As the old adage goes, the best camera is the one that’s with you. Since most people carry a phone with them just about everywhere, it’s no wonder we’re taking more photos on phones than cameras these days. But which phone takes the best photos? Is it also the best for taking videos? These are questions that are very difficult to answer if you’re just looking at specifications.
These are the phones we’ve tested:
- Apple iPhone 7 Plus
- Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus
- Google Pixel
- Huawei P10 Plus
- OnePlus 5
- LG G6
- HTC U11
- Sony Xperia XZ Premium
- Xiaomi Mi 6
Just want the verdict? Click here.
How we tested
Rather than using lab conditions or tripods, we took photos and videos on the nine phones just as you will in the real world. The photos and videos should give you a good feel for how each phone copes with various conditions from bright and sunny to very dimly lit.
We ensured that all cameras were set to their maximum resolutions for photos and videos and enabled stabilisation where it wasn’t turned on already, but other than that left them on their default settings since that’s what most people will use.
For each photo we took several shots and picked the best. For phones with dual rear cameras, we took pictures with both.
Here are the Best Phone Deals when you’re ready to buy one.
Photo and video comparisons
Click on the images below to see samples from each of the nine phones:
The links below take you to the clips we’ve uploaded on YouTube. Be sure to watch full screen, preferably on a 4K monitor (and make sure YouTube is streaming the 4K version by clicking on the cog icon at the bottom of the video).
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: camera review
The 7 Plus is Apple’s first phone with two lenses at the rear. Behind these is a pair of 12Mp sensors which can capture what Apple calls ‘wide colour’. The screen can display these extra hues, too, but quite a subtle difference overall.
The main feature is the telephoto lens which effectively gives you a 2x optical zoom. You can tap the 1x icon to flip between 1x and 2x, or swipe your finger to zoom between the two. It’s so seamless that you’ll almost believe there really is a zoom lens.
It also allows the phone to detect distances, so it can produce the kinds of out-of-focus backgrounds you traditionally associate with DSLR cameras. This Portrait Mode works really well, but it does need plenty of light.
There are no other new features, so the app offers the same modes as other iPhones: panorama, slo-mo, time-lapse, square and video. Annoyingly, the resolution settings for video aren’t in the camera app at all: you have to open the phone’s Settings app and scroll down to Photos & Camera for what should be a simple toggle controls in the app itself.
Fortunately, quality makes up for these shortcomings. Photos taken on the main camera are excellent in every respect: focus, sharpness, colour accuracy and contrast. By default it will enable HDR to improve dynamic range when the scene has both bright and dark elements, and it works quickly.
In fact, performance is one of the iPhone’s strongest suits. The time taken to focus is usually imperceptible, and you won’t even notice the processing time after shooting a panorama (which can be up to 63Mp).
Although there’s no funky shortcut to launch the camera, the combination of the phone’s raise-to-wake feature and the ability to swipe left on the lock screen to launch the app means it’s possible to take a photo just a couple of seconds after deciding you want to.
Videos are just as great as photos: 4K footage is sharp and detailed. But just as importantly, it’s also impressively stabilised and has good-quality audio.
There are a couple of weak points. One is that the selfie camera has quite a narrow field of view so it’s not ideal for ‘grouphies’. Second is that – on occasion – photos taken with the telephoto camera appear like oil paintings when you view the actual pixels. Whether this is due to noise reduction or something else we don’t know, but it made us reluctant to use this camera much.
In low light, the main camera is used even if you select 2x (the images is simply cropped to give the same zoom level). And even though it’s the best iPhone for low light photography, it’s not as good as some of its rivals, notably the Galaxy S8. Photos taken in the dark are noisier and simply don’t look as nice.
Where the iPhone really scores, however, is in its ability to capture a great photo or video reliably every time (using the main camera). It might not be the last word in detail or the best in low light, but for everyday use it’s the one you can count on.
Read our full iPhone 7 Plus review
Google Pixel: camera review
It’s no secret that the Pixel has a brilliant camera. The phone (and the XL version which has identical cameras) is coming up to its first birthday, but it still ranks among the best for taking photos.
