OK, name the best smartphone camera? Samsung Galaxy Note? Google Pixel 3? Huawei P20 Pro? Apple’s iPhone Xs Max? Smartphone cameras are like beauty. The best camera is in the eye of the beholder. Here are the best.
DSLR vs. Smartphone
Allow me to set argumentation aside so we can focus on facts. First, most mid-range and higher DSLRs take better photos than the best smartphones. Second, most of us couldn’t tell the difference anyway.
Fortunately, some of the argumentation can be taken away thanks to the folks at DXOMark who test cameras and lenses; DSLRs and smartphones. Among the best you get can get at any price is the Hasselblad X1D-50c which scores just a hair ahead of the Pentax 645Z. Tied for third place is Nikon D850 and a couple of Sony models.
What about smartphones? The same rules apply. We can argue certain specifics until the cows decide they don’t want to come home anymore, but the reality is this. All the top smartphone cameras– Huawei, iPhone, Samsung, Google, et al– take excellent photos and most of us would be hard pressed to determine which photo came from which camera.
Tops on DXOMark’s smartphone list is the highly acclaimed, very expensive, and hard to buy in the U.S. of A– Huawei P20 Pro. A few points behind is Apple’s dual camera iPhone Xs Max which comes in ahead of offerings from HTC, Samsung, Xiaomi, and even Google’s Pixel 3 (with a single lens).
Speaking of Google’s Pixel 3, guess which Apple iPhone got the same score on DXOMark’s tests? iPhone XR. How does the bargain priced iPhone compare to iPhone Xs and Xs Max?
Apple chose to include much of the same advanced software and image processing algorithms as in their flagship devices, and in many ways the photographic capabilities of the iPhone XR are broadly similar to those of the XS/XS Max — excellent exposure in all lighting conditions, wide dynamic range, and an excellent noise-versus-detail trade-off. The autofocus system is also excellent in all conditions.
In other words, iPhone XR’s camera is damned good. How about Google’s highly acclaimed Pixel 3 (also with a single camera)?
Google continues to make impressive gains in image processing using computational imaging. The result is a very versatile camera that people can confidently use in most situations without any manual settings or tweaks. In particular, the Pixel 3’s Zoom and Bokeh (Portrait mode) scores have improved dramatically over the previous generation. Overall, it is tied for the top of our single-camera phones with the Apple iPhone XR and beats it, along with nearly every other phone in our database, for Video. The Pixel 3’s scores are behind those of only a handful of multi-camera flagship phones.
Yes, we can argue the scores and testing methodology until there are only almond cows, and such results are more for bragging rights than anything else– especially since most of us would not be able to determine which photos belonged to which cameras– but DXOMark’s testing shows us how far smartphone cameras have advanced in recent years.
Most premium smartphones have damned good cameras these days.