Mobile Flagship Phone Camera Overview 2020 H1: Still Picture Battle

These days whenever you select a flagship smartphone, you generally get more or less the same fundamental formula no matter the vendor you chose. It’s a glass slab with a screen, and more often than not even the internal hardware powering the phones isn’t all that different, with just a few exceptions. Whilst most vendors try to differentiate themselves in their designs and ergonomics – some with more success than others – the one aspect where smartphones can still be very different from each other is their cameras.

This year we’ve seen smartphones with more variety than ever in terms of their camera setups. The last few years has seen an explosion of fast-paced innovation in the image capture abilities of smartphones, with vendors focusing on this last aspect of a phone where they can truly differentiate themselves from others, and try to one-up the competition.

We’re halfway through 2020, and almost all vendors have released their primary flagship devices – many of which we still had yet to cover in full reviews. This was a perfect opportunity to put all of the new generation devices against each other and compare their cameras systems to really showcase just how different (or similar) they are to each other. Today’s article is a battle-royale for smartphone photography, providing an apples-to-apples comparison across the most important devices available today.

Before we go into the picture reviews and analysis of the different scenarios, it’s good to have a refresher of what the different phones sport in terms of their hardware, and what makes them stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro & iPhone SE ( Initial Review, SE Review )

Apple’s phones here represent the oldest devices in the round-up, being released last September. The iPhone 11 Pro was a major step-up for Apple in the camera department – both design-wise and hardware-wise. On the main camera sensor Apple still went with a regular 12MP Bayer sensor, employing 1.4µm pixels as its predecessors, but for the first time we see the use of dual-photodiodes which can serve as full sensor phase-detect auto-focus points as well as aid wider dynamic range exposures.

The main camera is joined by a 12MP telephoto module, as well as for the first time for Apple a ultra-wide-angle module that had been the great rage in 2019. All in all, Apple’s hardware wasn’t all that innovative as there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before. Where the iPhone does differ is in its image processing, as the new A13 chip here is able to employ a stronger ISP and greater computing performance, allowing new features such as night mode and deep fusion image merging for better details.

In April this year, Apple also launched the iPhone SE. This budget iPhone uses the same camera hardware as on the iPhone 8, but takes advantage of some of the new image processing prowess of the A13 chip. It’s a simple single camera setup, so it’s a pretty straightforward design.

Samsung’s Galaxy S20+ and Galaxy S20 Ultra ( Initial Review )

Samsung’s Galaxy S20 series also had a huge year in 2020 in terms of the camera hardware. Starting off with the new Galaxy S20+, Samsung here employed an unusual but innovative setup, using a primary module with a 12MP sensor with 1.8µm pitch pixels, with 26mm equivalent focal length optics. There’s a second 28mm equivalent focal length module on the phone which is very unusual. The sensor here captures up to 64MP pictures and also serves as the video camera for 8K recording. In essence, the phone has no real optical telephoto module, but rather uses the higher resolution sensor to be able to crop in with greater detail. Both these sensors are of the newer generation 1/1.7” size which allow them to capture more light.

The ultra-wide module also saw an upgrade to a bigger sensor and upgrades the pixel pitch to 1.4µm, however we lose resolution as this year it’s only 12MP.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s camera setup is quite extravagant in its size. With a 108MP 1/1.33” sensor with 0.8µm pixels it’s amongst the biggest sensors out there. Samsung opted to go for a 3×3 Nona-Bayer colour filter setup which is unique, and means that the sensor captures 12MP pictures in every-day scenarios.

The zoom module on the S20U is also huge: Samsung crammed in the IMX586 into a periscope telephoto module, resulting in a 4x optical zoom / 103mm equivalent focal length. Thanks to the 48MP sensor, this can be cropped a lot, achieving good quality up to around 10x zoom.

Google’s Pixel 4 ( Initial Review )

The other 2019 device in this list is Google’s Pixel 4 phone. Google’s forte is clearly on the software side, showcasing some excellent image processing. On the hardware side, things are a bit simpler. We’re seeing a 12MP main sensor that’s seemingly quite older, as well as telephoto lens that’s actually a 43mm equivalent with 1.6x zoom, compensated by the fact that the sensor is a 16MP unit. Such an approach allows for better intermediate zoom level quality. What’s really missing here is an ultra-wide-angle module, and alongside the new iPhone SE, it’s the only other phone in this comparison lacking such a camera view.

OnePlus’ 8 & 8 Pro ( Announcement )

OnePlus this year also had some big improvements in the camera department – at least the Pro version did. The OnePlus 8 Pro features amongst the first uses of the new Sony IMX689 sensor which is a 1/1.4” module featuring 48MP 1.12µm pixels in a quad-bayer colour filter layout (2.44µm 12MP binned). It’s amongst the more sensible choices and represents a compromise between the low-MP vs high-MP designs out there. There’s a 3x optical telephoto module coming at 8MP resolution, and the ultra-wide-angle actually adopts the IMX586 – last year’s popular sensor at 48MP (0.8µmnative / 1.6µm binned pixels).

The regular OnePlus 8 sees this same sensor on its main camera – in essence here nothing changed compared to the OnePlus 7 Pro except that it’s lacking a dedicated telephoto camera, instead using the main camera sensor in its 48MP in a crop mode to get to 2x magnification pictures with little quality loss.

OnePlus this year has seemingly worked a lot on their image processing, resulting in better quality than prior years.

Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro & P40 Pro ( Initial Review, Announcement )

Huawei’s efforts over the last years in the P-series can be strongly attributed to sparking the recent boom in smartphone camera advances, having been the first to popularise high-megapixel sensor usage as well as the first to come to market with computational photography modes such as Night Mode. The company has really been pushing it in terms of both hardware and software.

The Mate 30 Pro was released late last year and uses a 40MP RYYB sensor – still a large 1/1.7” unit. There’s an 8MP 3x telephoto module for further reach, and the special thing about Huawei’s new phones is that the ultra-wide-angle is actually a 3:2 format sensor rather than the usual 4:3 aspect ratio, resulting in a different field of view than what you’re normally used to. This 40MP sensor is still very big and is the largest of this kind on the market.

The newer P40 Pro updates the main camera sensor to a new 50MP 1/1.28” unit, making this the largest camera sensor out there in the market. Each pixel is natively 1.22µm in dimensions and Huawei is binning it to 2.44µm as it’s a quad-Bayer colour filter. The odd thing here is that the P40 Pro by default takes 27mm equivalent cropped wide-angle pictures even though the lens module is actually 23mm wide. Even weirder is that the phone scales this crop up back to 12MP. Something to keep in mind for the evaluation section.

The ultra-wide-angle is the same as on the Mate 30 Pro, but the telephoto module is another periscope design, featuring 5x optical magnification with a 12MP RYYB sensor, making that also the first and only of its kind featuring such a colour filter array on a telephoto module.

LG’s V60 ThinQ ( Announcement )

LG’s V60 is another dual-camera setup phone like the Pixel 4, with the difference being that LG opted to skip the telephoto instead of their pioneering use of ultra-wide-angle modules.