Like a fair few other flagships, it sticks with a 12Mp sensor. This allows for larger pixels, which means more light falls on each one. That’s always a good thing, and you can see the whole combination of lens, sensor and image processor work really well.
Photos have a biting sharpness that some might feel is too much, but plenty of people love it, including us.
Ultimately, the camera isn’t any different to the Nexus 6P’s, but that’s no bad thing: that was also a stunner. What’s changed is the main CPU: the more powerful Snapdragon 821 allows HDR+ to be used all the time.
It combines several RAW images to produce a JPG with high dynamic range, yet without any trace of blurring or ghosting caused by movement in the scene. Better still, you can take several HDR+ photos without any slowdown so, unlike the older Nexus phones where poor performance meant you wouldn’t want to use HDR+, on the Pixel, you can.
And what it means is that the Pixel is a dependable point-and-shoot camera where the user doesn’t have to think about settings – just pressing the shutter button.
Also, despite lacking optical stabilisation, videos are nice and smooth – even when you jack up the resolution to 4K. That’s because Google opted to use gyro-based stabilisation which uses data from the phone’s gyroscope to correct the footage using software.
It can also produce a shallow-focus effect despite having only one rear camera. After taking a shot in ‘Lens Blur’ mode you’re asked to raise the phone slightly – this gives the necessary parallax information, and also means there’s no need to be a metre or more from your subject: you can photograph small objects as well as people.
The Pixel also excels in low light, producing images with surprising levels of detail and hardly any noise or grain.
Even the front camera delivers the goods. Unlike a lot of phones which serve up a doctored, soft-focus, skin-enhancing image by default, the Pixel’s 8Mp front camera produces crisp photos with lots of detail. Some people might prefer it didn’t, which is why other manufacturers such as Samsung and LG default to blemish-reducing Beauty modes.
Of course, the phone itself does have a few drawbacks such as the fact it isn’t waterproof, but as we’re comparing only the cameras here, the Pixel can still mix with the best of them.
Read our full Google Pixel review
HTC U11: camera review
You might think that all flagship phones have similar-quality cameras, but you’d be wrong. The HTC U11’s photos really do stand out from the crowd, and its ability in low-light is nothing short of remarkable.
It may not have a dual-camera arrangement, but if you care mostly about taking ‘normal’ photos then you’re going to love the U11.
It has a 12Mp sensor and an f/1.7 lens – branded the UltraPixel 3. Like the Galaxy S8 it uses ‘dual-pixel’ focusing which means focusing is super-fast, and accurate to boot. Photos aren’t packed with quite as much detail as the XZ Premium’s (to be expected given the deficit in pixels) but when viewed at the same size on a large TV or PC screen, they look darn good.
When light is noticeable by its absence, the U11’s bigger-than-average pixels come into play, picking up those crumbs of light to deliver photos that look as if they were taken in a much brighter environment. And thanks to optical stabilisation, it does this without needing to use heavy-handed noise reduction that typically results in making everything look smudgy.
Since there’s just the one camera, you don’t get the blurry background effect found on many phones with dual cameras, though.
Video defaults to 1080p, but you can select 4K if you want the extra resolution. It’s good quality and you get so-called ‘3D sound’ if you enable this in the options. It’s basically surround-sound.
The problem is that the phone can’t stabilise 4K video nearly as effectively as it can 1080p, so footage is – unfortunately – quite jerky if you’re not standing still.
Usability, though, is excellent. One of the unique features is the U11’s ‘squeezable’ sides. You can use this to launch the camera app when the phone is in sleep mode, far faster than other phones which make you turn on the screen and swipe the camera icon on the lock screen.
The camera app is easy to use, too, with both photo and video shortcuts on the main screen. For those who like to fiddle with settings, there are quite a few on offer, including the ability to shoot in RAW.
HTC has really returned to form with the U11, and the camera doesn’t disappoint. It may not have a second lens or a depth effect, but as long as you’re not worried by these it’s a great choice.
