Julian Chokkattu/Digital Tendencies

Smartphone images isn’t simply getting higher, it’s getting smarter too. In 2018, we noticed smartphone makers sort out low-light images, an space the place these cameras have traditionally struggled. Some sought options by {hardware}, others by software program and synthetic intelligence. Whatever the strategy, the outcomes are spectacular, with 2018’s smartphones providing a number of the finest low-light images we’ve seen but.

Now it’s time to search out the very best. Simply like in 2017, we took our favourite smartphones of 2018 on a visit for an final digital camera showdown. The venue for 2018 is Japan, and the candidates are the Samsung Galaxy Notice 9, Huawei Mate 20 Professional, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR, Google Pixel 3, LG V40 ThinQ, and OnePlus 6T. We’re fairly glad with our picks this yr, and should you’re questioning why the Galaxy S9 isn’t current, it’s as a result of it shares an equivalent digital camera setup with the Notice 9 (particularly the S9 Plus); the Notice 9 merely differentiates with a scene-recognition mode. Additionally, we didn’t check the iPhone XR in each single class right here, as a result of it additionally shares the very same single-lens digital camera because the iPhone XS and XS Max.

Disclaimer: For this check, we captured pictures as the common individual would — simply by tapping on the shutter button. Typically we’ll faucet on a topic to focus, however we wished to verify outcomes are much like what most customers can anticipate once they take pictures with these telephones. There have been no tripods concerned, no modifying, and no use of handbook modes, which a few of these cameras present. Moreover, our picks — which we tried to make with objectivity and information — are nonetheless subjective. It’s possible you’ll end up disagreeing with just a few selections, and that’s all proper. Ultimately, it’s the {photograph} you want that wins.

We analyzed these pictures on a professional-grade monitor with glorious coloration calibration, so pictures could look slightly totally different based mostly on the display you’re utilizing to view them.

Shrine at Yoyogi Park

Our journey begins at a shrine in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, with a theme you’ll come throughout all through this photograph comparability: Nearly all of those pictures are good and shareable. Smartphone images has excelled dramatically, so we’re actually nitpicking right here, however there are sometimes some clear standouts as properly.

All of those telephones uncovered the underside of the gate’s roof properly in opposition to the intense sky. However our least favourite are from the LG V40 ThinQ and the iPhone XS Max. The sky is an unnatural blue in some areas, veering on overexposed, and the V40 makes the wooden too purple as a substitute of brown. The OnePlus 6T follows with a equally reddish hue to the wooden. Our favorites are from the Mate 20 Professional, Galaxy Notice 9, and Pixel 3, and out of those it’s the Pixel Three photograph we’d share. It doesn’t expose the underside of the roof as a lot as the opposite two — simply sufficient — nevertheless it has the very best blue sky, and the wooden is the best coloration of brown. The Mate 20 Professional photograph is great, however the sky isn’t as blue as we’d like, and the wooden continues to be not as darkish brown accurately. The Notice 9 suffers the identical downside. These variations are small, and in the end subjective as properly. You possibly can’t go flawed sharing any of those pictures.

Winner: Google Pixel 3

Mount Fuji

We now traverse to Lake Kawaguchiko close to Mount Fuji, and we run into the identical downside because the final photograph. All of those pictures are nice. Smartphone cameras — from low cost to costly — all shine in daylight more often than not. Our winner right here is the iPhone XS Max.

The Notice 9 overexposes one facet of the picture, whereas the Pixel Three underexposes the hill of timber on the left. The bushes within the foreground of the Mate 20 Professional’s photograph are an unnatural tint, and we don’t just like the sky within the V40 ThinQ’s photograph. The OnePlus 6T comes very near the highest spot right here; the iPhone XS Max’s photograph wins as a result of it seems to be even higher. The timber are well-exposed, the sky seems to be lovely, Mount Fuji’s snow-capped peak has good distinction, and the bushes within the foreground are the best coloration. However as we talked about earlier, any of those pictures are value sharing.

