When studying the current crop of smartphone cameras, the phones that stand out to me, are the Huawei P9/Honor 8, iPhone SE, LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7, and the Sony Xperia X Compact.
Of course, there are many others, like the Xperia XZ, iPhone 6S, Huawei Nova and Mate S, Moto X Force, Moto X Style, Xperia Z3 Premium, and the Blackberry Priv, that have impressive camera setups, but they’re either too expensive or not available on contract.
I’m sorry if you disagree with my shortlist of phone cameras above, but I’m sticking to my guns when it comes to my budget, and what I can get for that very limited budget.
Unfortunately, unless I was to buy the phone and pay full whack straight away, the new OnePlus 3T is only available on contract with o2 here in the UK, with a measly 500MB data for £31 a month – which rises to £38 a month for 3GB data, and that’s way over my budget!
Also, I haven’t had the best of experiences with o2, back when the Lumia 820 was my daily driver. Signal coverage was poor, although I appreciate this may have improved now that they’ve had time to establish their 4G coverage, and I felt their customer service and marketing team (who repeatedly called me to try to sell me insurance I didn’t want or need) could’ve done with a day trip to a customer service training centre.
The iPhone 6s is also a brilliant device and a great phone to hold, but for the amount of media and photos I take, I’ll need either the 64GB or 128GB models. But I can only afford the 32GB model, and it’s for this reason that, if I am going to go with a new iPhone, it’ll have to be the 64GB iPhone SE.
Huawei P9, or Honor 8?
The dual 12 megapixel camera sibling rivalry between the Huawei P9 and Honor 8 makes the task of choosing between the two a hard one. On both phones, one lens is the RGB colour sensor, and the other one is a monochrome sensor, which work in-tandem when taking a photo.
As two lenses will always be better than one, at least until smartphone camera technology improves dramatically, the Huawei P9 and Honor 8 are supposed to deliver higher-quality images. While the RGB sensor captures the colour and details, the monochrome sensor is more sensitive to whites and shadows.
This means the dynamic range should be more impressive, and according to many reviewers, delivers results unlike those in any other camera. The dual camera setup can give the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the iPhone 7 Plus a run for their money, and at half the price, the P9 and H8 will be the more affordable flagship solution for budding photographers on a tight budget.
While the rectangular P9 benefits from 27mm sensors with f/2.2 apertures and a 1.25 micron/pixel size, the curvy Honor 8 has 35mm sensors, with both phones running 8MP front cameras with an aperture rating of f/2.4. Both phones run EMUI 4.1, which, in its current flavour, has its critics for being a completely re-skinned version of Android and closer resembling iOS, but I actually like it. Apparently EMUI 5, which is based on Android 7.1 Nougat, will be much better and introduces an app drawer, bringing it back in-line with most other Android phones.
Both the P9 and Honor 8 come with either 32 or 64GB of internal storage and 3Gb RAM, although the 64GB Huawei P9 comes with 4GB RAM. There is also the option to expand storage via an external micro-SD card, meaning I’ll be getting the iOS look without investing in an iPhone, which is a plus in my opinion, and I’ll be able to snap away without worrying about storage limitations.
Although the P9 comes with Leica branding, the lenses weren’t actually made by Leica, rather that the manufacturing process was given their seal of approval. Even so, the P9’s camera app is given a Leica skin and the Pro mode is a slight flick up from the shutter button – whereas, on the Honor 8, the camera app is given more of a standard look with separate Pro photo and video modes. Both benefit from having the same dual lens setup and both have the same camera modes, such as light-trail, timelapse and slow-motion videos.
The iPhone SE, while retaining the body of the iPhone 5S, has mostly the same internals of the 6S, apart from the inferior 1.2MP selfie shooter at f/2.4, versus the 6S’ 5MP lens which is good for f/2.2. The SE’s 12MP rear camera is rated at f/2.2 with a pixel size of 1.22 microns and can shoot in 4K video, unlike the P9 and Honor 8, and even has some form of stabilisation. The only downside to this setup is that it is an iPhone, which means there’s no expandable storage. This would be a problem when shooting 4k video, as I would already have about 20GB of music loaded onto the iPhone, meaning I’d only have around 30GB to play around with – and that’s if I don’t install any apps!
If I got an iPhone, I’d have to carry around another device (possibly my Desire Eye) as a media device for music, photos and watching video, in order to take full advantage of the SE’s superior camera, and not have to delete files in order to record a few more seconds of video. This may be advantageous as I could keep the iPhone dedicated to my work, and keep my personal life separate from my work on a secondary device. But if it came to this, would I leave that second device at home, or carry it around with me?
The LG G5 is another device that sports a dual-lens setup, but works very differently not only to the Huawei P9, Honor 8 or iPhone 7 Plus, but also differently to every smartphone camera ever made.
While one lens is a normal 16MP sensor, the secondary sensor is an 8MP wide-angle lens shooting at 130°, which is said to be better than the human eye. The reason this is significant, is that it’s able to capture more of the scene than is normally possible, saving you from having to zoom out physically with your feet.
To be honest, I often find myself stepping back or bringing my phone closer to my chest to get that perfect shot, so immediately I can see the advantage of a camera that can capture more than the others.
That said, I’m really disappointed with the camera’s technical specifications. I got to play around with the LG G5 in my local electronics store, and when I zoomed in on an image I’d just taken with the 8MP sensor, the photo was very blurred – more so than an image taken with my Desire Eye. The only blur I’ve ever experienced on my Desire Eye is the slight blurring of details through image processing to reduce noise, but the blur I experienced on the G5’s cameras was really bad. Looking at the specs sheet confirms just how bad – an 8MP, 1/3.2″ sensor looks good at first, but with a diagonal dimension of just 12mm versus the 16MP’s 29mm, it’s easy to see where this sensor falters. It’s also only got an aperture of f/2.4, versus the 16MP’s f/1.8, meaning it lets less light into the lens.
