How many of us own a dedicated digital camera anymore? The answer is probably not that many.
As our smartphones get smarter we’ve ditched the compact camera and instead are turning to our iPhones to get that perfect Instagram-worthy image.
It’s no surprise either, with recent smartphones like the Google Pixel 2 and Huawei P20 Pro boasting the kind of features you would expect to find on a professional DSLR worth thousands of pounds.
Great photography doesn’t have to come at a cost either, while these phones can cost upwards of £700-800, the rise of Artificial Intelligence in smartphones has allowed even lower-priced smartphones the ability to take great pictures.
Points to consider when choosing:
Megapixels don’t matter - That’s right, more is most definitely not better so don’t pick a phone just because it has a 20MP camera.
Dual-cameras or single lens? - The Google Pixel 2 takes incredible pictures with just one lens. If you see a phone with two cameras make sure that lens is actually doing something useful whether it’s allowing you to zoom further or take better low-light images.
Lights, Camera, Action - If shooting video is a big priority for you then it could completely change the phone you should choose. Check for Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), 4K and 60fps recording and if you want to be experimental, super slow-motion at over 900fps.
Aperture is everything - This is how much light a camera lets in, the lower the number the better e.g. f1.5 is better than f2.4.
Portrait Mode or Low Light? - Most cameras now focus on either taking those Bokeh-effect images where they can blur the background or taking incredible low-light images. Choose which one you care about as there aren’t many phones that can do both equally as well.
Here are our recommendations of the best phone cameras available right now.
Google Pixel 2
Last year Google focused all of its not inconsiderable computing power towards making the easiest point-and-shoot camera in the world. The result was the Google Pixel 2. With a single 12.2MP main camera and an f/1.8 aperture the Pixel 2 takes fantastic pictures in both low-light conditions and when on the move.
With just the one lens, Google is instead relying on incredibly powerful software to help enhance images and make them look their best. Portrait Mode images are best-in-class and in some cases probably better than the iPhone. The camera app is a complete doddle to use and perfect for beginners. For more advanced photographers, the Pixel’s OLED display is something to watch out for. It’s not known for being especially accurate, as such always be aware that what you might see on your phone is not what you’re going to see when you print it off or send it to someone else.
Google Pixel 2: From £629
Google Pixel 2 XL: From £799
Huawei P20 Pro
Huawei’s P20 Pro is an incredibly mixed bag. You have some incredible hardware in the form of not two, but three lenses. There’s a 40MP main sensor, 20MP black & white sensor and a 8MP sensor with 3X optical zoom.
The three lenses give the P20 Pro a rather neat party trick which is that it can take some pretty astonishing pictures at night. The results are mightily impressive as you can see here. The P20 Pro also has one of the most comprehensive ‘Pro’ modes available, giving you precise access to every conceivable setting. The P20 Pro isn’t perfect though, the app itself isn’t intuitive and the camera’s auto modes are viciously aggressive when it comes to humans and objects. They’re just over-filtered. If you’re a pro, this is the camera for you, if you’re looking for a point-and-shoot, look elsewhere.
Huawei P20 Pro: £799
OnePlus smartphones have always struggled to take pictures that can truly compete with the giants of Apple and Samsung. This all changes with the OnePlus 6. On the back there’s a 16MP f1.7 lens with OIS and a 20MP f1.7 lens which when combined will allow you to take Bokeh effect images and some pretty descent low-light images as well.
The OnePlus 6 does take incredibly good pictures, keep in mind though it does have a habit of over saturating colours. What it does really well is make taking pictures easy. The app could not be easier to use for beginners. Pro shooters aren’t forgotten either with a feature packed ‘Pro’ mode that lets you shoot pictures in RAW format.
Where the OnePlus suffers is in its execution of Portrait Mode, the live image you see often bears little resemblance to the finished image. It’s frustrating, but not a deal breaker because the finished image is often fantastic, with very little accidental blurring around objects that should be in focus. Sadly video is equally less impressive thanks to the camera’s almost constant need to refocus, producing some fairly unpleasant artefacts as you’re shooting. It’s OK, just not great.
OnePlus 6: From £469
Despite being announced back in September of 2017, it’s a testament to Apple that the iPhone X still has one of the best cameras in a smartphone. On the back is a 12MP f1.8 wide-angle lens and a 12MP f2.4 telephoto lens, on the front there’s a 7MP TrueDepth camera that allows the iPhone X’s Face ID technology.
Apple’s dual-camera setup is primarily there to allow for Portrait Mode and long-distance images. As such it’s brilliant at both, boasting arguably the best Bokeh-effect images around and superb lighting options with Apple’s own Portrait Lighting technology. Low-light performance is great, but not as good as either the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 Pro.
For professionals or enthusiasts there’s little help from the standard Camera app, however the iPhone has an incredible weapon up its sleeve, the App Store. Apple has opened up the camera to developers allowing them to create their own professional shooting apps including ProCamera and Adobe Lightroom.
Apple iPhone X: From £999
Samsung Galaxy S9+
The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ are both the first cameras to have a dual aperture, that means that the camera can switch from being either f1.5 for low-light images or f2.4 for ultra-sharp images in broad daylight. Combine this with the dual-cameras on the larger S9+ and you have one of the best all-round cameras available. Low-light images are pretty incredible with only the Huawei P20 Pro as its equal in that regard.
The camera app itself is easy to use and absolutely full to the brim of neat little tricks from a bokeh effect that you can adjust in real-time to a Super Slow Motion mode that automatically detects movement so it records at just the right time. Video is also superb with few artefacts or shaking thanks to Optical Image Stabilisation. It’s hard to find a single fault with the S9 or the dual-camera S9+ but then at this price, you’d expect nothing less.
Samsung Galaxy S9: From £739
Samsung Galaxy S9+: From £929
Sony Xperia XZ2
Sony’s latest flagship might look and feel a little dated but don’t be fooled by its chunky design and rectangular screen. The hardware in this smartphone is cutting edge. The XZ2 has a single 19MP Motion Lens f2.0 camera that despite its aperture size is actually remarkably good at taking pictures in low light.
This camera’s party trick though is with its video capture. The XZ2 and XZ2 Premium are the only smartphones capable of recording video in 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR). Unsurprisingly the results are extremely impressive with excellent contrast and really remarkable colour reproduction. Of course the only way you can view these videos are through either the phone’s own HDR display or a compatible HDR television so that’s something to keep in mind.
The XZ2 can also shoot in 960fps super slow motion, again the quality here is just really impressive but sadly the app’s UI does make it rather difficult to get the timing right when recording. It’s a shame because overall this feels like a camera that’s been designed for photographers and shooting video.
Sony Xperia XZ2: From £699