Winner: iPhone XS Max

Maple Hall

This was a difficult shot for all of the telephones, as a result of there’s a sure look we wished to seize, however the lighting and coloration of the leaves weren’t popping as we wished. That is an instance of a situation the place we wished punchier colours than actual life. The Pixel Three gives essentially the most life like photograph, nevertheless it doesn’t look too attention-grabbing visually. The leaves are boring. The Notice 9 fares a bit higher with the leaves within the trench, however the sky is just too overexposed; the identical rings true for the Mate 20 Professional. The LG v40 does a very good job right here, nevertheless it persistently delivers a sky that appears unnaturally blue.

It’s right down to the OnePlus 6T and the iPhone XS Max, and we’re giving it to the latter once more. The 6T overexposes the sky, and a few elements of the ditch are too darkish. The iPhone photograph is well-exposed, and colours shine by and pop. It has maybe a barely too yellow tone, nevertheless it’s nonetheless the photograph we’d share of the lot.

Winner: iPhone XS Max

Meals: Natto

Natto is a fermented soybean dish that’s historically eaten at breakfast in Japan. It’s an acquired style, as we’ve discovered, and the feel is sticky and slimy. It’s served right here with spring onions on high. Our telephones excelled right here, however we now have to place the OnePlus 6T final. The sunshine mirrored on the bowl and the beans are blue, and look unusual.

Our favourite photograph by way of element is definitely the Pixel 3. It seems to be brilliantly sharp, nevertheless it’s not our favourite general as a result of the colour temperature is just too cool. The V40’s photograph is just too saturated, and the Notice 9’s bowl is just too yellow. Our favorites come on this order: The Mate 20 Professional first, then the iPhone XS Max, after which the Pixel 3. The iPhone photograph seems to be pure, with good coloration and publicity, however the photograph nonetheless seems to be slightly flat and lacks distinction.  The Mate 20 Professional’s photograph isn’t as yellow as others, nevertheless it’s nonetheless punchy and sharp, making the natto look attractive.

Winner: Huawei Mate 20 Professional

Meals: Gyoza

Gyoza are dumplings with pork and greens, and we ate some at a spot known as Harajuku Gyozaro in Tokyo. Most of those pictures make the gyoza look appetizing, however one telephone come final, surprisingly: The iPhone XS Max. The dumplings have an extremely boring shine, virtually wanting slightly grey, and so they don’t look inviting in any respect. The Mate 20 Professional has the very best white steadiness, however the dumplings don’t look as scrumptious; zoom in and particulars aren’t as sharp as properly.

The OnePlus 6T and LG V40 ThinQ pictures are sharp, however the coloration temperature is just too heat. The Pixel Three comes shut, nevertheless it’s the Galaxy Notice 9’s photograph that has the very best element on the gyoza, whereas sustaining good coloration and stable white steadiness.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Notice 9

Kyoto temple at nightfall

We’re now in Kyoto, at a temple named Higashiyama Jisho-ji. It’s round sundown, and this space had little gentle left. There are two clear winners: The Pixel 3, and the iPhone XS Max. The Notice 9 doesn’t do a horrible job, however particulars are fairly fuzzy throughout. The Mate 20 Professional overexposes the sky, and  whereas particulars are stronger than within the Notice 9 photograph, it doesn’t fairly match the Pixel Three or iPhone XS. The V40 photograph has nice colours and it’s properly uncovered, it’s only a disgrace that the photograph is totally blurry. The OnePlus 6T additionally makes a surprisingly robust effort right here, however the sky is overexposed.

The iPhone XS Max photograph is extremely darkish, but near the profitable spot as a result of element is extremely robust. However the Pixel Three manages to ship a photograph that’s well-exposed and colourful, with robust particulars. It simply takes the win. (Notice: We didn’t use the “night time mode” some telephone cameras present; you possibly can see a comparability of these beneath.) 

Winner: Google Pixel 3

Streets of Osaka

We’ve traveled now to the streets of Osaka. It’s arduous to search out a lot fault with most of those pictures as they’re all nice, however these from two telephones shine above the others: the Pixel Three and the Mate 20 Professional. The Notice 9’s picture loses some element in some areas, such because the pavement to the left facet. The iPhone XS Max’s photograph isn’t as sharp, and all of the lights have an odd glow. The V40 and OnePlus 6T do a very good job right here, however the coloration temperature is just too reddish.

The Pixel Three and the Mate 20 Professional ship the strongest element with good coloration, however we’re giving the win to Google for one particular cause: The Mate 20 Professional’s photograph is over-sharpened. It seems to be closely edited, an unnatural look that stops us from desirous to share it.

