Which Smartphones Take the Best Travel Photos?

They're Definitely Not All Created Equal

Man taking photo of NYC
••• Dave and Les Jacobs/Blend Images/Getty Images

Not all smartphones are created equal, and one of the most obvious places you'll notice a difference is in the quality of their photos.

While no phone can compare to a DSLR, there's an enormous difference between shots from some of the latest high-end smartphones, and that cheap, budget device you bought a couple of years ago.

More people are using their phone as their main or only camera when they travel – but which models will give you shots you're happy to hang on the wall?

These four smartphones are where it's at.

 

Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung has been making high-end smartphones for years. Along with several other flagship features, the Galaxy S8 has one of the very best smartphone cameras you can buy.

While the 12MP sensor in the main camera isn't the largest on offer, there are far more important things than megapixel count when it comes to taking great smartphone shots.

One of those is Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), a technology that compensates for shaky hands and other phone movement, especially in low-light conditions and when shooting video. The S8 makes good use of this, and takes some of the best low-light shots you'll find from any smartphone.

Landscape and outdoor photos are typically well-exposed, with plenty of detail even in overcast and other murky conditions. Like the other phones listed here, you can also record 4K video at 30 frames per second.

The front camera hasn't been forgotten, either, with the 8MP sensor being paired with a bright f/1.7 lens and smart auto-focus system, to get that perfect selfie every time.

Like most other high-end phones, the Galaxy S8 doesn't come cheap, but if you're after a great smartphone that also takes excellent photos, this is it.

 

Google Pixel

For a slightly less-expensive option, consider Google's Pixel. It also has image stabilization built into the camera, with a 12.3MP sensor, and quality f/2.0 lens. 

This is reflected in the quality of shots you'll get out of it, especially in low-light conditions. When you're taking night photos, there's less noise and better color accuracy than almost any other smartphone camera out there. That image stabilization really helps in this scenario.

In better lighting, you can expect sharp, detailed images, accurate colors and good exposure levels – especially if you use the recommended HDR+ mode. Autofocus is super-fast.

On paper, the Pixel's camera isn't up to the standards of the latest Samsung or Apple models, but in the real world, it's easily a match for them. Independent tests have rated the phone's photo quality extremely highly, across a wide range of conditions.

As an added bonus, the company includes unlimited storage of full-size photos from the phone in Google Photos. When you're shooting endless travel pictures and videos, that's a welcome addition.

The Pixel comes in a small range of colors, in both 5.0" and 5.5" (XL) sizes.

 

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

As you'd expect from a premium phone company like Apple, the iPhone 7 Plus takes fantastic photos.

This, the larger of the two iPhone models, includes a pair of 12MP cameras at the rear that combine to give the best shots of any smartphone on the market.

Shots are taken with the 28mm-equivalent wide-angle lens, the 56mm-equivalent telephoto version, or both, depending on what the phone thinks will give the best shot. This also allows for nice extra features baked into the Photo app, like giving a blurred background in Portrait mode..

It doesn't tend to over-saturate colors or otherwise try to compensate for camera failings with software tricks, leading to accurate white balance and exposure across a wide range of photo types. Landscape and other outdoor shots tend to come out well, even when the lighting conditions aren't ideal.

Low-light performance is greatly improved from the previous model, and you'll now get usable shots in almost all conditions, even at night or in poorly-lit rooms.

Both the 7 Plus and its smaller sibling, the iPhone 7, include optical image stabilization, but only the Plus has that fancy dual camera setup. If you don't mind the larger size, this is the model to get for the best iPhone travel photos.

 

Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom

For something a bit different -- and a lot cheaper -- check out the Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom. Like the iPhone 7 Plus, it uses a pair of rear cameras to give extra flexibility to your travel shots. 

Armed with an even longer (2.3x) telephoto than the iPhone, the Zenfone lets you zoom in and capture details that most other smartphones could only dream of. Listening to complaints about color accuracy in the previous model, Asus has also included a dedicated sensor to make photos richer and more true-to-life.

Given it costs as little as half as much as the premium phones listed above, the Zenfone does a surprisingly good job of taking photos. While it can struggle a little with difficult exposures, the dynamic range is impressive, white balance is good, and even low-light photos are sharper and less noisy than more-expensive competitors.

If quality phone photos on a mid-range budget sound like what you're after, check out the Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom.