If you want a smartphone with an absolutely killer camera, you have to consider a few features that set each device apart from the competition. Get these terms down before you do your shopping, and read on for the best camera phones money can buy.
Photo Terms to Know
Aperture is important because it's directly related to the low-light camera performance of the smartphone you're considering. A lower aperture number results in more light reaching the camera sensor, which leads to better-looking low-light photos.
Don't be confused by the slight mathematical difference between the aperture numbers. For example, a sensor with an f/1.8 lens will let in a lot more light than an f/2.0 lens. Having a low-aperture lens will also enable you to capture portraits with a shallower depth of field and pleasantly blurry backgrounds.
Optical Image Stabilization
Having a camera with optical image stabilization in your phone means that there are dedicated hardware components inside it, designed to offset the slight movements of your hands while you capture photos. It's incredibly helpful during video capture. You'll also be able to achieve lower camera-shutter speeds, which means better low-light photos, like the ones below.
This particular feature is impossible to quantify, yet it truly separates a good smartphone camera from a great smartphone camera. Simply put, image processing involves the phone's ability to, well, process all the data captured by its camera sensor into a photograph.
With today's smartphone cameras offering similar specs, superior image processing gives today's best devices an edge. Rather unsurprisingly, the smartphones from today's leading brands (Apple, Google, and Samsung) have a lead over their competitors in this instance.
With this in mind, here's a look at our top picks:
Samsung Galaxy S9+
Best for Low-Light Performance and a Rich Set of Features
Samsung’s range-topping Galaxy S9+ has a cutting-edge dual camera, whose main 12 MP sensor has groundbreaking mechanical aperture. The latter can automatically switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on the lighting conditions, allowing the phone to always capture a great photo.
The secondary 12 MP camera of the phone has a telephoto lens with f/2.4 aperture. It has smaller pixels than the main sensor, so it’s best for daylight photography. Both of the device’s camera sensors have optical image stabilization.
The f/1.5 maximum aperture of the smartphone is the brightest in its class, giving it an edge over its competitors in low-light conditions. Advanced photographers can manually switch the aperture in pro mode.
The quality of the photos and videos captured by the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is consistently excellent. The device is handily among the best camera phones available today.
Thanks to its powerful processor, the Galaxy S9+ can also capture slow-motion video at an eye-popping 960 frames per second. The feature can stretch 0.2 seconds of time into 6-second clips. You can even convert them into GIFs for easy sharing.
Like all high-end smartphones today, the Galaxy S9+ has a dedicated portrait mode. You can adjust the level of background blur before or after you capture the photo.
Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL
Best Single Camera
Google Pixel 2
Google Pixel 2 XL
Hands-down, the Google Pixel 2 and Google Pixel 2 XL have the best single camera in the business. It has a 12 MP image sensor with large pixels, a fast f/1.8 lens, and optical image stabilization. The latter addresses the biggest shortcomings of the first-generation Google Pixel and Pixel XL.
Photos captured by these Google smartphones will impress you with fantastic image processing and dynamic range. Just like the iPhone X, the camera performance of both devices is consistently great, regardless of the setting.
Even though they have only one camera sensor, the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL can capture superb portrait photos. Instead of a secondary image sensor like their rivals, the phones leverage AI-powered image processing to blur the background behind the subject you're trying to capture. The functionality is available with their selfie cameras, too.
Choosing a favorite between the Google Pixel 2 and the iPhone X is incredibly difficult, and up to one’s personal taste. Thankfully, it’s impossible to make a bad choice either way.
Best of all, Google offers unlimited cloud storage for all full-resolution photos and videos captured by the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. You can then seamlessly access all your photos and videos from anywhere via Google Photos.
Best for Consistently Great Performance and Class-Leading Portrait Mode
The camera hardware of the iPhone X consists of two 12 MP sensors. The main snapper has an f/1.8 lens, while the secondary camera utilizes a telephoto lens with an f/2.4 aperture. Both camera sensors have optical image stabilization.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the iPhone X is one of the best camera phones money can buy. Its dual camera delivers consistently fantastic images images on every occasion. Their colors and dynamic range are industry benchmarks, as is their image processing.
The iPhone X is also capable of capturing the best portrait photos in the business. The images stand out among their competitors by giving you the option to change their lighting effect. There are several great-looking presets to pick from, and you can choose one before or after you capture the photo.
It’s also important to note that, thanks to Apple iOS, the iPhone X comes with the best selection of photo editing and third-party camera apps in the industry, too.
Best Budget Camera Phone
The Moto G6 is priced at only $250, yet it offers a great camera experience. The smartphone has a dual camera setup, which includes a 12 MP main sensor with a bright f/1.8 aperture and a 5 MP secondary one. The goal of the additional camera sensor is to capture more data and enhance the images of the primary camera.
The quality of the daylight photos captured by the Moto G6 is excellent for its price point. The images feature plenty of detail and well-sorted dynamic range. Unsurprisingly, compared to high-end phones, the Moto G6 struggles to capture great photos in low light, though given its price point, we can't really consider this to be a major shortcoming.
Having a secondary camera sensor means that the Moto G6 can capture cool-looking portrait photos with a nicely blurred background behind the subject. Another cool camera feature we like allows you to highlight one specific color and make the rest of the image monochrome for a more dramatic effect.
The camera launch gesture of the G6 is one of the best in the business, and it's a signature Moto feature. All you need to do to power up the camera app is flick the phone with your wrist twice.
LG G7 ThinQ
Best for an AI-Powered Dual Camera
The LG G7 ThinQ features two 16 MP camera sensors. The main one has a bright lens with a f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization. The secondary camera, in line with other high-end LG phones from the past couple of years, has a wide-angle lens. The latter has an f/1.9 aperture.
The most innovative bit about the LG G7 ThinQ camera experience is that it's powered by artificial intelligence. With its help, the phone can automatically recognize the subject you're trying to capture and suggest the best filter for it. The optional feature is designed to appeal to today’s Instagram-obsessed mobile shutterbugs. It's fun, though also a bit inconsistent.
AI tricks aside, the LG G7 ThinQ takes superb photos in good lighting conditions. We also like the versatility that its wide-angle secondary camera offers — it allows you to capture solid panoramic images with no effort.
Low-light photography is where the the G7 ThinQ falls behind today’s finest offerings from Apple, Google, and Samsung. The phone has noticeably smaller pixels than its main competitors. As a result, it captures slightly noisier photos, meaning they have a grainier look.
Best for Having Dual Cameras Front and Back
A successor of one of the best camera phones of 2017, the HTC U12+ packs a quartet of camera sensors. The main camera of the device is a 12 MP unit with large pixels, f/1.75 aperture, and optical image stabilization. It's coupled with a 16 MP sensor, sitting behind a telephoto lens with f/2.6 aperture. The font of the device is home to two 8 MP cameras.
The quality of the images and the videos captured by the HTC U12+ is excellent. The camera’s portrait mode is also capable of producing great results — you can even adjust the level of background blur via a slider.
Having dual front-facing cameras allows the HTC U12+ to capture portrait selfies, too. The feature works well, though it can't quite match the experience that the iPhone X has to offer.
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