While other reviewers have pointed to the 16MP sensor being the primary camera, with the 8MP camera simply being a fun alternative to play around with, I would probably use the 8MP sensor as my primary one. I therefore feel let down by the fact that the 8MP camera, the phone’s unique selling point, is the inferior sibling to the 16MP sensor – it’s sub-par specs on a flagship device that pushes innovative features in a poor way. That said, if I could get the phone for a cheaper price, it’s certainly a phone I’m still considering.
I realise that the new dual-lens setup of the iPhone 7 Plus can also capture a wide-angle view, but I won’t be able to afford even the base model iPhone 7 Plus, so I’m afraid that there’s no point in considering the newest iPhone at this stage, although I’m open to considering the iPhone 7 Plus in another 2 years when hopefully the price will have dropped down a lot – in the same way a new iPhone 6S is mountains of money cheaper now than it was when it was first released.
Samsung Galaxy S7
At first I ignored the S7 as a matter of principle. It’s a flagship device with a high megapixel count, and I thought the S7 was just another expensive marketing gimmick that almost everyone, critics included, said was ‘the best Android phone available.’
To be completely honest, the Galaxy S7 only came to my attention when I noticed that, possibly in anticipation of the S8’s release in early 2017, the S7 was being offered on contract at a cheaper monthly cost of £32 per month, with an upfront cost of £30. That’s now affordable for me, and pits it against every other ‘affordable’ or budget smartphone in this blog post.
Just looking at the specs sheet of the camera, I can see why people are saying it’s the best Android camera available. The camera is rated at 12MP, with a 1/2.5″ sensor at 26mm diagonal dimension, with an aperture of f/1.7, Phase Detection Autofocus, a flash, and a pixel size of 1.4 microns.
Wait a minute, rewind a few seconds… f/1.7 aperture and 1.4 microns?! And that’s just photo capture. It can also record 1080p video at 60fps (frames per second), can accommodate simultaneous 4k recording & 9MP image capture, and is able to also capture timelapse and slow-motion video in a suitable resolution.
While the front-facing camera is a bit disappointing at 5MP, it still has an impressive aperture at f/1.7, a sensor size of 1/4.1″ at a 22mm diagonal dimension, and a pixel size of 1.34 microns.
Plus, there’s 32GB of internal storage, expandable via an external micro SD card to 2TB, which means I can snap away and edit on apps like VSCO without the fear that storage space will be an issue.
An IP68 water resistance rating means I may even be able to expand the horizons with mobile photography. Having this feature means I can safely take photos and videos underwater, which is something I’d like to be able to do without ruining my device. It’s good to know that if I expanded my hobby into underwater photography, at least I will be able to do so with the S7.
The S7’s camera specs are impressive, but as I said in my first two posts, I’m not about to be fooled yet again by impressive specs. I’ve read and heard that the S7’s camera also suffers from a slightly yellow tinge in some photos, but this shouldn’t be too much of an issue as my Desire Eye was supposed to suffer from the blue-tinging problems of a HTC camera, but this hasn’t proved to be an issue with me.
Sony Xperia X Compact
Having played around a little with the Xperia X Compact in my local electronics store, it’s almost the perfect device. It’s small, which means using it one-handed will be a breeze, has hi-res audio and a decent camera. Maybe the screen size is a bit small, but it’s will be more pocket-friendly than a larger phone like the Galaxy S7.
Its camera is similar to other Xperia phones, and offers a whopping 23MP at an aperture of f/2.0, and a sensor size of 1/2.3″ at a diagonal dimension of 24mm. Like the Galaxy S7, the Xperia X Compact has Phase-Detection Autofocus, as well as an LED flash.
Although the aperture is slightly inferior to the S7, it’s exactly what I’ve got now on my HTC Desire Eye, so in theory it will be similar in terms of its performance.
Overall, it sounds like a half-decent camera, but I’m slightly concerned that the high megapixel count will adversely affect image quality and low-light performance. I’ll need to play around with it again in the store to determine the end result in terms of image quality.
You’d expect a compact or mini version of a phone to compromise on some features (I’m thinking specifically of Samsung’s ‘mini’ range, such as the Galaxy S5 mini), but the Xperia X Compact seems to be able to record 1080p videos at 60 fps, so no compromise there. The front-facing 5MP shooter can also record at 1080p, it seems, but I’ll need to play around with the phone to determine just how good, or bad, the cameras really are on this phone.
While the Xperia X Compact benefits from a smaller size and therefore more control in the hand, its mere 720p display is a slight disappointment, and means viewing media won’t be as good as on my HTC Desire Eye. Also a concern is the Snapdragon 650 processor – it isn’t a flagship processor chip, and I’ll need to do some research to see if it’s capable of keeping up with me, although one benefit I’ve heard of the 650 is that its less power hungry and more power efficient than the Snapdragon 820.
The phone comes with 32GB of internal storage, expandable via micro-SD, so that’s a plus, and means storage space hopefully won’t be an issue when snapping away with the camera.
With all of these devices in mind, I shall be reading and watching reviews in the days and weeks to come, and shall present my feelings in a later post, when I’ll be comparing phones in more detail and ultimately making a decision. That said, below is a short list of websites I found useful when writing these posts on camera technology: