Best camera phones 2019 – buyer’s guide

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The best camera phones are usually the best phones overall, and you’ll mostly find flagships in this category – the likes of the latest Galaxies and iPhones typically deliver the best image quality of the time. Huawei’s top dogs have also entered this race in the past couple of years, but as of mid-2019, they do come with caveats when it comes to their software future. Google’s Pixel used to be an easy recommendation, but this 4th generation seems to be a letdown. Keeping all of these in mind, however, our top pick comes from a surprising direction.


Editors’ choice

  • Most versatile 5-cam setup on the market with 2 telephotos
  • Main camera has the highest-res (and also biggest) sensor available
  • Ultra wide cam has AF
  • Most cameras for the money
  • Midrange chipset (pretty powerful still)
  • Unimpressive video recording
  • No AF on the selfie cam

The Mi Note 10 from Xiaomi packs a ton of amazing camera hardware, making it the most flexible camera phone to date. It starts with the biggest and highest-res sensor on the market, a 1/1.33″ 108MP Samsung unit – that in itself is enough to have us excited, producing nice 27MP shots day and night, and having a shallow depth of field for subject isolation all on its own without Portrait mode trickery.

It doesn’t stop there, however, as the Mi Note 10 is the first phone with not one but two telephoto cameras, offering 2x and 5x magnification. On top of that, its ultra wide-angle cam has AF capability – not a first, but not ubiquitous either. And then there’s an extra module just for close-ups – just 2MP, admittedly, but useful still.

Mind you, our raving about the Mi Note 10’s camera prowess mostly applies to still images – we’re not as excited about the video quality, which exhibits different flaws in different modes and resolutions. We’re also still maintaining that selfie camera should have autofocus too, and the Mi Note 10’s doesn’t. The (upper-)midrange chipset may not be an issue if you only care about cameras and that’s okay, though we can’t help but wonder if a top-end SoC could have helped with video or the occasional stutters when processing 108MP shots.

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  • Only one here with a variable aperture main cam
  • Some of the most advanced auto HDR
  • Selfie cam has autofocus
  • Just 2x on the long end
  • No AF on the ultra wide cam
  • Expensive
  • Some of the most advanced auto HDR
  • Best video capture on the market
  • Selfie cam has autofocus
  • Very expensive
  • Somewhat dull color reproduction
  • Just 2x on the long end
  • No AF on the selfie cam
  • No AF on the ultra wide cam

The iPhone 11 Pro would be our top pick for video capture as it can record at all sorts of resolutions at all sorts of frame rates with its three cams and even do it simultaneously. It also boasts one of the smoothest video stabilization systems you can find in a phone, and the videos too can benefit from Apple’s Smart HDR ensuring class-leading dynamic range.

Taking Smart HDR a notch up, Apple’s Deep Fusion in stills makes for even better images than the already excellent output from before the iOS 13.2 update. Now, we’re not so thrilled about the generally muted color output, but that’s Apple’s way of doing things.

Some other beefs we have with the iPhone include the lack of autofocus on the selfie cam and the ultra wide. Then there’s the 2x optical zoom, bested by a few competing offerings. All in all, though, the iPhone remains one of the most competent camera phones around.

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  • 3x tele offers more reach than the mainstream 2x
  • AF on the ultra wide cam
  • No AF on the selfie cam
  • 5x periscope tele is the longest around (zooms in a bit closer than the Mi Note 10)
  • AF on the ultra wide cam
  • Uncertain software future
  • No AF on the selfie cam
  • Video recording isn’t competitive

On to one of the Spring offers that remains relevant even now – the Huawei P30 Pro. Packing a 5x periscope telephoto, it’s one of the longest zooms on the market (slightly longer, in fact, than the Mi Note 10). Its ultra wide-angle cam has autofocus too, adding points for versatility.

The P30 Pro, as most Huaweis, isn’t quite as capable as a key rival in video recording, though, and it too is missing autofocus on the selfie shooter. More importantly, however, the P30 Pro has a somewhat uncertain software future, in light of the US-China trade dispute affecting Huawei’s access to US technology.

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China special

  • 3x tele offers more reach than the mainstream 2x
  • Extra large sensor and AF on the ultra wide cam
  • Superb selfie portraits thanks to the front facing ToF module
  • No Google Play Services
  • No AF on the selfie cam
  • Video recording leaves a little more to be desired

Niche choice

  • Photos have that ‘pixel look’
  • Competitors have caught up with the computational photography
  • Telephoto is only sort of 2x
  • No ultra wide camera at all
  • No AF on the selfie cam
  • Expensive
  • Hardware issues for yet another generation

Niche choice

  • A depth sensor on top of a regular triple cam setup
  • Cool shark-fin selfie cam
  • Ultra wide cam has AF
  • Lowest price of this bunch
  • Limited regional availability
  • Midrange chipset (pretty powerful still)
  • Video stabilization isn’t great
  • Just 2x on the long end
  • No AF on the selfie cam

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