Few would argue that in 2017 the mobile device industry is a major driver of imaging hardware innovation. Long gone are the days when the size of the image sensor and the aperture were the major determining factors for image quality. Instead, phone manufacturers have turned to software and computational imaging methods to achieve better detail, wider dynamic range and lower noise levels, as well as high-quality zooming and DSLR-like bokeh effects.
High-powered chipsets with built-in image signal processors and sensors with very fast read-out times make it possible to combine image data that is captured by dual-lenses, or several frames recorded in quick succession, within milliseconds. These methods produce image quality that would have been unthinkable on a smartphone only a few years ago and often surpasses basic compact cameras.
Thanks to those advances in software, but also new hardware concepts, such as dual-cameras, hybrid AF-systems and more powerful image signal processors, current smartphone cameras are better than ever before. Here is our selection of the best models available in 2017, noting where their particular strengths lie.
Best display: Apple iPhone X
Dual 12MP-camera | 28/52mm equiv. focal lengths | F1.8 and F2.4 apertures | OIS | 4K/60fps video | 5.8-inch display
Apple's brand new flagship iPhone X pulls all the technological plugs and comes with features and specifications that we haven't seen on any iPhones or even other smartphones before. The iPhone X offers a marginally faster F2.4 telephoto lens than its cousin iPhone 8 Plus and, compared to last year's 7 Plus, adds optical image stabilization in the telephoto lens. On the video side of things the X is capable of recording 4K footage at 60 frames per second and slow-motion clips at 1080p resolution and 240fps.
As you would expect, all the new technology has a boosting effect on image quality and the iPhone X is currently ranked second on DxOMark.com, behind only the Google Pixel 2, and with the currently highest Photo score of 101 points.
But the iPhone X not only offers outstanding image quality, it improves on the imaging viewing experience too. The iPhone X's wide gamut OLED is the most color accurate device on the market, partially thanks to iOS' internal color management but also because of display calibration. That's a benefit to anyone who takes and looks at photos on their mobile device.
The device also comes with a number of innovative features. Portrait Lighting is an AI-powered feature in beta that works with front and rear cameras. It allows users to apply different lighting styles on top of simulated-bokeh-portraits. The iPhone X also used Face-ID to unlock the device, relying on an array of cameras and sensors at the top of the edge-to-edge display.
What we like: Excellent detail and dynamic range, natural bokeh mode, 4K video at 60 fps
What we don't like: Price, underexposure and red-eye with flash
Best for video: LG V30
Dual-camera | 16MP 1/3.1" / F1.6 / OIS main camera | 13MP / F1.9 super-wide-angle | 4K/30fps video | manual video control | 6.0-inch display
The LG V30 is the Korean manufacturer's latest flagship smartphone and comes with an unusual dual-camera setup. Instead of a telephoto lens the V30 offers a secondary super-wide-angle that lets you squeeze more scene into the frame, without the need for accessory lenses.
The V30 also sets itself apart from the competition with a very comprehensive video mode that comes with manual control over shutter speed and sound recording levels, among many other parameters. You can also choose from 15 new Cine Effect color presets that are based on film genres and the Point Zoom mode allows for stable zooming into a target in the frame rather than the center.
In testing for our forthcoming review we found the V30 to deliver excellent video image quality. Still images are good as well, with wide dynamic range and good sharpness across the frame, but levels of detail lag just a touch behind the very best on the main camera and can be pretty low on the super-wide-angle. Still, the V30 is an excellent option for mobile videographers and those who appreciate a super-wide-angle.
What we like: Great video feature set and stabilization, super-wide-angle offers new framing options, excellent display
What we don't like: Poor detail on super-wide-angle, zoom quality, no bokeh mode
Best for zoom: Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Dual-camera | 12MP / F1.7 / 26mm main camera | 12MP / F2.4 / 52mm | OIS | 4K/30fps video | 6.3-inch display
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is the Korean company's late entry to the dual-camera game but has immediately set new standards. The camera module combines a 26mm equivalent 12MP wide-angle module with a 52mm equivalent tele camera.