On the main camera, we’re seeing a new 64MP 1/1.7” sensor with 0.8µm pixels, binning down to 16MP for regular pictures. LG’s lack of a telephoto is compensated by the fact that the main sensor is of such a high resolution, and will actually capture a 16MP crop at 2x magnification while in the native resolution mode of the sensor, only losing a bit of dynamic range but still retaining near full resolution sharpness, making this in my view a quite well-working solution to the lack of a telephoto.

The ultra-wide-angle is a 13MP unit with a 1.0µm pixel pitch sensor and a 117° field of view (15mm equivalent).

Xiaomi’s Mi 10 Pro ( Announcement )

Xiaomi was the first vendor to bring to market Samsung’s new 108MP HMX sensor. It’s of the same huge 1/1.3” size as that found in the S20 Ultra, but the difference here is that Xiaomi opts for a regular quad-Bayer colour filter array, meaning that the phone on this camera actually captures 27MP images natively, notably more than any other phone.

What Xiaomi also does on the telephoto end is also extremely interesting. Instead of going with a periscope module, they’ve managed to use a regular module design to achieve a 5x optical zoom module thanks to a small 1.0µm 8MP sensor. Xiaomi also thought of the issue of the quality gap between the focal ranges of the modules and bridged this with a traditional 2x optical zoom module coming in at 12MP.

The fourth camera is the ultra-wide-angle with a 20MP unit with 1.0µm pixels. Generally, Xiaomi’s approach to the camera setup seems extremely level-headed as it avoids many compromises we’ve seen from more ambitious designs such as in the S20 Ultra or other periscope camera designs.

OPPO’s Reno3 Pro & Reno3 Pro 5G

Although not OPPO’s flagship phones for 2020, the two units are interesting as they’re featuring similar camera setups configured by the same vendor, but coming in a MediaTek and Qualcomm SoC variants. The telephoto module and ultra-wides are the same on both, a 13MP f/2.4 2x optical with 1.0µm pixel pitches and 8MP f/2.2 13mm equivalent with 1.4µm pixel sensors.

The main sensor differs between the units. The Pro 5G comes with a smaller 1/2.0” sensor with 0.8µm pixels at 48MP, whilst the European Reno 3 Pro comes with a 64MP 1/1.7” sensor with the same pixel pitch size. Both do quad-Bayer binning to respectively 12 and 16MP resolution shots.

Reference Camera – Fujifilm X-T30

Over the last few years in our camera reviews there had always been a lot of discussions about the colour reproduction of various smartphones – which one was accurate and which wasn’t? As an addition to this year’s reviews I had started to include a mirrorless camera to act as a reference point for this.

I’m using a Fujifilm X-T30 which uses a 26.1MP APS-C format sensor (3.77µm pixel pitch). The lens is a fairly standard and common 18-55mm f/2.8-4.

The pictures were captured in RAW format and processed in Capture One for manual recovery of dynamic range and exposure to as accurate as I could based on the scenes. Colours remained unaltered.

Goal of the Article

The goal of the evaluation is mainly surrounding the technical aspects that each smartphone vendor has adopted in their design. We’re looking to juxtapose the different camera sensor and optical technologies between the various vendors and try to come to some sort of verdict of the best implementations. We’ll try to pin down the camera’s strengths and weaknesses, both from a hardware and software perspective.

The evaluation here is just based on technical landscape still picture photography. Portrait or video evaluations aren’t in the scope of the piece (for various practical reasons).

We’ll be going through the various aspects of the cameras topic by topic, and a good start would be talking about the HDR implementations of the various phones and looking at how much dynamic range they’re able to squeeze out of their hardware. This will be mainly about the main camera sensors, so it’s also a good opportunity to highlight the differences here also in regards to resolution and sharpness.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] – [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
 
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

This first scene down by a creek in the forest is probably the most challenging shot as the contrast between the dark and sunlit areas is extremely large, requiring the phones to capture as much dynamic range as possible and to process it correctly.

Apple does a great job at balancing the composition between the iPhone 11 Pro and the new iPhone SE. The latter does lack in dynamic range towards the shadows but that’s natural given the older sensor. The exposure is extremely good with a wide dynamic range, although the highlights are a bit too bright, something most phones will struggle with here.

Google’s Pixel 4 does a bit worse in terms of dynamic range with both darker shadows and brighter highlights. The main problem for me here was the phone’s colour temperature which was too warm and off-mark.

Samsung’s S20 Ultra and S20+ both failed spectacularly here in the processing as we’re seeing crushed shadows and blown highlights. It’s this kind of shot that I feel the S10 series wouldn’t have had such big issues and marks a change in the company’s processing. In the high-resolution 108MP images, the S20 Ultra does even worse with further degraded shadows, while the 64MP module of the S20+ actually fares significantly better here, with better dynamic range and colours.

OnePlus’ 8 and 8 Pro have excellent HDR algorithms here and are able to give an overall good exposure for the whole scene, but we see dark shadows either being clipped or too emphasised. It’s very easy to see the 8 Pro’s dynamic range advantage over the 8 as the phone’s newer bigger sensor just has that much more information per pixel to work with.

LG’s V60 does an excellent job in the shadows and there’s very little to reproach the phone for in terms of composition, even if the highlights are again a little bit bright. If we look at the 64MP picture then it’s a perfect example of how much of the dynamic range can be recovered thanks to the sensor’s 4:1 binning of pixels and on-chip HDR processing.

Xiaomi’s Mi 10 Pro does OK but lacks in dynamic range in the shadows. Between the 27MP and 108MP mode images the obvious difference is again in the shadows that suffer in the high-res mode.

Huawei’s devices are middle of the road in terms of the HDR. I feel like there’s a lack of saturation on the P40 Pro, generally an issue with Huawei’s phones when you’re not in AI mode to artificially apply an excessive filter.

OPPO’s Reno3 Pro phones couldn’t be more different from each other. The Qualcomm 5G variant with the Snapdragon 765 generally is again overexposed in the highlights, but the MediaTek variant has some very unique processing and is the best at actually handling the highlights of this scene while maintaining good shadows. There’s an odd grid-like pattern in the shadows though, and in genera the picture is a bit too desaturated.

Overall, this was a though scene and none of the phones really were capable of a good reproduction of the scene, however the iPhones do more clearly separate themselves from the Android crowd due to better dynamic range and good colours.

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[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] – [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

We move on from that challenging scene to something still very dynamic, but let’s have a little more focus on colours.

Apple’s colour rendition here on the iPhones is excellent, and we do see the SE’s warmer colour temperature typical of older iPhone cameras to pop up again. Google’s Pixel 4 also does even a bit better with the colours but the shadows are a bit too dark and losing out in this part of the dynamic range.

Samsung’s results are good but they’re leaning for a tad higher exposure which seems to flatten out some textures such as the brick wall a bit too much. What’s odd there is that the S20+ clearly has the better picture compared to the S20U as it has a better dynamic range. As a reminder, it’s the Snapdragon S20 Ultra versus the Exynos S20+. The colours are generally a bit warm.

