Can a smartphone replace a camera?
I decided to start by asking myself this question, because the answer to it will tell us if it even makes sense to consider looking for the phone with the best camera.
It all depends of course on what and when you are going to shoot.
If you want to take photos, for example at the stadium, photograph football actions from the height of the stands, then on your phone you will at most receive beautiful photos of green grass with small colored spots, in the form of players' silhouettes. The phone won't do it here.
If you want to take a photo with a shallow depth of field, where only a small area will be in focus and the rest will be blurred, then the phone will not be able to do it either. It's just that the physical design parameters of the camera phone make it impossible. You can't fool physics. The cameras that I will propose below deal with it by adding blur in an artificial way (programmatically). Some deal with it really well, but you have to be aware that this is not a natural effect and mainly concerns the background, not e.g. the foreground.
If, on the other hand, you want cool, souvenir photos from your vacation, this is where you make room for your phone. A phone with a good camera will meet the expectations of most amateurs who want to bring back memories from their holidays in the form of photographic souvenirs. It is worth noting, however, that choosing a good camera is important here.
At the moment, all smartphones have a camera, but only some of them can be considered good. Most have a camera, because without a camera, no one would buy them. At the same time, in most of them, the cameras do not have the quality that we would expect from a device on which we are to capture the best moments from the holidays.
Summarizing this short argument: for the casual traveler who wants to have cool vacation photos, the phone can become the main camera. However, it must be chosen deliberately, not at random. That's what this article was for. To make it easier for you to choose a smartphone that guarantees good quality photos. I will say more, a phone with a good camera can successfully serve even content creators, e.g. for publication on the web!
How do I know that?
Experiment with a smartphone
I did a little experiment with a smartphone. During one of the trips (to be exact, a trip to Majorca) something tempted me and I decided to try to handle the trip as much as possible with a smartphone. Of course, I also had a DSLR with two lenses on my sleeve (you can use my equipment see at this link - [click]), but as it was supposed to, I only reached for it when I thought that the phone would not work.
I wanted to check:
- first: is it possible to make a material that will be satisfactory in this way,
- Secondly: How many times will I really have to reach for an SLR camera.
Only checking this in practice could give me a real answer about the real usefulness of a camera in a mobile phone.
A risky experiment with a rather unexpected effect. The phone handled surprisingly well. I admit that I did not expect him to do so well. Especially since I didn't have any special equipment.
The phone took a lot of nice photos, and the longer the experiment lasted, the less often I used the SLR.
Eventually, the next time I left the SLR stayed home and instead showed up in my luggage very good quality compact camera and phoneas a solid support for the compact. Since then, the SLR hasn't gone anywhere with me anymore. The suitcase became lighter by more than 2 kg and there was a lot of new space for clothes in it. It is all the more valuable as a suitcase in the form of hand luggage is usually the only luggage I travel with.
The effects of the experiment
Pictures are the result of the experiment. I could refer you to articles from Majorcawhich are hanging on the blog, because the photos in them come mainly from the phone, but to make things easier, I present a few below. The photos you see were taken with the phone. To make it more interesting, it was a phone from the previous era, to be exact Xperia XA. He made his debut a few years ago and I haven't had it for two years. Another, newer one has replaced it.
The phones that I will recommend are several classes better than the one on which the photos below were taken. This means that technically they are incomparably more advanced and versatile. This definitely makes it easier, and even guarantees taking really great quality photos.
Time for specifics
Below I will present a list of phones with short descriptions. In the descriptions, I will not delve deeply into the technical meanders of the equipment. I will only describe what is important for you from the point of view of use and the expected effect in the form of nice photos.
The phones I have selected can be divided into four groups:
- cheap phone with a good camera up to 1000 PLN
- cheap phone with a good camera up to 1500 PLN
- a phone with a good camera up to PLN 2000
- phone with the best camera above PLN 2000
I will present the phones in the order from the cheapest to the most expensive (i.e. opposite to most rankings). Each subsequent one will be a bit more expensive than the previous one. If you have an unlimited budget and can spend as much as you like on a phone with a good camera, go straight to the end. The camera at the very bottom is now almost unrivaled.
