2017’s new lineup of smartphones have been nothing short of fantastic, we’ve been seeing powerful flagships with superb cameras on their rear. In the Android department, Samsung’s S8, Huawei’s P10, LG’s G6 and Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium have done their brand proud. If you are an avid mobile photographer who isn’t a fan of lugging around a big DSLR to shoot insta-worthy photos, you might want to consider investing in one of the aforementioned devices, but which ones are the best? After trying out all of the above, we are here to give you an answer.
Specifications in a Glance
Explanation of Terms
This is term you hear the most. To put it simply, 1 megapixel is one million pixels. So a 13MP camera can catch 13,000,000 pixels (roughly). Usually, the higher the megapixel number, the more detail your camera is capable of capturing.
Optical Image Stabilisation
As the name suggests, it helps with the stabilisation of the camera. This is very useful for non-tripod, handheld shooting. It helps facilitate the reduction of blur resulting from camera shake. It definitely helps, but it does not completely eliminate wobbly hands. A 5-axis OIS is definitely going to be more useful than the traditional 3-axis or 4-axis. Axises refer to the direction and plane of movement that occurs.
This is where things get a little more complicated. So your aperture basically controls the amount of light hitting your sensor. The wider the aperture, the more light comes in, which makes low-light shots look better. It also allows for better “depth-of-field”.
The smaller number you see, the wider the aperture (it’s sort of counter-intuitive).
Sensor / Pixel Size
Rule of thumb, a larger physical sensor is better, this is why huge DSLRs are obviously usually better than smartphone cameras. Optics aside, if you compare the images of a 16-megapixel smartphone sensor to a 16-megapixel DSLR sensor, the image quality of the larger DSLR sensor is generally better.
Field of View
This simply refers to how wide the camera can shoot, meaning how much “peripheral vision” your camera is capable of shooting.
Details and Clarity
Now based on the megapixels we, notice that Huawei’s P10 Plus and Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium should give you the most detailed or high-res photos, however, that’s not really the case from what we’ve noticed.
Under well-lit conditions, the photos below, when zoomed in to the maximum on a PC, led us to realise that out of all 4 cameras, the LG G6 and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium held up the best with the least distortion at a pixel-level. You can take a look at the shots delivered here. It should give you a pretty good idea on what to expect from these cameras.
Colour and Contrast
Now, all 4 cameras once again do well for themselves here, but based on auto-shooting, I discovered that the LG G6 has an intelligent way of shooting to recognise when HDR mode is necessary and when it isn’t. It auto-calibrates and shoots photos with the necessary dynamic settings to make sure everything is well-lit and popping. If you notice the shot below where there is a a fair bit of backlighting, you will notice some kind of HDR-ish effect in the LG’s G6 but not the other phones. This gives the G6 a slight edge.
However, without HDR, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is excellent in its colour contrast as well, giving a strong colour reproduction that is vibrant yet natural at the same time. The Sony Xperiz XZ Premium comes in a close second here.
Huawei’s P10 Plus on the other hand, didn’t seem to do so well in terms of contrast and images appear to be rather washed out by the backlight.
Extending on our topic on colour contrast, you notice that the LG G6 tends to create the most vibrant shots. However, the issue is that it has a unique Food Mode, this makes food appear really appealing for Instagram but then again, it oversaturates images, which may be a little too much for some. This exaggeration, however, is what some Instagram food bloggers are after, but not others.
If you prefer a well-balanced food shot, consider the Samsung Galaxy S8 instead. It doesn’t have the highest megapixels, but for food shots, that level of detail is usually not needed.
The XZ Premium and P10 Plus don’t get the vibrant look like the other 2 photos, but they are actually capturing quite authentic shots, considering this was shot in a dim little cafe, perhaps these photos just need some post-processing to spruce them up to life.
Shooting shots close up don’t differ too much, but the P10 Plus’s dual camera as well as the G6 should theoretically give you a better depth-of-field effect. If you also noticed in these shots, contrast for black and white areas of the shoes are stronger in the P10 Plus’ photos thanks to its 20MP monochrome sensor.
You will notice here that the P10 Plus’ portrait mode is really insane in terms of creating a bokeh, depth of field effect. The XZ Premium and the Samsung Galaxy S8 do a good job and helping smoothen your skin and give it a firmer looking hue, whereas the LG G6 gives a better representation of the actual skin condition, but once again, you can notice the G6’s strong contrast in these shots.
The front camera of all 4 cameras are pretty decent, but once again, when portraits are in question, it is pretty obvious that the P10 Plus once again pushes our expectations of a “bokeh” effect beyond our expectation, creating a good depth-of-field effect.
The Xperia XZ Premium is a good option that doesn’t have excessive light-bleed even with a harsh sun in the background.
All 4 devices are capable of shooting in 4K resolution, but perhaps Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium would be the best choice for video shooting in any case because of its SteadyShot 5-axis OIS that reduces motion-shake a fair bit more than the rest of the cameras. In addition to that, when we compare slow-motion videos from all 4 cameras, Sony’s MotionEye comes out triumphant with its 960fps slo-mo shots, that absolutely blows our mind at a HD resolution of 720fps.
It is worth noting that other than pure image quality and what not, the shooting experience on a smartphone doesn’t just boil down to how nice the shots look. The user interface, how fluid the experience feels and the extra modes are what make the camera experience truly fun on the smartphone.
In my subjective opinion, I loved the user interface of both the LG G6 and Galaxy S8 the most. The LG G6 has the most modes to play with. Notably, its Food Mode helps any amateur shooters like me take Insta-worthy photos, its wide-angle shots allow for great landscapes to be captured and even we-fies when your social circle gets a little too big for both your front and rear camera. It even has reference modes to help you use templates to shoot the perfect photo and recreate ideas you saw from Instagram in the past.
Samsung’s Galaxy S8 has a very clean interface which I appreciated. Plus the SUPER AMOLED screen made shooting feel really nice since the previews appeared really vibrant too. Its variety of modes are definitely useful as well.
Huawei’s P10 Plus additional modes include the ability to change aperture after the shot is taken to change the selective focus on the picture. This is one of the things no other smartphone in the market has, but the technology, in my personal opinion is still in its infancy, so the edges of your focus tends to be a little bit mashed with the surrounding and the bokeh effect can look artificial sometimes. This applies to its portrait mode as well, however, portrait mode seems to do a lot with intelligently blurring out the background than the regular aperture switching mode.
All these 4 cameras are some of the top Android powerhouses in the market right now, and it’s not easy to say in a clear cut fashion which is the best, but I found the LG G6 to be a personal favourite since it reproduced shots with clarity and strong contrast, whereas the Samsung Galaxy S8 comes in closely as an all-rounded shooter versatile for any shooting conditions. Huawei’s P10 Plus is great, but I feel it is best served as a camera for capturing portraits and human subjects as opposed to regular landscape shots since it shoots humans the best out of all 4 smartphones. Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium on the other hand, is best for those who appreciate the super slo-motion feature the Premium comes with and those who love a really high-resolution camera that doesn’t skimp on any details when capturing shots.