In 2003, when we pitted the leading five Smartphone cameras against two mid-priced compact cameras, the cameras blew the lids off the phones by a very wide margin. However, Smartphones have come a long way since, and have all but replaced low and mid-segment compact cameras. Now cameras have become the main features of Smartphones, and even hardcore photography professionals have started appreciating the utility of Smartphones as a secondary camera. Here we have selected three of the high-end Smartphones that boast exceptional image quality in their cameras.
Meet the Devices
Google Pixel XL: The Pixel XL is Google’s first phone from own stables. The device runs on Android Nougat and features a 12.3 MP, f/2.0 main camera employing Phase Detection AF along with Laser Detection AF. It offers 4K quality videos. The Pixel XL does not offer Pro Camera mode in its native app.
iPhone 7 Plus: The iPhone 7 Plus uses a dual camera system, though the difference is only in the focal lengths. The phone runs on iOS 10 operating system and the main camera is a 12 megapixel model with 28mm f/1.8 and 56mm f/2.8 lenses mounted side-by-side. It offers Optical Image Stabilisation and 4K video recording. The camera does not offer Pro features.
Samsung Galaxy S7: The Galaxy S7 was launched much ahead of the other two phones, but is still a hot favourite when it comes to imaging capabilities. It runs on Android Marshmallow and uses a 12 megapixel f/1.7 main camera. It offers 4K video recording. The S7’s camera offers a Pro mode.
We conducted this test to determine the main camera’s imaging capability pertaining to still images. Most users are likely to use the native camera app in any device and hence we did not use any third party app. We turned HDR capture off wherever possible and the images were shot in Auto mode so that the cameras chose the best settings.
Here the Pixel was clearly the winner with the camera producing the sharpest image with excellent detail in every part of the image. The tones were pleasant and the images had the most natural look. Noise was under control even at ISO 342, which the camera automatically chose for the scene.
The iPhone 7 Plus, like the Pixel XL, produced natural colour. The camera reproduced fine detail well, though the sharpness was not comparable to the Pixel’s image. Slight flare was observed around the flames, but not enough to be of concern.
The S7 produced a pinkish flare around all open flames and this completely spoiled the image. To rule out any problem with the particular piece we were using, we used another S7 Edge, and the results were consistent. This also produced lot of noise around the image. For the records, the camera chose ISO 200 for this scene.
iPhone 7 Plus
The Google Pixel reproduced fine details better, especially in highlights. However, the Pixel XL does not offer manual control and so the images were noisy, owing to the higher ISO. Again, the Pixel XL uses automatically switches to HDR and so the dark areas were quite noisy due to the aggressive processing.
The iPhone images suffered from discontinuity in edge pixels, though the image was comparatively noise-free owing to a low sensitivity of ISO 40 that the camera chose. A little bit of noise-reduction was also evident. We also observed that the image lacked details in both highlights and shadows.
The S7 produced the sharpest images, though we feel they were slightly over-sharpened. The images were quite noisy even at ISO 125, which suggests some aggressive processing.
Overall, the Google Pixel images looked the most natural, followed by the S7 and then the iPhone 7 Plus.
iPhone 7 Plus
The Pixel produced the most neutral colours, but the image lacked the ‘punch’ that the other two phones produced. However, if you look closely, you could see that the image had the widest dynamic range. The camera reproduced details well in both shadows and highlights. The S7 produced the most saturated image, but has a strong warm cast. The image was low on details, but the sharpness was excellent. If you see the image, you will appreciate the image processor in this camera.
The iPhone 7 Plus produced a predominantly bluish cast. Sharpness was better than the Pixel, but not close enough to the S7. Highlights lacked details. Overall, if you are a casual photographer who likes the camera to do the processing, you will appreciate the S7 for its brilliance in processing. But if you like to work on your images later, the Pixel will provide you will enough detail to produce a much superior final image.
iPhone 7 Plus