Some phones perform better in low light, others have HDR modes that are way ahead of the competition, and then there are those that are not as good for stills, but are great for video. It’s not easy picking the best of the best, especially if you don’t get the chance to try out many, many phones for yourself.
Thankfully, that’s our job here at PhoneArena! We’ve thoroughly tested all smartphones featured on this list, and in our opinion, they boast the best-performing cameras on the market right now. Of course, with the Galaxy S9 and S9+ judt around the corner—which Samsung is teasing as the “camera, reimagined”—as well as other phones coming out in the next couple of months, this list will be further updated to reflect the current situation.
So, with that out of the way, which are the best camera phones you can get right now, in 2018?
- No manual mode in stock camera
- No RAW support in stock camera
- Low-light performance without flash is iffy
That the iPhone X is capable of taking great-looking photos and videos, is a secret to no one. Apple’s latest flagship has some of the best cameras on the market, both on the front and back.
The main attraction is, of course, the rear-facer, which consists of a standard, wide-angle shooter, coupled with a “telephoto” lens that’s capable of up to two times lossless, optical magnification. The two cameras also work in tandem to measure depth when using the iPhone X’s excellent Portrait Mode.
Although the iPhone X doesn’t offer a manual camera mode—which we wish it did, though we know that’s not how Apple rolls—the camera software on board is great at what it does. That is, it offers one of the best HDR modes on the market, rivaled only by Google Pixel 2’s HDR+, spot-on color reproduction, and a very capable Portrait Mode.
Shots taken on the iPhone X mostly have very natural colors and look great on the phone‘s wide-gamut display. The only weaker side of the iPhone X camera is its low-light performance. Although it’s great for taking stills and videos during the day, things take a turn for the worse when there’s not enough light. However, the phone’s Slow Sync flash is actually quite good for taking portraits and close-ups at night, ensuring a well-lit background behind your subject.
If Apple’s camera app also offered a manual mode, it would be a godsend for the enthusiasts out there, but alas. You can always go for a third-party solution, of course, but that’s kind of beside the point.
Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL
- Google Camera lacks manual mode
- Portrait mode is not as good as on dual-cam phones
- Nasty flares in certain lighting conditions
The latest crop of Pixel phones from Google offer what are arguably two of the best cameras in the Android world. Shunning away from the dual-cam trend, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL bet heavily on excellent software to produce great-looking stills and videos. One of the biggest stand-out features of the Pixels is the HDR+ mode, which is leaps and bounds above the Android competition. It is the result of years of research and fine-tuning the algorithms that make the magic happen, and it truly shows.
Despite not boasting two cameras like most of the competition, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are no less capable of delivering excellent results, and are even capable of simulating shallow depth of field (a.k.a bokeh,), which is an oh-so-trendy thing right now. The results are, unfortunately, not quite up to par with what you can expect from the iPhone X or the Galaxy Note 8, but they are still acceptable, especially considering the lack of a second camera on the Pixels.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
- Oversaturated colors in certain scenarios
- Auto WB is all over the place
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is an all around great performer. It is equipped with a traditional wide-angle camera and a telephoto lens for lossless optical magnification, but the two snappers also work together to create a shallow depth of field effect when shooting in “Live Focus” mode, which is Samsung’s answer to Portrait Mode.
Furthermore, the Galaxy Note 8 is one of the best—if not the best—smartphone for low light photography out there. It’s performance during the day is also excellent, although Samsung’s post-processing algorithms are a bit on the heavy side at times, and the auto white balance assessment is not always spot-on. Images from the Note 8 may at times appear a bit oversaturated, but for those of you who want to get into the nitty gritty of it, the stock camera app offers an elaborate manual mode that lets you fine-tune the results.
As far as low light photography is concerned, the Note 8 is an absolute powerhouse, producing sharp, clean-looking images in poor lighting conditions where most of the competition fails to deliver decent results.
