Some say that the best camera is the one you have. Perhaps that’s why point-and-shoot cameras are on their way to extinction, while smartphone photography is more popular than ever. Smartphones are always at an arm’s distance. Dedicated cameras aren’t. On top of that, smartphone cameras are fast, easy to use, and take great photos; they’ve improved dramatically over the past few years, both in quality and features.
However, while it is clear that most of today’s smartphones are very capable shooters, it is not easy to say which one’s the best among them. At the same time, most people are very, very interested to know how well a phone’s camera performs prior to getting it. Of course, comparing a whole bunch of smartphones to find out which one’s camera is best can be hard work. But not too hard for us.
And now comes the really interesting part. Let’s have a side-by-side look at actual images taken with these six handsets. Keep in mind that we’ve shot the images for each scene under conditions as identical as possible. However, there could be slight variations in the framing of the shots due to the different aspect ratios, fields of view, and focal lengths of the cameras being compared.
Scene 1 – the comfy couch
Fun fact: while the Android mascot has no official name, it is internally referred to as Bugdroid. Here we have him resting on our comfy couch, posing for our first test image. Right from the start, we have a trio of phones standing out – the Nexus 6P, the LG G4, and the iPhone 6s Plus. In this particular scene, they have produced images with very good details and mostly realistic colors. We have placed the G4 behind the Nexus for the burned highlights in certain areas and for its slightly overblown colors. The iPhone 6s Plus also stands a point behind, having captured details that are a tad lacking in clarity.
Surprisingly, the Galaxy Note 5 did not perform as well as we expected it to. Details in its photo could have been clearer and there’s some burning going on in lighter areas. Same can be said about the Moto X Pure Edition. It has gone for the highest ISO level of all phones in this comparison, ISO400, which could be an explanation as to why details in its photo are softer. As for the HTC One A9, its image is detailed, but unnaturally cold and with too much contrast.
Scene 2 – the peaceful pathway
Daytime scenes, where natural light is plentiful,should be handled with no troubles by any modern camera. Images in such cases are shot at low ISO and high shutter speed, which results in little noise and lack of motion blur in the produced photo. Sure enough, the cameras we’re testing did not disappoint. Or at least most of them didn’t.
Overall, the Moto X Pure Edition grabs the cake – details in its photo are nice and clear, colors are rather faithful, and dynamics are handled pretty well. The image from the Galaxy Note 5 is also one our eyes quite like, although a closer inspection shows that the camera has sharpened the image a bit too aggressively, thus hurting fine details. The Nexus 6P has also snapped a really, really pretty picture, with great details and very likable colors.
The iPhone 6s Plus and the HTC One A9 are presenting us with a slightly different look of the same scene, although the passing clouds could be to blame for that. Color representation aside, both cameras have captured a really good amount of detail.
Surprisingly, the LG G4 did rather poorly in this scene. The image it produced is overexposed and blurry across the right side for some reason. Could this be a glitch related to its OIS setup?
Scene 3 – The honorable hobbymasters
And that’s another strike for Motorola’s flagship! Overall, the image that the Moto X produced grabbed our attention the most with its pretty, natural colors and plentiful details. Seriously, zoom in on the photo and see for yourself – details are clear across the entire frame and noise is pretty much absent. The iPhone 6s Plus, Note 5, and LG G4 come in close behind Motorola’s flagship. All of them have done a great job at capturing the scene faithfully, although there’s the noticeable, and a bit too aggressive, sharpening present in the Note 5’s image.
Then comes the Nexus 6P. The good thing is that it has captured a very, very detailed photo. The not-so-good news is that the image needs a tad more exposure and its colors are slightly off. And in last place we have the HTC One A9. Its photo looks fine, at least at a glance, but once you zoom in, it becomes clear that details aren’t as good-looking as they are in other phones’ photos. Besides, colors are somewhat inaccurate, with a slight greenish tone to them.
Scene 4 – The cute coffee table
As we know from experience, a camera that excels under ideal conditions might struggle in a different, more challenging situation. An example of that would the the Moto X PE, which can’t pick up details so well when light isn’t plentiful. Still, the phone’s camera has plenty of pixels to make up for that, so its image looks detailed enough as a whole. Also, the Moto X has done a pretty good job at setting the white balance, unlike the iPhone 6s Plus. For some reason, the iPhone has produced an overly warm photo – the image looks fine, but isn’t exactly life-like. Nevertheless, the 6s Plus has captured a good amount of detail.