I chose not to post pictures of what the phones look like, because they all look the same: a rectangular, glossy tile with buttons (lenses) on the back.
If you miss the pictures of identical tile phones, please let me know in the comments below the article, then I will complete them.
Instead, as a short break from the text, I will throw in a few photos taken with my phone. This text is not about what the phone looks like, but what photo can be taken with the phone 🙂
Links placed next to each phone lead to the price comparison website, where you will find the cheapest offers for the model you are interested in. Links are dynamic and price statements are generated at the time of clicking, so the result is always up-to-date.
Xiaomi A3 - the phone with which I am currently taking photos
Be clear: my current phone (Xiaomi A3) although it is better than the previous one, it does not belong to the group of "demons of mobile photography". You will not find it anywhere on the list of phones recommended for photography.
Despite this, I am happy with it. Why?
I am not addicted to technical innovations and I do not adhere to the principle that only the newest and most expensive equipment will allow me to take a good photo. My model is very cheap (cheaper than all the ones I'll recommend below) but decent hardware. It comes with a large number of photos that you can see on the blog. I have posted a few below. This is important because it provides a certain benchmark. The phones recommended below will simply allow you to get even better results than the ones you see in the photos. If you accept photos from Xiaomi A3 as satisfying, all the cameras below will take even better technical photos.
Xiaomi A3 it has three lenses, including the wide-angle lens I use most often, with a viewing angle of 118 °. This is definitely a wider angle than most lenses in expensive compact cameras. The main camera takes 12 megapixel photos. The manufacturer officially gives a resolution of 48 megapixels, but in the shooting process, four pixels are combined into one, which effectively produces exactly 12, not 48 megapixels. Used in Xiaomi A3 the process of combining 4 pixels into one has a significant impact on improving the quality of the resulting image. Dramatically reduces noise, improves tonal range, color and sharpness. The final resolution of 12 megapixels is perfect for most applications (prints, photobooks, high-quality prints, Internet publications, etc.).
The third lens is responsible for the process of analyzing the background image and controlling the background blur process, which takes place on the phone in a programmatic manner (the appropriate program responsible for it simply automatically modifies the photo, blurring it in the area where the background is in the photo).
For this, it is enough to add a high-capacity battery, fast processor, stable operation and a large amount of internal memory (64 GB) in the basic version and you already know why I am happy with this smartphone. Perhaps you will find it sufficient for yourself as well. Below I am presenting the link under which you can check the price comparison engine, where you can currently buy it the cheapest.
- check the current price Xiaomi A3 - [click]
And now some photos taken Xiaomi A3:
Xiaomi Note 7 Redmire
Until recently, Xiaomi did not shine in terms of photography. Recently, however, a lot has changed and the new camera module proposed by Xiaomi means that it has started to conquer the market also in this segment. So you can buy a solid phone with an interesting camera at a really attractive price.
Xiaomi Note 7 Redmire it's a bit more expensive than the previous one Xiaomi A3.
W Xiaomi Note 7 Redmire there are two lenses. Standard primary lens and secondary lens responsible for depth of field and background blur. There is no wide-angle lens here. However, the main camera works really well. It is surprisingly good at night shooting for such a low price range. It has a dedicated, special mode for these photos. The matrix has 48 megapixels and, as in the previous phone, after taking a photo, four adjacent pixels are programmatically combined into one, which makes the final photo 12 megapixel. It is a resolution that allows you to freely make high-quality prints, prints, photobooks, electronic publications, etc.
People for whom photography is not the most important passion will be satisfied with it.
- check the current price Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 - [click]
Xiaomi Mi 9 SE
Why do I propose Xiaomi Mi 9 SE version? Xiaomi Mi 9 in the basic version is a typical flagship, containing all the best and all that the manufacturer can boast of. The SE version retained most of the strengths of the valued flagship, but has a more compact size and a much lower price (at the time of writing, the price difference between these phones was about PLN 500). The screen of the Xiami Mi 9 is 6,4 inches, and in the SE version it is 5,97 inches. For some people (those who do not have big hands) using a smaller phone may be even more convenient.
