The Best Smartphone Cameras on the Market
Many have alluded to the fact that the smartphone market has become stagnant, with annual updates increasingly coming in the form of minor polishes that are iterative. And, even from the point of view of someone who is a phone fanatic, today’s devices feature a homogeneous design that has remained the same for several generations. The general rise in the price of flagship smartphones has, rightly, frustrated consumers at a time when the few changes that are introduced do not warrant a hike in price.
However, things aren’t all doom and gloom in the smartphone market as quantum leaps in the quality of photos and videos captured by our mobile devices continue, generation after generation. Today’s smartphone cameras are a far cry from the ones in the past and occupy a critical part of the smartphone experience, from supporting Skype Calls, sending Snaps and live streaming video on FaceBook to making mobile Augmented Reality, well, a reality.
The continued progression of the smartphone camera, which is a plural in today’s dual, triple and quadruple camera world has involved breakthroughs in computational photography, colour science and the increased use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve post-processing. With processors now offering desktop-class performance, our cameras are taking advantage of this power to support new features such as ultra slow-motion video and DSLR-like bokeh effects.
Identifying the best overall smartphone camera is a difficult task, as there are devices that excel in particular categories and fall short in others. Much of it comes down to personal preference too, for example, whether you like the truth to life colours or saturated and dramatised images which pop on an OLED display. The introduction of different lenses has increased the complexity, with some smartphones providing the ability to use optical zoom and others allowing you to use a wider field of view mode.
4 iPhone XS and XS Max
While Apple may have come under criticism for the lack of meaningful changes and improvements with the XS over last year’s signature X device, the company has made some notable advancements in the camera space since last year. The XS packs a dual camera system on the rear, with a 12MP f/1.8 primary shooter and 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens. Photos captured with the primary shooter feature excellent dynamic range thanks to Smart HDR+ and, as we have come to expect from Apple, true to life colours. Low-light images are impressive, with the company’s software doing a good job to remove noise. The same can be said for Apple’s Portrait Mode, which is one of the best out there, and gives you the ability to adjust the depth of bokeh during and after the photo is taken.
Apple’s telephoto lens struggles in low-light, but many won’t use this feature after sunset anyway. If you use your smartphone to capture video with the rear camera, the iPhone XS is the best device out there right now. The company’s 4K 60fps footage is smooth and free from the jitter and warping that plagues some of its rivals. Apple’s OIS system is fantastic, providing shake-free videos.
There has been some controversy surrounding the 7MP f/2.2 selfie camera on the iPhone XS. Dubbed “beautygate”, selfies taken with the XS appear overly processed, producing unnaturally smooth skin even without any beautification mode applied. The best way to describe this is to imagine yourself being portrayed as a doll. Importantly, Apple has made clear that it intends to resolve this issue in an OTA update. Leaving this aside, the XS delivers a solid selfie experience, with good detail and dynamic range. If there is one aspect of the iPhone XS that actually lives up to its price, it is the camera.
3 Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Note 9
The South Korean Giant has developed a reputation for knocking it out of the park when it comes to the quality of cameras included with its Galaxy lineup of devices, and this year’s Samsung flagships are no different. The Galaxy S9 Plus and Note 9 feature the same dual camera system, with a 12MP primary camera and a 12MP f/2.4 telephoto shooter that can capture photos with 2x optical zoom. This optical zoom lens is one of the best on the market thanks to the addition of OIS. The primary camera includes a trick, that up until the announcement of these phones, was limited to DSLR cameras. Samsung has managed to fit a dual aperture sensor into the enclosure, a momentous breakthrough for smartphone photography.
With this “Dual Aperture” feature, the S9 Plus and Note 9 can switch between f/1.5 and f/2.5 modes, providing enhanced versatility. Watching this mechanism in action is incredible, as the rear lens blinks like an eye as you change aperture. During hours of brightness, using the f/2.4 mode is recommended as there is ample light to capture photos. The results are brilliant, and Samsung’s inclination to over-saturate photos leaves you with images that appear incredibly pleasing to the eye. In low-light, the f/1.5 mode allows the sensor to absorb more light than most of its competitors, producing images that contain less noise and grain.
The video capabilities that Samsung has developed are excellent, and those include 4K video at 60fps and 720p video at 960fps. This SuperSlow Mode offers very pleasing footage, and stabilisation is phenomenal. The 8MP f/1.7 front-facing camera sets the standard for how your selfies should look, with outstanding performance in low-light situations and while capturing 1440p video at 60fps. If you’re a vlogger, there are few superior devices than this for you. Samsung continues to show that it can provide an amazing camera experience, year after year.