PhoneArena 2019 Awards: Best Camera Phones
Which phone has the best camera this year?
Determining this is a challenging task: most flagship phones these days take very good pictures in different conditions, but different devices have their particular strengths and niches where they are often hard to beat. For example, the Huawei P30 Pro has a camera that can zoom in 5X while maintaining crystal clear image quality, a feature that most other flagship phones cannot match. If you want that zoom level, that would be the phone to get.
However, in this comparison, we will try to take an overall look at phone cameras, starting with the overall look of the image, the subjective matter of color science, the quality of images captured during the day, but then also in low light, the video recording quality and so on.
With this in mind, let's get started, shall we?
Winner: iPhone 11 series
The iPhone has pleasing colors during the day, the best video on a smartphone, rich editing tools, and the easiest-to-use Night Mode, but it has a few issues too
The iPhone 11 series are an important moment for Apple. The company seemed to be falling behind in terms of camera features, and that became more and more apparent in 2019 as Android phone makers kept introducing more cameras that could do many things, but the iPhone 11 were the comeback Apple hoped for.
The biggest new feature for iPhones this year is probably the Night Mode that finally does something to salvage the basically unusable photos that iPhones captured in low light in previous years. Not only does the iPhone catch up in this regard, its implementation of Night Mode is automatic, fast and stress-free, unlike on most Android phones where you have to remember to manually turn it on every time and it takes a long time shooting and processing a single photo.
But that is not the only new thing that the iPhone brings to the table. On the video side, the iPhone remains the best phone out there: video shot on it is detailed, good looking and well-stabilized, plus it has the beautiful colors and wide dynamic range that other phones might be missing. The thing that impresses me most about iPhone shots is the beautiful color science that takes away the need to edit and tinker with photos after you've taken them. Sure, you can do that, but images mostly turn out good enough right out of the box.
All of this is what makes iPhones the best overall camera in our opinion. It was a close call with the other two contestants, and each phone and platform has niches where it beats the others, but we tried looking at the big picture and give you the nitty-gritty.
Runner-up 1: Samsung Galaxy S10 / Note 10 series
Jack of all trades, the Galaxy does well in various conditions and has both a telephoto and an ultra-wide camera, but it falls a bit short in terms of detail and night time performance
The Galaxy S10 and the Note 10 series feature basically the same main camera, so we are just going to talk about the camera on flagship Samsung phones in 2019 as one thing.
Samsung phones have had excellent cameras for years, but the S10 series for the first time made them truly versatile, providing the three essential lenses for smartphone photography: the main one, the ultra-wide one and the telephoto one. Couple this with ample 128 gigs of on board storage, so you can capture a ton of photos and videos without worrying you might run out of space, and the Galaxy cameras look strong.
The thing that Galaxy cameras stand out for is their beautiful color rendition. They capture very pleasing colors that are a bit more saturated than reality, but nice nonetheless. The camera experience is well refined, everything works without glitches, switching between the cameras is effortless and you can use all three cameras for video recording too.
While the Galaxies don't quite match the Pixel in low-light quality, they are more consistent with their daylight shots and do a very good in video too, and deserve the second place on this list.
Runner-up 2: Google Pixel 4 series
The Pixel remains the king of night-time photography, but lacks an ultra-wide camera, 4K60 video and has some strange issues with white balance during the day
The Pixel 4 is the current reigning champ of low-light and night time photography. Using powerful algorithms that combine multiple images behind the scenes to arrive at a single final photo that you see on your phone, the Pixel 4 is unmatched in quality in low light. We also love the power of the hybrid zoom solution that Google implements in the Pixel that allows you to zoom without losing much in terms of detail.
Generally, the Pixel 4 series also do an excellent job during the day too, but not always. We found a weird problem with white balance on quite a few shots with the Pixel 4 where the image would look way too warm and orangey, an obvious mistake in the way the camera processed color.
Not only this, but Google has arrogantly decided to not include an ultra-wide angle camera in its Pixel 4. Ultra-wide cameras can be super helpful and they are present on iPhones, Galaxies, and really, many other phones these days, so it's really strange not to have this useful feature.
Another detail that should be mentioned is the lack 4K60 video recording. If you are serious about capturing videos on your phone, 4K60 is an extremely useful option: it's great for shooting action scenes, plus it is the only way to get high quality slow motion in 4K on a phone.
All things combines, the Pixel 4 is an extremely capable camera that can sometimes create incredible shots and is clearly the low-light photo king right now, but looking at the bigger picture, it is missing a few features and that's why it gets the third place in this ranking.