Best Smartphones for Photography

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Toby
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#1
I am a rare thing nowadays, a smartphone virgin, and I need guidance as to the best smartphone for photos, but within sensible price constraints. I am absolutely not going to blow more money on a phone than my DSLR costs. So £400 tops, and I don't mind S/H.

Looking at specs is very confusing - there are some relatively entry-level phones with high MP cameras, and there are some that have a better selfie camera than a back camera (I'm not interested in selfies). Some seem to be highly rated for their photos but have a relatively low MP count, some seem to be reviewed favourably but throw stacks of AI processing into the files. I want to have the option of bringing the files onto my PC and processing them in Photoshop, and printing to A4 plus. So, a good rear camera, and one that will have the option of bypassing the in camera JPEG processing and generate RAW files that can be processed outside the phone. The photos will be portraits, website products shots and sometimes landscapes.
 
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Mitch
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#2
I Google for the answer to this frequently. What you're looking for is a smartphone with a large sensor, and in recent times the Panasonic CM1 was the answer with a 1" sensor. The Lumia 1020 before that was king. Attempts at increasing sensor size seem to have been displaced by improvements in computational photography. For me, the problem with this approach is that the user can't benefit from interchangeable lenses. That's slowly being fixed with multiple sensors and focal length lenses.

The exception in recent times is the Red Hydrogen One, which has been panned by reviewers. It's understandable really, a device launched for videography and photography without any of the modular accessories that make it unique. They're talking about adding a lens mount module, but I figure they'd have to release a sensor module too. All very expensive.

I have started to think about the whole "smartphones with computational photography are not proper cameras" argument. I'm in the camp of bigger sensor is better, but I'm slowly becoming inclined to view smartphones with optically-implemented focal lengths (not digital) and software-improved RAW files as being appropriate for serious photography.
 
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Richard
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#3
Agree with Mitch above but there’s no right answer to this of course. You don’t say if you want to use it for other things than photos (it’s a computer despite its name ;) ), if you do then that is going to be a factor. Dpreview reviews phones according to their camera-goodness while ignoring most other factors.
The “viewfinder” is important too and I’m not sure how good cheaper phone screens are. I mention this because the other day a relative looked on my phone screenwhile I was framing a photo and said “Oh, your phone has a better camera than mine!” — well it has but wasn’t she just seeing a better screen?
I looked at what is available used on giffgaff and you can get an iPhone 7 Plus for £249 which has dual lenses and produces RAW files (though not in the default app). It’s got a good, large screen.
 
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Robert
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#4
I have a samsung galaxy S7 and for a phone, it takes good pictures.
It has auto and manual modes, and can shoot jpeg and raw.
 
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#5
Google Pixel 2 or a Huawei P20 Pro are a couple of more options. Not sure if they shoot native RAW but you can use apps that allow you to if not. I use Lightroom CC on my iPhone with good results.
 
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Meeten
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#6
I have just got a P20 pro.
Last week I was in New York attending a wedding.
I took my 6d and 50mm with me.
It was used for a total of 17 shots...

The P20 is incredible.

I got mine for £390 from o2 with a 1yr warranty.
Send me a pm if you want more information.

Regards
 
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Jeff
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#8
I will second that Bobsy, the Samsung Galaxy s7 takes great photos.
 
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horrocks
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Toby
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#9
Some very informative and interesting replies, thank you.

My daughter has a Huawei, one of the mid-range models (under £300), my son a Samsung Galaxy (S8 or 9). Daughter's previous phone was an Apple iPhone (7, I think). She reckons the camera is far better on the Huawei, but her requirements are different. I don't imagine she has ever uploaded anything onto her laptop.

I forgot to mention that I wouldn't consider Apple. I don't like their 'closed-shop' philosophy, so presumably Android (or google?). I don't really know the answer to the computational requirements of the phone, because I don't know what limits them. I thought that they were all mini-computers, just with different OS.

I'll have a look at the DPReview site, Richard, I didn't realise that they review phones.
 
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Stu
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#11
If you aren't wanting to spend alot, you can do alot worse than a good quality second hand / refurb Google Pixel 1 - excellent camera and I've seen them for around £130-150 of late.
 
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Meeten
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#12
If you aren't wanting to spend alot, you can do alot worse than a good quality second hand / refurb Google Pixel 1 - excellent camera and I've seen them for around £130-150 of late.
The problem I found with older models is the battery life. With sealed units you don't know the state of them and how long they last for.
 
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#14
I moved to a Nexus 4, then 5, and lastly the 5x since 2013.
The battery life on the 5x is dire compared with the Huawei P20.
In part to or being 2yrs old, but new tech has improved considerably. Buying within a £400 budget, there are a few contenders as already mentioned. I for one am astounded by the capability of this phone on comparison to the previous Google phones I've had.
True, although it's not that old a phone in the scheme of things so should be ok. Mine certainly is anyway.
 
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Stu
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#15
I totally missed the £400 budget! Oops.