OnePlus’ colours are ok, however the HDR tonal mapping in this shot isn’t. The processing is flattening all the highlight tones into the same levels and it’s making a lot of the vegetation lose out in depth.  Xiaomi also has a similar characteristic in that some of the highlights seem to have been processed down

The LG V60 here did really well and it’s the closest phone to match the Fuji camera in terms of exposures and tone curves.

On the Huawei phones the Mate 30 pro opted for a darker exposure which I guess is fine, but this does end up with a lot of clipped shadows. The P40 Pro has a more realistic exposure and in this regard it does really well but again the colours without the AI processing just seem a tad desaturated.

On the OPPO phones the Qualcomm Reno3 Pro has much better colours, however the MediaTek variant clearly has much better dynamic range handling, which unfortunately ends up with a lack of colour depth and desaturated colours.

Overall, I think LG’s V60 did the best job in terms of the colour renditions. It’s something they had greatly improved last year with the G8 and again did very well in this generation.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] – [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

The next scene also is sensible to the HDR processing, but we’ll also try to pay a bit more attention to detail that the main cameras can achieve.

Apple has excellent results on both the 11 Pro and the SE, however the 11 Pro’s newer sensor or camera calibration is able to give colours a little more depth and saturation. Google’s Pixel 4 has a very similar picture, albeit a bit warmer and less shadow detail, and loses out to the iPhone in terms of detail and sharpness in the majority of the picture.

Samsung’s S20 Ultra does excellently in terms of sharpness in its 12MP picture – it seems they had toned down the over sharpening that we initially covered in our review of the phones. The S20+ is about on par with the iPhone 11 Pro in the sharpness.

In the 108MP and 64MP modes of the phones the S20 Ultra does get higher amounts of detail, but it’s also significantly noisier than the S20+. The S20+ also has a better dynamic range with its 64MP sensor.

The OnePlus 8 phones are very different in the composition here. The regular 8 really tones down the highlights too much and this makes the image look too flat, especially in the sunlit elements. The 8 Pro has this habit of darkening dark shadows to near black which I’m pretty sure is a purposeful processing choice by OnePlus which they had made last year in trying to copy Google’s limited dynamic range in the Pixel 3. Detail-wise, the 8 Pro is the clear winner here and on par with the iPhone and S20+.

In the 48MP modes of the phones, the regular 8 came out really soft, I hope the camera actually focused correctly here. On the 8 Pro it’s a lot sharper but doesn’t match up the S20’s.

If you look at the middle-right at the fence between the two tree trunks you’ll see some interesting behaviour of the camera sensor: it has issues with properly demosaicing the quad-Bayer colour filter correctly and it results in squiggly lines instead of the straight grid pattern of the fence.

The LG V60 here has an excellent overall composition and really is only characterised by that overblown building façade. It’s actually something I had to bring down on the Fuji as well but I prefer this to be maintained on the phone as otherwise we end up with too flat highlights in the remainder of the scene. LG has a natural advantage due to capturing pictures at a default 16MP rather than most other 12MP phones and this directly translates into more detail. The 64MP mode is excellent and easily outperforms both S20 phones in effective resolution.

The Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro in theory should be the highest resolution phone here as its main sensor is native at 27MP in terms of chroma resolution, but this doesn’t directly translate as I think the optics aren’t holding up as well as one would think. Still it is better than the 12/16MP shooters. In 108MP mode it’s about on par with the S20 Ultra but suffers from worse micro-contrast which again I think is due to optics.

Huawei’s results are a bit odd as I would say the P40 is less sharp than the Mate 30. The newer phone crops to 27mm focal length from 23mm, and then stretches out the image to fill in the 12MP resolution again, which to me seems like a pointless thing to do. In the high-res 50MP mode the P40 Pro regains its native field-of-view. Details here are OK but not holding up to the resolution and isn’t able to hold up to other phones.

Notice in the same spot on the fence between the two trees again the squiggly lines, almost identical to the ones on the OnePlus 8 Pro – an artefact of Sony’s quad-Bayer image sensor demosaicing.

On OPPO’s phones the MediaTek regular Reno3 Pro is the clear winner thanks to the higher resolution sensor. Colour differences aside, it’s just a bigger sensor that is able to capture more. The 64MP pictures here I don’t think are actually 64MP but 16MP blown up – maybe the phone doesn’t actually capture native high res in demanding dynamic range scenarios.

Overall, the V60 was very impressive in terms of its detail retention and the champ when it comes to resolution thanks to its 16MP standard capture mode. The Mi 10 should have won this but the phone is seemingly handicapped by the optics.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] – [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

Quickly going over the results of this shot, I feel like a ton of phones had problems with exposure composition and colour balance as the scene confused the algorithms. Apple, LG, Xiaomi and OPPO were far too warm. Samsung did ok, OnePlus and Huawei did better with the colours although both the OP8’s and the P40 Pro feel like they’ve added artificial contrast to the scene (particularly the right rock face).

The discrepancies here between the vendor is really big and frankly shocked me as I didn’t expect such results in modern phones. If I had to pick a favourite it would go with the OnePlus 8 Pro here.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] – [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

In less challenging lighting conditions, the phones also need to step up and deliver good colours, exposures and details. This early evening in the city has very little in terms of bright elements or highlights so it should be easier for the phones to get to something comparable.

A lot of the phones again have trouble aiming for a good colour temperature but the cooler OP8Pro and the P40 Pro were closest to the target. In terms of exposure and dynamic range the iPhone 11 Pro, S20+ and Pixel 4 had the best results. The OP8Pro also has some fantastic result but I can’t get over those artificially blackened shadows, it gives it a very nice contrasty look but it’s not realistic, things aren’t painted in vantablack to appear like that in daylight.

In terms of high-resolution capture modes, I would again give it to the LG V60 as having the most detailed shots, followed by the S20+.

Overall Main Camera

Overall, the first impression in terms of the various camera sensor technologies is that you don’t necessarily need a super high-res sensor to compete, although it does help. Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro consistently did amongst the most balanced shots of all the phones thanks to great processing. It’s not always exactly on point with colour temperature but it does manage to get it right more often than the other vendors. The Pixel 4’s camera system just fees a bit outdated and the pictures are very much outmatched by either the iPhone or another Android competitor.

Samsung’s processing in the majority of the time is very good, but sometimes has its oddities in terms of colour. The S20+ consistently outperformed the S20 Ultra in these tests, I don’t know if that’s a camera setup or a chipset difference here as I didn’t bring the Exynos S20 Ultra for testing this time around. In general, the 108MP sensors on both the S20 Ultra and the Mi 10 Pro were a bit disappointing as they showcased worth results both in dynamic range and detail compared to other phones.

LG’s V60 was surprisingly good and in some scenes amongst the best in terms of colour and exposure composition. It’s also the phone that’s the sharpest on the main camera, both in it’s 16MP default mode and 64MP high-res mode.

Huawei never had a strong point in daylight photography and even the P40 Pro again doesn’t resolve some of its issues, with the Mate 30 pro sometimes having better processing. The 50MP sensor also doesn’t convince too much, both because of the weird 23mm to 27mm cropping and subsequent image stretching to 12.6MP.

