Which phone has the best front camera?
While we often look at the rear cameras on phones, selfies have become such a big part of our culture and habits, it's worth taking a separate look.
To answer the question which phone has the best front camera, we took three of this year's finest smartphones: the Google Pixel 3, the iPhone XS and the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and just took a bunch of photos. We shot images both during the day and at night, and used a few of the most common camera modes. After looking at all these photos, we can now clearly see the difference.
So... which phone is the best one for selfies? Read on to find out.
This first shot was captured outside on a cloudy day, but there was still plenty of light. Right off the bat, you can see some clear differences between each of the contenders.
The Pixel 3 has the photo that looks sharpest of them all, detail really looks razor sharp, yet at the same time there are no over-sharpening artifacts, which is great. Colors, however, look way too contrasty, with very overpowering shadows and the skin tone does not quite look natural.
iPhone XS captures a very different photo: it also has a very good amount of detail, without going to the extreme with sharpness like the Pixel. It has noticeably warmer colors, something that is not quite realistic, but we would not say that it looks bad per se. One thing that is noticeable also is just how much brighter the photo on the iPhone is: my jacket looks bright gray, while in reality it's much darker.The
The Note 9, on the other hand, clearly cannot match the other two in terms of detail as the whole picture looks a bit blurry and detail is smudged. In terms of colors, you see that everything on the picture looks a bit greenish and that's a theme for the Note. The exposure is again much brighter than, say, the Pixel and my face is well exposed.
Next up, we have the same image shot with portrait mode enabled. The Pixel is the first one we look at and it's the only one that has noticeable difficulties separating my face from the background as you see separation artifacts around my left ear and my right cheek. In this shot, the contrast is way over the top and you can see again that the image just looks noticeably underexposed, dark.
The iPhone features a much brighter, more pleasing exposure and it does a great job separating my face from the background. Again, you get slightly warmer colors, but still much livelier and more animated than what you get with the Pixel.
The Note shoots a wider perspective and again is lowest when it comes to detail, but overall has a pleasing, bright exposure and does a good job with image separation.
Finally, you have the secondary, wide-angle camera on the Pixel. You can see just how much more you can fit in the frame, but you also see that colors appear different than on the main camera, with a more ghostly appearance and an even colder tonality. The last image shows a zoomed-in mode that crops in using the main camera for a different perspective.
In this second selfie, we start with the Pixel. Once again, the photo it took is noticeably underexposed and has a very noticeable brownish-orange tint to it. Again, it's very sharp and high in terms of resolved detail, but the color reproduction could have been a lot better.
The iPhone captures a very bright photo with the typical warmer colors for this phone, but luckily, it does not have that fake brown orange tint. The Galaxy also exhibits a noticeable color shift and the whole picture looks a bit brown/orange, but the Note also gets a much better exposure than the Pixel.
Next up, we have the wide-angle shot with the secondary camera on the Pixel and there is a big difference between this and the main front camera. Colors here appear very cold and bluish, it almost seems like the pictures from the two cameras were shot at different places and times. While we do like the ultra wide-angle perspective, the quality is definitely not great with this camera.
The Pixel might be the best phone out there for group shots and in this photo of me and my co-worker Nick, we easily fit in the frame even with the regular camera. Here, the extreme contrast that the Pixel front camera adds to photos is more apparent than on other photos and it really does not look great: while it is sharp, you can see the shadows under our eyes amplified, and overall the picture looks underexposed.
The iPhone has a much tighter perspective and barely fits the two of us. Once again, we see the iPhone capture a picture with a warmer tonality: despite that colors overall look pleasing and you can see that our faces are painted in a much more flattering way here, without those nasty shadows under the eyes. This is definitely a picture I would much rather share.
The Note captures a wider perspective and despite not having a second front camera, it is a good fit for selfie shots of bigger groups of people. It does not quite have the sharpness and detail of the Pixel and the iPhone, but it does nail exposure right and renders skin tones in a pleasing way.
Next up, we turn to a night group shot. This is the weakest area for all phones, but the Pixel really outdoes the rest at night. It captures the sharpest photo with a good exposure and it does not overblow the lights in the background. The iPhone selfie camera is not great for group shots as the frame is too tight and you would need a selfie stick for a proper group photo. The Note has a wider perspective, but does worst in terms of sharpness and detail, plus those lights in the background are really badly burned out. And on the last picture, you can see the ultra wide-angle camera on the Pixel come very handy when you need to have a wider view of things.
Finally, we have one last night shot that shows how the Pixel is a step above the competition in the night time selfie game. It captures the sharpest photo with a very clean detail in both the faces and the background lights, and it is rich in color. The iPhone captures a decent photo, but it paints the faces in a really weird color that is definitely not what reality looks like. Finally, the Note 9 captures a very good looking selfie, not too far behind the Pixel. It has a wide field of view that easily fits a small group of people, it has pleasing colors and good exposure, but loses in terms of resolved detail.
So... which phone has the best front camera?
Well, we hate to say it, but it really depends. The Google Pixel 3 is definitely the one that always captures the sharpest photos and that's great, but during the day it almost always captures a severely underexposed, dark photo and colors on it look a bit to the pastel side and lack in terms of vibrancy. At night, though, the Pixel is really a step above the competition with much sharper photos with better dynamics.
The iPhone XS front cameras takes pictures that look very well balanced during the day. Colors are the typical, "iPhone warm" colors, something that is noticeably in the yellow-y skin tones, but while this is not great, the iPhone captures brighter photos with a livelier and more varied color palette. At night, though, the iPhone front camera does not do such a great job and for larger groups of people, you would need a selfie stick to fit everyone in.
The Galaxy Note 9 is probably behind the other two in terms of quality. It gets exposure right and its bright Super AMOLED screen makes looking at photos on the phone such a great experience (much better than the very dim and hard to see display on the Pixel, for example). However, the colors in the Note are just a bit on the dull side and it does not quite have the sharp detail that you get with the other two.
And this rounds up our look at the best front cameras of the year. What are you personal favorites and why?