The secondary camera comes with a smaller sensor and slower aperture than the main module, but together with the iPhone X the Note 8 is one of very few dual-cam smartphones to offer optical image stabilization in both lenses. In DxOMark's Mobile testing the dual-camera setup achieves outstanding results, including the best zoom performance among all current smartphones. Good detail and a natural looking bokeh mode also contribute to the high overall score of 94 points.
In the video department the Note 8 comes with 4K resolution and a 240fps slow-motion option. With its massive 6.3" Quad-HD+ display and S-Pen stylus the Note 8 is also an interesting option for those photographers who like image editing on the device. It stands up very well in our comparison against the iPhone X, making it a great option for any Android user.
What we like: Class-leading zoom, large display and stylus, good bokeh mode
What we don't like: Lower DR than some competitors, price
Best computational imaging device: Google Pixel 2
12.2MP 1/2.6" sensor | F1.8 aperture | OIS | 4K/30fps video | 5.0-inch display
The original Pixel was one of last year's best smartphones and there is no doubt version two is following right in its footsteps. The Pixel 2 is one of the few current high-end smartphones with a single-lens camera but it makes up for a secondary camera with a host of advanced Google software features.
Despite a slightly smaller image sensor than on the predecessor, the Pixel 2 achieves excellent dynamic range and very good detail in all conditions, earning it the best overall performance and the current top spot in the DxOMark Mobile ranking. Testers were also impressed with the video mode that combines optical and electronic stabilization for ultra-smooth footage.
The Pixel 2 might have to make do without a secondary lens but thanks to Google's software wizardry and Dual Pixel technology (split left/right pixels) it's still capable of creating a usable fake bokeh Portrait Mode effect, and digital zoom has improved over the previous generation as well.
Early Pixel 2 adopters have reported some display troubles but Google has taken measures to fix them, making the Pixel 2 an easy recommendation for any mobile photographer. As a bonus the device comes with an integrated but currently dormant image processor called Visual Core. When it's activated via a software update in the near future, it should give the Pixel 2's image quality another boost.
What we like: Class-leading detail and dynamic range, excellent hybrid video stabilization, "pure" Android operating system
What we don't like: Display issues on early units, lower zoom and bokeh performance than closest competitors
Best for black-and-white photography fans: Huawei Mate 10 Pro
Dual-camera | 12MP RGB and 20MP monochrome sensors | F1.6 aperture | OIS | 4K/30fps video | 6.0-inch display
The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is not a cheap smartphone but will cost you significantly less than the Leica M10 or pretty much any other Leica camera for that matter. So, if you always wanted to carry a Leica in your pocket but are strapped for cash, the Huawei device might be a good compromise. It doesn't come with the famous red dot but, like the P10 and several other recent Huawei smartphones it has a Leica badge right next to its camera module.
It's not all about the badge though. The Mate 10 Pro comes with an innovative dual-camera setup that combines a 12MP RGB sensor with a 20MP monochrome chip. Image data from both sensors is combined computationally to achieve better detail, increased dynamic range and lower noise levels. The high-resolution monochrome sensor also allows for a 2x lossless zoom and a unique Huawei feature: a monochrome mode that doesn't simply convert RGB images, but captures black and white images natively.
And Huawei isn't relying on hardware alone on the Mate 10 Pro. AI and neural networking are applied to improve the quality of the fake bokeh mode and power the automatic scene selection's object recognition. Motion detection reduces motion blur in low light conditions.
The combination of innovative hardware and software concepts pays off and at 97 points the Mate 10 Pro achieves one of the best overall scores on DxOMark, tying the iPhone X for second place in the ranking.
What we like: Great detail in low light, monochrome mode, decent zoom and bokeh
What we don't like: Limited slow-motion video options