The OnePlus 8 Pro’s main camera is pretty fantastic and more often than not will be amongst the top performers. Only minus point is its purposefully contrast look that tends to clip shadows to black.

Over the last year or so we’ve seen a big focus on the telephoto aspect of new smartphones, with a lot of vendors introducing new innovative modules with greater optical magnification and longer focal lengths than what we’ve seen in years prior. Again, it’s been mostly a matter of a marketing arms race that had been triggered by Huawei with their P30 series phones and the introduction of “periscope” camera modules.

In general, there’s two distinct categories of phones nowadays, those who have any fancy camera modules that are able to zoom out by a factor greater than 2x / greater focal length than around 50mm equivalent, and the more traditional phones who limit themselves to that more classic area.

On top of that, we also have to pay attention to intermediate zoom levels – these long focal length modules have also brought with them the drawback that there will be quite a big quality gap at zoom levels greater than that of the main camera, but lower than that of the telephoto module.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ][ iPhone SE ][ P4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ]
[ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ]
[ Mi10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ]
[ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

In the first scene, amongst the zoom capabilities themselves, we also need to pay attention to the exposure of the scene as it’s something a ton of phones get wrong. This shot was obviously in broad daylight with the sun high up with no clouds, so we’d expect brighter exposures and bright highlights to be present.

Apple does about as well as you’d expect from a 2x optical module at a 2x magnification, but it does lack a bit in terms of dynamic range and could be a bit brighter with the last 5-10% of highlights being too low. Google’s Pixel 4 does better in the exposure and still does a very good job at 2x. Both phones don’t have optics to go further than this without loss, although they’re using multi-frame interpolation to digitally zoom further up to 10x/8x.

Neither the OnePlus 8 nor the LG V60 have telephoto modules, rather relying on the native high resolution of their main sensors to crop in a longer focal length frame. Both aren’t as good as dedicated telephoto modules, but they’re passable for your everyday capture at this range. The Samsung Galaxy S20+ actually also falls part into this category of phones without telephoto modules, but rather than falling back to the main camera module it uses its secondary wide high megapixel sensor to crop in. This module is much clearer and more detailed than either the OP8 or the V60’s 2x modes as it’s not (as far as we know) a quad-Bayer/Tetracell sensor, but a real native 64MP sensor.

On the S20 Ultra, there’s a big quality gap between 2x and 4x and for whatever reason on this more recent firmware I don’t see Samsung’s image fusion anymore, where they would superimpose the smaller telephoto image frame within the larger main camera frame and try to merge them together.

OPPO’s Reno 3 Pro with the MTK chipset actually performed much better than the Qualcomm variant here with a much better exposure and good detail, and the MTK variant also achieves better 5x digital zooming.

Zooming further in at 3x the Huawei Mate 30 Pro and the OnePlus 8 Pro do well and are about on par in terms of detail but I prefer the OP8Pro’s exposure and dynamic range.

Zooming further, there’s only 3 phones that are able to compete optically at zoom levels of 4-5x, and that’s the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, the Huawei P40 Pro and the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro, and in these samples it’s the P40 Pro who is the clear winner. The most shocking thing here is that the Mi 10 Pro also outperforms the S20 Ultra in terms of sharpness, even though it produces a smaller 8MP image versus the 12MP Galaxy. That’s quite an embarrassment for Samsung as the Xiaomi is able to do this with a traditional optical lens arrangement without any of the compromises that come with a periscope lens.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ P4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ]
[ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ]
[ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

The next scene is also in broad daylight and here a few more of the phones had problems with colour temperature and exposures. Apple wasn’t amongst them as the iPhone 11 Pro produced a pleasing and very good composition, probably the best of the group. Google also did well but is just too shy with the highlights.

The Samsung phones really do well as the S20 Ultra underexposes by 15% on the main sensor and 30% on the telephoto camera, producing a dark flat image. The S20+ does well on the main sensor but also too flat on the secondary module.

Huawei’s Mate 30 pro somehow does better colours than the P40 Pro as the latter is too desaturated again.

Checking out the phones which are able to reach out further than 2x zoom we see again the Huawei P40 Pro lead in terms of clarity and detail on the 5x shots. The exposure isn’t fantastic though as the f/3.4 aperture of the module seemingly doesn’t let enough light in for the exposure time the phone decides on.

The Samsung S20 Ultra shot at 5x is garbage here; excessive oversharpening ruins the shot and it’s outright worse quality than even some 3x telephoto modules such as from the OnePlus 8 Pro. The Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro even beats the S20 Ultra gain.

At 10x zoom the S20 Ultra turns off this idiotic processing and actually manages to outperform the P40 Pro now; all other phones at this zoom range have to heavily rely on digital cropping so aren’t competitive with the Samsung and Huawei flagships.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ P4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ]
[ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ]
[ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

Here again the scene isn’t only just good for zooming in but also the wide-angle shot is tough on the cameras as colours are hard for the phones to reproduce nicely, particularly an issue with exposure levels and tonal handling of the highlights of the vegetation which can appear too bright and flat.

Even Apple here has problems as things are too warm and colours are shifted a bit much. Things are a bit off with all the phones but I think the OnePlus 8 Pro did the best job overall, followed by the LG V60.

At maximum useable zoom range of about 10x the fight here is again solely between the S20 Ultra, P40 Pro and the Mi 10 Pro. The Xiaomi is useable but the small sensor can’t keep up. The Samsung and Huawei are both good and have different strengths. The S20 Ultra has more sensor resolution to work with but seems a tad soft due to optics. The P40 Pro has lower resolution but has more micro-contrast.

The S20 Ultra failing in quality at 5x is again present here. I think the telephoto module here is capturing while in the binned 12MP mode and applying heavy sharpening that just doesn’t work well at all.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

Other things to consider with the phones who have a far-reaching telephoto module but have to rely on the main camera module when in the intermediary ranges is the quality of the photos in this middle range.

Huawei is the king here as the Mate 30 Pro and P40 Pro produce excellent results at 2x zoom without having an actual hardware module for this range. Both are seemingly using their main sensor at high-resolution and cropping. OnePlus and LG are also attempting this method I think but it doesn’t come out nearly as well, the latter here is just blurry but I’m not sure if that’s a low-resolution image upscaled or simply if the shot was wildly out of focus.

Samsung on the S20 Ultra doesn’t attempt anything anymore here. As I mentioned, the telephoto module superimposed middle frame that was present in the release firmware just doesn’t exist anymore here. They also don’t even use the native resolution of the camera so it’s just a blurry 2x digital upscale of the 12MP result. The S20+ should have done well here but I might have had a smudge on the lens. Generally my phone sample seems to have very weak optics on this module resulting in ghosting across high contrast edges such as seen between the tree and the rooftop.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

In this shot there’s not much additional to point out that hasn’t been said in the previous shots. One thing I like to point out to is the high-resolution shots of the various phones and sensor modules.

