Based on our in-depth testing and photo comparisons, the iPhone X edges out the Pixel 2 XL as our favorite camera phone. But it’s a very close call between these two smartphones.
We pitted the iPhone X ($999) and the Pixel 2 XL ($849) in a head-to-head photo shootout, and it wound up a dead heat. The new Pixel excelled in low light and with selfies, and it offers excellent detail overall, while the iPhone delivered punchier colors and better detail when we zoomed in on a subject, as well as a more natural-looking flash.
You’d have a fine camera phone no matter which one you pick, but we give the nod to the iPhone X, thanks to its impressive 2x optical zoom, image stabilization on both rear lenses, and improved Portrait Mode that lets you add lighting effects to your subject on both the front and rear camera.
As for the Pixel 2 XL, it proves that smarts are as important as megapixels, using computational photography to produce high-end photo effects.
You can see all of our other top camera phone picks below, as well as more info on how we test camera phones and tips on what to look for when you’re shopping.
News and Updates
- The Galaxy S9 launch event is on for Feb. 25, and Samsung is promising to re-imagine the camera. Rumors point to Samsung offering a variable aperture shooter that would offer both f/1.5 (which would be great in low light) and f/2.4. In addition, the S9+ will likely offer dual lenses on the back.
- A day after the Galaxy S9 unveiling, Sony is also planning a press event at the Mobile World Congress trade show. While it's unclear just what Sony will announce on Feb. 26, given the venue, it's likely to be a smartphone, and Sony has paid particular attention to camera features on its most recent flagship releases like the Xperia XZ Premium and Xperia XZ1.
Apple's newest phone features our favorite camera. A few minor tweaks from the 8 Plus's camera — outstanding in it own right — makes all the difference for the iPhone X. Its rear telephoto lens has a wider aperture (f/2.4 vs. f/2.8 on the 8 Plus) that captures more detailed images. Both lenses on the back of the iPhone X have optical image stabilization for steadier shots, and the 7-MP front shooter is powerful enough to add Portrait mode effects, just like the Pixel 2 XL. It's a close fight between the latest phones from Apple and Google, but ultimately, the iPhone X's superior zoom gives it the edge.
Other flagship phones may be turning to dual cameras for striking photo effects, but Google’s latest Pixel relies on computational smarts to aid its single 12-megapixel rear camera. Despite the lone lens, both the Pixel 2 and 2 XL can create Portrait Mode-style pictures similar to the iPhone 8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8 with a stylish background blur. Better yet, they can achieve the same effect through their front cameras as well, which should definitely help you up your selfie game. The Pixel 2 duo are also Google's first handsets to feature the Pixel Visual Core, a purpose-built sub-processor specially designed to improve the processing of HDR+ photos. Although it wasn't functional at launch, a recent software update enabled the chip, making the Pixel 2's beautiful photography look even better.
The first Samsung smartphone to feature a dual-camera setup, the Galaxy Note 8 captures images that look even better than its predecessors. One 12-megapixel lens features an f/1.7 aperture, while the 12-MP telephoto lens offers an f/2.4 aperture. Like the iPhone 8 Plus, the Note 8's dual cameras provide a 2X optical zoom, but both lenses also feature optical image stabilization. Its Live Focus feature lets you adjust the degree to which the background in a photo is blurred, and you can change this both before and after you take a shot. Plus, you can take both a wide-angle and close-up shot simultaneously.
With dual 12-megapixel rear cameras capable of up to a 2.3x optical zoom, the Asus ZenFone 3 Zoom offers one of the best photography experiences you get on a phone for less than $400. In addition to its long reach, the ZenFone 3 Zoom also sports a full-featured pro mode, a dedicated color correction sensor and 4-axis optical image stabilization to ensure your shots stay shake-free. Up front, the ZenFone 3 Zoom features a sharp 13-MP selfie cam, complete with all the beauty mode settings you ever need. And with a battery that lasts more than 16 hours on charge, it's safe to say the ZenFone 3 Zoom should have enough juice to capture your favorite moments.
Like the Pixel 2, Huawei's Mate 10 Pro helps out its camera with some on-board smarts. The Kirin 970 mobile processor powering the phone sports its own dedicated neural processing unit so when you point the phone's camera at an object, the Mate 10 Pro knows exactly what it's looking at. This is particularly helpful for self-portraits using the Mate 10 Pro's 8-MP front camera, as the neural processor inside the phone can detect faces of people and pets and adjust camera settings on the fly for some satisfying selfies.
The latest addition to LG’s V series of phones adds to your video bag of tricks with Cine Video effects. These 16 filters give your videos a stylish look, emulating everything from Thriller to Romantic Comedy to help set the proper mood. Videographers will like being able save their shoots in the Cine Log format, while a Point Zoom feature gives you the power to zoom in on any area of the frame instead of just the center. Like its fellow LG phone the G6, the V30 also excels at taking wide-angle shots with its dual rear cameras. Just like LG's year-old G6 phone, the V30 also excels at capturing gorgeous, expansive cityscapes and hillsides, thanks to a dual-camera setup that supplements a 16-MP standard lens with a 13-MP wide-angle one.
How We Test Smartphone Cameras
We put the market's leading handsets through a variety of common shooting situations, such as landscapes, portraits and selfies in daylight and at night. Then, we analyze each set of images on a color-calibrated monitor to see which smartphone had the best combination of color accuracy, clarity and contrast. We also perform in-depth camera comparisons between the top phones, using each handset in their auto mode to take a wide range of photos in different conditions. After declaring a winner in each round, we name an overall winner of that face-off.
In each of our smartphone reviews, we also factor in any special features, such as dual lenses and what they enable, Portrait Modes, and other special modes, before we come to a conclusion.
5 Quick Tips for Buying a Camera Phone
The megapixels don’t matter as much as aperture. Cameras with a wider aperture (lower f-stop numbers mean wider lenses) let in more light, which can help produce better shots in the dark.
Not all dual lenses are created equal. While more smartphones are featuring dual rear cameras, those cameras don’t necessarily perform the same. Some phones like the Galaxy S8 and iPhone X use their dual lenses to allow for depth-of-field effects; others, like the LG V30, just let you switch between wide-angle and standard lenses.
Do you need Portrait mode? It goes by different names — Portrait mode on the iPhone, Live Photos on the Note 8 — but more phones let you play around with bokeh effects. That’s where the subject of the photo is in sharp focus, while the background features an artistic blur. While that’s mostly a feature on dual-camera phones, the single-lens Pixel uses software to produce a bokeh effect. Some phones also let you adjust the effect before and after you take a shot.
The front camera specs are just as important. In a world where we’re taking more selfies, you shouldn’t overlook a phone’s front camera. Besides the megapixels, check out the aperture to get a sense of how the camera will perform in low-light. And some front cameras, like the ones on the iPhone X and Pixel 2, can perform the same Portrait mode effects that dual rear cameras pull off.
Don’t forget about video. Your cameras shoot more than just still images. Consider what resolution the camera captures video at along with the frame rate. (The LG V30, for example, can record 4K video at 30 frames per second, while the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus double the frame rate to 60 fps for 4K video.) Also look at the camera offers slow-motion features and video filters.
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