Which Phone Has the Best Camera?

When you're looking to upgrade to a newer phone model, comparing all the details and specs is the way to go. Each year brings the latest and greatest in smartphone technology, and advancements happen so quickly that it can be difficult to keep up. Now, smartphones have an unbelievable amount of power and processing capability. One of the most impressive and consistent areas of improvement is in the cameras.

In a world so focused on media and documenting memories, having a brilliant camera in your pocket is essential. Smartphone manufacturers are constantly trying to create the best quality compact lens on the market, so competition is high. But with so many stunning options out there, how can you tell which device has the best camera?

This guide will help you compare the fine details of the top contenders. You'll be able to see the technical features for the best smartphone cameras side by side, so you can make an informed decision when you're looking to upgrade.

Why Is It Important?

It doesn't matter if your a professional photographer or a novice, anyone can tell whether the quality of a photo is up to par with their expectations. Cameras perform very differently based on their features and technical capabilities. Not every function may be something you need, but you might find some of them helpful depending on your uses. Even if you don't know too much about the significance of technical camera specs, you should still know what you're buying.

One of the best conveniences of having a high-quality camera phone is that it can eliminate the need to carry around a separate point-and-shoot or DSLR. No more worrying about camera bags, straps, adjustments, settings or having to teach strangers how to take a snapshot of you and your friends. Of course, size restraints make it difficult to compete with the quality of a DSLR camera, but the convenience is an advantage, and it'll still take an excellent picture.

Most smartphone cameras are incredibly advanced — so much so that they can sense lighting and translate it to exposure settings in seconds, or detect shaking and stabilize the image for you. The intuitive nature of the software will do half the work for you, so you don't have to struggle or end up with a low-quality shot. In more recent upgrades, manufacturers have even been bringing up front-facing lenses to compete with traditional cameras.

If you're not setting up professional shoots, most of your picture-taking will likely be relatively impromptu. Some of the most memorable pictures are of candid moments or taken on a whim. Having a top-notch camera phone in your pocket allows you to capture all of them, wherever your travels take you. The better the camera, the better those photos will turn out.

There's nothing worse than trying to take a picture only to realize your camera won't pick it up. Whether the issue is dim lighting, distance, sun glare or motion, newer tech is addressing all of the common issues smartphone photographers face — and adding in extra features you wouldn't have imagined. If you want to find the best camera phone in 2019, it's time to do some comparison shopping.

The Facts Are in the Features

When the top phone companies are looking to compete with their contemporaries, they focus on improving the current top model. If they can't beat out their peers purely on lens quality or processing capability, they'll turn to features. These are the major differences between the most technically advanced phones, and what you should be looking into.

To find which phone has the best camera, you'll have to compare specifics. Even if you aren't quite sure what the significance of a certain measurement or element is, a quick search can tell you why it matters and what the best choice is. Depending on your uses, you may not need all of the top tech, but many of the features are helpful upgrades, especially for a novice or casual smartphone-ographer.

Some of the details you should consider include:

1. Resolution

One of the most crucial parts of capturing high-quality images is resolution. Generally, the higher the number of pixels per inch (ppi), the higher the resolution and the cleaner every line will appear. Most of the newest smartphone cameras have a high enough resolution that the eye can't discern between them, but there is certainly a noticeable difference between older models and the latest releases.

A high ppi comes especially in handy when it comes to zoom and photo editing. Larger pixels may become more visible as you blow up an image or attempt to take a zoomed-in photo. The better the resolution, the larger you can expand a photo and the closer in you can zoom without compromising clarity. The measure of megapixels (mp) a camera has is how many pixels are on the sensor itself.

2. Zoom

With older camera phones, trying to zoom in while taking a photo or after in editing could greatly decrease the overall quality. The image becomes grainy and the contrast suffers, sometimes so drastically that you can almost see the edges of the pixels. If you try to zoom in while taking a video, there's a chance you won't even be able to make out what's in the picture. It's more than a nuisance — it may prevent you from getting an amazing shot.

