Looking back on the year past is what December is all about, and we’ve been doing a little bit of that over the last couple of weeks. We started off by going over our battery charts to pick the phones that have the best battery life and then identified the top displays.
Now it’s time for the cameras. Oh, and mind you, we’re talking rear cameras. We’ll do another one of these specifically for front-facing shooters, because there are a bunch of selfie-focused handsets that don’t necessarily do an amazing job with their rear cams.
Google Pixel 2 XL / Pixel 2 – Computational photography FTW
We can go ahead and cautiously declare the Goolge Pixel our favorite camera for the second year in a row. The Pixel 2 and 2 XL build upon the already great original Pixel, swapping out the 1/2.3″ sensor for a smaller 1/2.6″ one, but this one has dual pixels for faster autofocus.
More importantly, though, the Pixel 2 and 2 XL use the 12 million phase detection agents for analyzing the depth of the scene, making possible the inclusion of a portrait mode with just one camera.
The dual pixels are half the story here, though – the other is Google’s photo library of millions of photos that the algorithm uses to figure out what’s part of the subject and what’s background, thus avoiding blunders like keeping your face in focus but blurring your hat or glasses. The whole thing works remarkably well, and makes us wonder why isn’t everyone doing it… Oh wait, who else has a library of millions of images.
Portraits are just one item on the list of things the Pixel 2 excels at. Daylight, lowlight, detail, colors, noise – it’s one of the most dependable cameras that you can rely on to take superb stills across all lighting conditions and scenarios.
Google Pixel 2 samples
Samsung Galaxy Note8 / Galaxy S8 – The Note8 for portraits, the S8 for everything but
The Galaxy S8 is one of the classic easy to recommend all-rounders that will take great photos regardless of what you point it at. It’s got one of the most competent noise reduction algorithms which coupled with a bright aperture, large sensor and OIS, makes for class leading results in low light.
Same with the Galaxy Note8, and then some. The Note was the first Samsung phone to come with a dual camera – ‘better late than never’ sure is fitting here. Adding a telephoto cam to the S8’s wide-angle, means the Note8 gets a portrait mode (Live focus as Samsung calls it), plus some extra reach. Even though it’s still put on the sidelines when it gets dark, this telephoto shooter has proven superior to competing implementations.
Galaxy Note8/S8+ samples
LG V30 / G6 – Open wide
After a selfie debut on the V10, LG’s concept for a dual camera that consists of a normal and an ultra wide shooter was promoted to the main cam on the G5, and has since been found in one way or another on the company’s high-end phones. The V30 is no exception and is the way to go if you want extravagant perspectives or action-cam-like shots with a wide field of view. If you don’t care for the V30’s more powerful chipset and its OLED display, the G6 will give you all the rest for a fraction of the price.
LG V30 samples
Apple iPhone X / iPhone 8 Plus – The original dual cam, now better
1x/2x is Apple’s choice and in 2017 we can see it on 2x as many phones in the company’s growing lineup as last year. Whether you opt for the X or the 8 Plus, you’d be in for the same pleasing results, including some of the better portraits out there. Worth noting here is that unlike the 7th-gen iPhones, this year’s models aren’t waging a war on color – if 2016 iPhone photos were dull and lifeless, the 2017 ones are top notch. Never gets old, this last one.
Apple iPhone X/8 Plus samples
Huawei Mate 10 / Mate 10 Pro – Moody black and whites
Huawei pioneered the color+monochrome dual camera setup and has been sticking with it, much to the delight of black and white shooters the world over. You’ll say that shooting B&W quickly wears off and not every subject looks good without colors, and you might have a point. Which is fine, the Mates’ color camera is there for you, taking some great shots itself. Low-light performance is class-leading too, and the two cameras can work together to create the all-important blurred background portraits – that’s a lot of checkboxes ticked.
Huawei Mate 10/Mate 10 Pro samples
HTC U11+/U11 – U have what it takes
A struggling HTC can still make top-quality cameras – if in doubt, look at the U11+ and the U11 non-plus. The two rely on the same primary shooter, and single as it may be, it’s a really proficient one – the familiar 12MP 1/2.6″ dual pixel sensor, a variation of which can be found on a whole bunch of phones on this page. Must be for a reason.
HTC U11/U11+ samples
Nokia 8 – Modern-day nostalgia
The flagship before the flagship – the Nokia 8 is doing just fine waiting for the (alleged) 9. A color+monochrome configuration not unlike Huawei’s (only the resolution here is 2x13MP) gives you pleasing shots, day and night, plus the added option of shooting black and white for more artistic moments. Naturally, thanks to the two cameras, you can take portraits with blurred backgrounds – Nokia is riding that train too now.
Nokia 8 samples
Sony Xperia XZ1 – Megapixels galore
Sony’s leading in the megapixel race – even after relegating the 23MP camera to its midrange, the 19MP that replaced it in the high end is still millions of pixels ahead of the competition (Huawei’s 20MP monochrome doesn’t count). With this in mind it’s no wonder that the Xperia XZ1 is unrivaled when it comes to resolving tons of detail when the light is right. It’s not as awesome in the dark, but who’s perfect?
Sony Xperia XZ1 samples
Xiaomi Mi 6 – Great iMiges
A little underrated and possibly forgotten by now, Xiaomi’s spring child Mi 6 is another one in the 2x zoom bandwagon. Its tele cam brings subjects closer in daylight, and steps aside in the dark – so just like the Note8 and the iPhones then. Much like them, the Mi 6 tries hard to separate subject from background in its portrait mode and succeeds most of the time – so just like the Note8 and the iPhones then. Outside of these special uses the Mi 6 takes excellent shots in a variety of scenarios – so just like the Note8 and the iPhones then. The Mi 6 is in a pretty decent company, we reckon.
Xiaomi Mi 6 samples
Motorola Moto Z2 Play – Well played, Moto
The Moto Z2 Play is a midranger by specs, a flagship at camera. 12 million of 1.4-micron dual pixels, here behind an f/1.7 aperture lens – if those don’t ring a bell, maybe you should brush up on some top-tier Galaxy specs. The Moto Z2 Play puts its hardware to good use and produces high-quality images, day and night.
Motorola Moto Z2 Play samples