Read our full HTC U11 review
Huawei P10 Plus: camera review
Huawei’s partnership with Leica is bound to attract those that know the brand. None of the hardware is actually manufactured by Leica: the setup comes from Summilux.
One of the two rear cameras has a 12Mp sensor and the other a 20Mp monochrome sensor. As with previous Huawei P-series phones, the latter can be used to take black-and-white photos, but it’s also used in conjunction with the colour sensor to produce photos with better clarity.
And it works: the P10 Plus (like its predecessors) is capable of some genuinely superb photos. Add in the depth effect which is possible using two cameras and you can shoot in ‘wide aperture’ mode to get a DSLR-like image with shallow depth of field.
There’s also a dedicated portrait mode so you can isolate your subject in sharp focus while the background bokeh looks gorgeous in its own blurry way.
The P10 Plus has caught up with the ability to shoot 4K video (the P9 topped out at 1080p) but as with several other 2017 flagships, it doesn’t offer stabilisation when recording at this resolution. The toggle control only appears when you step down to 1080p (which can be set to 30- or 60fps).
Another problem is that you’ll struggle to get 4K videos to play in Windows. Despite being a standard-looking MP4 file, neither VLC nor Windows 10’s Photos app would play the file – and we couldn’t upload it to YouTube.
Another black mark is low light performance. The P10 Plus struggles with the darkness and as our sample shot shows, detail levels take a massive hit – text turns into a blurry mess. This is despite the f/1.8 apertures on both rear lenses.
The app is quite icon heavy, with lots of toggles at the top, plus different settings screens depending on whether you swipe in from the right or the left. From the left and you get a page of 12 modes including the ever-brilliant Light Painting that allows you to capture light trails at night.
Slo-mo is here too: you have a choice of 720p or 1080p, but since both are recorded at 120fps, we can’t really see the point of the 720p option. Unlike some rivals, there’s no way to record 240fps.
Also, one of the modes is HDR. Hiding it away like this may lead to snappier performance in normal shooting, but it means you’ll have to enable it manually when other phones do it automatically when needed.
As far as selfies go, the front 8Mp camera takes great pictures. They’re sharp and detailed – but you can adjust the amount of ‘beautification’ if you’d rather those ‘details’ weren’t quite so visible. There’s also a portrait toggle which blurs the background a bit.
The P10 Plus excels in good light and there are some fun modes to play with. However, it can’t match the best phone cameras when it comes to video and low light shooting.
Read our full Huawei P10 Plus review
LG G6: camera review
It’s no longer modular, but the G6 retains a similar dual-camera arrangement to the G5. One lens takes photos with a normal field of view (71 degrees to be exact) but the other is akin to a GoPro with a wide-angle 125-degree lens.
Both have 13Mp sensors (unlike before where the wide-angle camera had a much lower resolution) and the app lets you flip almost seamlessly between the two cameras. Best of all, you can shoot 4K video using either camera.
The G6 is water-resistant too, so it’ll record the action by the pool or in the rain. The only downside – if you’re hoping to use it as an action camera – is that it’s not rugged or easy to mount on your head as a GoPro.
Also, there’s nothing in-between the two views: you can’t ‘zoom’ between them as you can on the iPhone 7 Plus and Xiaomi Mi 6.
In bright light, the G6 takes great photos, and the phase detection autofocus works quickly and accurately. They’re sharp and have good colour rendition. Although there’s no depth effect, you’ll still see slight blurring of the background when taking portraits of people.
When using the wide lens, there’s a bit of distortion as expected, but the biggest disappointment is the lack of detail in shots. This isn’t simply because of wider view: textures are smoothed over and images aren’t a patch on those taken with the normal camera.
Usefully, the front camera has a 100-degree field of view and – using similar controls in the app – you can switch between this (which is great for fitting in friends) and a narrower view that’s a better choice if you’re taking a selfie with just you in it. The downside is that the 5Mp resolution is low for a flagship.
