

The Pixel line has been well-known for its outstanding camera quality, leaving the Pixel 3 models with a lot to live up to. Thankfully, the new models deliver in spades.

On the hardware side of things, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL both pack 12.2 MP sensors in their main cameras with f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization. Google has again foregone the inclusion of a dual-camera setup, calling such hardware “unnecessary” due to what can be achieved with machine learning (i.e. portrait shots). That said, however, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL boast dual-cameras on the front, with a second, wide-angle 8MP shooter added to the mix.

Essential to the Pixel 3’s new features is one particular piece of hardware – the Pixel Visual Core, Google’s dedicated image processor, first introduced in last year’s Pixel 2 models. Initially utilized to enable the excellent HDR+ photo capture in third-party apps, the dedicated processor has taken a prominent role in the newest, AI-powered features and improvements found on the latest Pixel 3. All the software camera trickery that comes on the new Pixels — Top Shot, Super Res Zoom, and Night Sight to name a few — relies on this chip.

 

 

iPhone XS and XS Max

Cons

  • No manual mode in stock camera
  • No RAW support in stock camera

 

The iPhone XS and XS Max are a step ahead of the iPhone X in the camera department. Things have improved on the hardware front, thanks to the bigger pixels of the camera sensors, which allow the newest iPhones to resolve a bit more detail than last year’s anniversary model, but Smart HDR is the biggest differentiator here. Software is once again what’s pushing the smartphone camera forward. No surprises here.

Apple’s new Smart HDR leverages the power of multiple technologies — including the upgraded Image Signal Processor (ISP), the improved CPU, and advanced algorithms — to vastly enhance dynamic range in photos, without making them look artificial. But what’s more Smart HDR also works when shooting pictures of moving objects. In order to achieve this, the camera has to shoot a four-frame buffer of the scene, so it can freeze the motion in the frame. Then, the A12 Bionic chip moves in to capture secondary frames at the same time, but these are at different exposure levels and are used to bring out details in the highlights and shadows. But that’s not all. Smart HDR also shoots a long exposure during all that, so it can pay special attention to the shadows and possibly restore even more detail. Of course, this would vary on a per-scene basis, but could be especially useful in high-contrast scenes where you have bright highlights and deep shadows.

Feature spotlight:

But wait, there’s more! After all of this is done, which doesn’t take long (zero shutter lag, remember?), Smart HDR then takes all the images, analyzes them, and decides how to match up the best parts of the best photos for the best possible result.

Aside from the seriously impressive Smart HDR mode, the iPhone XS and XS Max also come with improved Portrait Mode. Object separation has been improved from the X, as well as the quality of the “actual” bokeh itself. Furthermore, Apple has taken a page of Huawei’s book and now lets you adjust the quantity of background blur after you’ve taken the picture.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Cons

  • Oversaturated colors in certain scenarios
  • Auto WB is all over the place

 

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is an all around great performer. It is equipped with a traditional wide-angle camera and a telephoto lens for lossless optical magnification, but the two snappers also work together to create a shallow depth of field effect when shooting in “Live Focus” mode, which is Samsung’s answer to Portrait Mode.

Feature spotlight:

Furthermore, the Galaxy Note 9 is one of the best smartphones for low light photography out there, overshadowed only perhaps by the Google Pixel 2 and the Huawei P20 Pro (but that’s debatable). It’s performance during the day is also excellent, although Samsung’s post-processing algorithms are a bit on the heavy side at times, and the auto white balance assessment is not always spot-on. Images from the Note 9 may at times appear a bit oversaturated, but for those of you who want to get into the nitty gritty of it, the stock camera app offers an elaborate manual mode that lets you fine-tune the results.

As far as low light photography is concerned, the Note 9 is an absolute powerhouse, producing sharp, clean-looking images in poor lighting conditions where most of the competition fails to deliver decent results.

Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

 

Cons

  • Google Camera lacks a manual mode
  • Portrait mode is not as good as on dual-cam phones
  • Nasty flares in certain lighting conditions

 

The latest crop of Pixel phones from Google offer what are arguably two of the best cameras in the Android world. Shunning away from the dual-cam trend, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL bet heavily on excellent software to produce great-looking stills and videos. One of the biggest stand-out features of the Pixels is the HDR+ mode, which is leaps and bounds above the Android competition. It is the result of years of research and fine-tuning the algorithms that make the magic happen, and it truly shows.

Despite not boasting two cameras like most of the competition, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are no less capable of delivering excellent results, and are even capable of simulating shallow depth of field (a.k.a bokeh,), which is an oh-so-trendy thing right now. The results are, unfortunately, not quite up to par with what you can expect from the iPhone X or the Galaxy Note 8, but they are still acceptable, especially considering the lack of a second camera on the Pixels.

iPhone X

Cons

  • No manual mode in stock camera
  • No RAW support in stock camera
  • Low-light performance without flash is iffy

 

That the iPhone X is capable of taking great-looking photos and videos, is a secret to no one. Apple’s latest flagship has some of the best cameras on the market, both on the front and back.

