Which Is The Best Camera Phone In 2019?


With so many different phone cameras from multiple manufacturers, the US is experiencing a bombardment of models, so how do you decipher which is the best camera phone?

Looking at my earlier article, ‘Best Phone Camera for Low Light Photography’, some of my findings here are in some ways similar; however, I wanted to go a step further and look into the specifications of the selected smartphones and provide a more detailed review. Before we begin, let me share some of the standout specifications across the models.

The Top 5 Camera Phones Are:

  • Google Pixel 3
  • Samsung Galaxy S10
  • Apple iPhone XS
  • Honor View 20
  • Galaxy Note 9

Google Pixel 3 Spec

Camera specification for the Google Pixel 3:

  • 12.2MP, 1/2.55″ dual-pixel sensor (1.4µm pixels)
  • f/1.8 lens, 28mm equivalent focal length
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Dual-LED flash
  • 2160p video at 30fps (1080p at 30/60fps in default mode)
  • AutoFPS for switching between 30fps and 60fps when using 1080p
  • H.265 encoding for video

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus Spec

Camera specifications for the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus:

  • Triple-camera setup
  • Primary: 12MP sensor with 1.4µm pixels and 26mm-equivalent, f/1.5–2.4 aperture lens, Dual-Pixel AF, OIS
  • Ultra-wide: 16MP sensor 1.0µm pixels and 13mm-equivalent, f/2.4-aperture lens
  • Telephoto: 12MP sensor with 1.0µm pixels and 52mm-equivalent, f/2.4 aperture lens, PDAF, OIS
  • 2160p/60fps (1080p/30fps at default settings)

Apple iPhone XS Spec

Camera specification for the Apple iPhone XS:

  • Single camera
  • 12MP primary camera with 1/1.25″ sensor (1.4µm pixels) f/1.8 aperture lens
  • 12MP secondary camera, 2x optical zoom, and an f/2.4 aperture
  • Optical image stabilization on both lenses
  • AF with focus pixels
  • 4K video at 24/30/60 fps, 1080p at up to 120 fps or 240 fps.

Honor View 20 Spec

Camera Specification for the Honor View 20:

  • Single Camera
  • Back-illuminated sensor (BSI), Exmor-RS CMOS Sensor, 1/2-inch sensor with Quad-Bayer setup and pixel binning (12 MP Output – 1.6μm pixels).
  • Primary: 48MP (48MP only in AI Ultra Clarity mode)
  • f/1.8 aperture lens.
  • Secondary: 25 MP (f/2.0 lens, 1/3.6-inch sensor, AF)
  • OIS on both cameras
  • Single LED flash
  • 4K video at 30 fps, 1080p at up to 60 fps

Galaxy Note 9 Spec

Camera specification for the Galaxy Note 9:

  • Dual cameras
  • Primary: 12MP (1/2.55-inch sensor, dual-pixel PDAF, f/1.5-2.4 variable-aperture lens), 1.22µm pixels
  • Secondary: 12 MP (f/2.4 lens, 1/3.6-inch sensor, AF)
  • OIS on both cameras
  • Single LED flash
  • 4K video at 30/60 fps

The models that stood out in my previous article still stand out to this day. What differs since the last article was the United States ban on Huawei. While it has previously had a mention, the US government decided Huawei would no longer be a competitor here, this is why I’m leaving the Huawei P30 Pro out of the mix. The Google Pixel 3, Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, Apple iPhone XS, Honor View 20 and Galaxy Note 9 are the models I’ll look at, but overall do they rank the same for low light photography? More specifically, though is how would they rate for general photography or macro, landscape or portraits?

Overall, phone cameras offer extraordinary quality, especially if you are paying a premium price. It’s hard these days to get a lemon, but how can you trust what you are paying for will turn out to be a great phone camera?

To begin with, I’ll take you through my thought process and how I decide; First, you should bring up the manufacturer specifications and compare the technical information. For the majority of people out there these numbers are just jargon, but hopefully, by reading through this article, you can learn what the data means and in turn help you master phone photography. After all, it’s why I created this site.

So, without further ado, let’s jump in an look at what each of the listed phone cameras will be like for general photography.

General Photography

Several specifications are essential factors to consider for general purpose photography. ISO, physical aperture, megapixels and pixel micrometres (µm) are worth comparing. Each specification has a specific part to play, I’ll go into these in more detail, but let’s start with ISO.