In dim lighting, the main camera does a fantastic job of retaining detail. This comes at the expense of a little noise, but overall, we were seriously impressed with the G6’s low light performance. For example, you can clearly make out the word ‘PROTECTION’ on the sunglasses in our example photo. The G6 was the only phone in this test to resolve this level of detail.
Video quality is good on the whole, but ramp up to 4K and you lose stabilisation, as our sample video shows. Audio quality, however, is very good. There’s no stabilisation for the wide-angle lens either, so footage can be quite jerky if you’re moving quickly.
Thanks to the 18:9 screen there’s lots of room for controls in the camera app. One fun feature is Food Mode. This allows you to change the white balance using a slider to ensure the colours are just right.
To sum up, the G6’s cameras are good, but it’s far from a perfect package. It could be tempting if you want your phone to (sort of) double up as an action camera. Just bear in mind that image quality for wide-angle photos and videos isn’t up to the level of the main camera.
Read our full LG G6 review
OnePlus 5: camera review
Like the iPhone 7 Plus and Xiaomi Mi 6, the OnePlus 5 has a pair of rear cameras made by Sony with the secondary one performing telephoto duties. The main shooter has a 16Mp sensor and an f/1.7 lens, while the other has a 20Mp sensor and an f/2.6 lens.
Tap the button in the app and it works just as the iPhone’s does: toggle between 1x and 2x. However, the actual focal length of the telephoto lens works out as 1.6x, so some software trickery somehow enables the OnePlus 5 to offer ‘lossless’ 2x zoom.
Regardless, the results speak for themselves, and the zoomed photos are just as good as the iPhone’s. In fact, aside from being a little grainy, the photos are more detailed thanks to the extra resolution: the iPhone’s zoom efforts aren’t exactly first class.
In low light, that f/1.7 lens comes into play and, despite the lack of any kind of stabilisation, photos can be surprisingly sharp and detailed. You’ll need steady hands and a non-moving subject, though.
Absent stabilisation makes video very shaky, and this is the biggest weakness with the OnePlus 5. Really, you’ll need to remain still when taking video and let the action happen in front of you. Audio quality is decent enough, though.
The two cameras allow the phone to ‘see’ how far objects are and blur the background. Our portrait shot shows the effect works pretty well, although the algorithm isn’t quite as effective at masking around hair as its rivals: look closely and you’ll see where it fails.
At the front you get a 16Mp sensor: one of the highest resolutions we’ve seen for a selfie camera. And as you might imagine, it’s capable of taking great photos with lots of detail. The only annoyance is that it joins the ranks of several other phones here which mirror the image.
We really like the simple interface of the camera app. You swipe between video, photo and portrait modes. There’s auto HDR and, if you want to tweak settings, the manual mode allows you to independently set the ISO and shutter speed, plus tap to set an exposure point which you can then drag to set a different focus point.
The mode also allows you to enable RAW mode and gives you a virtual horizon to avoid wonky photos. Plus, an on-screen histogram helps you know if the exposure is correct.
Considering the price which, although not as cheap as the Xiaomi, is cheaper than other flagships, the OnePlus 5 is capable of great photos in a variety of conditions. The zoom lens is a real bonus, especially as it isn’t lumbered with a low-resolution sensor. Unstabilised video is the drawback here, but if you don’t mind that, it’s a good all-rounder.
Read our full OnePlus 5 review
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus: camera review
In previous years, Samsung’s flagships have been the benchmarks for camera quality, so we expected it to be the same with the S8. We used the Plus version for this test, but the cameras are identical to the S8’s.
Round the back is a 12Mp single camera with an f/1.7 lens. At the front you’ll find an 8Mp sensor with a wider-than-usual f/1.7 lens. No gimmicks or fancy stuff: just two good-quality cameras for taking photos and videos.
The camera app has had something of a facelift since the Galaxy S7. There are loads of features, but they’re mainly hidden away: the shooting screen has just a few key controls, presenting a button for taking photos, a record button for videos and a shortcut (as seen on most Android phones) to view what you’re recently taken.
You can drag the shutter button up or down to digitally zoom, or swipe up to flip between the front and rear cameras. It’s a relatively intuitive system, and certainly one of the better stock camera apps.