Yet overall, we’d say that the Galaxy Note 5 deserves the highest score in this scene. It has produced an image with accurate colors and good details despite the less-than-perfect light conditions. The LG G4 and Nexus 6P, both of which have captured the scene in very high detail, would have been tied with the Note 5 had they produced a bit more accurate colors. As for the HTC One A9, it is presenting us with an image that’s fairly detailed, but a tad cold in tone and a bit too high in contrast.
Scene 5 – The setting sun
Well, what do you know: that iPhone 6s Plus shoots pretty well in low light, as it becomes clear from this shot. Actually, all of the phones we’re testing did a pretty good job at snapping this scene, but in our opinion, the 6s Plus did a bit better than the rest. Its image is very detailed and has the most pleasing colors.
But again, the rest of the bunch also please the eye with their images. The LG G4 and Note 5, in particular, deliver pleasant colors and a good amount of details, although the Note 5’s tendency of adding extra sharpness to the image is evident. That could be a good thing in some scenes, but might ruin others, as it could mess up the fine details in the shot. Then we have the Moto X, which, for some reason, has produced pretty good details in some parts of the shot, but very poor ones in areas that aren’t lit as well. The HTC One A9 has captured an overall decent image, with satisfactory color representation and a good amount of details. It is only the Nexus 6P sticking out with its odd-looking image. We can’t complain about the details it contains, but the phone seems to have boosted the shadows and reduced highlights’ intensity, and we feel like we’re looking at a poorly-made HDR image. Besides, the color of the sky in its shot just doesn’t look natural.
Scene 6 – The rolling rock
Once again, we’re shown that all of the phones we’re comparing handle low-light situations quite okay. But if we had to pick a favorite, that would be the LG G4. Its camera strikes a good balance in exposure between the bright areas of the scene, such as the glowing window signs, and the shadows to the right. And zooming in reveals a good amount of details. Close behind the G4 stand the Nexus 6P and iPhone 6s Plus. Their images are also exposed well and reveal a lot of fine details.
Then there’s the Galaxy Note 5. Its photo is detailed indeed, but could have been exposed a bit better – much of the dark area has remained underexposed, presumably because the camera has prioritized the light areas when setting the exposure. The One A9 has taken the opposite approach and is presenting us with a photo that’s a bit overexposed. And if you zoom in, you’ll see that details are quite blurry. Blur is also easily noticeable if you zoom in on the Moto X’s photo.
Scene 7 – 8:00 in the evening
And here we have another set of night-time images shot outdoors. Overall, all six handsets produced good-looking photos, but, to no surprise, some did better than the rest. The LG G4, in particular, stands out in this scene with its bright, vivid image. Some of the highlights in the image have suffered because of that, but as a whole, the G4’s photo looks very pleasing to the eye. We’re also pleased with the photo snapped with the Nexus 6P. It is exposed pretty well and has a lot of detail despite the tricky lighting conditions.
The iPhone 6s Plus is once again treating us to a pretty picture, with good details and decent exposure. What’s also worth mentioning is that the iPhone managed to snap the shot at ISO100, which minimizes the presence of digital noise. In contrast, the Moto X and One A9 captured the scene at ISO500, which is surely among the reasons why details in their images don’t look quite as good from up close. Although the two phones’ photos do look presentable as a whole. As for the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, we see a very good amount of detail in its image, but a bit more exposure would have been welcome.
Scene 8 – Firing the flash
And here’s our old buddy Bugdroid, posing for a photo again. This time we’re testing the phones’ flash modules and their performance in low light. To be more specific, we’ve taken the shot in darkness from a distance of about 4 feet (1.2 meters) away from the subject. The good news is that all six phones managed to set the focus right; some cameras still struggle when focusing in the dark, but these six aren’t among them, apparently.
The HTC One A9’s image easily stands out with its even lighting – all areas are illuminated pretty well, without that vignetting effect seen in other phones’ images. Colors are only slightly off. On the downside, it looks like the phone had to boost the ISO quite a bit to achieve the even lightning we mentioned, and as a result, details have suffered a bit. But not too much.