ISO for General Photography

ISO is a critical factor in determining how sensitive a phone camera’s sensor is to light. The lower the specification, most commonly benchmarked at ISO 50, the better the camera performs in image quality than those which contain a higher ISO in bright daylight conditions.

  • Apple iPhone XS – ISO 24
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus – ISO 50
  • Galaxy Note 9 – ISO 50
  • Google Pixel 3 – ISO 50
  • Honor View 20 – ISO 50

Looking across the rear cameras across the models, Google’s Pixel 3 maintains ISO 50 along with both Samsung models and the Honor View 20. Something surprising though is Apple’s ability to manipulate the image so that it produces little deterioration in quality for general photography. The iPhone XS has an impressive ISO at 24! What this means for your photography is the images are going to be much cleaner in terms of artificial noise when photographing in low light and bright situations. Apple is, therefore, a natural stand out winner for ISO – or is it? Check out the latest price of the iPhoneXS here. #ad

Physical Aperture for General Photography

Let’s take into account some other specifications before we conclusively call a winner. How about we continue onto the physical aperture of the rear camera?

To explain aperture, all you need to do is look at your finger in front of your face. With both eyes open, focus on your finger, and you will notice the background becomes blurred. Following this, now focus on the background while keeping your finger in the same position. Notice your finger now becomes blurred while the background remains sharp?

What’s happening here is your eyes are determining the amount of subject in focus. The bits that are out of focus are referred to as ‘bokeh’. When looking at phone cameras, the lenses’ aperture does the same thing as what you would have seen with your finger.

Aperture is measured in strange numbers called ‘f-stop’, like f1.2, f1.4, f1.8, f2, f2.8, f4, f8. These numbers represent how much blur you can obtain in either the foreground or background of a photo (like in the example of your finger). The smaller the number, the larger the opening of the lens. The benefit of a lower number is you get more significant blur in the foreground or background, making your photos look way more professional than the rest. This is commonly referred to as having the greatest depth of field. In summary, what’s best is a smaller aperture as you will get more professional photos with a greater depth of field.

Turning our attention to the list of smartphone rear cameras the apertures range from the following;

  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus – f1.5
  • Galaxy Note 9 – f1.5
  • Google Pixel 3 – f1.8
  • Apple iPhone XS – f1.8
  • Honor View 20 – f2

As you can see the Samsung’s stand out as the clear winners with an aperture of f1.5. Now when adding in the ISO sensor sensitivity, Apple no longer stands as a clear winner. It is at this point you have to understand that there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ camera. Each model may offer a higher specification in one area than the other, so instead, we should find the best average balance based on the specification and that meets our requirements.

Taking this new thinking into account and weighing up the ISO and rear camera physical aperture, the clear winners are both Samsung models, then the Google Pixel 3 and Apple iPhone XS.

Megapixels for General Photography

Megapixels is another specification I look at carefully to determine what phone camera is best. What the word megapixel means is 1,000,000,000 physical pixels. Each of these individual pixels is positioned in rows on the rectangular image sensor. These pixels are essentially what capture your image; the ISO is how sensitive these pixels become to light. If you were to keep zooming into each part of the image, you would notice individual pixels. Therefore the higher the pixel count, the more the picture looks like it has more detail. The drawback is that each pixel needs to be tiny and therefore less sensitive to light.

Now that we understand megapixels, let’s take a look at how many megapixels each phone camera has.

  • Google Pixel 3 – 12.2 megapixels
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus – 12 megapixels
  • Galaxy Note 9 – 12 megapixels
  • Apple iPhone XS – 12 megapixels
  • Honor View 20 – 12 megapixels

12.2 megapixels is what Google rate their Pixel 3 at; it’s slightly more than what you see on the others (The Honor View 20 says 48 megapixels in the official specifications, but it uses a degrading algorithm called pixel binning to create an output of 12 megapixels).

Across the models, there doesn’t seem to be any significant stand out the difference. Looking back at the running commentary of the best phone camera for 2019, I believe the 0.2-megapixel increase from the Google Pixel 3 raises it’s level slightly. Ultimately though, the Samsung models and Apple iPhone XS remain contenders for the best phone cameras for general photography and landscape.

Before I can conclude what the best model is there’s one more feature in the line up of specifications which needs deciphering.

