The Best Smartphone Camera, as judged by YOU!

We've long run camera comparisons on our own, but it's hard to remove our own biases — and frankly, it's just our opinion. With some new high-profile phones on the market, we thought it was again time to pit these cameras against each other and see who came out on top. So we showed you 20 sets of photos taken by four unspecified phones, stripping out all identifying data and presented in a randomized-on-load order, and asked you to pick the best. We did this so you'd judge the photos on their quality alone.

With a wide range of photos, it's time to determine the best.

According to your total of nearly 53,000 votes, the best smartphone camera belongs to the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Some of the competition was incredibly close, though. Just half a percent separated the Galaxy S8 from the second-place Google Pixel, and the LG G6 was only a few percent behind them. It's close enough that with a different set of photos we may well have ended up with a different winning trio. The fourth phone, the Apple iPhone 7, was a distant fourth (though, admittedly, the oldest of the bunch).

Why these phones?

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We had one criteria for picking phones: the newest and best modern smartphone cameras you can buy. We picked what we expected would be the top four, informed by our use of some phones over the past several months that have held up well (Pixel, iPhone 7) and the new blockbuster releases (Galaxy S8, LG G6).

Google Pixel XL camera

The iPhone and Google Pixel were obvious choices. The Pixel has been crowned the champ in many comparisons, and there's no denying that it's a really great camera. And while the iPhone 7 fared poorly in our last comparison just after its release, it is still the single best-selling phone on the planet; it'd be silly not to include it.

Both the LG G6 and the Samsung Galaxy S8 hit shelves quite recently, both making a splash with their launches and spiffy new hardware. Interestingly, Samsung has included basically the same camera on the S8 as they did on the Galaxy S7 — but considering that was the hands-down winner last time around we can't blame them. LG, on the other hand, scrapped everything about the LG G5 and started fresh the the G6.

We should note that the LG G6 and the iPhone 7 both sport secondary cameras — the G6 a 135° wide-angle and the iPhone 7 Plus a 2x optical zoomed lens, but neither were included for the comparison voting, though we'll occasionally discuss them through this analysis. It's also noting that the G6's main camera takes slightly narrower photos than the rest (it's 35mm lens compared to the 27-29mm on most smartphones), so all of its photos will look slightly more zoomed in even though they were all taken in the same spot.

How we shot

I carried these four phones over the course of a few days to various settings at varying times to put these all to the test. Every photo was shot in full Auto mode with settings that would match what you would get out-of-the-box from the manufacturer — right down to leaving automatic exposure and auto HDR enabled. The only changes we made to the image files was stripping identifying data and shrinking the size of the full panorama files before uploading.

iPhone 7 Plus camera

Technically, every one of these phones is capable of shooting in RAW with manual controls (the iPhone and Pixel both require third-party apps). We fully embrace that advanced pro-level photography and editing, but also acknowledge that's not how "normal" people take photos. Heck, we don't even typically take photos like that. There are billions of smartphones out there and the vast majority of people don't bother with manual controls, DNG files, or learning what aperture and exposure and shutter speed are about. And that's okay, because Samsung and Apple and LG and Google have bent over backwards to give them all a great Auto experience.

(Let's be honest, if you really care about messing with ISO and white balance and everything else, then you already know what you want out of a camera, and it's not the tiny fixed lens and minuscule sensor you get with a phone. What you want is a real camera with real controls and a big sensor and lenses.)

Specs Showdown

One last thing before we start looking at the photos: let's talk specs.

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CategoryApple iPhone 7Google PixelLG G6Samsung Galaxy S8
Megapixels12MP12.3MP13MP12MP
Resolution4032x30244048x30364160x31204032x3024
Sensor Size1/3"1/2.3"1/3"1/2.6"
Pixel Size1.22μm1.4μm1.12μm1.4μm
Apertureƒ/1.8ƒ/2.4ƒ/1.8ƒ/1.7

Alright, that's a lot of numbers. But what do they mean?

Megapixels is the total number of light-sensing pixels you'll find on the camera's sensor plate, arranged in a grid. The "mega" part means one million, so a "12 megapixel" sensor will have 12 million individual pixels on it. More pixels mean more detail for your photos, and every one of these will produce photos that are bigger than all but the most expensive monitors. More megapixels does mean, however, that you can crop in on a photo and still have plenty of detail, or print at large sizes without starting to see individual pixels.

Resolution is the dimensions of the pixel grid on the sensor: width and height. Multiply the two and you'll get the pixel count, and thus the megapixels. All of these cameras conform to a standard 4:3 aspect ratio.

Sensor size is the literal physical size of the sensor. A bigger sensor means that the manufacturer can either put on bigger pixels to collect more light for a brighter photo, or more pixels for a more detailed photo. Sensor size is measured as a fraction — the larger the number, the larger the sensor (remember, in fractions a smaller denominator results in a bigger number), measuring the diagonal across the plate (just like we measure screen sizes). Of these four phones, the Pixel has the largest sensor, but it's only a tenth of an inch bigger than the smallest in the iPhone or G6.

LG G6 Cameras

Pixel size is the physical measurement of an individual pixel on a sensor. A bigger pixel can collect more light, which is most useful in dark environments where light is at a premium. We are still talking about microscopically tiny pixels here — 12 million on a plate the size of your pinky nail — thus the measurement of micrometers (μm). Even the biggest pixels — the 1.4 μm you'll find on the Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel, are just 1/70th the thickness of a human hair. In other words: itty bitty.

Aperture is the width of the hole that light passes through — the bigger the opening, the more light that can get to the sensor, and the better an image the camera can produce. Aperture size is written as a fraction, e.g. ƒ/2.0 (the "ƒ" stands for "1"); the smaller the number in the fraction, the wider the opening. Aperture is a relative measure — two lenses with differing lengths and the same aperture would not have the same size opening — but for smartphones the cameras are all roughly the same size. Because it's a measure of the diameter of a circle, a seemingly small difference, like from ƒ/2.4 to ƒ/1.8, will double the area of he opening and thus the amount of light.

Take it again!

While we're going to go over the results here, we know you might want to see for yourself what you like — after all, it was a blind test. We've made a copy of the survey from before; it's still blind to start, but once you select your favorite photo it'll tell you which phone you picked.

See which photos you picked as the best

The Photos

Alright, so the Galaxy S8 came out on top with the Pixel and G6 close behind. Let's see how everything shook out.

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