Modern smartphone cameras can accomplish astonishing feats. They take sharp, vivid images that are often indistinguishable from images taken by expensive, professional digital single-lens reflex cameras. They record ultra-high-definition and slow-motion video that would be impossible to capture with anything but the most cutting-edge video cameras just a decade ago. And what’s perhaps the most important, they take well-exposed pictures in all lighting conditions with a single tap on the screen.
It might then seem that smartphone cameras are nearing the point beyond which quality improvements won’t lead to better-looking pictures, at least not when judged with naked eye. But that isn’t stopping smartphone manufacturers from pushing the technology forward and inventing new, ingenious ways how smartphone users can capture memorable moments. The market has exploded during the past few years with dual-camera smartphones, and it seems that dual-camera sensors are here to stay. So, what exactly are the benefits of dual-camera smartphones and which dual-camera smartphones are the best right now?
Benefits of Dual-Camera Smartphones
It’s easy to forget that dual-camera smartphones were considered a technological dead end during the first half of this decade. In 2011, HTC released the HTC EVO 3D, a 3D-enabled Android smartphone, which could be used to take stereographic 3D photos and video for viewing on its autostereoscopic display. The 3D feature left gimmicky, to say the least, and consumers lost their interest soon after the smartphone hit the market.
Smartphone manufacturers have learned their lesson, and the current breed of dual-camera smartphones produces regular JPEG images that can be viewed on any display and uploaded on social media and shared with others as if they were taken with a single-camera smartphone. That’s because the second camera is used for more practical purposes than 3D.
Many modern dual-camera smartphones feature a pair of cameras with different focal lengths, usually one for wide-angle landscape pictures and the other one for bringing things closer. This gives users the flexibility of a zoom lens without the bulk that such lens would require.
Other manufacturers combine one highly light-sensitive monochrome sensor with a regular color sensor to capture much more light and detail than an ordinary sensor could. The resulting pictures have incredible sharpness and clarity even when taken in less than ideal lighting conditions.
Smartphone manufacturers sometimes even use the second sensor to take the same image with a different focus. Users can then combine the two images during post-processing to realistically mimic the desired bokeh effect that’s characteristic for very bright and very expensive telephoto lenses.
Top 5 Best Dual-Camera Smartphones in 2017
In 2017, you can choose from many outstanding dual-camera smartphones. Virtually every major smartphone manufacturer has released at least one dual-camera smartphone, usually reserving the feature for flagship smartphones.
The OnePlus 5 takes a few steps away from the traditional OnePlus formula, being, among other things, the most expensive phone OnePlus has ever released. With the higher price come more impressive features, and the rear dual-camera setup is certainly one of them.
The OnePlus 5 has a 16 MP camera sensor with 24 mm focal length along with a 20 MP sensor with 36 mm focal length and optical image stabilization. You can either switch between the sensors to get closer or farther from the subject without physically moving in any direction, or you can activate Portrait mode and let the smartphone progressively blurring the background, creating a realistic bokeh effect. The OnePlus 5 can automatically detect various lighting conditions and instantly optimize the camera settings for accuracy and clarity. But if you’d rather take things into your own hands, the Pro Mode lets you fine-tune settings like ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, and others.
The camera is snappy thanks to the Snapdragon 835 chipset from Qualcomm and the Adreno 540 GPU embedded in the chipset. If you order the 128 GB version of the smartphone (and you definitely should if you plan on recording 4K videos and taking many pictures), you’ll even get 8 GB of memory. Just don’t ask us what you should do with it—even OnePlus themselves don’t know.
The only two things you may not like about the smartphone is the 5.5-inch Full HD display and the lack of water resistance. While the lower resolution at least means a longer battery life, the lack of waterproofing is inexcusable in this price range in 2017.
iPhone 7 Plus
Even almost a full year after its release, the iPhone 7 Plus is still one of the best dual-camera smartphones you can buy. While its relatively thick bezels feel dated when compared to the wave of futuristic bezel-less smartphones from other manufacturers, it holds up in every other way.
The iPhone 7 Plus has two 12 MP cameras, one with a wide-angle lens and the other with a telephoto lens. If you’re willing to sacrifice some image quality by activating digital zoom, you can shoot at up to 10-times magnification for photos and 6-times for video. The dual-camera in the iPhone 7 Plus supports a new feature for creating a depth-of-field effect that keeps faces sharp while creating a beautifully blurred background called Portrait mode. Using advanced machine learning, the camera and the software instantly analyze the scene and determine how to optimally apply the effect to achieve realistic results.