It is the opposite case with the Nexus 6P – its image could have really used more exposure and just doesn’t look nice overall. The inaccurate color reproduction makes matters even worse.
We were also expecting more out of the iPhone 6s Plus. While its photo delivers a good amount of details, there’s too much vignetting going on and colors look very washed out.
The LG G4 is once again reminding us that when its flash is used, colors are easily thrown out of balance. The overly greenish tone in its image just doesn’t look cool. But details have been preserved relatively well, we’ll give it that.
Then we have the Moto X. Its image actually looks pretty nice overall with its warm, pleasing colors. Zoom in a bit, however, and you’ll see that fine detail is mostly missing, as was the case with the Moto X in previous low-light shots.
As for the Galaxy Note 5, it has managed to snap a pretty decent photo, with accurate colors and a good amount of details. It is not perfect by any means, but looks most usable of all photos of this scene.
We started working on this article with the intention to pick a favorite, most reliable, overall best camera among the bunch. Now that we have the final scores, however, it becomes clear that we can’t elect a sole, definite winner of this camera comparison. That’s because we have not two, but three handsets sharing the top spot, namely the iPhone 6s Plus, the Nexus 6P, and the Galaxy Note 5. Two other phones – the Moto X Pure Edition and the LG G4 – come in at a close second. And the HTC One A9, although in last place, is pretty close behind its competitors.
There’s one simple conclusion we can draw given the results of this camera comparison – most of the modern high-end smartphones are all pretty good shooters. They’re not perfect, and perhaps they’ll never be, but they’re definitely capable enough to meet the needs of the average consumer. But we must also make it clear that a phone camera’s performance might yield different results, depending on the shooting situation. An example of that would be the Moto X Pure Edition
– the phone’s camera performs marvelously, producing very clear, very detailed images, but only as long as conditions are optimal. In low light, the Moto X is usually outperformed by its high-end rivals, although its images are still more than usable.
The iPhone 6s Plus
has a very reliable camera – one that gets the job done in pretty much any situation, one that you just aim and shoot with. More often than not, you’ll end up with a pretty photo with a good amount of details, giving you the freedom to zoom in on or crop your photos. The thing about the iPhone is that it tends to skew colors towards the warm side. This practice yields favorable, eye-pleasing results in some cases, but might not work well in others, especially if you value color accuracy.
As for the Google Nexus 6P
, we’d say that we’re more than pleased by its shooter. In fact, this has to be the best camera to ever grace a Nexus-branded smartphone. Given enough light, the phone takes great photos with pleasing colors and a good amount of detail in the. Low-light and night-time shots turn out quite likeable as well, although there is some room for improvement, especially when it comes to scenes where the flash is used.
If you’re an owner of a Galaxy Note 5
, or if you’re planning to become one, then you should have no worries about its camera’s performance. The shooter is right on top of its game, and you’ll be snapping pretty pictures with ease, without the need to tinker with modes and settings. Although you are free to do so thanks to the camera’s advanced software and manual controls. But if there’s one thing we would have changed about the Note 5’s camera, that would be its sharpening strength. Some of its shots look great, others are a tad oversharpened.
The LG G4
may have been around for over six months, but it still packs one of the better smartphone cameras around. Even at night, it can produce a pretty picture. And let us not forget that it is also among the few phones giving you full manual camera controls, just like the Note 5. Its weak spot, if we could call it that, is the reproduction of colors – they’re mostly fine, but sometimes have an extra bit of saturation added to them, which might not work well in all scenes. Oh, and the performance of its flash leaves room for improvement.
And lastly, there’s the HTC One A9
. There’s nothing seriously wrong with its camera – it takes decent photos, as our comparison and review articles show. But we do wish that the One A9 was a bit better when settings its white balance as it tends to shoot slightly colder-looking images. Also, details aren’t on par with what other cameras with the same megapixel count can produce, presumably because HTC’s phone aims for higher ISO values when shooting. But if you only need a camera that gets the job done and is simple to use, the One A9 should do the trick.
Source: Best smartphone cameras compared: iPhone 6s Plus vs Nexus 6P, Galaxy Note 5, LG G4, Moto X Pure Edition, HTC One A9