The best smartphone cameras are pretty amazing these days. Early on, they couldn’t hold a candle to dedicated cameras. But manufacturers are now making those tiny sensor pull off the impossible. I would bet that most people wouldn’t be able to tell a big difference between the image quality from today’s top smartphones and point-n-shooters with larger lenses. If you value camera performance in a smartphone, here are the best options on the market.
Best Smartphone Cameras
|Samsung Galaxy S7||Apple iPhone 6S / 6S Plus||LG G5||HTC 10||Nexus 6P|
|Primary Camera Other Features||1.4µm pixels, f/1.7, OIS, |
PDAF (Dual Pixel), LED flash
| 1.22µm, f/2.2, OIS (iPhone 6S Plus only), |
PDAF, dual-LED flash
|(f/1.8) and 8MP (f/2.4, wide angle), |
OIS, laser AF, LED flash
| UltraPixel, 1.55µm pixels, f/1.8, |
OIS, laser AF, dual-LED flash
| 1.55µm pixels, f/2.0, laser AF,
|Front Camera||5MP, f/1.7||5MP, f/2.2||8MP, f/2.0||5MP, 1.34µm, f/1.8, OIS||8MP, f/2.4|
|OS||Android 6.0 (Marshmallow)||iOS 9||Android 6.0 (Marshmallow)||Android 6.0 (Marshmallow)||Android 6.0 (Marshmallow)|
|Display Type||5.1" (Galaxy S7) or 5.5" (Galaxy S7 Edge), Super-AMOLED, QHD||4.7" (iPhone 6S) or 5.5" (iPhone 6S Plus), IPS LCD, 750x1334 (iPhone 6S) or 1080P (iPhone 6S Plus)||5.3", IPS LCD, QHD||5.2", Super-LCD 5, QHD||5.7", AMOLED, QHD|
|Chipset||Snapdragon 820||Apple A9||Snapdragon 820||Snapdragon 820||Snapdragon 810|
|Storage||32GB/64GB, with microSD support up to 200GB||16GB/64GB/128GB, no microSD support||32GB, with microSD support up to 2TB||32GB/64GB, with microSD support up to 2TB||32GB/64GB/128GB, no microSD support|
|Battery||3,000 mAh (S7) |
or 3,600 mAh (S7 Edge), non-removable
|1,715 mAh (6S) |
or 2,750 mAh (6S Plus), non-removable
|2,800 mAh, removable||3,000 mAh, non-removable||3,450 mAh, non-removable|
|Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now|
#1 Pick Samsung Galaxy S7
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Samsung’s new sensor is the whole technological package, and its performance is stellar.
There’s no denying that Samsung is a smartphone camera leader. The Korean giant consistently does wonders with each new camera, and the latest Galaxy S flagship for 2016 is no exception. Two big areas of focus on the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge camera (they use the same one) was low-light performance and auto-focus (AF) speed.
Samsung dropped the capture resolution from 16MP in last year’s lineup to 12MP, in order to fit larger pixels. This was totally a quality over quantity moment, as larger pixels can capture more light. In technical terms, the pixel size increased from 1.12µm to 1.4µm. Coupled with a larger lens aperture, f/1.7, the Galaxy S7 camera is now equipped to take on those tricky night shots.
But that’s not all. Samsung also dropped a quicker auto-focusing technology. Dubbed Dual Pixel, the system splits each of the camera’s pixels in half, enabling each and every one to assist with the AF (in typical sensors, only a handful do this). This now makes the AF lightning fast.
#2 Pick Apple iPhone 6S
Price: $649 | Rear Camera: 12MP (Advanced Pixel), f/2.2, OIS (6S Plus only) | Front Camera: 5MP, f/2.2
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Apple’s excellent image reproduction is boosted by better all-around performance.
iPhones always have one of the best cameras that you can get on a smartphone. That’s just how it is. Apple makes some of the best (if not the best) hardware. Even though the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus have been out for over half a year, Apple’s sensor is still holding its own against the newest smartphone releases.
The latest iPhone pair use a 12MP sensor with a technology that Apple dubs Advanced Pixel. In short, Apple didn’t just increase the pixel count but the efficiency as well. More of the pixels are used in the focusing (making the AF quicker) and low-light capture is more competent. The accuracy of the reproduction’s color/tone was also improved. Paired with the faster A9 processor, the new sensor is able to record in 4K video. But be aware that you’ll still only get optical image stabilization (OIS) on the larger 6S Plus.
#3 Pick LG G5
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Dual cameras allow users to change the field of view, and get more in the shot with a wide-angle lens.
Since LG ramped up its camera capabilities on the G3 in 2014, it has been keeping the momentum going. It just is that if you care about quality captures, you can’t go wrong with LG’s smartphone camera. It’s also safe to say that LG offers more manual controls than you’ll find on any other camera interface. The sensor and software aim towards DSLR levels of options.
This year, the Korean manufacturer is stepping it up a notch and doing something unconventional. There’s not one but two sensors on the back of the G5. The secondary sensor offers an alternate wide-angle option (135 degrees), something you won’t find on any other smartphone. The primary sensor is a standard angle (75 degrees), but with a higher megapixel count (16MP versus 8MP on the wide-angle lens). So it’s nice users can tailor the shot for the situation.
#4 Pick HTC 10
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Well equipped against low light and OIS on the rear and front.
HTC hasn’t been doing too well in the camera department as of late. The UltraPixel sensor in the One M7 and M8 had mixed reception, due to the low 4MP spec. HTC threw in a new 20MP camera in last year’s One M9, but unfortunately, the quality couldn’t keep up with the competition.
However, things are finally turning around this year, with the HTC 10. The new sensor is what UltraPixel fans have long been clamoring for, more megapixels. HTC is calling it the UltraPixel 2 camera, which retains its large pixels (1.55µm) but sees a 3x increase in capture resolution compared to the original, at 12MP. The appeal of the UltraPixel technology (larger pixels) is that it can capture much more light than standardly sized pixels. Poor low-light performance has plagued smartphones for the longest time, and solutions like this help quality tremendously.
It’s worth mentioning that 10‘s front camera also has a large aperture lens, f/1.8, and OIS (something no other manufacturer offers on a front camera).
#5 Pick Huawei Nexus 6P
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Better low light performance than competition and quick laser AF.
The camera performance of Nexus phones have not historically been anything to write home about. However, that has changed with Google’s latest initiative on the Nexus 6P. Nexus cameras can now stand up with the best.
This is largely thanks to larger pixels, a trend that we’re now seeing more manufacturers take. The Nexus 6P pushed the pixel size to 1.55µm, where standard sensors used 1.12µm pixels. HTC has also made the move to 1.55µm pixels on the newly launched 10. However, where HTC included optical image stabilization (OIS), the Nexus 6P forewent it. But Google argues that OIS is less important when the camera struggles less with lighting, and in our Nexus 6P review, we thought that the camera performed well.
The Nexus 6P’s capture resolution is 12.3MP and the lens aperture is f/2.0. The camera is assisted by a laser AF, for more responsive focusing.
Tip: The Nexus 5X is cheaper but uses the same camera sensor as the Nexus 6P.