Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems
Q: I'm going on holidays and was thinking of buying a digital camera, but I only want it for casual use and everyone says that the latest phones are just as good for photos as a 'point and shoot' camera that I'd be looking for. Is this true? I was going to upgrade my phone anyway, so is it worth spending a few extra quid to get the best camera option on a new phone? If so, should I go for the best iPhone or is there another model that's better?
A. For casual photos, the latest phones are just about as good as most point-and-shoot models that cost under €500. The only exception to this rule is the zoom function: many pocket cameras have large (10x or 20x) zooms, whereas even the best, most expensive smartphone has a maximum of a 3x zoom. So if you were going to a zoo or on safari, you really wouldn't want to rely on your phone. But for casual people photos or scenery snapshots, the latest phones are now very capable.
You say you don't mind spending a few quid on the latest and greatest phone to maximise the camera feature. If this is the case, you'll be looking at one of four phones: Apple's iPhone X, Apple's iPhone 8 Plus, Huawei's P20 Pro or Samsung's S9 Plus.
It's no coincidence that these ultimate cameraphones are also the most expensive phones you can currently buy. But the cameras on them really are outstanding. If you want a more in-depth assessment, I've reviewed each of them on Independent.ie. But to summarise: Huawei's P20 Pro currently shades it as the highest-spec, most capable phone camera out there. It's a toss-up between Samsung's S9 and Apple's iPhone X for the next best option and the iPhone 8 Plus is marginally behind those models.
I'll briefly go through these one by one.
Huawei is the new kid on the black and is very definitively now challenging the iPhone and Samsung at the top of the heap. It's latest P20 Pro model goes all out on the camera system as its major draw. Its the first major flagship phone to have three camera lenses on the back of the phone, instead of the two found on the iPhone X, iPhone 8 Plus and Samsung S9 Plus.
These lenses boast some incredible specifications. Huawei has placed a 40-megapixel (f1.6) sensor on there, meaning that the amount of detail you get in each shot is going to be generally better than what you'd normally expect from a phone. The two other lenses on the back of the device are an 8-megapixel (f2.4) telephoto camera and a 20-megapixel monochrome (black and white) lens, for zooming in and adding more detail, respectively.
That telephoto lens has a 3x optical zoom, which brings it beyond the 2x zooms of the iPhone X or the Samsung S9 Plus.
The 'night' setting is most startling. You point and hold the phone at something for a few seconds in dark conditions. If there's any light source at all - a window, neon sign or street light - the camera builds on that light. It also appears to take several photos, stacking them into one shot that includes way more detail than you'd normally get from even the best phone cameras up to now.
And if black and white photos are your thing, one of the three rear lenses is a dedicated monochrome camera.
So this is currently the king of cameraphones.
However, Apple and Samsung are close.
The iPhone X has two 12-megapixel lenses, one with a wide-angle 28mm perspective and the other with a telephoto 50mm view. Like the iPhone 8 Plus (and 7 Plus), these combine to give you way more flexibility and quality than a single-lens phone camera. But unlike the iPhone 8 Plus, the telephoto 50mm lens here is also stabilised, meaning clearer, better photos, especially in low light. That's a notable upgrade.
One of the iPhone X's standout camera features is its video, which is better than any other phone. The iPhone X delivers 4K at three different frame rates (up to 60 frames per second). The results are absolutely stunning.
The other iPhone feature that beats other systems is its panorama mode. It's easy to dismiss this as a gimmick. It's anything but. I now often don't pack a wide angle lens with whatever 'proper' camera I'm bringing on a trip because I know that if I bring an iPhone X (or iPhone 8), I'll get amazing results. It's that good. As for the iPhone 8 Plus, with the exception of the stabilised second lens, virtually all of what's good in the iPhone X's camera can also be found in the iPhone 8 Plus, which uses a more conventional Touch ID button instead of facial recognition.
One footnote on iPhones: do bear in mind that we're two months away from the next iPhone launch.
Lastly, we have the Samsung S9 Plus. This camera system is also absolutely superb. With the exception of the Huawei P20 Pro's 'night mode', this is the best cameraphone for low-light conditions. Whenever the handset detects low-light, it reduces the aperture of the main 12-megapixel camera down to an astonishing f1.5, meaning the camera lets more light in than any rival.
Physically, the S9 Plus has two rear cameras, both of which have optical image stabilisation.
RECOMMENDATION: Huawei P20 Pro (pictured, €750 from Three)
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