We all know that the iPhone is the most popular camera according to Flickr upload data, and we all know the old saying that the best camera is the one you have on you. But despite all that, up until recently, few of us really thought about smartphones, camera phones, whatever you want to call them, as a serious image-making tool.
Your smartphone was fine for snapshots and or to test compositions, but as your primary camera? Never!
But like digital cameras themselves 10+ years ago, the humble smartphone and its camera technology has come on in leaps and bounds. So much so that we recently pit the Huawei P20 Pro against a full-frame and a medium format camera for a laugh and we’re genuinely shocked at how well the P20 held its own.
Smartphone cameras can no longer be ignored, and to celebrate their rise to prominence and a new generation of camera manufacturers, we decided to rank the best phones for photos that you can buy today.
Huawei P20 Pro
- World’s first triple camera design
- Superb image stabilisation
- One of the best portrait modes of any smartphone
The Huawei P20 Pro is the best phone for photos, hands down. In its lab tests DXOMark scored the Huawei P20 Pro camera higher than any previous smartphone camera and looking at the images it produces, it’s easy to see why. It’s now the smartphone by which we will assess other smartphone cameras.
Labelled Leica Vario-Summilux-H1.6-2.4/27-80 ASPH, the P20 Pro’s triple camera setup combines a 1/2.78-inch 20MP f/1.6 monochrome camera with a 1/1.73-inch 40MP RGB (colour) f/1.8 wide-angle camera and a 1/4.4-inch 8MP f/2.4 telephoto camera.
It builds on the cameras in predecessors like the Mate 10 Pro and P10 and it’s very capable. In fact, you can take shots in conditions in which you’d normally not even bother taking your phone out of your pocket.
The Aperture mode particularly impresses, delivering an excellent facsimile of a wide aperture image, elevating portraits. Meanwhile, the stabilisation system enables sharp images to be produced in very low light without the need to push the sensitivity very high.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
- Leica Vario-Summilux-H1.8-2.4/16-80 ASPH.
- 134% improvement in the AI performance
- SuperCharge option
Like the P20 Pro, the Huawei Mate20 Pro has a triple camera system. However, instead of a Leica Vario-Summilux-H1.6-2.4/27-80 ASPH, the Mate20 Pro has a Leica Vario-Summilux-H1.8-2.4/16-80 ASPH.
The Mate20 Pro’s matrix camera is created by combining a 40Mp f/1.8 wide-angle camera, a 20Mp f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle (16mm) camera and an 8Mp f/2.2 telephoto (80mm) camera. That means there’s an effective focal length range of 16-80mm. With digital zoom technology, this can be taken to 16-270mm.
The Mate 20 Pro uses the new Kirin 980 engine and Dual-MPU (processors). This enables up to 4500 images to be recognised per minute. As a result, there’s a 134% improvement in the AI (artificial intelligence) performance.
This enables better subject recognition as it can identify details rather than just outlines. It can also understand more elements of an image and optimise them independently. That should be useful in high contrast situations.
Huawei has given the Mate 20 Pro a 4200mAh battery. That’s 1000mAh more than the previous incarnation. There’s also a 40W SuperCharge option which charges a dead battery to 70% in 30mins.
- 12MP RGB f/1.8, 20MP monochrome f/1.6 dual cameras
- Excellent Aperture Mode
- Superb low light performance
Sitting beneath the P20 Pro, the Huawei P20 probably doesn’t get all of the props that it should. Were it in any other manufacturer’s range it would be the flagship phone. The truth is the Huawei P20 has an excellent camera that will more than satisfy most users.
The Huawei P20 uses a dual Leica camera system that combines a 12MP RGB f/1.8 camera with a 20MP monochrome f/1.6 camera. By default, the camera produces 12-megapixel images, but you can opt to shoot 20-megapixel files if you prefer.
The P20 has a Pro shooting mode that allows you to take control over aspects such as the metering mode, sensitivity (ISO), shutter speed, exposure compensation, focus mode and white balance setting.
If you tap the settings icon in the top right corner of the screen you’ll also find that it’s possible to shoot raw files.
Huawei’s use of AI technology enables the P20 to produce high-quality images in very low light conditions without the use of a tripod. Furthermore, in Aperture mode images can be made to resemble those captured by cameras with much larger sensors and expensive fast lenses.
It’s a high-quality device with snappy autofocusing and a stabilisation system that does a great job of smoothing the jitters from handheld video.
Google Pixel 2
- 12.2MP, f/1.8 main camera
- 4K video recording
- 1080 @ 120p, 720 @ 240p slow motion video
- Dual Pixel AF
It’s easy to see why DxO has rated the Pixel 2 so highly. It is capable of delivering some fantastic images, in both good and low light. This low-light prowess is down to what Google calls HDR+. This is the company’s AI-driven technology that determines your exposure, dynamic range and even focus.
The Portrait Mode isn’t without its quirks, but it works well to produce impressive blurred background shots – and the fact it does this from a single main camera is all the more impressive.
The Pixel 2’s Dual Pixel AF system uses the main camera’s entire sensor to ascertain depth, producing very fast and accurate focusing.
The Google Pixel 2 is also a capable smartphone camera for video, offering 4K recording at 30p, as well as slow-motion capability in HD.
You can download third party apps which give you access to extensive controls, as well as raw format shooting. What really sets the Pixel 2 apart is its intelligence. Clever software and AI technology enable it to do so much on its own, freeing you to be more in the moment.
- Dual 12MP cameras
- Dual wide-angle and telephoto lenses
- 4K video recording
The iPhone X camera is not only the best that Apple has ever produced, but is also one of the best currently on the market. It produces bright, vibrant and well-detailed images, particularly in good light, and the Portrait Mode offers some stunning images.
The iPhone X’s dual cameras feature new wide-angle (28mm equivalent) and telephoto (56mm equivalent) lenses with bright apertures at f/1.8 and f/2.4, respectively. The lenses also boast new Optical Image Stabilisation.
The iPhone X can also record 4K video at 60fps, making it a very powerful option for video as well as stills.
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
- Two lenses
- Dual aperture on wide-angle lens
- Large screen
- 4K video recording
The Samsung S9+ is one of a duo of flagship smartphones from the Korean brand. The S9+ is bigger and features a dual lens set-up.
Its two cameras are both 12 megapixels, with one featuring a wide-angle lens and a 1/2.55-inch sensor, and the other featuring a telephoto lens with a 1/3.6” sensor.
The wide-angle lens has the dual-aperture option that is also seen on the standard S9, and is a first for smartphone cameras.
It gives you the option to choose between two different apertures, depending on the lighting conditions (f/1.5 or f/2.4). The telephoto lens has a fixed f/2.4 aperture.
Other notable features include super-slow motion video, Micro SD card compatibility, digital zoom and 4K video recording at 60fps.