Newer phones have improved upon the zoom feature with optic hardware and software, depending on the manufacturer. With better features, you'll have a cleaner photo as you take it and if you decide to crop or edit it later.

3. Low-Light

Have you ever tried to take a picture in dark or dim conditions just to have nothing show up? It's a problem nearly every smartphone owner has faced at one point or another. Even some of the newer cameras aren't equipped with the most capable tech when it comes to low-light photography. But in some of the most recent models, manufacturers have been tackling the issue and making incredible strides.

The newest tech will allow you to capture more detail in the dark without your picture turning out too shadowy or grainy to make out the subject. It reduces the blur from lights and provides a clearer definition than older models. What makes the difference is the aperture, which is written as ƒ/number.

Cameras have wider or narrower lens apertures that dictate how well they perform in bright or dark spaces. Wider lenses — those with lower f-stop numbers — allow more light through the lens, meaning clearer photos in dim lighting. Narrower lenses — higher f-stop numbers — are better suited for brighter lighting. It works similarly to your irises.

But, aperture also affects depth of field. Wider apertures create shallower images, while the narrow varieties give you more depth. Lower numbers will provide a bokeh effect, or portrait mode, blurring the background and focusing in on the closest subject.

4. Front-Facing

Selfie culture has taken the world by storm. Almost every phone has a front-facing camera to allow you to take photos of you and your friends — no more asking for a stranger to take the shot, no more turning the phone around and guessing. With the latest upgrades, some front-facing lenses have caught up to the quality and range of the rear cameras.

While dual-lens options for front-facing photography have just recently hit the market, they aren't the only advancement that's been made. Selfies used to be dull and flat, sometimes even warping the image slightly because of the lack of depth. But depth has recently become a huge point of competition for manufacturers, in both rear and front lenses. So has providing wider angles to allow you to capture more in a single photo.

5. Video

Whether you're an aspiring filmmaker, a serial vacation documenter or you just enjoy taking casual videos of your friends and family, you should have the best recording quality possible. Having a great camera for still photos doesn't always mean the lens will perform the same in terms of videos. There are a few elements that help specifically with capturing videos, such as image stabilization and frame rate, or frames per second (fps).

Most of the latest models have advanced to 4k quality, though you have to be mindful of it, as they'll automatically film in a lower definition if you don't switch the setting. The reasoning behind this is that 4k video takes up a massive amount of storage space, and depending on how much your phone holds, you could run out of room.

6. Dual Lenses

In the latest releases, you'll see more models that feature two camera lenses on a single side. Certain phones venture to include three, or even five on the back. Some have dual selfie lenses as well. You may wonder if more lenses are necessary — or even helpful. Well, the answer is maybe.

Dual lenses aren't all created equal — that is, they don't all have the same functionality. In most cases, they are meant to improve the depth of your images or use multiple sizes of apertures to perform better in both high and low lighting. On the other hand, some of them only allow you to switch the angle from standard to wide, without improving upon the depth of field or low-light detail.

If you're looking for the camera phones that'll give you the most options stylistically or those that will capture more in a single image, multiple lenses might be for you. However, Google has rivaled — potentially even surpassed — these hardware updates with software alone.


7. Budget

Not everyone has the money to buy the latest, most technically advanced smartphones. As the features have improved and given camera phones more functionality than ever before, the prices have also increased. Unfortunately, for the most part, better tech does mean more money.

However, once you know what the best tech out there is, it's much easier to pick out the best option in your budget range. The differences between the top-performing phones are slim now that competitors have mostly caught up to one another in terms of tech offerings. But, there will always be a difference in price. For most consumers, that is a key concern when deciding on a new phone.

So Which Phone Has the Best Camera?