Winner: Google Pixel 3 

Tokyo skyline

We’re again in Tokyo now, on the Tokyo Metropolitan Authorities Constructing observatory in Shinjuku. It’s the place you possibly can check out Tokyo’s skyline with out paying a charge. We’re pleased with a lot of the pictures right here, nevertheless it’s the Mate 20 Professional that takes the cake. It offers us the photograph we wish, with as many shimmering metropolis lights as doable. The lights have a slight reddish hue, however we love the inky blacks all through the image.

The Pixel Three photograph seems to be good, nevertheless it’s too grainy (particularly across the sky on the best facet), and it’s not as sharp. The Notice 9 photograph seems to be nice, however we’d have appreciated extra distinction. The iPhone XS Max photograph is on the yellow facet, it’s grainy, and never as detailed. The V40 veers on being overexposed, and whereas the OnePlus 6T makes a robust effort right here, it’s grainy in some areas, and never as detailed.

Winner: Huawei Mate 20 Professional

Night time Sight vs. Night time Mode vs. Nightscape

Some smartphone producers launched an evening mode of their telephones this yr to assist seize higher low-light images. It’s a separate mode you faucet on within the digital camera app, and it basically takes a number of pictures in an extended publicity earlier than stitching the very best ones collectively. The Google Pixel 3’s mode is known as Night time Sight, the Mate 20 Professional makes use of Night time Mode, and the OnePlus 6T makes use of Nightscape. We’ve in contrast Night time Sight and Night time Mode earlier than, so right here’s a have a look at all three. We used Night time Sight on the similar places we’ve seize earlier than above, so you possibly can immediately evaluate them with outcomes from the opposite telephones as properly.

First, we’re again on the temple in Kyoto, and there’s simply a transparent winner: The Pixel 3. The change Night time Sight brings is nearly magical: The photograph illuminates all colours precisely, and element is beautiful for the way darkish it was on the time. The Mate 20 Professional does a a lot better job with the sky when in comparison with its non-Night time Mode photograph, however particulars are a bit too blotchy. We’re not fairly positive what occurred with the OnePlus 6T’s photograph, as we like its regular photograph greater than the Nightscape one. It’s merely blurry, and the sky is overexposed.

The second set is again on the Tokyo Metropolitan Authorities constructing, and it’s the Pixel 3’s Night time Sight that impresses once more. It delivers higher blacks, a way more colourful photograph that pops with metropolis lights, and it’s not as grainy as earlier than. The Mate 20 Professional’s Night time Mode does a very good job right here, however distinction isn’t too robust, and the yellow coloration temperature is overwhelming. It does illuminate extra gadgets than the Pixel 3, however that’s not essentially a very good factor right here. We just like the Pixel 3’s blacks as a result of it makes town lights look punchier. The OnePlus 6T’s photograph is best than its regular one — actually delivering a fantastic sky — however the coloration temperature can be slightly too heat for our tastes.

Winner: Google Pixel 3 

Optical zoom vs. Digital zoom: Tokyo Tower

Most smartphones have a second digital camera that provides 2× optical zoom. On this check, that’s the Galaxy Notice 9, the LG V40 ThinQ, and the iPhone XS Max. The Mate 20 Professional goes a step additional with 3× optical zoom. It means you may get nearer to the topic, with out dropping picture high quality. The OnePlus 6T and the Google Pixel Three do not need optical zoom; as a substitute they digitally crop the unique photograph to zoom in, so picture high quality suffers. We’ve nonetheless added them right here for comparability’s sake. OnePlus gives a 2× button because the iPhone does, which is what we’ve used, and you’ll double faucet the viewfinder on the Pixel Three to zoom in rapidly, which is the zoom degree we opted for. It’s doubtless slightly extra zoomed in than the opposite pictures.

We’re again in Tokyo wanting on the iconic Tokyo Tower. Of the 4 telephones with optical zoom, we just like the iPhone XS Max photograph essentially the most. The Notice 9 has a tricky time dealing with the white elements of the tower, although we like the whole lot else about it. The Mate 20 Professional muddles the sky an excessive amount of, nevertheless it does zoom in essentially the most; the V40 has weaker particulars and an odd glow across the tower that makes it look unnatural.

