Let’s be honest. We, customers, don’t like wasting our money buying products that aren’t worth it. Smartphones and cell phones are no exception here. Trying to avoid disappointment purchase, we always ask ourselves whether it’s better to buy a new phone with mid-range specs, or an older generation model with high-end hardware? Note that in terms of smartphones which have short product cycles, “older” often means “released a few months ago”. Knowing how important good quality photos are for smartphone users, we decided to take a close-up at optics on phones below $500, searching for a handset with best camera parameters for the money.
Wondering which phone to buy to get the best camera? Choose among the LG G6, Honor 9 or the slightly older Galaxy S7. Here’s why.
After thorough market research, we’ve decided to choose five not extremely cheap but also not the most expensive models for our test. Said to be photo-oriented devices, all models cost less than $500. Two most expensive handsets in the list are the Honor 9 for $420 and the OnePlus 5 available for slightly under $500. Since both models produce almost identical pics, in our photo quality comparison we often alternate between them. The other three devices, that is the Galaxy S7, LG G6 and the Huawei P10 are noticeably cheaper offerings. Launched over a year ago, the Galaxy S7 is the oldest device in our test, but simultaneously one of the cheapest ones. The Samsung’s former flagship is now sold for something round $320. Meanwhile, six-months old the Huawei P10 and the LG G6 may be yours for $400 and $250, respectively.
The first challenge faced by the tested devices was night photography. When taking night shots the Galaxy S7 and LG G6 have one serious advantage over the other handsets – they both offer OIS. This means they can use longer shutter speeds resulting in visibly brighter images. Furthermore, both phones also allow for lower OIS sensitivity to reduce image noise. As a result, we get better illuminated and sharper street scene photos that in the case of the other three devices.
Artificial light photography
Moving on to the second phase of our test, artificial light photography requires considering two factors. It doesn’t only come of too much light, but also for of fact that the light is mixed and has two different color temperatures. The object we want to take a picture of is first illuminated with a warm incandescent light, and then by a LED light with cold tone. This particular challenge checked the image processing algorithms used by each manufacturer.
The LG G6 and OnePlus 5 are the winners of the test, the second place belong the Galaxy S7 featuring the best white balance, the third – to the Huawei P10. However, all photos taken in artificial light have an overturned contrast, resulting in a loss of details in dark areas.
Today’s top class smartphone shouldn’t have any problem with daylight photography, at least theoretically. Our test prove that the theory and practice keep in line. All ranked phones performed well in capturing a street scene. They all produced detailed images with vibrant colors. The differences here are of a minor character, and ultimately it’s all about personal taste. For instance, photos taken by the Honor 9 or the Huawei P10 are slightly weaker than contrast-rich pics delivered by the LG G6.
Macro and high contrast photography
The last phase of the test examined the capability of taking high contrast photos. The small image sensors are well-known for suffering from low dynamic range. To resolve this problems mobile manufacturers started to equipped their devices in Auto HDR mode since it was introduced to the market in Q4 of 2016 by the Google Pixel. This explains the fact why the oldest in the list, the Galaxy S7 has difficulties here. Although the color reproduction has worked, the backdrop sky has lost on detail fidelity in the process. Quite surprisingly, the most balanced results have been delivered by the Huawei P10, followed by the Honor 9. As for the OnePlus 5 its high contrast pictures are just matter of personal taste.
Concluding, in good lighting conditions, the differences between the tested smartphones are marginal. All five models performed well in daylight photography. The differences become visible in more specialist fields. For example, the new Auto-HDR mode is helpful in conditions of differing brightness levels. The technology significantly improves the quality of such images. On the other hand, OIS – an extremely rare feature in cheaper new models – is still a must-have when we want to shoot photos in dark. All in all, the decision which camera performs best depends on your personal taste and what type of photography you want to use it for.