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 has the best cameras? Which phone takes the best photos? Is it also the best for taking videos? What about selfies? Also see: Best phone for audio and music & Fastest phones of 2017
(If you're considering buying an older phone. we've also compared the best phone cameras of last year.)
Here, we’re comparing the following phones:
- Apple iPhone 7 Plus
- Samsung Galaxy S7
- Google Pixel
- Lenovo Moto Z
- OnePlus 3T
- LG G5
- HTC 10 Evo
- Huawei P9
- Sony Xperia XZ
- Xiaomi Mi5s
If you don't want to look through the photos, you can jump straight to our verdict.
Here are the Best Phone Deals when you're ready to buy one.
Best phone camera 2017: The aim of this test
First, we should explain that this is not the kind of scientific test where we put phones on tripods in ‘lab’ conditions. No. The aim here was simple: to use the phone cameras exactly as people do in the real world, and present the photos and video so you can see them all side by side.
Some people will only be concerned by photo quality, others video. For some the selfie camera is the most important.
Comparing cameras is a tricky business at the best of times, but we hope that the slideshows below help you to decide which you like best and offer the chance to see how they perform in real-world conditions.
If your priority is video, it is well worth going for a phone with good stabilisation as this make a big difference to the footage. Don’t forget sound, either. You can listen to the quality of the microphones in each of the clips (links below).
How we tested
So we went out into the real world, took real photos of people and places, holding the phones in our hands.
We think this is the most useful way to test a phone’s camera, and we took all the photos in each location with a minute or two of each other in order to keep lighting conditions consistent. The only exception was the LG G5, which unfortunately arrived in the post an hour after we’d finished taking photos on the other phones. However, it had arrived in time to take the selfie and low light shots alongside all the other phones.
For each phone, we made sure it was set to use the full sensor resolution. Some are set to this out of the box, while others default to a lower resolution so they shoot at 16:9. We also did this for the front cameras, and turned off any ‘beauty’ modes where we could.
For video, we again set the cameras to the highest resolution – 4K – and where this wasn’t available, we used the next highest resolution, typically 1920x1080, at the highest available frame rate. We enabled video stabilisation, again, where available. Not all phones offer stabilisation at their highest resolution (or frame rate), especially those which use electronic rather than optical stabilisation.
We took a few photos on each phone at each location, using the stock camera app, then chose the best to present here. If a phone has multiple rear cameras, we took a photo on both (for the outdoor photo) in order to show the difference between them. The LG G5, for example has normal and wide-angle lenses, while the iPhone 7 Plus has normal and telephoto lenses.
We didn’t use special modes which are unique to only that phone, since it’s not possible to compare them with other phones, and that’s the whole point here: apples-to-apples comparisons.
Best phone camera 2017: Photo and video comparisons
Click on the images below to take you to the slideshows where you can see the photos
Portrait - British Library
These links 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).
- iPhone 7 Plus: 4K
- Samsung Galaxy S7: 4K
- Google Pixel: 4K
- Lenovo Moto Z: 4K
- HasselBlad True Zoom (Moto Mod): 1080p30
- OnePlus 3T: 4K
- LG G5 (normal): 4K
- LG G5 (wide angle): 4K
- HTC 10 Evo: 4K
- Huawei P9: 1080p60
- Sony Xperia XZ: 4K
- Xiaomi Mi5s: 4K
Outdoor, landscape, portrait photos
All cameras perform at their best outdoors when there’s plenty of light available. We took three photos in these conditions and quite a few of the 10 phones produced great results which many people would be very happy with.
In our top three, however, are the Google Pixel, Sony Xperia XZ and OnePlus 3T. The Google Pixel stands out as the best, though, as it manages to consistently produce excellent images regardless of subject or complexity.
Key to this is its improved HDR+ mode (which happens to be the default setting in the native camera app). 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 new Pixels, you can.
In low light the Pixel again does an excellent job, preserving detail without lots of noise. So does the Galaxy S7, which captures low light scenes remarkably well for a phone. Worthy of mention here are the iPhone 7 Plus and HTC 10 Evo, which both also produce more than usable shots in dim or very low light conditions.
Yet again, the Google Pixel 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.
One feature we don’t like is the way the OnePlus 3T, HTC 10 Evo and LG G5 flip their photos so it’s like looking in a mirror. However, the latter two (and the iPhone 7 Plus) do all take great selfies.
Video quality will be more important to some buyers than photos, but equally important will be the video modes and features on offer. Aside from the Huawei P9, all the phones here can record in 4K at 30 frames per second. But if you prefer to record high-frame-rate video, you’ll want at least 60fps at 1080.
Plenty of phones here will oblige, but the Pixel goes one better and will shoot at 120fps. (The iPhone 7 Plus does too, but plays it back at 30fps to create slo-mo).
Both phones shoot excellent video, with great colour and detail, and minimal noise and artifacts. Their stabilisation differs slightly: the iPhone uses optical tech along with software, the Pixel uses software only. Both systems deliver excellent results whether shooting at 4K or 1080p.
We’re comparing camera quality here, but there are other considerations. One is features. For example the LG G5 offers a wide-angle camera which makes is a good choice if you’re after an action-camera look to photos and videos without resorting to an add-on wide-angle lens.
The iPhone 7 Plus has a ‘telephoto’ lens which means you don’t always have to crop your photos when you can’t get close enough to your subject. Dual lenses also give depth information which means you can take convincing portrait shots with blurry background – a neat feature.
Don’t forget, too, that the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 are water resistant so can take photos and videos in conditions where other phones wouldn’t survive, including underwater.
The Pixel may not have any of these features, but remains one of the best phones for photography you can buy right now. If you don’t want an Android phone, you won’t be disappointed with the iPhone, but the Pixel just pips the Galaxy S7 (our previous winner for phone cameras) as the best Android phone for photography.
Best phone camera: April 2016 comparison
Back in April, we compared the following phone cameras, and you can click through to the slideshows for each comparison below:
- Apple iPhone 6S
- Google Nexus 6P
- HTC 10
- Huawei P9
- LG G5
- Samsung Galaxy S7
- Xiaomi Mi 5
- Sony Xperia Z5
Click the image below to see all the portrait photos and our assessment of which are the best.
Click the image below to see all the landscape photos and 100 percent crops so you can evaluate detail.
Click the image below to see the selfie photos from each phone:
Click the image below to see how the eight phones perform in low light
We tried embedding videos in the page, but it turns out that it takes far too long to load, so instead we've provided YouTube links.
Bear in mind you should view them full screen and select the appropriate quality by clicking on the cog icon at the bottom right. Naturally, you will need a 4K monitor to see all the detail in the 4K videos.