Image quality is basically the same as the Galaxy S7. At least, we found it tricky to see improvements on what was already one of the best phone cameras around.
Outdoors with good light, photos are nice and sharp and have accurate, natural-looking colours. There’s lots of detail: you can make out roof tiles and bricks in our photo of the British Library where some other phones can’t resolve (or retain after processing) these textures.
One reason for this is HDR is the default mode. The S8’s multi-frame processing and optical + electronic stabilisation ensures that camera shake and limited light don’t ruin your photos.
So it follows that low light performance is very good, too. It’s not the clear leader any more, but you’ll be surprised at how much detail photos have when there’s limited light around.
As with all nine phones we tested, the S8 (and S8 Plus) can record 4K video. Our footage, which we reshot after double-checking the settings just to make sure, shows some issues with the hybrid stabilisation system. Not only is there a little jerkiness, but the warping movement seems to be a problem with the EIS, perhaps overcorrecting for movement. The problem may be limited to our test phone, however, as it’s not a common issue.
Audio quality is good, but not the best and not as directional as some, including the iPhone.
Selfies are excellent. The front camera is often markedly worse in quality compared to the rear, but you won’t shy away from using it on the S8. The beauty mode defaults to a low level and we think it’s the ideal balance between no processing and too much skin smoothing.
The S8 is right up there with the best phone cameras, but it isn’t head and shoulders above the competition.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review
Sony Xperia XZ Premium: camera review
Sony is one of the biggest names in photography, so its own flagship phone should have great cameras, right? In general, that’s a resounding yes, but there are a couple of caveats.
First and foremost, the XZ Premium offers a great camera experience. It’s the only phone out of the nine on test here that has a dedicated shutter button and as with a ‘real’ camera, this has two stages: half-press for focus, fully press to take a photo.
The other trick is that you can press it when the phone is asleep to quickly start up the camera app. It’s a pretty decent app, too, once you get used to its quirks.
One of those is that (as with previous Sony phones) 4K is its own special mode along with AR and creative effects. So you won’t find it in the normal video mode or in the video resolution settings, and that’s a strange decision.
Fortunately, the Superior Auto mode is the default, and it does a great job in most circumstances (though it doesn’t have auto HDR, which is a control in the manual mode). It’ll detect the scene, such as macro, landscape, people and use the best settings.
It’ll also use a predictive shooting mode when you hold the camera still to take photos before you press the button and present four of the best – you either keep one or all of them.
It also does something no other phone can: record slo-mo video at 980 frames per second. At this speed, you can capture the sort of footage usually seen in nature documentaries, such as a bird’s wings flapping slowly or a spider scurrying across the floor.
It’s only done at 1280×720, but this is enough resolution to make clips look impressive. You need lots of light and to press the button at exactly the right moment since it can record for only a second or two at this speed. And as it crops the sensor, the narrow field of view means you’ll have to stand way back from the action.
Photo quality is up there with the best phones. The 19Mp sensor and f/2.0 lens do a great job of resolving detail, and the default processing offers up great colours and sharpness without being overcooked. They’re slightly oversaturated, but this makes them ideal for sharing on social media without any editing or filters.
Video quality, too, is very good with decent sound and good stabilisation at 1080p. It’s much less evident at 4K, but that’s the trade-off for more detail.
The 13Mp selfie camera has a 22mm-equivalent lens which gives you a wide field of view that makes most other phones feel too limiting. It defaults to the beauty mode which smooths over details, but is capable of decent quality.
Low light is where the XZ struggles. It has to use very high ISO compared to other phones and photos suffer from noise. Noise reduction then serves to smear away detail, leaving this as the phone’s real weak area.
The other disappointment is the manual mode. You can’t set ISO and shutter speed simultaneously. One has to be set to auto. Also, the maximum shutter speed is only 1 second at ISO 500. If you need a higher ISO, shutter speed will decrease.
