2016 may not have been a fascinating year for phones, but smartphone cameras have seen a definite paradigm shift. Dual-camera setups are steadily becoming commonplace, better mobile imaging sensors are steadily entering the arena, and phone makers are increasingly focusing on optimising algorithms to add quality, speed and manual controls to smartphones.
2016 has also been the year for veterans to enter the world of mobile imaging. In a major throwback to Nokia’s partnership with Carl Zeiss for Vario-Tessar lenses in flagships of its heyday, Huawei unveiled its partnership with imaging veteran, Leica. Not to be left out, Moto unveiled its the modular Moto Z lineup, and with it, a partnership with the legendary Hasselblad for a camera enhancement mod.
With all this in mind, we look at the best smartphone cameras of 2016. They’ve all run each other close, but in the end, the following came out on top.
Zero1 Winner: Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Apple’s flagship smartphone is right now the most expensive smartphone commonly available. Incidentally, it is also one of the best. The camera setup includes a 28mm (35mm-equivalent) wide angle lens with f/1.8 aperture and paired to a 12-megapixel, 1/3-inch type sensor, and a 56mm telephoto lens with f/2.8 aperture and paired to a 12-megapixel, 1/3.6-inch type sensor. All of this is paired with Apple’s trustworthy algorithms, which also add a ‘Portrait’ mode for bokeh photographs.
With this setup, photograph clarity, level of details and sharpness is the best in class, and actually the best that smartphones have achieved, till date.
The iPhone 7 Plus can also record 4K videos at 30fps without any glitches, and the camera app itself is very fast. The front camera is also upgraded to a 7-megapixel sensor, and renders the sharpest self portraits with good levels of detail and colour accuracy. All of these factors see the Apple iPhone 7 Plus walk away with the best smartphone camera award for 2016.
Runner-up: Google Pixel XL
Google chose more control over its own Android smartphone this year, and has presented a stellar camera in the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. Advertised with an incredibly high DxOMark imaging performance rating, the Pixel XL brings its fluid performance to the camera as well. It uses Sony’s flagship IMX378 12.3-megapixel sensor with an f/2.0 lens to produce incredibly sharp photographs with very high levels of detail that closely challenge the iPhone 7 Plus. It also shoots really fast in HDR+ mode, rendering crisp, vibrant colours that really pop on the frame. It misses out on optical stabilisation, and is often erratic in low light performance, which make it rank second here.
Otherwise, the really fast camera offers simplicity and ease of usage, along with brilliant photographs and even UHD videos at 30fps.
Best Buy: Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
The Sony IMX260 sensor-powered smartphone camera with on-sensor Dual Pixel AF shoots ridiculously bright photographs in low light, and even in bright daylight, the level of details and sharpness are as good as the winners.
The Galaxy S7 edge ranks behind on account of oversaturated colours and very high contrast levels. Despite that, it is the most affordable of the three cameras that we’ve tested, and makes for the best buy among the peak of smartphone cameras of 2016.