The Pixel Three and the OnePlus 6T maintain their very own right here, although element is slightly fuzzier on the latter telephone’s photograph. The Pixel Three makes use of A.I. with a function known as Tremendous Res Zoom to reinforce the photograph at increased zoom ranges, which is why it seems to be surprisingly good for the extent of digital zoom. It will probably’t match the standard optical zoom gives, although, and the iPhone XS Max wins.

Winner: iPhone XS Max

Optical zoom vs. Digital zoom: Imperial Palace

Let’s convey the iPhone XR into the enjoyable. It has the identical single-lens digital camera because the iPhone XS, nevertheless it lacks a secondary digital camera. So we’re zooming in roughly to the two× mark — which is what we did for the Pixel Three and OnePlus 6T right here as properly. These pictures seize the Imperial Palace within the Chiyoda Ward of Tokyo.

Evaluating the optical zoom pictures, the iPhone XS Max and the Mate 20 Professional come out on high. The V40 and the Notice 9 don’t have the strongest element, and the V40 photograph is slightly underexposed. We just like the Mate 20 Professional photograph finest, solely as a result of it zooms in essentially the most and maintains glorious high quality, permitting us to border the photograph higher.

The Pixel 3’s photograph is shareable, nevertheless it seems to be closely edited. The OnePlus 6T lacks element and distinction. The iPhone XR delivers glorious colours, however the photograph simply by no means seems to be sharp in any space should you zoom in. It’s nonetheless a formidable effort from the Pixel Three and the XR.

Winner: Huawei Mate 20 Professional

Optical zoom vs. Digital zoom: Skyline

Again with the unique group of telephones (no iPhone XR), we’re on the high of the Tokyo Tower, capturing the skyline in the course of the day. Our decide is the Galaxy Notice 9, which delivers good particulars and coloration. The iPhone XS Max has an odd blue tint; the Mate 20 Professional’s photograph isn’t sharp in any respect; and the V40’s photograph seems to be over-sharpened — have a look at the timber beneath the buildings within the heart.

The Pixel Three makes a very good effort, nevertheless it’s not colourful sufficient. The OnePlus 6T surprises with an ideal photograph as properly, however it may well’t match the element from the Notice 9.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Notice 9

Zooming in to the max

You actually ought to by no means zoom in all the way in which in your smartphone to take an image. It’s cropping the photograph, which suggests you’re going to get horrible picture high quality. But individuals do it on a regular basis, so we wished to see how the sort of photograph fares — particularly with Google’s Tremendous Res Zoom utilizing A.I. to reinforce zoomed in pictures. Our favorites got here right down to the Mate 20 Professional, and the Pixel 3: They merely have the very best element and coloration, even when they each are nonetheless pictures we might not share.

The Notice 9 is overexposed, and the remainder are merely far too blotchy.

Winner: Huawei Mate 20 Professional

Large-angle showdown: Harajuku

Let’s give a lot of the telephones a break right here and try the Mate 20 Professional and the LG V40 ThinQ, the one two on this checklist with wide-angle rear cameras. This function helps you to seize much more in a scene, boosting the digital camera’s versatility. These pictures seize a slender however busy avenue in Harajuku, Tokyo.

Each are nice, however the LG V40 ThinQ photograph is the one we’d share. The Mate 20 Professional spreads a heat hue all through the photograph, whereas the V40 photograph seems to be extra colourful and pure. The Mate 20 Professional photograph is best uncovered — the sky isn’t as white in the direction of the again — and element is a tad stronger, however the coloration tint places us off. The V40 additionally delivers much less distortion on the sides of the photograph.

Winner: LG V40 ThinQ

Large-angle showdown: Yoyogi Park temple

We’re again on the temple gate in Yoyogi Park. Examine this photograph to the one from all of the telephones earlier, and you’ll see how rather more you get on this photograph utilizing a large angle lens. We love each pictures captured right here, and whereas the Mate 20 Professional has a slight reddish hue all through once more, we prefer it extra for the sharper particulars. Simply have a look at the bottom, and you’ll see much more texture than the V40 ThinQ photograph.

We’d say the Mate 20 Professional’s wide-angle digital camera often wins out by way of element, however the V40 gives barely higher white steadiness often, and fewer distortion.

