Smartphone manufacturers emphasised a lot on photography in 2018, dedicating a significant chunk of their R&D to figuring out how to deliver better photo and video content to the smartphone cameras. The popularity of photo sharing sites and platforms has led to photography becoming the predominant way to express ourselves. This growing trend has forced manufacturers to push beyond the limitations, and 2018 has been the year for that. We’ve seen the surprising implementation of machine learning and even some hardware level changes, all of which has resulted in some amazing smartphone cameras. However, at Zero1, there can only be one winner, who is…
2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Huawei stuck to the basics by improving hardware instead of making software-based improvements. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro brings a triple camera setup with Leica branded lenses, offering diverse focal length options matched by none. We get a 40 megapixel 1/1.7” sensor for the primary lens, a 20-megapixel secondary sensor with a 16mm lens with an aperture of f/2.2 while the third 8-megapixel sensor is paired with an 80mm lens and an f.2.4 aperture. As of now, Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro and the P20 Pro are the only smartphones offering an 80mm telephoto lens.
The resulting images are beautiful in every lighting condition. The large 40-megapixel sensor offers excellent detail reproduction and the smartphone’s camera software takes things up a notch. The stock camera app allows shooting in RAW mode through all three lenses. While the Google Pixel 3 XL’s camera offered impressive HDR-enabled images, the Mate 20 Pro wins the Zero1 Award for the best smartphone camera due to consistent, class-leading performance from all three lenses.
Runner up: Google Pixel 3XL
The Google Pixel 3 XL continues Google’s tradition of proving that the company can bend a lot of rules of imaging using just software. Without increasing the sensor size or adding an additional camera, the Pixel 3 XL achieves the best implementation of Portrait Mode, and also one of the most impressive implementations of in-camera HDR. The Google Pixel 3 XL also jumps ahead of all other smartphones (save the Huawei Mate 20 Pro) thanks to its Night Sight mode which shoots low-light photos as if they were shot using a long exposure.
The Google Pixel 3 XL’s single camera is capable of providing you with the peace of mind that if you were to take a photo with it, it would turn out to be good, at least in terms of colour and contrast. What would pinch many though is the lack of a secondary lens, which would allow users to explore their creativity. The single lens can be incredibly restrictive.
Best Buy: Samsung Galaxy S9
Samsung’s big smartphone camera-centric innovation this year was the dual aperture for the wide angle lens which would enable better control over ambient light. Additionally, Samsung’s smallest flagship sports a smartphone camera that has impressed us with both its colour reproduction and the amount of detail it captures. The smartphone produces images with good colour reproduction and enough contrast for the images to appear tack sharp. In low light, the images are noise-free, but at the cost of some detail. Given the level of performance offered by the Samsung Galaxy S9’s camera for the price, it becomes our Best Buy recommendation for Zero1.