- Oversaturated colors in certain scenarios
- Auto WB not accurate at times
Pretty much everything that can be said about the Galaxy S8, also holds true for the Note 8, and vice versa. The S8 and S8+ may not flaunt a second telephoto snapper like the Note, but they have very capable cameras. Yes, there’s no optical zoom and the fake shallow depth of field effect works only when taking a picture of something up to 20 inches away from the camera, but the S8 and S8+ are still two of the sharpest shooters around, especially when it comes to shooting in poor lighting conditions.
For those who don’t like Samsung’s trademark style of post-processing JPEGs, there’s also a dedicated manual mode that lets you tinker with the color temperature, tint, contrast, saturation, and all the other settings you’d expect from a manual camera mode.
- LG’s post-processing leads to visible ringing artifacts
- Inaccurate auto WB indoors and at night
The LG V30 is a bit of a curious case. It’s definitely not up to par with the heavyweights when it comes to image quality, mainly due to the phone’s smaller sensor, the unnatural post-processing techniques that LG employs for JPEGs, and the wildly inaccurate auto white balance. However, having said that, the LG V30 has some unique camera features that you won’t find elsewhere.
The main attraction here are the ultra wide-angle lenses on the back and front of the V30. Going against the grain, LG has been pushing ultra wide-angle cameras, instead of telephoto like most the competition, and truth be told, it’s something many of us here at the office like. Telephoto shooters are good for zooming in and for portraits, but wide-angle snappers really come into their own for landscape and street photography.
Furthermore, the LG V30 not only offers a very fleshed-out manual mode for stills, but for video as well. It really is one of the best smartphones out there if you’re interested in video. The V30 has hands-down the best manual video mode we’ve seen, complete with awesome options for color grading.
- Auto WB results in cool colors when shooting indoors or at night
- No portrait mode or equivalent
- Fringing and other minor artifacts even in broad daylight
The HTC U11 is another phone on this list that does not feature a dual camera setup, but despite that, it is capable of delivering some great-looking stills and alright videos in different lighting scenarios.
Without many of the bells and whistles that the competition has to offer, the U11 still manages to pull through as a capable camera, especially when it comes to performance in low-light scenarios. Even when lighting conditions are less than optimal, the U11 manages to deliver sharp, noise-free results, although the automatic white balance is not always spot-on when shooting at night. Speaking of that, the U11’s front-facing camera also excels in low-light, thanks to HTC’s UltraPixel tech.
One of our bigger irks with the phone, save for the lack of dedicated portrait mode and no second snapper, is the shutter lag the stock camera app exhibits. It is nowhere near the speed of the Pixels and Galaxies, but that’s a somewhat minor caveat in an otherwise very capable camera.
On a budget
But what if you don’t want to break the bank with the latest flagships and still want to get a stellar camera? Well, there’s options out there that you can get without shelling out too much cash, that still do a commendable job. These are older models, yes, but they still hold their own even in today’s oversaturated market.
Google Pixel and Pixel XL
The original Pixel and Pixel XL still have good cameras, even when compared to their successors and the current, fierce competition. From the get-go, Google was focused on delivering a stellar camera experience with it’s first in-house developed smartphones, and it sure did succeed. The Pixels have that capable HDR+ mode that was further developed for the Pixel 2, they deliver good-looking, noise-free images images in low-light conditions, and have accurate color rendering in most scenarios.
Samsung Galaxy S7
With the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 out, and with the S9 looming on the horizon, you might wonder, “why is a phone from 2016 on this list?” And let me tell you, it’s that good. You can get a Galaxy S7 relatively cheap these days, and this phone has a strong camera game. It may not be quite up to par with the S8, but it’s very close. In fact, the camera itself is the same, with the only differences coming from the software powering it. This means that most of the strong suits of the S8 can be found in its predecessor as well. The S7 produces sharp images in all lighting conditions, and although the colors are at times too warm or a bit oversaturated (in true Samsung fashion), this phone still offers a great camera for its current price.
Expect this list to be updated throughout the year!