Winner: Huawei Mate 20 Professional


Selfies are essential, and right here’s one we took in Tokyo at night time close to the Chiyoda Ward. The winner is definitely the Pixel 3. It has the very best element and coloration, and illuminates the whole lot completely. The Notice 9 and iPhone XS Max pictures are too fuzzy, and the V40 photograph is overexposed, with unflattering pores and skin tone colours. The Mate 20 Professional and OnePlus 6T ship good pictures, however they’re merely not as sharp because the Pixel 3’s selfie.

Winner: Google Pixel 3 

Portrait Mode: Tsukiji Market

Portrait Mode is a function that’s obtainable on virtually each smartphone, whether or not it prices $250 or $1,000 (and right here’s how one can get essentially the most out of it). Most telephones use a second digital camera whereas just a few simply use software program to create a blur impact behind a topic. We’re together with the iPhone XR right here, as a result of it takes totally different Portrait Mode pictures with the single-lens digital camera than the iPhone XS and XS Max.

There are 4 good pictures in our first check, and so they come from the Pixel 3, the iPhone XS, the iPhone XR, and the Mate 20 Professional. The Pixel Three makes essentially the most errors with the blur cutout — have a look at the woman’s boots within the background. It additionally has a barely heat hue within the background that we don’t like as a lot. The iPhone XR has the weakest blur, and it messes up the blur on the skewer. The Mate 20 Professional and iPhone XS pictures are glorious, nevertheless it in the end comes right down to pores and skin tone. The iPhone XS Max’s photograph has the very best pores and skin tone out of all of the telephones right here, making the photograph look extra inviting. That provides it a really slender win over the Mate 20 Professional.

Winner: iPhone XS Max

Portrait Mode: Low Mild

Portrait Mode may be hit and miss when it’s darkish out. We’re not followers of pictures from the Notice 9, iPhone XS, OnePlus 6T, or the LG V40. They’re both too grainy, too fuzzy with particulars, or too overexposed. The Mate 20 Professional’s photograph comes near profitable, however the topic’s face is just too blurry.

It comes right down to the Pixel Three and the iPhone XR. We love the Pixel 3’s brightness and coloration, however there’s merely an excessive amount of grain within the topic’s face. The iPhone XR impresses with element, nevertheless it’s a lot darker. However the iPhone XR’s downside is simple to repair with just a few edits, which is why we’re giving it the win. The element actually is beautiful.

Winner: iPhone XR

Portrait Mode selfies

Who doesn’t love utilizing Portrait Mode for selfies? All these telephones have the aptitude, however the Pixel Three comes out on high for providing the very best element and coloration. The opposite telephones fall for related causes as our authentic selfie check.

Winner: Google Pixel 3 

Large angle selfies

Solely two telephones in our group have a wide-angle digital camera on the entrance: The Pixel Three and the LG V40 ThinQ. Additionally for transparency’s sake, this photograph isn’t from Japan, however again house in Brooklyn at night time. Large angle cameras on the entrance of the telephone are excellent for selfies with multiple individual, or if you wish to get extra of the background within the shot. The winner is simple to decide on right here. The Pixel Three delivers stronger particulars, higher coloration, and it’s much better uncovered than the V40’s blurry selfie. Pit these selfies in opposition to these within the authentic selfie comparability, and you’ll see how rather more the extensive angle selfie digital camera can seize.

Winner: Google Pixel 3 


This digital camera comparability is among the hardest we’ve ever completed, as a result of a lot of the pictures from our checks have come out nice. Even the $550 OnePlus 6T impressed us with its high quality and skill to match in opposition to its costlier friends. There’s nonetheless work to be completed, however 2018 has been yet one more glorious yr for smartphone cameras.

In our check, the Google Pixel 3 narrowly snatched a win over the Mate 20 Professional — that’s should you embrace or exclude the precise checks akin to Night time Sight or the Large Angle cameras. Once more, you’ll have most popular different pictures than our picks because it’s all so subjective; one individual’s trash is one other’s treasure, proper? We do assume this check reaffirms that the Pixel Three and the Mate 20 Professional are the finest digital camera telephones you should purchase proper now. We’re excited to see what Google and Huawei have in retailer for us in 2019, and we’re wanting ahead to seeing the enhancements made by all the opposite smartphone producers.

Shop Amazon