Taking pictures has become part of our daily habit. Whether you are taking some selfies to post it on Instagram or taking some shots of your child’s birthday, the camera is an important tool. Not only that it is capturing that precious moment, but it is giving life to it. And this is where quality matters. We have become so quality addicted that we are willing to pay a fortune for a smartphone with a good camera.

I am very confident that the top 5 things what you check when purchasing a new smartphone the camera will be on the list. This doesn’t resume only to the specs, but the overall image quality itself. The days of high megapixel counts are more or less over. Manufacturers nowadays are equipping their flagship smartphones with respectful cameras.

But considering the large number of smartphones out there it becomes nearly impossible to decide which one is better. That is true. But, thanks to some websites like DxOMark, this has became more scientific. What these guys are doing is amazing. For people that don’t know, standardizing the verification procedure is not easy. Not only that you need to have a controlled environment. You also need to be able to have precise and accurate measurements. By the way precise and accurate are not the same? No they are not.

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Which one is better?

First things first. There is no such thing as the best one. There always will be a better one. Which one is performing better than the other one? That is a different story. For that purpose you can check DxOMark website. At the day of this post the following smartphones are list as top ranking on their website:

Please check DxOMark website to have the latest information. All the above smartphones excel in image quality and detail in the images that they are producing.

These image sensors have become so advance that they are competing with DSLRs. I am not speaking that they will replace the DSLR and mirrorless segment. They are producing images with lots of details despite their small size.

What is influencing image quality

Image quality can be influenced by a lot of factors. While there might be more, here are the ones that I personally consider important:

  • image sensor size
  • image sensor pixel count / pixel size
  • lighting conditions
  • processing power of the smartphone

Image sensor size

If you are into all the technical parts, then I can tell you that the size of the image sensor matters. Honestly here manufacturers have their hands tied. Why? Even though they would like to add large image sensors, there is no physical space. This influences the number of pixels they can put inside.

Below you can find a comparison size chart of different image sensor sizes. Although the chart below stops at 1/2.3″ image sensor, in reality smartphones have even smaller sensors like that. This particular image sensor size of 1/2.3″ can be found on a lot of compact cameras.

The smaller sensor, the smaller is the pixel size. Let’s see how this is influencing image quality.

Image sensor pixel count / pixel size

The pixel count and pixel size go together if the sensor size is fixed. They are inverse proportional. What that means is that the larger the pixel size, the less you can cramp on a sensor. The opposite is true. The smaller the pixel size, the higher is the pixel count.

By the way I forgot to highlight that pixel count gives you the resolution of the image you can shoot. Therefor a 13 mpx image sensor cramps 13 million pixels on an area smaller that 25 squared millimeters. To give you a rough idea how that big is check the nail on your small finger. It is only 1/4 of that size.

The end result of having so small pixels is that they become prone to noise. This is the reason why smartphone cameras perform that bad in low light conditions compared to a DSLR.

Lighting conditions

Light in photography is everything. As a photographer the very first thing you need to know is how to control light. But even if you can not control it, knowing how to work with it is a total game changer.

A lot of people don’t pay attention to this important. From my eyes this contributing factor has the biggest impact on the result. Not only that it is able to create the mood you want to have, but is influencing your settings. In poorly lighted environments your camera will crank:

  • either the ISO to make the sensor more sensible to light – this will increase noise in the image
  • either reduce shutter speed to let in more light to reach the sensor – this will result in shaky / not sharp images
  • both – to have a good shutter speed, but also not to increase noise that much

Therefor your camera is trying to guess which is the correct setting. The more lights you have the better. But pay attention, the quality of the light is also important. Otherwise you will end up in underexposed or overexposed shots.

Processing power of the smartphone

Last but not least, I have added the processing power of the smartphone. Do you wonder why I have added this to the list? The reason is simple, All the top performing smartphones on DxOMark list have some sort of algorithm. These are meant to process the image after they were taken and generate you the end result. Did you think that your smartphone camera is that amazing?

Naaahhh. Top smartphones have really smart algorithms that are processing exposure, noise. Some models even take into account your shaking hand when taking the picture. They are performing a lot of activities once the image is taken, that the end used doesn’t have to. So let’s come back to the real topic of this article.

How to improve picture quality of your smartphone

What would you say if I would tell you that you can improve your smartphone’s low light capability? You may already know, but photography is not always about the gear. A good gear can help you ease your work. But that won’t make you a professional photographer.

With a little bit of post processing and with the proper technique you can improve the overall image quality a lot. The technique is called image stacking. This might be a handy technique if you need a good quality picture. Please check out the video below to see how simple the process is.

I have prepared some comparison images to see how much this technique can reduce noise in your images. All the images were shot with my Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 smartphone which is quite old for today’s standards. The camera was set to shoot manual and the ISO setting was raised to ISO 1600. Believe me that is a lot for a smartphone. I don’t go beyond ISO 800 on my Nikon D3100. But for the purpose of this tutorial it was perfect.


As you can see in the images above the fact that you don’t have the latest smartphone should not be a stopper. With a little bit of patience and some easy technique you can greatly improve the end result. This can come in handy in a lot of situations. 99.99% of the time we have our smartphones with us. But you don’t necessarily take your DSLR with you all the time.

Therefor if you need to take the shot the above technique can help you. The only thing to remember is to have the smartphone fixed. The mean function in Photoshop is calculating the mean value of each pixel. If the images is shaky then the final result will not be pleasant enough

If you want to find out more about the different stacking modes in Adobe Photoshop I recommend you the following article:

Image Stacking modes in Adobe Photoshop 

I really recommend you to give it a try. The end results speak for themselves. Leave a comment if you want and tell me how did it go.

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