Best camera smartphones for all budgets (May 2017)

Our top recommendations for camera smartphones across all budget ranges for the month of May 2017

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Camera smartphones have been around for over a decade and in all these years, they have transitioned from being basic VGA cameras to featuring world-class optics and software which deliver exceptional photography experience. As the capabilities of our smartphone cameras increased, so did our demands and expectations from them. As a result, manufacturers are striving to churn out new smartphone camera concepts which are better than those offered by their rivals. In this intense rat-race, the consumer turns out to be the real winner for he gets to try out and choose the best technologies available in the market. Here are some smartphones you can consider which offer the best camera features in their respective price segments:

Premium segment (Rs 50,000+)
If money is no object for you, then you’re better off choosing a phone from the flagship segment of smartphones. No point in being cheap if you can afford the best now is there? For those of you want the absolute best and are willing to shell out the bucks, here are our two recommendations.

Samsung Galaxy S8+
Samsung Galaxy S8+ features a new Sony IMX333 sensor with a new design as well as a new default camera app. While the sensor isn’t a major leap, Samsung has introduced new software which has taken inspiration from HDR algorithms in the Google Pixel smartphones. Thanks to this new software, images taken in bright light have more detail and sharpness but also feature oversaturated reds, blues, oranges and green colours which may not give much of a natural feel. However, the autofocus is very quick and reliable and can track objects once it is enabled. Despite the added software, low light photography using Samsung Galaxy S8+ is a disappointment. The sensor peaks out at a maximum ISO of 1250 compared to Google Pixel XL which can push ISO limits to 12800. The phone’s noise reduction software also affects sharpness and detail in images taken in low light and the resulting images are usually warmer than expected.

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Apple iPhone 7 Plus

The Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus made the headlines by letting go of the 3.5mm headphone jack. But in terms of imaging, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus is best known for making the dual-camera setup famous. The Cupertino manufacturer made a lot of noise about the Apple iPhone 7 Plus’s Portrait Mode, which makes use of the two lenses (and sensors) to create a bokeh effect. Apart from that, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus makes use of the two lenses for 2x optical zoom, and you also get video goodies in form of time-lapse shooting and slow-motion video. We spent a lot of time with the Apple iPhone 7 Plus’s cameras, and we have it all here.

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Upper Mid-range (Rs 20,000 – Rs 35,000)
While premium smartphones do offer certain advantages along with premium looks and features, they don’t really match up to mid-range ones which are now offering even better specification-sets compared to their predecessors while costing the same. Because of their range of features as well as camera prowess, they are considered as the most value for money devices and are doing rather well in India. Here are some of these flagship-killers which offer the best camera capabilities:

Vivo V5 Plus
Priced at Rs. 27,980, Vivo’s V5 Plus is yet another addition to the company’s enviable list of decent camera phones. While the main focus of the company has been on front-facing cameras, the primary 16-megapixel shooter is no laggard either. Armed with f/2.0 aperture and PDAF, the rear cam has a Face Beauty mode which is also present in the front-facing cameras, a night mode for low-light photography, a 4K recording mode and a slow-motion video mode. During our review of the Vivo V5 Plus’s camera, the rear camera offered decent image quality and the colour reproduction was not oversaturated. In well-lit conditions, the images also revealed brighter reds and deeper blacks. However, in low-light conditions, the camera struggles both with noise and detail. During the day, the camera also struggles a bit as lack of OIS often results in shaken or blurry images. The auto-focus is also not among the fastest and takes its own time.

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OnePlus 3T
The OnePlus 3T is the one phone that can give many premium smartphones a run for their money. It is packed to the brim with a Snapdragon 821 processor and a 6GB RAM. But more importantly, it carries a 16-megapixel sensor on the back and a 16-megapixel sensor on the front. The primary camera also comes with laser-assisted PDAF, Optical Image Stabilization, 4K video recording and slow-motion video. The OnePlus 3T also offers RAW shooting, which when coupled with a great manual mode becomes very handy for mobile photography enthusiasts. Even the front-facing camera on the OnePlus 3T is equipped with Electronic Image Stabilisation. The OnePlus 3T fared well in all of our camera tests, of which we have a detailed review here.

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Lower Mid-range (Rs 10,000 Rs 20,000)
Sometimes, you’re on a budget and just cannot spare the extra cash. We list out two phones that will give you most value for your money in the range of Rs 10,000-Rs 20,000.

Moto G5 Plus
The Moto G series is one of the most popular products since it first launched some four years ago. The Moto G5 Plus scored really well in our overall review and has remained as a top recommendation in this budget segment since March. The primary camera on the Moto G5 Plus is a 12-megapixel unit, complete with a dual-LED flash. In this price bracket, the Moto G5 Plus is one of the very few phones that comes with Optical Image Stabilisation. The Moto G5 Plus also comes with Dual-Pixel AF technology, a feature that is seen on phones that are priced much higher, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. The Moto G5 Plus has been put through a rigorous camera test by us, and you can read the review here.

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Asus ZenFone 3 Max
While it may seem that the mammoth battery on the Asus Zenfone 3 Max is its major selling point, the camera on this phone isn’t a slouch by any means. The camera, which is a 16-megapixel shooter which comes with a dual-tone LED flash, and Electronic Image Stabilisation offers excellent value to the budget-conscious buyer.  The Asus ZenFone 3 Max also offers a handy HDR mode and a Super Resolution Mode which takes a large, composite picture of 64 Megapixels. We’ve found in our tests that it can be a handy camera-phone for travellers. You can read exactly how in our review.

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Budget (under Rs 10,000)
Phones in this budget range allow a lot of users to enjoy the comforts of a smartphone without having to shell out too much money. Ideal for those who aren’t into heavy-duty gaming, binge watching or storing too many apps, these phones cater to simple needs like social media interactions, texting and calling. However, some of these are now sporting cameras which rival some of the pricier ones, allowing buyers to click decent pictures without having to worry about the cost.

 Xiaomi Redmi 4A
Priced at just Rs. 5,999, the new Redmi 4A brings in a 13-MP rear camera with contrast focus, LED flash and f/2.2 aperture. Users can not only indulge in as many as 17 filters but can also adjust white balance and ISO before taking pictures. During the day, the phone captures sharp images with a good amount of detail and colour reproduction. The centre sharpness also decent but even though edge sharpness isn’t up to the mark, these qualities makes it among the best camera phones in its price range. The front-facing 5-MP camera comes with ‘Smart’ and ‘Pro’ modes and can capture decent daylight selfies with adequate sharpness and colour reproduction. However, photos taken in low light are at best grainy and lack detail.

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Lenovo K6 Power
The Lenovo K6 Power is marketed as a battery-oriented phone, with a large 4000mAh battery that claims to deliver a longer run-time. It has a budget-level processor and memory, but on the imaging front, the K6 Power packs in a 13-megapixel primary camera, which is actually a Sony IMX258 sensor. The camera is also equipped with phase-detect auto-focus and a single LED flash. The camera software offers a Pro mode, which is actually a manual mode where one can play around with shutter speed, focus, ISO and white balance manually. Apart from that, the camera app also offers ‘art nightscape’ and ‘artistic HDR’ modes. The Lenovo K6 Power’s camera can 1080p videos at 30fps and Slow-Motion and Fast Motion option. It has a 5 megapixel front camera, and you can read about both primary and secondary camera reviews here.