When it comes to the camera, we have three lenses at our disposal. The main camera has a resolution of 48 megapixels and, as I wrote in previous Xiaomi, four pixels are combined into one. After all, the photo has a resolution of 12 megapixels. I wrote about the advantages of this solution in the description of Xiaomi above, so I will not repeat it here.
The second of the lenses is a wide-angle lens with a really very wide viewing angle of 123 degrees. Cool thing.
The third lens is an optical zoom x2, which allows you to perform a lossless zoom of the image twice in relation to the basic frame.
The camera is doing very well during night photos and has a special moon mode. It allows you to take night photos with the right exposure to the starry sky and the moon, while ensuring the right color saturation in the main plan.
The remaining parameters of the phone (memory, performance, battery, etc.) are at a very high level, corresponding to typical high-end flagships.
Among all the phones presented here, this model has by far the best quality / price ratio. For the price of an average average, you get powerful equipment with a great camera. A position definitely worth considering.
If you have a slightly larger budget and like a large screen, you can also consider buying the basic version, which has slightly brighter lenses.
- check the current price Xiaomi Mi 9 SE - [click]
- check the current price Xiaomi Mi 9 - [click]
Huawei P20 is last year's flagship, which was supposed to provide a high-quality camera. It hasn't gotten too old yet, but the very fact of the appearance of the next generation (the P30 model) made its price drop to a very attractive level. So, at a decent price, you can buy a solid phone with a very high-quality camera. Users Huawei P20 they praise the camera mainly for the high quality and detail of the photos obtained from it. It is worth noting that the camera has a very fast and precise automatic focusing of photos. The photos obtained are well lit and have vivid colors. The resolution of photos obtained from the main camera is 12 megapixels.
The camera has two lenses. A universal main lens and an additional lens supporting the background blur process, which it deals surprisingly well with.
Advanced camera users are provided with a manual setting mode that allows you to control all parameters manually.
Very solid and recommendable equipment.
- check the current price Huawei P20 - [click]
We move on to the presentation of high-end cameras.
Huawei P30 is a slightly truncated version of the Huawei P30 Pro, which currently reigns supreme in the list for the world's best smartphone for photography. Restrictions introduced in Huawei P30 however, they are so subtle, and the price of this version is so attractive that it is definitely worth taking an interest in this version (at the time of writing the article, the difference in prices of these versions was around PLN 1).
In this model, we get 3 cameras. Basic camera with a 40 megapixel sensor, a wide-angle lens camera with a 16 megapixel sensor, and a telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom and an 8 megapixel sensor.
When it comes to the quality of photos, the detail and sharpness of the obtained images are very impressive. It's really hard to fault something. Similarly, when it comes to automatic selection of exposure parameters, color saturation or autofocus speed. Everything is top notch. Shooting night scenes is not a special problem for the Huawei P30. The camera works quickly and freely adjusts to any lighting. It's so nice to take pictures with such equipment.
What are the main limitations Huawei P30 compared to the Pro version?
First: smaller sensor in the 16 Mpx wide-angle camera (in the Pro version: 20 Mpx).
Secondly: No image stabilization function.
Thirdly: narrower optical zoom range in telephoto: 3x (in Pro version: 5x).
These are the main differences.
From a practical point of view, the first one is completely irrelevant. Such a difference in the size of the matrix, taking into account the tasks for which the camera will be intended, does not matter.
The second difference (lack of image stabilization) will be most noticeable when shooting movies. If you care about videos and improving image stability in them, this difference may be important to you.
In the third case (3x zoom vs. 5x zoom) it is difficult for me to judge. From my point of view, there is a very significant limitation. It is enough to take a few steps forward and it will be more or less the same. In addition, even when the frame in the photo will be a bit wider, with a matrix with a resolution of 40 Mpx there is a lot of space to then trim the excess image and crop the photo. I would like to remind you that 12 Mpx is enough with a large margin to make prints and prints in high quality.
As for the other phone parameters (memory, processor, etc.), we can say briefly: it is currently the highest level.