With so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to decide on a camera phone. Ultimately, once you know what the top models are, the differences will be minor between them, but some of the features may be preferable or unnecessary to you. While specs will tell you which models reign supreme in quality, deciding on what is best for your needs and budget is up to you. There is no one right answer.

Considering the top performers for each category, there are three clear frontrunners for best camera phone. It comes as no surprise that Google, Samsung and Apple are in the lead in terms of tech. You'll find the best quality cameras and features in these smartphones:


1. Google Pixel 3

One of the highest benchmarks in smartphone camera tech, the Google Pixel 3 is easily one of the best choices you can make. While the specs don't seem to match up with other top contenders, what it lacks in hardware it makes up for in brilliant artificial intelligence (AI) software. Here's how it stacks up:

  • Resolution: The back camera features a 12.2mp rating with a dual-pixel sensor — the current standard is about 12mp, pushing this model just over the top.
  • Zoom: It provides a 5x digital zoom, but no optical. However, the Pixel's Super Res Zoom feature combines frames to fill in detail when you're zooming in on a shot, without making them blurry or compromising the sharp clarity.
  • Low-light: With a ƒ/1.8 aperture and a Night Sight feature that's unique to Google, the Pixel performs outstandingly well in low-light conditions. It brings out details and colors that would typically be obscured without looking grainy or blurry.
  • Front-facing: On the front side, there are two cameras — an 8mp wide-angle with a 97-degree range and an 8mp lens with a normal field of view. These will help you capture more people and detail in a single photo, so you won't need that selfie stick.
  • Video: At it's best, the Pixel captures 4k quality video at 30fps, which is a new standard in top models.
  • Dual lens: While this phone does not have a dual lens in the back like it does in the front, Google's mastery of AI provides the effects you'd get with a multiple-camera setup. It captures multiple exposures to provide you with a choice of the best photo in its Top Shot feature, which suggests the best exposure. No more worries about someone blinking or a blurry image.
  • Budget: Among the top three, the Pixel 3 gives you the best value. It starts at about $800, which is high, but still less than the other picks. But here's the best part — the Pixel 3a and 3a XL are comparable in quality at a lower price point. The Pixel 3a starts at about $400, a steal by today's standards.

In addition to these features, the Pixel 3 has a lot more to offer in the software department than most, as well as unlimited storage to keep all of your photos and videos. One of the huge advantages of software-based improvements is that the device itself is less costly. These innovations are also available on older Pixel phones — all you have to do is download the updates.


2. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

When it comes to Samsung, their smartphones have done nothing but improve. At this point, they are pretty on par with the quality that Apple produces. The Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus are their latest and greatest, and the camera is no exception. Here's a quick look at its features:

  • Resolution: With multiple lenses, this phone offers several resolution qualities. For the back facing lenses, the resolutions are 12mp for telephoto and wide-angle and 16mp for the ultra-wide range. The two front-facing lenses offer 8mp and 10mp.
  • Zoom: The 2x optical zoom paired with high resolution keeps your photos and videos clean, during shooting and editing.
  • Low-light: Featuring a dual-aperture configuration — ƒ/1.5 and ƒ/2.4 — this camera performs well in bright and dim lighting. Also, the processor automatically takes multiple shots in low-light environments and merges them to provide better detail and color.
  • Front-facing: Dual lenses on the face of the phone enable you to take better pictures with more detail. The 10mp selfie camera and 8mp RGB depth camera work together to bring you high-quality photos that don't look flat or fuzzy.
  • Video: As most newer phones do, the S10 Plus shoots video in 4k, but that's not the only draw. It also has Super Steady Mode for ideal stabilization and Super Slow-Mo with a 960fps capture rate.
  • Dual lens: The Galaxy S10 Plus has dual front-facing lenses as well as three back cameras — yes, three. One is a telephoto lens, functioning with a normal field of view. The second provides wide-angle shots, and the third is Samsung's Ultra Wide Camera. The last provides an astounding 123-degree range, almost able to capture the same field of vision as your eyes.
  • Budget: While it is one of the best choices, it certainly isn't the most affordable option. An S10 Plus will cost you about $1,000, with the regular S10 coming in close at $900. The Galaxy Note9 is missing a few features — mainly the third ultra-wide lens — but is close in quality and will drop the price to about $800 or so.

