As anyone with a passing interest in politics will tell you, democracy simply doesn’t work. We decided not to worry about that though and let you, the people, decide which smartphone takes the best photos.
How did we do this? Well, last month we published a blind test featuring photos shot with seven of the best current smartphones: the Apple iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, Samsung Galaxy S7, HTC 10, LG G5, OnePlus 3 and Huawei P9. We then invited you to vote for your favourite image in either categories: landscape, HDR, macro, low light, flash, selfie, colour and detail.
And vote you did – in your thousands. In fact we had nearly 10,000 votes in total. So thanks for that.
Scroll down to see which phones won in which categories, and which your overall winner is.
Also: huge thanks to Three for the loan of the handsets. Without their help this test would have been rubbish
ROUND 1: LANDSCAPE
We started off with a fairly common scenario: a standard landscape in daylight. The presence of water, foliage and sky should have tested the phones’ abilities to cope with colour and tone, and there’s plenty of detail to be looked at too.
The results were comprehensive: you voted the Apple iPhone 6s the winner is this round by a decent margin: about 34%, with the second-place OnePlus 3 getting just over 20% and the LG G5 garnering 15%.
We can see why – the 6s coped admirably here, exposing both the sky and river beautifully; where some of the other shots, notably the last-place HTC 10 and disappointing Samsung Galaxy S7, look flat, the 6s is punchy without being unrealistic.
We were, however, surprised by one result: while the 6s was a clear winner, the supposedly superior iPhone 6s Plus got only 11% of the vote, and indeed on closer inspection some of the highlights in the Plus’ shot are blown out.
ROUND 2: HDR
HDR is these days a standard feature on all phone cameras, but not all handle it well.
That’s certainly borne out by the results here, with the top three phones separated by only a handful of votes but the bottom two getting hardly any. The Samsung Galaxy S7 narrowly took the win, beating the OnePlus 3 and LG G5 with 22.1% to 21.4% and 21.2% respectively. The poor old HTC 10, meanwhile, got just 2.9% of the votes.
Your verdict exactly matches ours here: the Galaxy S7’s shot is beautifully exposed and impressively sharp, making for a great overall shot.
ROUND 3: MACRO
Next to macro, which was one of the clearest rounds in the competition. The Samsung Galaxy S7 was again the winner, taking just over 30% of the vote; the second-placed Huawei P9 managed only 17% and most of the other phones were left down in single-digit territory.
Again, it’s easy to see why. While several of the phones here smear detail to varying degrees, the S7’s shot is sharp as a lemon-juice enema. Not that we’ve ever had one.
ROUND 4: LOW LIGHT
Low-light performance is arguably the single-most important criteria by which phone cameras are judged these days, and if you go by these results then you’ll be wanting to pick up an LG G5. In fact, the G5 scored the biggest victory of any round, taking more than 50% of the vote and leaving all of the others trailing like a German shot putter sprinting after Usain Bolt.
ROUND 5: FLASH
The other side of the low-light package is the flash, and interestingly the results here are almost the exact opposite of those in the low-light round; maybe the manufacturers couldn’t be bothered to make both aspects half-decent?
So the LG G5, which so convincingly took the low-light honours, finished last here. Meanwhile the Samsung Galaxy S7, which was no more than an also-ran in the last round, triumphed easily with 33% of the vote. What a crazy world we live in, eh?
ROUND 6: SELFIE
The key thing to remember about this round is that when voting you all had to click through seven pictures of Reviews Editor Tom Morgan’s mug. We’re very sorry about that, and it understandably led to some unexpected results as voters most likely just clicked on random images in order to move on to the next image as quickly as possible.
How else to explain the fact that the HTC 10 – bottom or second-bottom in almost every other round – easily took the honours here, with a whopping 36% of the vote? Well actually, it is quite easy to explain: the HTC 10 uses light-gathering UltraPixels in its front camera and is also the only one with optical image stabilisation round the back and front. Shame it couldn’t keep up those high standards elsewhere.
ROUND 7: COLOUR
This was one of the closer rounds, with five of the seven phones gathering decent numbers of votes. That said, the iPhone 6s was a reasonably clear winner, with 27% of the vote while the 6s Plus also came in a respectable third – its best performance in the whole contest.
Nothing about that surprises us. Apple excels at getting the most from the iPhone’s image sensor, and while photos from the likes of the Galaxy S7 may pop on high-res OLED screens, they clearly don’t impress quite as much versus their rivals when the playing field is levelled and they’re viewed on other devices.
ROUND 8: DETAIL
And finally, to round 8, in which we cropped into the landscape image from earlier to see how much detail the phones could dig up. Turns out the answer is "quite a lot", although at that level of zooming in all the pictures do rather resemble watercolours painted by that old lady who tried to repair the Jesus painting in that Italian church.
Some did it better than others, as you’d expect. And as you also might expect, the top two were those which have the highest-resolution sensors – namely the 16MP LG G5 and OnePlus 3 respectively. Their 12MP bethren couldn’t quite match the level of detail, and your votes reflect that: the G5 got 31% and the OnePlus 3 managed 24%, but the others were all in the mid-teens or lower. See, size is important after all.
And the winner is…
And after all that? Well, it was close.
Eight rounds completed and a mere handful of points separated the top four phones. But there can be only one winner, and that winner is… the Samsung Galaxy S7.
Here’s how we worked it all out: we tallied up the votes in each category then assigned points to them as follows: 1st = 10pts, 2nd = 8pts, 3rd = 6pts, 4th = 4pts, 5th = 3pts, 6th = 2pts, 7th = 1pt. We did it like this to weight the vote slightly towards the phones which performed best in the most categories, rather than rewarding consistently average performance.
Once we’d done the number crunching bit we ended up with these final totals:
1st Samsung Galaxy S7 (51pts)
2nd OnePlus 3 (49pts)
3rd Apple iPhone 6s (48pts)
4th LG G5 (45pts)
5th Apple iPhone 6s Plus (29pts)
6th HTC 10 (26pts)
7th Huawei P9 (24pts)
There’s really not much between those top four phones. The S7 came out top in three rounds – HDR, macro and flash – and was third in the selfie and detail rounds. The OnePlus picked up four second-place finishes but didn’t win a single category, while the LG G5 triumphed in the low-light and detail rounds but was let down by its performance in the flash, macro and colour categories.
Possibly the most surprising result is that of the iPhone 6s, which finished third and won the colour round. That in itself isn’t surprising at all – iPhone cameras have always been rated among the best in real-world use, even while often lagging behind their Android counterparts in terms of resolution and features/gimmicks (delete as appropriate). No, what’s surprising is that the 6s consistently outperformed the 6s Plus, with a total of 48 points to 29 respectively.
You rated the Plus poorly in almost every category: it came in the top three in only two rounds, flash and colour, and was regularly 5th or 6th. Given that the cameras should be the same beyond the Plus’ extra talent of having built-in image stabilisation, we’re a bit baffled by this aspect of the test. See, democracy doesn’t work…
What is clear is that the very best phones all have great cameras. The top four here make up four of the top six positions in our Smartphones Top 10, together with the Note 7 – which arrived too late to be included here – and the underperforming HTC 10.
So while some of those top four phones may outperform others in certain areas of photography, you can be pretty sure that they’ll all do a great all-round job – and that’s especially true of the Samsung Galaxy S7.
Read more › the 10 best phones in the world right now