Maxwell Barna rounds up the 7 best smartphones for taking great photos in the streets.
I’ve been shooting photos for quite a while. Film, digital, disposables, DSLR’s, rangefinders, full-frame, medium format—I’ve shot it all. And, if you had come to me even a couple years ago and talked about “mobile photography,” I’d have laughed your ass straight to your local camera shop.
But the cold hard truth is that smartphone technology has come a long way over the last year or so. What was once a pseudo-genre of photography filled with tacky filters and duck-faced selfies has emerged as a legitimate art form. With processors big enough to support print-quality images, the ability to shoot RAW format, top-tier mobile editing software and as much control as any commercial grade DSLR, camera phones have earned a spot at the table—whether us photography dorks like it or not.
With all the hype surrounding the iPhone 7 and its new-and-improved photo abilities, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to lay it all out on the table for everyone—here are the 7 best camera phones for the mobile photographer:
iPhone 7 Plus
Let’s start it off with the obvious. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus officially dropped last month, and while a lot of folks were (justifiably) pissed about Apple’s removing the 3.5mm audio jack, there’s a lot to be excited about—especially in the photo department.
The Plus makes this list for a few reasons, including its dual lens set up that includes 28mm f/1.8 and a 56mm f/2.8 lenses, its larger 12-megapixel censor, Retina HD display and ability to shoot in RAW.
Another big draw to the iPhone 7 Plus is its Portrait Mode. Essentially, the camera takes a photo with both of the dual lenses, then interpolates them to make one image that gives the appearance of a shallow depth of field. It’s only in beta right now, but there’s a lot of potential here.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7
When it’s not blowing up in peoples’ hands, the Galaxy Note 7 is actually an incredibly solid phone—one that everyone who isn’t Apple CEO Tim Cook believes kicks the crap out of the iPhone 7 Plus. The Galaxy Note 7 also comes with a 12-megapixel sensor, but features a f/1.7 rear lens. It has a tremendously good auto mode and its autofocus is snappy and quick.
For the professionals among us, the Galaxy Note 7 also features Pro Mode, which turns the camera into a fully manual photo-snapping machine. Control aperture, shutter speed, white balance, ISO—the whole nine yards, straight from the phone’s live-view screen.
There’s also selective focusing, spot focusing, 360-degree panorama, RAW image shooting, etc. The Galaxy Note 7 can stand and bang with the best of ‘em.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
If I’m going to include the Note 7 on the list (and you bet your ass that I am), I have to also include its sister camera, the S7 Edge. It comes with the same camera specs as the Note 7 and, also like the Note 7, comes with water and dust resistant capabilities (also like the iPhone 7, by the way).
The screen display is a little smaller than the Note 7 (5.5 inches vs. 5.7 inches), and both feature an AMOLED screen. Basically, you can choose either one of these rigs and have a camera that kills on the street.
I also wanted to take a moment to point out a personal note from my experiences with the Samsung phones and Apple phones: The Samsung phones are a lot more user-friendly in terms of their camera usage. Everything is right there, out in the open and easy to access/learn. It’s definitely something worth mentioning.
This is the phone that many in the industry have deemed the iPhone 7 killer, and, while I can’t say it’s the best phone on this list, it may have the best camera setup I’ve ever seen on a phone.
First of all, the camera was co-engineered by the team at Leica, the German camera manufacturer whose cameras have revolutionized the photography world over the last century or so. It features dual Sony IMX 286 12-megapixel sensors, 27mm-equivalent focal length, f/2.2 aperture, laser-assisted autofocus and full manual control with the ability to shoot RAW.
Unfortunately, what the Huawei P9 lacks that most of its competition doesn’t is optical image stabilization. It won’t make too much of an impact on your bottom line, but it’s worth noting, nonetheless.
The LG G5
The LG G5 is another serious contender for “Best Camera Rig in the Game.” It brings to the table a massive 16-megapixel sensor and a beautiful f/1.8 lens and another dual lens setup similar to the P9 and iPhone 7 Plus.
LG took the G5 so seriously as a photographic tool that they even engineered a camera grip with it in order to make it more comfortable on more serious shooting expeditions. Easy access between the standard 16MP lens and the second 8MP super wide angle lens sets this camera apart from its competition, and the laser-assisted autofocus is quick as a whip. The wide angle set up would be better for street stuff, but at only 8MP, it probably won’t deliver anything outside of Instagram-worthy snaps.
What I really love about the G5, however, is its full manual mode. You can switch over to RAW settings and use the user interface to take 100 percent full control over the camera. The on-board filters also don’t suck, which is definitely a plus.
When I’m shopping around for a new idiotbox, I never ever even consider HTC because their cameras in the past have been notoriously shitty. But I gotta give it to them—it looks as though they’ve seriously turned things around with the release of their HTC 10.
There’s no waterproofing or dustproofing, but it comes with a 12-megapixel rear camera, an f/1.8 lens, a laser-assisted autofocus (that everyone says is absolutely incredible) and can shoot both RAW images and 4k video. It’s not the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen, but it should hold its own against the iPhone 7.
What separates this camera from the others is that, although its front-facing camera is only 5MP, it comes with a f/1.8 lens and is the first of its kind to offer optical image stabilization. So, if you happen to big on selfies, this might be your tipping point.
The Sony Xperia X Performance
Since the majority of all the camera phones out there use Sony sensors as it is, I felt it might be a good idea to check out what kind of offerings the digital tech giant has on the market. These phones haven’t garnered nearly enough attention for how insane they are.
The Sony Xperia X Performance offers a massive f/2.0, 23-megapixel rear camera (and a staggering 13MP front, by the way), a snappy predictive AF System and excellent lowlight performance. The color rendering on this phone’s camera is absolutely gorgeous, especially outside and shooting.
The folks at DxOMark gave it a score of 88, which officially ranks it higher than the iPhone 7 Plus. I don’t agree with the score—there’s no RAW compatibility, optical image stabilization, 4k video, etc.—but it does prove that the Xperia X Performance isn’t to be counted out from the conversation.
If you’re looking for a quality shooter that won’t do anything fancy, but will deliver some beautiful high quality images with excellent tonality and vibrant, bold colors, you should definitely have a look at this.
For recent photography news, check out the 11 action shots that just won Red Bull’s photography awards.
- Words: Maxwell Barna
- Lead image: Samsung