On the OP8Pro, P40Pro and Ren3 Pro 5G we’re seeing again this super weird demosaicing artefact on regular pattern objects such as the bridge’s white barriers. It results in this squiggly pattern that doesn’t exist in real life. The OP8Pro and Reno3Pro5G on top of that showcase some bad RGB Moiré pattern in their 48MP shots.

This behaviour seemingly doesn’t seem to be present on the phones with Samsung sensors such as the S20 Ultra, Mi 10 Pro or Reno3Pro, which might point out that it might be a Sony sensor issue. Oddly enough the OP8 doesn’t have this issue even though it’s the same sensor as on the OP8Pro UWA – which does showcase the characteristic.

I don’t know if the V60 has a Samsung or a Sony sensor but it doesn’t showcase the squiggly pattern, but it does show the RGB rainbow Moiré.

Overall Telephoto – A Matter of Consistency

Overall, there’s a ton of different methods and hardware solutions that vendors employ to reach enable large focal length cameras or large zoom factors in their phones.

Personally, what I value most is actually having a good amount of consistency across the camera’s zoom range, and it’s here that some phones just do better than others.

Going from medium level (2x / 50mm) zooms up, Apple and Google here do excellently well and are well above the rest of the pack in terms of quality of detail and exposure handling. Huawei is by far the best at the 2x range without having an actual module in this focal length thanks to its great handling of the high-resolution sensors. The S20+, V60, Mi 10 Pro and the OnePlus phones also battle it out here. Generally, amongst those the S20+ would be the best most of the time but it’s highly scene specific as the results can vary a lot depending on the setting. The S20 Ultra is clearly the worst phone at this range and just doesn’t have any tooling to solve the problem.

Going further, the 3x modules of the OnePlus 8 Pro and Mate 30 Pro are good compromises, but both of these don’t always convince in terms of colours or exposure.

The periscope and 5x optical modules are mixed. At 5x, the P40 Pro clearly wins in quality, followed by the Mi 10 Pro. The S20 Ultra has a masochistic quality of crippling itself in the processing at this range. Zooming further out at up to 10x the S20 Ultra recovers as the best performer as it turns off its weird processing.

If I weren’t to consider colours and exposure, I think Huawei’s solutions for zooming are the best as it gives the best results across the whole available focal range. I also liked Xiaomi’s solution of having two “traditional” telephoto modules at 2x and 5x magnification without having to use a more compromising periscope module. I have to wonder what the most cost-effective method is here.

Ultra-wide-angles have become extremely popular in recent years and are a must-have for any smartphone as it opens up new capturing experiences in scenarios that previously just weren’t possible. The key points here is the viewing angle that the camera module achieves as well as the resolution of the sensor. Processing is also very important of course and that’s probably where we’ll see most differences from the various vendors.

Also, maybe unbeknownst to many, ultra-wide-angle can also serve as excellent macro unit as long as the manufacturer actually employs an auto-focus mechanism on the optics of the module; unfortunately, a lot of ultra-wide-angles are fixed focus.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

The widest ultra-wides are employed by Apple and Samsung which both have around 120° field-of-view, corresponding to an about 13-14mm equivalent focal length, while the remaining phones range from 15-18mm.

A lot of the phones do adequate jobs in terms of exposure, but my two favourites are the S20+ and the OnePlus 8 Pro, both which achieve a better dynamic range and HDR handling of the shadows.

It’s weird to see the processing differences to the S20 Ultra here as it’s the same camera module but on a different chipset, the Exynos S20+ is better in the HDR.

In practice at the default resolutions the Mate 30 Pro and P40 Pro have the best sharpness but that’s just because it’s a bigger sensor that also has to cover a smaller 3:2 aspect ratio field of view. Huawei doesn’t make it easy to use the 40MP mode of these sensors so it’s a hassle to switch to them, it’s a practically unusable feature in every-day photography.

The OnePlus 8 Pro is the only other phone with a high resolution ultra-wide-angle. The 48MP picture certainly gives a lot more detail than the default 12MP, but it loses out a bit in dynamic range. The optics here really can’t keep up with the sensor as we see quite a lot of chromatic aberrations throughout the scene, but frankly that’s to be expected at this focal range and FoV.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] – [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

This next scene is a bit harder with dynamic range as we’re having bright sun-lit elements as well as dark elements in the shadows. It’s the OnePlus 8 Pro which provides the best exposure and natural look. In the 48MP mode I think the 8Pro actually does even bit better as it doesn’t flatten out the highlights as much on the building. The regular OP8 loses out in depth in the highlights and mid-tones and look flatter.

In this regard, the S20+ does better than the S20 Ultra and the iPhone 11 Pro as well, although the white building façade is blown out. The iPhone tries to compensate for this but ends up looking flat.

The V60 and Mi 10 Pro sensors here are also probably near their limits as they opted to blow out the white façade in order to keep more dynamic range in the rest of the image – a good choice as it’s still a good overall picture.

Huawei’s processing on the P40 Pro seem tamer than on the Mate 30 Pro so while it looks natural, it could have been a bit brighter in the exposure.

Just quickly switching over to the main high-resolution shots we again see the squiggles in the bridge barrier alongside rainbow Moiré in a lot of the phones. This time around it’s also slightly prevalent on the Mi 10 Pro and Reno3 Pro with Samsung sensors so it seems those sensors aren’t completely immune to it.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] – [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

Macro photography isn’t normally something we test out in our reviews but it’s something I just wanted to quickly go over in this piece. Macro means that you have a high reproduction factor of an object across the camera’s sensor; a real macro camera generally is considered that an object of a certain physical size actually covers the same size across the sensor. You can achieve this in two ways, you either have long focal range to zoom in onto the object, or you move the camera closer to the object in which case the focus mechanism needs to be able to actually focus that close.

Most smartphones today have either one or the other option with their cameras, usually with their telephoto module or the ultra-wide-angle. There are also some cheaper phones out there with dedicated macro module but generally they’re all useless in terms of quality.

These shots of these caterpillars aren’t really apples-to-apples comparisons but rather just a showcase of the best-effort in terms of getting as close as possible to the subjects.

The default shot here is actually from the Reno3 Pro. Both phones have auto-focus UWA modules so you’re really able to hold up the phone extremely close to the subject and still have it in focus. This gives a quite great result in terms of magnification.

A lot of the phones with 2x modules weren’t really able to focus as close so that’s why generally I skipped those pictures are they’re just not useable, and you’re better off trying to focus with the main module.

It’s the higher magnification telephoto modules which do the best and that includes the S20 Ultra, the P40 Pro and the Mi 10 Pro, although none of them are quite as sharp as the Reno3’s UWA at the focal plane.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] – [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

Sometimes you can’t actually get as close to the subject. Although the Reno3 phones have excellent macro shots of the centre of the flower I actually have to get as close to it that it bends one of the petals, which just doesn’t look as good for the shot.

The iPhone’s 2x telephoto actually does a real good job here in getting a good composition. The other phones have to sit back a bit further to focus properly. Oddly enough I got better shots with the regular OnePlus 8 rather than the 8 Pro here.