The main attraction is, of course, the rear-facer, which consists of a standard, wide-angle shooter, coupled with a “telephoto” lens that’s capable of up to two times lossless, optical magnification. The two cameras also work in tandem to measure depth when using the iPhone X’s excellent Portrait Mode.

Feature spotlight:

Although the iPhone X doesn’t offer a manual camera mode—which we wish it did, though we know that’s not how Apple rolls—the camera software on board is great at what it does. That is, it offers one of the best HDR modes on the market, rivaled only by Google Pixel 2’s HDR+, spot-on color reproduction, and a very capable Portrait Mode.

Shots taken on the iPhone X mostly have very natural colors and look great on the phone’s wide-gamut display. The only weaker side of the iPhone X camera is its low-light performance. Although it’s great for taking stills and videos during the day, things take a turn for the worse when there’s not enough light. However, the phone’s Slow Sync flash is actually quite good for taking portraits and close-ups at night, ensuring a well-lit background behind your subject.

If Apple’s camera app also offered a manual mode, it would be a godsend for the enthusiasts out there, but alas. You can always go for a third-party solution, of course, but that’s kind of beside the point.

 

Galaxy S9/S9+

 

Cons

  • Oversaturated colors in certain scenarios
  • Auto WB not accurate at times

Pretty much everything that can be said about the Galaxy Note 8, also holds true for the S9 models and vice versa. The Galaxy S9 has a single rear-facing camera with a variable aperture (f/1.5 to f/2.4) that helps when recording ultra slow-mo videos and when taking pictures in low-light scenarios. The Galaxy S9+ has that same camera but also adds a telephoto shooter capable of 2x optical magnification, which is not only used for zooming in, but for achieving the “soft background” effect when taking portrait photos.

For those who don’t like Samsung’s trademark style of JPEG post-processing, there’s also a dedicated and very well-rounded manual mode that lets you tinker with the color temperature, contrast, saturation, and all the other settings you’d expect from a manual camera mode.

 

Huawei P20 Pro

 

 

Cons

  • Detail suffers in some scenarios due to aggressive noise reduction
  • Inaccurate auto WB indoors

 

The Huawei P20 Pro is an interesting phone, indeed. Huawei has yet again teamed up with Leica in a bid to deliver an outstanding photography experience to the palm of your hand. The main focus of the P20 Pro is low-light photography, and boy, does it deliver in a unique way.

Feature spotlight:

In order to achieve well-exposed, noise-free images in less than favorable lighting conditions, the P20 Pro actually takes numerous photos at different exposure values and then blends them together to great effect. Detail suffers at times, due to the somewhat aggressive noise reduction employed, but the resulting images are so well and evenly exposed that it made us go “wow” the first couple of times we shot with the P20 Pro at night.

The phone also has excellent zoom capabilities, offering magnification of up to 5x without considerable detail loss. The selfie camera is not too shabby either and delivers pleasant results in most all lighting conditions.

 

HTC U12+

Cons

  • Auto WB results in cool colors when shooting indoors or at night
  • Fringing and other minor artifacts even in broad daylight

 

Building on the U11’s well-rounded 12 MP single camera setup, the U12+ adds a second, 16 MP, telephoto camera to the equation. It’s capable of 2x optical zoom and helps when measuring depth for those portrait shots with creamy, out-of-focus backgrounds.

Pictures taken on the HTC U12+ exhibit good detail without excessive over-sharpening, while keeping colors natural and accurate in most scenarios. As far as dynamic range goes, HTC’s latest is capable of taming highlights quite nicely, all the while maintaining detail in the shadows, although its arguably better in dealing with the highlights.

The dual front-facing cameras produce images that are also nicely detailed. There’s are also “bokeh” and beauty modes for those flattering selfies that are all the rage now. Shots come out properly exposed and we’ve been surprised by the performance of the front-facing cameras in low-light.

On a budget

But what if you don’t want to break the bank with the latest flagships and still want to get a stellar camera? Well, there’s options out there that you can get without shelling out too much cash, that still do a commendable job. These are older models, yes, but they still hold their own even in today’s oversaturated market.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL

The original Pixel and Pixel XL still have good cameras, even when compared to their successors and the current, fierce competition. From the get-go, Google was focused on delivering a stellar camera experience with it’s first in-house developed smartphones, and it sure did succeed. The Pixels have that capable HDR+ mode that was further developed for the Pixel 2, they deliver good-looking, noise-free images images in low-light conditions, and have accurate color rendering in most scenarios.

Samsung Galaxy S7

With the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 out, and with the S9 looming on the horizon, you might wonder, “why is a phone from 2016 on this list?” And let me tell you, it’s that good. You can get a Galaxy S7 relatively cheap these days, and this phone has a strong camera game. It may not be quite up to par with the S8, but it’s very close. In fact, the camera itself is the same, with the only differences coming from the software powering it. This means that most of the strong suits of the S8 can be found in its predecessor as well. The S7 produces sharp images in all lighting conditions, and although the colors are at times too warm or a bit oversaturated (in true Samsung fashion), this phone still offers a great camera for its current price.

Expect this list to be updated throughout the year!

Read More: 5x zoom, ultra-fast charging, 7nm chip and in-display scanner

Also: Best Smartphone Cameras 2018