2020's best smartphone camera

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra won in the Night Landscape shot category.
The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra won in the Night Landscape shot category.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

SINGAPORE - Artificial intelligence (AI) is the new battleground for smartphone cameras.

The AI software in the camera automatically calculates the amount of light and aperture settings, for instance, to produce a glowing portrait or landscape shot that can rival those taken with professional cameras. It does most of the thinking for users.

The Straits Times picks the best of this year's flagship smartphone cameras from major manufacturers:

- Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G (available on Lazada, Amazon and Shopee)

- Huawei P40 Pro 5G (available on Lazada, Amazon and Shopee)

- Oppo Find X2 Pro 5G (available on Lazada, Amazon and Shopee)

- Apple iPhone 12 Pro (available on Lazada and Shopee)

- realme X50 Pro 5G (available on Lazada, Amazon and Shopee)

- Sony Xperia 1 II (available on Lazada, Amazon and Shopee)

Methodology

ST tested photo quality in various modes - landscape, portrait and selfie - using the phone's native camera app.

Landscape shots were taken at the Swan Lake in Botanic Gardens on a sunny day. Night shots at Marina Bay were taken using the camera's night photography mode, when the option was available.

Portraits shots were taken under indoor incandescent lighting without flash inside Marina Bay Sands.

For outdoor selfies, the cameras were tested on how well they capture and illuminate faces against a bright blue sky. All beautifying features were turned off.

The photos were viewed on the same colour-calibrated monitor to compare colour accuracy, white balance, dynamic range, presence of details and sharpness.

Winners

Landscape (day): Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra


The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra won in this category for its ability to capture details. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

All contenders captured the vivid blue skies and distant trees and greenery with a high degree of colour accuracy and sharpness.

The images captured on the Huawei P40 Pro were slightly overexposed, while the Sony Xperia 1 II and realme X50 Pro produced slightly underexposed pictures.

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra won in this category for its ability to capture details, such as veins on a leaf and tiny branches, even though they were in the shade. Most cameras would not be able to capture these details, which would often appear dark when set against a bright sky.

Landscape (night): Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra won in this category for producing night shots that are similar to the ones produced using professional cameras.

The night scenes were brightly illuminated and details such as light reflections on water did not go missing.

In contrast, pictures shot on the Apple iPhone 12 Pro, Sony Xperia 1 II and realme X50 Pro were dark.

Pictures taken on the Oppo Find X2 Pro and Huawei P40 Pro were bright, but their colours were either too yellowish or bluish.

Portrait: Huawei P40 Pro


The Huawei P40 Pro was the best at this: capturing the subject's skin tone accurately while maintaining the white balance of the surroundings. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

The Sony Xperia 1 II does not have a portrait mode and did not do well in this category.

The rest produced a bokeh effect, or background blurring, while keeping their subjects sharp and clear.

Thus, the real test is on their ability to capture white and skin colour accurately.

The Huawei P40 Pro was the best at this: capturing the subject's skin tone accurately while maintaining the white balance of the surroundings.

All the other cameras tend to underexpose or overexpose the subject.

Selfie: Apple iPhone 12 Pro


The iPhone 12 Pro won in this category as it could keep the sky blue and the face illuminated at the same time. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Against a bright blue sky, most smartphone cameras tend to overexpose the sky or underexpose the subject's face.

The Huawei P40 Pro, realme X50 Pro and Sony Xperia 1 II kept the subject's face well illuminated but the sky was washed out.

The Oppo Find X2 Pro did a slightly better job at keeping the sky blue but the eyes of the subject looked artificially brightened.

The subject's face captured by the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra was so dark one could hardly see the eyes.

The iPhone 12 Pro won in this category as it could keep the sky blue and the face illuminated at the same time.

Overall: Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra


The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is the best overall smartphone camera as it has a versatile focal range. PHOTO: SAMSUNG

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is the best overall smartphone camera as it has a versatile focal range, allowing the phone to take the best pictures under most circumstances.

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