The Great Smartphone Camera War of 2019

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Cameras are now expected to be a headline feature of the latest smartphones. Apple, Google, Samsung, Sony, and all the other manufacturers are incorporating excellent cameras, backed up by even better software. Now, the smartphone in your pocket can take photos rivaling those of point-and-shoots, and use advanced processing tricks to create photographs that mimic professional systems. The only problem is figuring out which one to get, especially since the companies have a tendency to battle each other for supremacy in the smartphone camera sector.

The One to Beat: iPhone 11 Pro

You either love Apple or hate it, but it is impossible to deny that the iPhone is the standard bearer for what a modern smartphone should be. The iPhone 11 Pro is certainly this company’s most aggressive push into photography yet, with three cameras, Deep Fusion technology, and a Night Mode.

iPhone 11 Pro
iPhone 11 Pro

In terms of specs, the Pro offers an ultra-wide 13mm f/2.4 camera with a 120-degree field of view, a wide (standard) camera with a 26mm f/1.8 lens and optical stabilization, and a telephoto with 52mm f/2.0 lens and stabilization. All feature 12MP resolution, and the standard wide has 100% Focus Pixels for fast subject acquisition. 4K video is offered at up to 60 fps and you can swap cameras mid-recording if you want. It looks great. Now for the fancy stuff. Apple recently added Deep Fusion, a computational photography technique that captures multiple images to create a single, highly detailed image.

Night Mode is something we have seen from competitors already and uses longer exposures combined with short exposures to minimize noise and maximize resolution in extremely dim environments. Portrait Mode makes a return for capturing that sweet bokeh. Overall, software and hardware combine to make the iPhone 11 Pro my choice for top smartphone camera, although, admittedly, there are numerous competitors that make compelling arguments.

iPhone 11 Pro

Made by Google: Pixel 4

Looking at the big picture, one of the broader wars in smartphones is between iOS and Android. Apple makes iOS and Google makes Android, so it is well worth a look at the Pixel 4. It is made by Google, just like Android, and runs what you could effectively call the standard version of Android. Google revolutionized smartphone photography with its amazing image processing techniques, with Night Sight being the standout function. This made nighttime photography look good on smartphones.

Now, Google has added a second camera to its phone, so users have a standard 12MP f/1.7 system with a 77-degree field of view or a 16MP telephoto f/2.4 camera for getting closer. Google’s system might not be the flashiest, but it is solid. Add advanced processing, and this camera will deliver awesome results with ease. I know I was surprised when my friend snapped a group photo one night and it came out crystal clear; the next generation of Pixel phones is even better. It does do video, although it maxes out at 4K30.

Google Pixel 4 64GB Smartphone

In the Other Corner: Samsung Galaxy Note10+

The best and most popular Android handsets are made by Samsung. Google may be throwing a good contender into the ring, but Samsung is still supreme when it comes to smartphones. Its latest flagship is the Galaxy Note10+ and it is an amazing phone all around and its close to all-screen design is stunning. For photography, there is a serious array of features.

Samsung Galaxy Note10+ SM-N975U 256GB Smartphone

The Note10+ opts for a three-camera array with a 16MP ultra-wide, a 12MP wide, and 12MP telephoto and adds a DepthVision Camera for more accurate depth effects, as well as AR and 3D tools. Samsung even adds a Dual Aperture setup for improving light gathering or sharpness, depending on the situation. There was a great deal of effort put into video too, with Live Focus and bokeh effects being possible during recording, and imaging portrait modes.

The phone can record in UHD 4K up to 60 fps and offers super steady modes, a Zoom-In Mic for clear audio, and HDR10+ recording. Samsung boasts a complete editing suite for going from shooting to sharing all on your phone. This is a quite impressive package and perhaps the best hardware out there.

For more information about this series, check out John Foldi’s hands-on review.

For More Resolution: ZTE Axon 10 Pro

Sometimes, you want something more affordable and still want some top-level specs. This is where the ZTE Axon 10 Pro sits. It has three cameras, a 48MP wide, a 20MP ultra-wide, and an 8MP telephoto. While not as simple as you may like, I think ZTE made the right decision with distribution of the sensors.

ZTE Axon 10 Pro Dual-SIM 256GB Smartphone

The regular wide is going to be the most used and, therefore, has the best sensor; the ultra-wide will help capture more and will benefit from a resolution increase; and the telephoto is a nice option for specific shots. Other features include a Super Night Shot, phase-detect autofocus, and AI face and motion detection. Oh yeah, the Axon 10 Pro can record in 4K up to 30 fps.

If you want to learn more about this phone check out Brett Smith’s hands-on review.

Ready for the Big Screen: Sony Xperia 1

Sony is the only brand on this list that makes purpose-built cameras and camcorders, and the company decided to make a smartphone that uses some of that tech: the Xperia 1. You will find another three-camera setup on the Xperia 1 with a 16mm super-wide, a 26mm wide, and 52mm tele, all with 12MP sensors and backed by a BIONZ X image processor. Some other elements pulled from Alpha tech include Eye AF and 10 fps continuous shooting with autofocus and auto exposure.

Sony Xperia 1 J8170 128GB Smartphone

These are impressive specs for actual cameras, let alone a phone. Where the Xperia 1 really shines is in its video modes. It can record 4K at up to 30 fps, including 24 fps, in HDR, making full use of the phone’s 21:9 OLED display with wide color support. The CineAlta Creator Mode offers multiple looks for tailoring the footage to your shoot. And, there is Optical SteadyShot combined with digital stabilization for ultra-smooth footage. If you want a phone that can provide cinematic degrees of control the Xperia 1 will be tough to beat.

Brett Smith took this phone out for a spin and here is his hands-on review.

Capture Everything: Moto Z4

I’m just as surprised as you that a Moto phone made this list, but I think the inclusion of a 360-degree camera in the Moto Z4 that makes it worth a serious look for certain folk interested in imaging. Motorola also aims to make it a very good and affordable choice with a 48MP main sensor, an under-screen fingerprint sensor, and multi-day battery life.

Moto Z4 128GB Smartphone with 360° Moto Mod

Speaking of that main camera, it has Motorola’s largest sensor yet, with Quad Pixel technology for creating high-quality 12MP images. A Night Vision mode will then help maximize low-light image quality, and multiple AI options will optimize each image you take. UHD 4K at 30 fps is supported. This phone is the only one with a single rear camera setup, though the front camera does opt for a high 25MP resolution.

Now, let’s talk about that moto 360 camera. It easily attaches to the Z4 and can capture awesome 360-degree stills or even 4K 360-degree video with 3D audio. Another option is for ultra-wide angle shooting at a 150-degree field of view in front and behind the camera. The best part is built-in editing and sharing. It is the most intriguing option here and could be a lot of fun with its 360-degree shooting.

This is just a small sampling of the phones out there. Whether you are looking for a clean interface and powerful cameras (iPhone 11 Pro) or the best Android hardware out there (Samsung Galaxy Note10+) or something perhaps a bit more affordable (ZTE Axon 10 Pro), there should be something for you. All are great in their own way.

Do you have a personal favorite here? Want to contest my claim that the iPhone 11 Pro is the best on this list? Sound off in the Comments section, below!

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