- check the current price Huawei P30 - [click]
Samsung Galaxy S10e
Samsung version 10e it's theoretically the weaker version Samsung 10, but when you look at the thing through the prism of photography, it is not the case (other design changes have also benefited this smartphone). The flagship version (i.e. 10) is equipped with a base camera and a telephoto lens. The 10e version, however, has a basic camera and a wide-angle lens. It is a perfect change for souvenir and holiday photography. The version with a wide lens will be much better in practice (e.g. in narrow streets of charming towns or when taking landscape photos) than the zoom. As if that was not enough, the wide-angle lens has a matrix with a higher resolution than the main camera. Well, for me it's a change to lick your fingers. Perfectly! And at the same time, the price is definitely more wallet-friendly.
When it comes to specifics, the main camera has a matrix with a resolution of 12 megapixels, and the wide-angle camera has a 16 megapixel sensor. I will not discover America if I write that the detail, sharpness, color reproduction, selection of exposure parameters and the rest are at the highest level, and the camera is great for night photos.
If you like Samsung, consider this camera (or its larger version of Samsung Galaxy S10).
- check the current price Samsung Galaxy S10e - [click]
- check the current price Samsung Galaxy S10 - [click]
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3
Among the models proposed by Xiaomi in the field of photography, this one seems to be the best at the moment. This is a typical representative of a top-shelf camera phone. Its price is also there.
The camera is equipped with two lenses. The main lens works with a matrix with a resolution of 12 megapixels and is equipped with image stabilization. The secondary lens is a telephoto lens with x2 optical zoom. The sensor that works with it also has a resolution of 12 megapixels. There is no image stabilization option available when using a telephoto lens.
In both cases, the auto focus works very quickly and precisely. A special night mode is dedicated to photos at night, which in practice actually gives a much better effect than taking the same photos in a different mode. There was also a professional mode that allows you to manually interfere with all camera settings.
Photos from Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 they please the eye, mainly due to the high detail, good exposure, large tonal range (you can see that Xiaomi has worked hard on it) and pleasant color saturation. The images received from the camera (in plain language) are pleasing to the eye.
The remaining electronics of the phone (processor, battery and other inventions) are very efficient equipment. Xiaomi in this respect hangs the bar very high.
- check the current price Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 - [click]
Huawei P30 Pro
Time for the last phone in the list. Huawei P30 Pro is a real monster of mobile photography. The camera has been on the lists of the best smartphones for photography for many months and still few are able to jump to it. It probably did everything that was humanly possible when this model was brought to light.
We have three highest quality lenses at our disposal:
- basic lens with a matrix of 40 megapixels
- wide-angle lens with a 20 megapixel matrix
- telephoto lens (optical zoom x5) with an 8 megapixel matrix
Such a set of lenses guarantees great freedom of photography.
The camera, of course, can handle all conditions without any effort. Day, night, contrasting lighting ... casual. It just takes very high quality photos and that's it. Detail, contrast, color saturation, vividness of photos…. everything is top notch.
Of course, the rest of the technical specification (processor, battery, blah, blah, blah ..) I will close with one short sentence: the highest level.
but if Huawei P30 Pro is too expensive for you, take an interest in the slightly slimmed down version Huawei P30I described above. It retains most of the advantages of the Pro version, and the price is definitely more attractive.
- check the current price Huawei P30 Pro - [click]
- check the current price Huawei P30 - [click]
Until a few years ago, when I thought about mobile photography, I didn't imagine that the phone could ever reach this state of advancement. Today, what used to be out of mind, the quality we dreamed of being available in SLRs and compacts of the time, is available on the phone.
Looking at the effect of the work of popular SLRs from 3-4 years ago, when digital photography seemed advanced to us and comparing it to what the cameras offer at the moment, I came to the conclusion that maybe it's worth giving them a chance? So I did. I gave them a chance.
Now you know how it ended. The SLR camera was replaced by a great compact, and the phone has become a solid, second camera. I do not regret changes, indeed! I am very pleased with it.
I am eagerly joining the group of mobile photography enthusiasts and I intend to take full advantage of its benefits.
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