The S20 Ultra appears to get great magnification at the 4x zoom level but under closer inspection this is actually misleading as the phone actually took this with the main camera rather than the telephoto module, resulting in a blurry magnified shot.

The P40 Pro has the best real magnification amongst all the phones. I guess the narrow aperture of this module also helps it not have a quite as thin focal plane, I had to stop down to f/14 on the Fuji to get something that was similar.

Overall Ultra-Wide-Angle

In general, the first step to having a good ultra-wide-angle is actually having one, so the Pixel 4 eliminates itself from the competition here. The second step is considering the field of view of the UWA. Apple and Samsung have the widest views amongst all other vendors out there and this regard I do find them to be the most “fun” with their cameras.

Quality-wise, things vary quite a bit depending on what the processing ends up deciding to do. I found the S20 phones probably the most consistent on what they’re doing and they handle dynamic range the best in terms of the different scenarios whereas some of the other phones might end up producing flatter images, even when sometimes they aren’t quite as sharp. The OnePlus 8 Pro’s camera certainly is the sharpest amongst the UWA’s, and sometimes it even produces the best exposures, but it’s far less consistent.

LG, Xiaomi’s UWA’s are a bit hit and miss. They can be excellent, but sometimes the exposures and tones are more off than others.

Huawei’s modules are also technically great, but their reduced field-of-view take away a bit of the experience of an ultra-wide. In general, you can’t go too wrong with either Apple, Samsung or the OnePlus 8 Pro in terms of fun ultra-wide photography.

Low-light photography is where smartphones have really made great laps over the last few years with the advent of computational photography. Huawei was the first to introduce a dedicated Night Mode which uses machine learning to smartly stack several exposures together, followed by Google’s own Night Sight which really pushed the boundaries of what we consider out of a smartphone in low light. Since then, a ton of other vendors have adopted their own low-light photography modes.

Hardware improvements also play a big role in the low-light improvements of recent years. We’ve seen better and bigger sensors with each generation, and although pixel count goes up this year, the ability of the sensors to bin several pixels together for light capture means that they’re more performant than before.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] – [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ] – [ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ]
[ X-T30 ]

When in low-light, but still in illuminated conditions, you’re by default shooting in regular capture modes without making use of the night modes. This is generally a discussion topic by itself, no other vendor than Apple has a seamless automatic switch to night modes so it’s always up to the user to correctly decide whether it’s advised to use the computational photography or not.

Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro results are fantastic here on both the main camera and on the 2x telephoto as I think the phone makes use of deep fusion to get increased amount of details. It’s able to easily compete and hold up with the Huawei P40 Pro even though the latter has a vast hardware advantage with a much bigger and low-light optimised sensor.

The Samsung S20 Ultra comes in generally in third place thanks to its bigger sensor, edging out the S20+ as well as other phones. The Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro’s sensor is similar to the S20 Ultra, it certainly has more resolution, but in this case the binning to 27MP gives it less dynamic range and low-light ability than the S20U’s binning to 12MP.

The LG V60 is the next in the hierarchy in terms of main camera quality, producing a quite good shot. The OnePlus 8 Pro missed focus and thus it produced a blurrier picture than even the OnePlus 8, which is a pity for this scene.

Amongst the two OPPO phones the MediaTek variant with the bigger 1/1.7” 64MP sensor has a clear advantage although I don’t quite like its noise suppression blotches in the darkest areas.

In terms of ultra-wide-angle module quality, the hierarchy here essentially just follows the hardware capabilities of the sensors. Huawei is the undisputed king here although it’s weird to see the Mate 30 pro again outperform the newer P40 Pro. Tracking those two is the OnePlus 8 Pro with its similarly big sensor. Next up are the Samsung phones, after which all the other devices fare quite poorly.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ]
[ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ]
[ Reno3 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

In darker scenes, computational photography can be a great boost in quality.

The phone that does the best in night mode is actually the OnePlus 8 Pro. Unthinkable last year, the company has made huge strides in its computational photography to the point that they’re amongst the best performers today. Apple, Google and Huawei are close thirds in their computational photography results and they’re all pretty great. Xiaomi’s night mode is also good.

The speciality about Huawei’s phones such as the P40 Pro is that it really has no need for special low-light photography modes as the phones raw sensor power actually gives a much better and detailed shot in the default capturing mode, with the night mode not able to retain as much fine detail because of the picture stacking.

The LG V60’s night mode is a bit weird as it’s a lot more subdued than all the other phones, and doesn’t seem to be computationally based like the others. The only difference I’m seeing here compared to auto mode is a darker black point. That’s not to say the results are bad because in auto mode the phone gets quite better results than any of the other conventional phones.

The Samsung phones here both completely fell flat on their face and the night mode results are just horrendous messes in terms of tone-mapping and colours. I would prefer the auto-mode shots rather than the garbage output of the night mode.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ]
[ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ]
[ Reno3 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

Telephoto shooting in low-light is very tough because most camera modules just aren’t optimised for that. Either the sensor isn’t top-tier, or the optics have a higher aperture design in order to facilitate the longer focal length.

Apple for example won’t even attempt to capture anything on the telephoto module in low light as it’ll automatically switch over to the main camera and crop zoom from there. The same applies to OnePlus’, Oppo’s and Xiaomi’s phones act the same as the telephoto modules aren’t used in low-light. Well for the latter that’s partly true, the 2x module doesn’t engage, but the 5x module works, albeit the results are bad.

Huawei’s telephoto module is unusable in low-light due to the narrow aperture, and enabling night mode switches it over to the main camera sensor.

Samsung’s S20+ does ok at 2x zoom with the second wide-angle, and things improve to good results with night mode. The Google Pixel 4 is the only other phone giving good 2x results.

The S20 Ultra does pretty badly at 4x zoom with the telephoto module but it cleans up at lot through night mode, making this the best low-light shooter at this focal range. There’s vertical light blooming coming off the bright lights in the shots and that’s because of the periscope optics of the module.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ]
[ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ]
[ Reno3 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

In ultra-wide again in low-light, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro is the kind as for some reason its processing is far better than the P40 Pro, but for both phones I would say it depends on the scene  as while night mode does bring out more shadows to light, it also blurs out details a ton and isn’t nearly as sharp as the auto shots. Also, for some reason Huawei keeps cropping the 3:2 UWA to 4:3 aspect ratios, I don’t really understand why they’re doing this as it’s almost completely neutering the reason to even shoot with this module in night mode.

Following the Huawei phones, it’s again Samsung which seems to have a quite good handle in low-light on their UWA’s. There’s again processing inconsistencies between the Snapdragon and Exynos variants, this time the Exynos one looks quite bad and flat again, similar bad processing as in the water tower shot.

OnePlus’s 8 Pro is doing very well here and competes with Samsung, with a much better processing in the night mode. The regular OnePlus 8 tracks it quite closely.

