I remember buying my first mobile phone back when I was 17. As I tentatively browsed the section at my local electronics store, I was struck by the array of different shapes, sizes and colours of the handsets. The clerk approaches me with a cheery smile, “hello there! Looking for a cell phone, are we? You want a candy bar or a clamshell?”
This was my first personal mobile phone, the technology was still in its infancy, a candy bar shape was the “classic” Nokia 3310 style and a clamshell is now better known as a ‘flip’. I settled on a Motorola flip and was sold on one feature above all others. The camera was (for the time) amazing. Full colour at VGA resolutions with the ability to take video. All my friends were impressed and, in some cases, incredulous, this sleek little phone could take pictures like THAT?
Looking back on those times, it's easy to have a chuckle at the camera quality. Today's smartphones have cameras that could put a pro level DLSR to shame. When buying a smartphone, the camera is often a major selling point, with companies in a bitter arms race for camera supremacy. So then, what company does it best? Here are the top three smartphone cameras you can buy right now.
- Google Pixel 3
Relative newcomers to the smartphone market, search engine giants Google have set the world on fire with there Pixel range. The latest offering continues the trend with a drop-dead gorgeous OLED screen and almost perfect dimensions. Whilst the Pixel 3 might not be packing as much performance as other flagship models, its adequate for most tasks.
But we didn’t come here to talk about CPU’s and calculations per second, no, you came here for the camera and truthfully, the pixel 3 has the best camera in a smartphone. I don’t say this lightly, there are some stonking cameras on the market, but the Pixel 3 blows them all out of the water in sharpness, colour reproduction and any other metric that we use to measure a camera's performance.
Some do not like the idea of Google made hardware. If you don’t mind and are happy to deal with being locked into googles ecosystem, if you want the best camera phone and don’t mind the goofy aesthetics, the Pixel 3 may be the phone for you.
- iPhone XS max
Well, what can I say about Apple products? You either get it or you don’t and if you ‘get it’ then an Apple iPhone is the only phone you will want. The latest offering, the iPhone XS Max is as beautiful as it is expensive. The Max is the larger screen variant of the wildly successful iPhone X. The XS max, usurpingly, is stuffed full of the latest and greatest performance hardware, giving any flagship phone a run for its money in benchmarks and speed tests.
The Max utilises dual rear cameras, enabling it to perform tricks that were once only in the wheelhouse of DSLRs. With a slew of modes, the iPhone XS Max can produce jaw-dropping pictures in most light conditions. These dual rear cameras combine to give the ability for real optical zoom and stabilisation, a feature once reserved for professional grade optics.
Whilst the pixel 3’s camera has the iPhone beat, the iPhone performs better in almost every other field, and if you are already invested in Apple's ecosystem, there is no real reason to make the switch. Yes, Pixel 3 has a better camera, but it’s not miles ahead.
- Huawei P20 Pro
This handset really surprised me. Fast, good looking and coming in considerably cheaper than other flagships. Huawei’s build quality is second to none, rivalling the big boys. The standard Huawei P20 was a fast and capable phone, the Pro ups the ante with an additional 2gb of ram and an additional rear camera. So, it would have two rear cameras then? Well, no the p20 has three rear cameras.
Yep, you read that correctly, three. It gets even better, the lenses were designed and built by none other than Leica. Leica is a German company that has a long and proud history of camera manufacturing and suffice to say, they know how to build a good lens.
The first lens in the set up is a 40-megapixel colour camera, the second a 20-megapixel monochrome camera and the final lens an 8-megapixel telephoto. The three lenses all play different roles and when combined can produce photos with unbelievable death and clarity.
The triple lens system is backed up by Huawei’s ‘Camera AI’ which aims to give you the best possible images without manually tweaking a single setting.
The P20 Pro is offered in a variety of attractive finishes, with my personal favourite being the “Twilight”. The build quality and insane camera system are let down slightly by an outdated screen and processor. If an iPhone isn’t your thing and you can’t justify the premium for a Pixel 3, the P20 has the best camera system in a smartphone.
Smartphones are big business with billions of dollars spent in design and research each year. As each brand vies for your hard-earned cash, the real winner is you, the consumer. Now an entry-level smartphone has full HD video recording and a serviceable still camera. It is almost impossible now to purchase a smartphone with an objectively bad camera.
The flagship phones mentioned above bring casual photography to a whole new level. Now it is feasible to ditch the DSLR and only bring your mobile phone. Coupled with a tripod and some other gear, you really can get professional results out of something that was once relegated to making phone calls.
Whilst we are most interested in camera quality, it is also important to choose a phone that feels ‘right’ whatever this may mean to you. If the camera is awesome but you find the controls difficult, you are less inclined to take photos. Don’t be afraid to take your time and if possible, play around with each handset first, and of course, take some test pictures. Happy snapping!