Pixel Micrometres (µm) for General Photography

Pixel micrometers (µm) is most likely the geekiest specification out there. Not many people understand why it’s essential, so let me attempt to give you the quick definition. Pixel micrometers is one of the most critical factors in determining how a phone camera performs when gathering light. There you go, simple right? Let me explain further.

µm is calculated based on the size of the sensor and each photodetector on the sensor. The larger the µm combined with a larger sensor equals more light captured – ideally making the phone camera better at capturing light.

Now the technical speak is clear; let’s explore what µm each smartphone offers.

  • Google Pixel 3 – 1/2.55″ sensor at 1.4µm pixels
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus – 1/2.55″ sensor at 1.4µm pixels
  • Galaxy Note 9 –  1/1.25″ sensor at 1.4µm pixels
  • Apple iPhone XS – 1/1.25″ sensor at 1.4µm pixels
  • Honor View 20 – 1/2-inch sensor at 1.6µm pixels

Looking across the line up of phone cameras, the Google Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus are the same when it comes to the µm and sensor size. I have included the Galaxy S10 Plus with Google’s specification, but something to note is the Samsung loses out if you zoom in or out as the images record on lower density sensors. The µm drops to 1.0µm on the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus.

Comparing micrometers may seem such a small specification, but when combined with a large sensor such as the Google Pixel 3’s 1/2.55″ dual-pixel sensor in all focal lengths, the results stand out, which is why you will find Google’s smartphone topping our list for general photography in our running commentary.

Now the Google Pixel 3 has established its place as the best phone camera for 2019 for general photography what about for specialized photography modes?

Best In Phone Camera 2019 for Macro and Portrait Photography

Macro and portrait photography requires a similar specification to achieve exceptional results. While megapixels always play a part what the crucial ingredient is the lens’s aperture. Being able to control the depth of field and how much of a subject remains in focus is key to isolating the subject from the background in other words obtaining the professional look.

Looking back at the difference in f stops on lenses across the models, both Samsung models stand out as the winner. But, you have to ask yourself what the visual distinction of f1.5 to f1.8 is?

  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus – f1.5
  • Galaxy Note 9 – f1.5
  • Google Pixel 3 – f1.8
  • Apple iPhone XS – f1.8
  • Honor View 20 – f2

There isn’t much difference. The only noticeable difference will be in low light when there isn’t much light around. With the three models in question sharing the same lowest ISO, an f1.5 aperture will let in more light than f1.8. This could make a slight difference in a photo that’s sharp compared to the one that’s blurred. So realistically, either of these three models would do a great job at capturing a portrait; however, I would rule out the Galaxy Note 9 as the sensor size is smaller than that of the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus (without zooming) and Google Pixel 3. Get the latest Amazon price and customer reviews on the awesome value Pixel 3 here.

Best In Phone Camera 2019 for Landscape Photography

Landscape photography requires all of the same features as I have outlined in this article, but also one other element. The focal length of the lens needs to be wider than the others to capture an entire scene. The focal length is the angle of view a lens can see; it’s measured in mm to make things even more confusing! To put it another way, the smaller the mm, the wider the lens, meaning you can capture more of the scene. As an example, 12mm is wider than 18mm and therefore can capture more mountains in our hypothetical example.

  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus – 13mm
  • Honor View 20 – 26mm
  • Galaxy Note 9 – 26mm
  • Google Pixel 3 – 28mm
  • Apple iPhone XS – 29mm

Well, there’s a clear winner here isn’t there?

The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus stands out with an ultra-wide-angle 13mm focal length. So if you are after a phone camera that can capture entire travel and landscape scenes and you aren’t interested in obtaining the highest quality (Google Pixel 3), then this is the smartphone for you. The reason why you won’t get the highest quality is due to the focal length recording process on a smaller sensor and not the primary sensor. All in all, though, Samsung does take amazing images so if you do decide to go for this over the Google Pixel 3, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Get the latest Amazon prices and reviews for this super camera phone here.

Best In Phone Camera 2019 for Video

Finally, moving onto video, the other essential function of phone cameras in 2019. With such high-quality video available in the palm of your hand, it is no wonder that YouTube sees records broken with video uploads.

Determining the quality of the video of the primary camera is a two-step process. Resolution and frame rate are the two factors that determine the quality of the video. So for the final time, let’s break down the models and take a look at the specifications.