Overall, though, the XZ Premium is a joy to shoot on, helped by its shutter button, and large, bright, high-res screen. And there’s a lot of fun to be had with the super slo-mo mode.
Read our full Sony XZ Premium review
Xiaomi Mi 6: camera review
At roughly half the price of most flagship phones, the Xiaomi Mi 6 is a seriously tempting device if you want an iPhone 7 Plus but can’t afford – or justify – the extra cost.
It’s hard not to see the Mi 6 as a complete copy of the 7 Plus: it has dual-12Mp rear cameras, one of which is a 2x telephoto lens. It also calls its depth effect ‘Portrait Mode’ and it works exactly like the iPhone’s.
The cameras are flush with the back of the phone, unlike the iPhone’s, and things are slightly different at the front. Here the Mi 6 has an 8Mp selfie camera with a beauty mode, which the iPhone doesn’t have. It’ll estimate the age of the face it detects, a fun feature you’ll likely turn off if it doesn’t flatter.
It doesn’t replicate the iPhone’s camera app and has some extra modes including a fun and configurable tilt-shift mode for making things look like miniature models.
The main rear camera does a grand job of producing sharp, well-exposed images that – in good light – are very detailed. Unfortunately, HDR is a manually operated control so you’ll have to use your judgement as to whether it’s needed or not. But it works really well to improve dynamic range when you do need it. Our only complaint is that the app crashed a few times using this mode.
Similarly, the depth effect is very effective in selecting the subject (or even several people) and blurring the background to create satisfying bokeh. Very occasionally it will get it wrong and completely fail, but on the whole, it works well and delivers top-notch results.
When you need the zoom lens, it does a good job in bright light. The smaller aperture means it’s not great in dimmer conditions. Photos aren’t processed and sharpened as much as the iPhone’s, so the overall result is slightly softer looking images, but with faithful colours.
We were surprised at the phone’s low light capabilities, almost matching the HTC U11. It manages to retain detail yet also do a good job of keeping noise at bay
The Mi 6 stumbles when it comes to video. Its 4K footage isn’t as crisp and detailed as the iPhone’s, nor does it have good stabilisation. It appears that the OIS is used only for low-light photos since the video has the jerky appearance of not-very-effective electronic stabilisation. Plus, the microphones record tinny, thin sound.
Ultimately, it’s astounding that the Mi 6 can compete at all with flagship phones, but it does. It’s capable of excellent photos and has the benefit of the 2x telephoto lens plus the depth effect. Don’t expect great video, though.
Read our full Xiaomi Mi 6 review
We get it. You want the name of the phone with the best camera. Trouble is, not only do phones seem to have an extra camera this year but they all have their strengths and weaknesses.
Also, the best will depend on whether your priority is taking selfies, portraits or videos.
However, there are four clear winners here:
- Google Pixel
- HTC U11
- iPhone 7 Plus
- Samsung Galaxy S8
Let’s start with the Google Pixel. Far from being outdated, this is an excellent all-rounder. It takes fantastic photos in all conditions and has stable, detailed video.
Next, the iPhone 7 Plus. We already knew it was a top-notch choice for both videos and photos. It doesn’t have the highest-resolution cameras and photos from the tele lens are a bit iffy on occasion, but like the Pixel, it’s a dependable choice that will deliver the goods time after time.
The unexpected winner: HTC U11. We’ve been underwhelmed in the last couple of years with HTC’s flagship cameras, but with the U11, it’s a return to form.
- Sony Xperia XZ Premium
- Huawei P10 Plus
- Xiaomi Mi 6
The XZ Premium‘s poor performance in low light prevents it from being an unconditional recommendation. But it is a truly great camera in good light. The slo-mo mode is unparalleled and it’s simply a lot of fun to use.
Xiaomi’s Mi 6 earns its place here not just because it’s cheap. It has a genuinely good main camera that can produce great-looking shots, and is a solid choice for selfies, too.
Last but not least is the Huawei P10 Plus. Again, it’s dual rear cameras can produce wonderful photos and there are several useful – and fun – creative modes to play with including monochrome, light painting and the shallow depth effect.