Anyways you have followed a very similar phone ownership pattern to me, the Nexus battery life was never it's strongest suite but the ability to be up to date with software and a vanilla Google at that certainly made them worthwhile phones.

Given the OPs budget that I've now seen, certainly could add a Pixel 2 to that list.
I moved to a Nexus 4, then 5, and lastly the 5x since 2013.
The battery life on the 5x is dire compared with the Huawei P20.
In part to or being 2yrs old, but new tech has improved considerably. Buying within a £400 budget, there are a few contenders as already mentioned. I for one am astounded by the capability of this phone on comparison to the previous Google phones I've had.
 
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Mitch
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#16
I find that the rate of system software updates and app updates is bloating the installed software size to the point where even flagships from a few years ago will start to slowdown.

I use a Note 4, and Samsung have stopped updating it, so the performance has plateaued - I'm not sure if that's the case with Google's Pixel handsets - I was under the impression that they just get the latest version of Android whether it's capable of running it properly or not. Perhaps someone else can confirm.

My next handset will be a note 8. They're around your budget on Amazon now, new.
 
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Tim
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#18
A couple of images straight out.
These are jpeg.
I haven't tried the raw function. View attachment 234836 View attachment 234837
I assume that's taken with some kind of portrait mode?
Whilst the computation behind that is impressive, it does come out looking like a bad photoshop composite.
The two subjects in focus are not on the same focal plane and jar with the OOF effect that's been applied to the rest.
(IMO obviously... YMMV).
 
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Alan
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#19
I assume that's taken with some kind of portrait mode?
Whilst the computation behind that is impressive, it does come out looking like a bad photoshop composite.
The two subjects in focus are not on the same focal plane and jar with the OOF effect that's been applied to the rest.
(IMO obviously... YMMV).
What two subjects are in focus but not on the same plane?
 
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Tim
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#20
What two subjects are in focus but not on the same plane?
The lady leaning on the car and the chap in green in the car. He is obviously the width of a car door and seat behind her and to me looks fairly close to being in focus, whereas the chap in the driving seat is considerably less in focus.
I'm not just considering faces here, the chap in green's left leg/knee is probably the thing that jars it the most.
(That would be in attachment 234837).

As I said, YMMV, but that's how it looks to me.
 
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Richard
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#21
The lady leaning on the car and the chap in green in the car. He is obviously the width of a car door and seat behind her and to me looks fairly close to being in focus, whereas the chap in the driving seat is considerably less in focus.
I'm not just considering faces here, the chap in green's left leg/knee is probably the thing that jars it the most.
(That would be in attachment 234837).

As I said, YMMV, but that's how it looks to me.
FWIW the ‘succession’ of sharp/blurry areas look OK to me and I can’t see any of the artifacts you get with portrait mode. I think its a bit difficult to draw any conclusion at this size though :confused:
 
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#23
Thanks for all the thoughts. I'm think settling towards a Huawei P20. I think the P20 Pro might be too big, I don't like the very big smartphones.

Just a thought, if I buy a second-hand one, how can I be sure the facial recognition thing won't lock me out in favour of the original owner?
On iPhones you just do an erase and then you have to set up all the security afresh, I assume Androids will be the same.
 

wontolla

Misery Guts Monica
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#27
Thanks for all the thoughts. I'm think settling towards a Huawei P20. I think the P20 Pro might be too big, I don't like the very big smartphones.

Just a thought, if I buy a second-hand one, how can I be sure the facial recognition thing won't lock me out in favour of the original owner?
The phone SHOULD be factory reset, so not an issue, just make sure the previous owner has done it, if not ask them to before you buy it.

Taken on a P20 Lite with minimal PS.

Hebden LR.jpg
 
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Meeten
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#29
Most resellers factory reset the phone.
There are various ways to unlock it, by a pin number, thumb / finger print and facial recognition.

I got mine via o2, with 1yr warranty for sub £400
 
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#31
I recently got a Google Pixel 3 and have to say I am quite amazed how good the camera is. I would have no hesitation using it in most situations where I didn't have my DSLR. I think it's "only" 12MP but it can do a lot of things my camera can't and the in phone processing of the raw files using something like Googles Snapseed means you can have something half decent in a very small package.

Took this of my sisters mutt, softened the background and added a little HDR in Snapseed and the results were excellent (imo)


Winston
by Mike.Pursey, on Flickr
 
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#32
I have a Pixel and when out in good light there is simply no need for a camera if you are just taking snapshots. And who needs these triple and quad lens phones. Just let the Google software do all the magic!
 
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Andrew
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#34
Example from my £165 Xiaomi note 5. Straight from camera, resized by forum software. View attachment 235108
I can't comment on other smartphones, of which there are no doubt many (at accordingly higher prices), but Xiaomi's stuff is attractive because, along with getting a lot for little, quite a few of their phones are followed by the Custom ROM community and they're hardcore about enabling the Google Camera APIs. It really unlocks the power of the camera. Software matters..
 
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