4K Video Quality

  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus – 2160p@60fps
  • Galaxy Note 9 – 2160p@60fps
  • Honor View 20 – 2160p@30fps
  • Google Pixel 3 – 2160p@30fps
  • Apple iPhone XS – 2160p@30fps

Looking at 4K video across the five models each record at 2160 (4K) in resolution but only two differ in frame rate. Frame rate is essential for slow motion and realism in a video. The standard frame rate for video is 25 frames, but the majority of manufacturers have adopted 30 frames per second as it looks more realistic than 25 frames per second on television.

The two models which stand out as the highest resolutions with the greatest frame rate are the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus and Galaxy Note 9. The downfall of these frame rates is storage space, so make sure you have a substantial memory card to record your footage otherwise the internal memory on your phone will fill up in a year if you record video every day. Check out the latest Amazon prices of Galaxy Note 9 here.

HD Video Quality

  • Apple iPhone XS – 1080p@30/60/120/240fps
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus – 1080p@240fps
  • Galaxy Note 9 – 1080p@240fps
  • Google Pixel 3 – 1080p@30/60/120fps
  • Honor View 20 – 1080p@30fps

If you are interested in recording HD video, then Apple is no doubt the best in class. With an impressive frame rate selection, particularly at Full HD, slow motion is on another level. With the iPhone XS, you can record your footage at 5x (120 fps) or 6x (240 fps) slower than real life. The results from this feature are extraordinarily in quality. Although the phone records in 4K at 60 frames per second, it’s now considered an industry standard, with the added super slow motion frame rates at Full HD, it makes the iPhone XS an excellent video camera for serious consideration.

Conclusion

Smartphones seem to be at the peak of development. With multiple camera arrays being the newest race, it’s hard to determine what is going to be the best. However, if you take a step back and look at the primary camera along with other multiple specifications including sensor size, pixel micrometers, megapixels and resolution, then deciding which one averages as the best phone camera for 2019 is a whole lot easier.

What we were able to determine was the best phone camera in the following categories;

Best ISO Performance for General Photography

Category Winner: Apple iPhone XS

Close Contenders: Google Pixel 3, Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, Galaxy Note 9 and Honor View 20.

Best Physical Aperture for General Photography

Category Winners: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, Galaxy Note 9

Close Contenders: Google Pixel 3 and Apple iPhone XS

Highest Megapixels for General Photography

Category Winner: Google Pixel 3

Close Contenders: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, Galaxy Note 9 and Apple iPhone XS

Best Pixel Micrometres (µm) for General Photography

Category Winner: Google Pixel 3

Close Contenders: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

Best In Phone Camera 2019 for Macro and Portrait Photography

Category Winners: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

Close Contenders:  Google Pixel 3 and Galaxy Note 9

Best In Phone Camera 2019 for Landscape Photography

Category Winner: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

Close Contenders: Honor View 20 and Galaxy Note 9

Best In Phone Camera 2019 for Video Recording in 4K

Category Winner: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus and Galaxy Note 9

Close Contenders: Google Pixel 3, Apple iPhone XS, Honor View 20

Best In Phone Camera 2019 for Video Recording in HD

Category Winner: Apple iPhone XS

Close Contenders: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

Therefore, understanding the running commentary throughout this article, it’s hard not to see familiar names featuring across the categories. Taking into account the category winners, the overall phone you might think stands out as the best phone camera for 2019 is the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus. This listing isn’t accurate though when you look at the best performing phone across all categories. In this case, I would have to say the best phone camera for 2019 is the Google Pixel 3.

Best Overall Phone Camera 2019: Google Pixel 3

Google Pixel 3
Best Phone Camera 2019 – Google Pixel 3

Click here for more information about the Pixel 3 on my Recommended Gear Page

There is also a Google Pixel 3 XL that has the same camera spec but has a larger battery and a larger screen. The reason the Pixel 3 XL is not our winner is due to the additional $150 price tag for the same camera spec. However, if you need the extra battery power or the larger screen and you don’t mind the extra cost, it’s certainly worth considering.

Hopefully, I have been able to take you on a journey to learn what some of the specifications mean and help you decipher what to look for. Over the next few years, I think we will see significant improvements in processing power and sensor design, which will again change my analysis in determining which phone camera is the best. Until then, enjoy your photography on whatever phone camera you decide to hold.

I have also written individual reviews for the best of the phone cameras from my research, you can find the review articles here:

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