What’s so great about using the iPhone 7 Plus as a camera, besides its ability to take stunning pictures, is how great the pictures look on the 5.5-inch screen with a wide-color-gamut display. It’s just a shame that the display sports only the Full HD resolution.
We also feel the need to praise the performance of the Apple A10 Fusion chipset and the PowerVR Series7XT Plus GPU. The entire phone is IP67-certified for water resistance up to 1 meter and 30 minutes. Apple has achieved such admirable degree of protection against water and dust by removing the headphone jack and embracing the Lighting connector. If you’ve been using wired headphones up to now, it might take a while until you either get used to using an adaptor or switch to Bluetooth headphones.
The last few generations of LG flagships were all about gimmicks—gimmicks that nobody needed. With the G6, LG has stopped trying to convince consumers to spend their hard-earned money on features they don’t need. Instead, they’ve released what’s, in many ways, a basic smartphone taken to perfection.
The dual-camera has two 13 MP sensors, one with a 71-degree field-of-view and the other with a 125-degree field-of-view. Both sensors rely on Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) for fast, stable autofocus for objects at a long distance or in outdoor environments. The camera software has several new modes, including a mode called Square Camera. When activated, Square Camera divides the user interface into two 1:1 squares. One square shows the image preview, and the other one displays the last picture taken, allowing you to instantly see whether you’ve managed to take a good shot.
Looking at the LG G6 from a distance, it’s impossible not to notice its large bezel-less display with 18:9 aspect ratio. The display measures 5.7 inches and has 1440 x 2880 pixels. It stretches from corner to corner, copying the curved corners of the smartphone itself. According to LG, the curved corners strengthen the display, making it less likely to shatter when dropped.
The Snapdragon 821 chipset may not be the fastest Qualcomm chipset on the market, but it’s still one of the best mobile chipsets you can get. It makes the dual-camera snappy and the entire phone lag-free. The LG G6 is the only smartphone on this list that passes the MIL-STD-810G series of tests designed by the U.S military to test its equipment limits in various conditions where it is expected to be used.
Packing a state-of-the-art dual-camera system developed with Leica, the Huawei P10 is the upgrade all Huawei fans have been waiting for. The dual-camera system with precise 3D facial detection, dynamic illumination, and natural portrait enhancements captures twice as much light as ordinary smartphone cameras thanks to the combination of a 20 MP monochrome sensor with a 12 MP color shooter. The Kirin 960 high-end chipset and advanced machine learning algorithms accurately calculate how to combine the image data from the two sensors together to create one stunning picture.
You can then view the result on the 5.1-inch IPS-NEO LED touchscreen with the Full HD resolution and the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection technology. Huawei’s Emotion UI has reached version 5.1, and we’re big fans of its minimalist appearance and surprisingly useful functionality. The UI simplifies many common tasks and adds new features without making the smartphone difficult to use.
In contrast to most other devices on this list, the Huawei P10 is pleasantly compact thanks to the 5.1-inch display, yet it packs a 3200 mAh battery, which dwarfs the rather underwhelming 2900 mAh battery that you can find inside the iPhone 7 Plus.
Huawei Honor 9
The Huawei Honor 9 is a proof that dual-camera systems are finding their way even to mid-range devices. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that the Honor 9 is a mid-range device without looking it up online and seeing the price. Its stunning curved body crafted through a thermal bending process, with 3D curved glass covering the display, is available in four colors, and it looks absolutely stunning no matter which color you choose.
Just like the Huawei P10, the Honor 9 also relies on a 20 MP monochrome lens and a 12 MP RGB lens to capture a lot of detail under all lighting conditions. Huawei claims to deliver twice the brightness in low-light conditions as ordinary smartphone cameras, and we have no reason not to believe them. The dual-camera setup also allows you to zoom in to see things up close without losing image quality.
The Honor 9 relies on the speedy Kirin 960 chipset, and Huawei offers the smartphone with either 4 or 6 GB of RAM and 64 or 128 GB of storage. Regardless of which version you choose, the smartphone always comes with a 3200 mAh Li-Po battery with fast battery charging.