Samsung's software also provides several Photo Assist features that help you take better photos. Shot Suggestion will guide you to the ideal subject placement and angle as you take the picture, giving you a technological professional eye for composition. Flaw Detection tells you when there's a mishap, Local Tone Mapping considers color, and Scene Optimizer recognizes 30 subjects and adjusts to take the best shot.


3. iPhone XS

Apple products being among the best has never been shocking. They've been consistent in providing top-of-the-line quality, especially in the photography department. The iPhone XS and XS Max have carried on the legacy with their lenses, proving to have the best iPhone camera yet. Here's what they bring to the table:

  • Resolution: Still keeping up with the industry standards, the latest iPhones offer a 12mp rating in both back cameras and a 7mp lens on the front.
  • Zoom: The XS provides both 2x optical and 10x digital zoom and a great resolution to keep each photo sharp and clean.
  • Low-light: With two cameras, the XS has a dual-aperture configuration, with the wide-angle at ƒ/1.8 and the telephoto at ƒ/2.4. These allow for stunning photos in dark and bright environments.
  • Front-facing: The front-facing camera is a single 7mp lens with a ƒ/2.2 aperture, but it also features True Depth technology and a wide-angle range. True Depth provides you with advanced depth control and lighting effects depending on your subject and environment.
  • Video: A standout quality of the XS is it can capture up to 60fps in 4k definition with additional cinematic stability, making the video quality smoother than ever. You can also take photos while shooting a video in 4k mode, and everything you film will be accompanied by stereo recorded audio.
  • Dual lens: This model does have dual cameras, one for telephoto and the other for wide-angle range.
  • Budget: Unfortunately, being Apple's latest line, this will set you back the most. The iPhone XS starts at $1,000, and if you want the XS Max, be ready to shell out an extra $100. But, the iPhone XR is fair competition — it doesn't have all the same features, but it will save you a few hundred bucks. The XR starts at $750 for the 64GB model — a much more affordable price point.

Thanks to the recently upgraded A12 Bionic processor that comes standard in new iPhones, the camera makes use of a Neural Engine. It provides machine-learning which, for the camera, allows for the facial and human recognition in portrait mode, rear and front camera augmented reality (AR) and smart HDR in all lighting.

While these will give you the most options and best quality in terms of photography, many close runners-up are better for your budget. In many cases, simply buying the previous model in each line will provide you with a close comparison at a lower price point. You can purchase the Samsung Galaxy Note9 and iPhone XR — even the iPhone 8 camera holds up — from the manufacturers, although Google no longer offers their Pixel 2.

However, if you want the best deal possible, you can always buy refurbished. Sites that sell previously used phones offer a range of models, from old to new, so you can get what's best for your photography and budget needs. You can choose from almost any model released in the past three years, even when the manufacturer no longer sells it.

Shop Refurbished Smartphones With Gazelle

Looking for a better way to buy the latest tech? With Gazelle, you have access to the best camera phones for a fraction of the price of their brand new contemporaries.

Our site makes it easy to browse for and purchase the device you need quickly and safely. There are no contracts to sign or strings attached, and we offer a 30-day return policy to ensure you've picked the perfect phone for you. We make sure every trade-in phone is clean of data before selling for the safety of the prior owners.

By purchasing a pre-owned phone, you're saving money while helping us save the environment. At Gazelle, we refurbish any useable devices and recycle broken ones, keeping harmful chemicals and materials out of landfills. If you have an old device you want to recycle as you decide on a newer model, we may even be able to offer you cash to use towards your purchase.Get a better camera today and shop our smartphones, or check out our trade-in process for more information.

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