The OPPO, Xiaomi and LG phones’ ultra-wides are a bit disappointing and are hampered by either a lack of night mode (LG & Xiaomi) on these modules, or just insufficient hardware capability to collect enough light. Apple’s UWA in low-light is also completely useless as it also lacks any tooling to match the other phones.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ]
[ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ]
[ OnePlus 8 Pro ]
[ V60 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ]
[ Mate 30 Pro ]
[ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ]
[ Reno3 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

Going further in low-light, a lot of the phones have traditionally had tons of issue with colour temperature, particularly with the sodium street lights in my neighbourhood. The iPhone 11 Pro, Mate 30 Pro and Qualcomm Reno3 all got some absurdly red tints to them. On the other end of the spectrum the Pixel 4 is way too aggressive with its white balancing in attempting to compensate for colour temperature to the point it’s not really representative of the actual orange glow of the scene.

Samsung continues to have weird issues. The S20+ has a better exposure and handling of the scene than the S20 Ultra, albeit the Ultra has much better details.

I would say the Mi 10 Pro and the P40 Pro have the best results here with reasonable colours and exposures while retaining detail. OnePlus also does ok although the two phones differ from each other quite a lot and the colours aren’t on point. LG although lacking dynamic range does a reasonable job with the composition.

Click for full image
[ iPhone 11 Pro ] – [ iPhone SE ] – [ Pixel 4 ]
[ Galaxy S20U(S) ] – [ Galaxy S20+(E) ]
[ OnePlus 8 ] – [ OnePlus 8 Pro ] – [ V60 ]
[ Mi 10 Pro ] – [ Mate 30 Pro ] – [ P40 Pro ]
[ Reno3 Pro 5G ] – [ Reno3 Pro ] – [ X-T30 ]

Going further low-light, this scene is probably as low-light as you would ever consider a camera to have to capture something, and essentially all the phones are producing results that are much brighter than what the scene was in real life.

Huawei again is unbeatable in auto-modes thanks to the ability to capture shots at ISO51200 and ISO25600 which is what the Mate 30 Pro and P40 Pro are doing, even able to easily capture star constellations in the sky. Night mode adds more contrast and a bit more detail but nothing too big a leap. There’s added sensor banding in the P40 Pro in this mode in the sky which doesn’t look good, the Mate 30 Pro result is better.

Apple and Samsung are the next best performers – the iPhone’s night mode is excellent and the only drawback is that it’s not able to raise the darkest shadows with these remaining very black even in the final image. The S20+ here has better processing than the S20 Ultra, however the Ultra has better details.

Next, OnePlus 8 Pro does very well. The regular OP8 struggles more significantly and gives off purple noise in the end result. The Google Pixel 4’s sensor here also hits its hardware limits and night sight can’t recover details anymore.

The Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro look ok and realistic in auto mode. Night mode brightens things up but can introduce a lot of noise. The LG V60 struggles with gathering light and produces amongst the worst results. The two OPPO phones are doing ok in terms of exposure but lack any thing of detail, the hardware just isn’t cutting it.

Overall Low-Light Photography

Generally, the low-light photography hierarchy between the phones and manufacturers remains quite unchanged and we didn’t see too many big surprises.

Huawei remains king of low-light by a considerable margin, thanks to its unique optimised sensor hardware. You don’t really need night mode at all on either the Mate 30 Pro or P40 Pro as both have the chops to get excellent low-light shots in auto mode. The ultra-wide-angle modules are also very good at low-light and amongst the best modules here, thanks to their hardware advantage.

Apple I would say is a close second in low-light, at least on the main camera module. Where the iPhones fall apart is on the ultra-wide angle and the telephoto is also non-existent in low-light.

Samsung has very big processing issues to address. Even back when we first reviewed the S20’s I had mentioned that the new night mode on these phones can be actually worse than what we found on the S10 series, and even months later with the latest firmware this still seems to be the case. There’s moments and scenes where the phones can really shine and get excellent results, but sometimes they just trip on themselves failing spectacularly. There’s also a very big low-light difference between the Snapdragon and Exynos units, and the Exynos still seems to be consistently better in the shots.

Google’s Pixel 4 is still quite good at low-light thanks to night sight. Sometimes the mode exaggerates the brightness a bit too much and tries to hard to colour balance things. In ultra-low light, the camera sensor’s hardware disadvantage is more obvious as it clearly falls behind other phones.

LG’s V60 is a mixed bag. In medium to lowish- light it still manages to capture acceptable pictures but also falls apart in scenarios darker than that. The company doesn’t have a true computational photography night mode, or its impact is much less than other phones.

Xiaomi did ok most of the time but generally just falls a bit short of standing out, even though it has in theory a great camera sensor.

OnePlus’s 8 Pro impressed a lot, and it’s a huge leap for the company compared to what we’ve seen least year. The new nightscape night mode sometimes even manages to get amongst the best results of any phone. The regular OnePlus 8 isn’t quite as competitive and here it’s likely a matter of hardware disadvantage.

The two Oppo phones aren’t too competitive in low-light, but that’s a given considering they’re not flagship devices.

Today’s camera article was the biggest we’ve ever done and something I hope not to have to repeat again anytime soon, but I felt it was needed to bring proper context to the large number of devices that were released in the last few months.

Overall, if you didn’t notice in the text of the article, I only scratched the surface in terms of the collected camera samples so I hope it serves as a good resource for readers out there looking to compare the devices between each other.

Per-Vendor Verdicts

Like in the individual scenes, I think getting to an overall conclusion is something very hard to do. Instead, we can go over each vendor and cover their strengths and weaknesses.

Apple

Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro was a big leap for the company in 2019 and the phone still very much holds up in 2020. What Apple has been able to achieve in terms of exposure and HDR processing is just outright excellent and still gives the vast majority of Android devices today a run for their money, particularly on the main camera sensor.

The telephoto module while certainly not as far-reaching as some of the newer Android competitions, is still excellent in quality and is very consistent with the main camera module.

The ultra-wide-angle is also excellent, although here I do prefer Samsung’s processing and now also OnePlus has an edge over the iPhone.

In low-light, the iPhone essentially turns into a one camera module phone as both the telephoto and the ultra-wide-angle become unusable. Whilst the main camera still produces outstanding results in low-light, I find this to be quite too big a contrast between the capture experiences, and I hope Apple will manage to focus more on these two aspects in their 2020 phone.

In general, I consider the iPhone 11’s to be amongst the best cameras on a phone today, and Apple’s capture experience is just joyfully streamlined. The iPhone SE also punches far above its weight in its price range – but its simplistic camera system is also its one downside.

Google

The Pixel 4 still maintains itself as a good contender, but the problem is that this is a phone that actually was released after the iPhone 11’s – and it actually feels like it’s older than that. While Google has good processing, the iPhone pretty much beats it in the vast majority of scenarios. Google’s lack of vision in the camera module department means that this is also the only phone here lacking an ultra-wide-angle lens and that’s a big minus for the capture experience.

It’s a solid phone which produces good pictures, but I just feel it to be uninspiring against the competition.

Oppo

Both the Reno3 Pro phones here weren’t the company’s flagship products as we still have to get our hands on an X2. Still, the two phones were interesting to test today as they on paper represent the same “phone” although they differ wildly, one for the Chinese market, and one for the global/European market. The MediaTek version actually surprised me – we rarely have opportunity to test phones with these chipsets and it very clearly performed quite differently than any other phone in the tests, showcasing strong dynamic range and HDR processing. Still, both phones were far from perfect and just had a hard time competing against the flagship devices here.

Xiaomi

I had expected a bit more out of the Mi 10 Pro. Whilst the phone produced very good pictures, the processing wasn’t always on point against some of the other competitors. It was great to have the phone here today in the comparison as it meant we could have the two variants of Samsung’s 108MP sensors compete against each other, one in the Xiaomi phone and the other in the S20 Ultra. In daylight, as I had suspected, the 27MP colour filter variant found in the Mi 10 Pro I think is the better sensor, whilst in low-light, the 12MP unit found in the Ultra is likely better.

Whilst image processing wasn’t always Xiaomi’s forte, I do love what they did with the camera setup by including two telephoto modules. The 5x optical magnification with a “traditional” lens system particularly was actually quite impressive given the compromises the other vendors have to make with their periscope lenses.

Overall, the Mi 10 Pro does have the hardware to compete, I just hope Xiaomi works on the processing to give it a bit more “life” compared to the main competitors.

LG

LG’s smartphone business certainly has seen better days. The V60 doesn’t do things very differently to the competition, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In daylight, actually the V60 a lot of times manages to impress quite a lot and sometimes is amongst the best performers in terms of colours and HDR processing. This is something we’ve also seen last year with the G8 which was a “solid, but not great” phone.

I do like the V60’s usage of a 64MP main camera sensor which can act both as the main capture module at 16MP binned resolution, as well as crop in at 64MP for good quality 2x shots. Due to the resolution advantage, the V60 is actually amongst the sharpest cameras out there, both in the 16MP auto mode as well as the 64MP full resolution mode, as the optics are holding up well with the sensor.

The ultra-wide-angle is also good quality in daylight, although the processing could need a bit of more bite.

In low-light, LG is seemingly still amongst the vendors who don’t have an advanced computational photography night mode and that does put the V60 towards the end of the pack in low-light scenarios. I wish they would put more effort here to be able to better compete.

Huawei

I really do see Huawei amongst the initiators of this smartphone camera race. For years they’ve been innovating at a rapid pace, introducing new technologies both in software and hardware that put the other vendors to shame.

What the company does well is its sensor technology, which is still leaps and bounds ahead of anybody else, an advantage that’s particularly obvious in low-light conditions. I also like how they’re showcasing by far the best implementation of a lossless 2x zoom through the main camera sensor, something the other vendors should really take note of.

The P40Pro’s telephoto module is excellent and in many cases was the best performer in certain focal lengths. The ultra-wide on new Huawei phones isn’t really that ultra-wide and I wish they could go for wider optics while retaining their current sensor setup.

However as innovative they are and as great the phone hardware is, I’ve always felt they had huge issues in their software camera processing. The new P40 Pro here is yet again such an example because in many of today’s scenarios we’ve actually seen the older Mate 30 Pro produce better exposures and colours. It always takes the company several months of firmware updates to get the camera to an excellent state, and the P40 Pro for example for me isn’t there yet.

Samsung

Samsung’s cameras in 2020 are just a bundle of contradictions. Sometimes, the phones are able to produce amongst the very best images, sometimes they fall flat on their faces. Well maybe I’m exaggerating a bit there, but at least that’s how it feels to me. I still do like the company’s processing – when it works. For example, they still have among the best processing for the ultra-wide-angle cameras of any vendor, and sometimes this shines through to the other modules.

There’s still too big a divergence in processing between the S20 Ultra and S20+ and the Snapdragon and Exynos variants. It feels to me that even to this date the Exynos just has the much better processing, both in daylight and low-light.

The S20+ in my opinion has a very smart camera hardware setup that is quite unique with its two wide-angle modules. I do find it a pity that (at least my unit) the secondary module doesn’t have as good optics as there’s obvious light blooming on high contrast edges visible. Between the S20+ and the OnePlus 8 Pro, these are in my view the two Android phones I’d be able to recommend most easily.

The S20 Ultra I think is a travesty of a phone when it comes to its cameras. The 108MP phone’s sensor performance is good but sometimes actually loses to the S20+ in terms of detail. The phone has no viable 2x zoom method and quality craters here. The image fusion with the telephoto module in recent firmwares barely kicks in anymore and it didn’t trigger once in the 2x photos in this article. On the telephoto module, at 4-5x zoom the phone employs some horrible sharpening and processing that severely degrades the image quality, losing out to competitors such as the P40 Pro. Only at higher zoom factors such as 10x does this turn off and the phone actually shows that the hardware is capable of.

It feels like the only thing Samsung was aiming for when creating this phone is able to quote the marketing figures of 108MP and 100x zoom – both irrelevant and misleading metrics. The hardware is there but Samsung’s software feels like a year or more behind Huawei in actually making use of such a camera system.

OnePlus

The OnePlus 8 Pro was an enormous jump for the company. While in past years OnePlus phones were generally just “good” or “ok” in the camera department, the new OP8Pro really competes amongst the best devices out there on the market. We’ve seen significantly better processing and the new phone certainly now also has the hardware to compete with the big boys, employing a strong main camera sensor as well as ultra-wide-angle.

The phone produces excellent pictures overall and it’s only rarely that it trips over itself. The only negative I would say is that OnePlus needs to back-off on the purposeful darkening of shadows in order to attain more contrast in their pictures. This was something that was introduced with a firmware update last year with the 7Pro in order to copy the Pixel 3’s look. Well guess what, the Pixel 4 made away with that look as it was always an issue. Apple and Samsung have realistic shadow definitions all whilst retaining contrast, it’s not something the OP8’s need in order to compete.

Low-light on the 8Pro is also great, and nightscape also saw impressive strides in improving the quality. The strong UWA also makes photography here very viable. I would just add in that the 48MP capture modes probably don’t make as much sense as on some other phones because the optics here just can’t keep up with the higher resolutions.

The regular OnePlus 8 wasn’t quite as impressive. More often than not it had weaker processing, and also lags behind more in low-light. But it’s a lower priced phone so I guess I can’t complain too much.

The Road Ahead

All of the vendors still have a lot of work ahead of them. One thing I really do hope that vendors take to heart is following Apple’s methodology a bit more, in that they focus on bringing out products that are more refined from day 1. I’m quite disappointed in the rough shape some of these phones are in at launch, and it creates a ton of work that we have to evaluate new phones over several months of firmware updates in order to really get the best experience out of them.

On the hardware side, we need to avoid ultra-high-resolution sensors if the optical designs of their camera modules aren’t able to actually keep up with the increased detail capture abilities. Today we saw that most of the time these 108MP sensors were beaten by 64MP modules.

As sensor technologies and cameras also advance, there’s also increasing new software techniques that are enabled by machine learning. I think a lot of the vendors will have to focus a lot more on features such as deep fusion in order to really be able to properly compete in this new computational photography landscape. This again means taking the time to prepare a new device’s software more thoroughly to get it right. SoC silicon and camera sensors are evolving at a fast pace – the software needs to keep pace.