We get to review a heck of a lot of smartphones at Tech Advisor. In recent years, it’s become hard to decide which ones are best, because they are all so good.
Up until recently, most smartphones usually had major flaws. Terrible battery life, a device-ending boot loop. Overheating, maybe. Perhaps a bad display.
But in the last couple of years, the playing field has levelled, and most high-end phones are excellent. Buy any of the best smartphones and you will be happy.
It means cameras are one of the last real differentiators when it comes to phones. It’s one of the hardest things to get right.
Which phone has the best camera? It’s a subjective question, but all of us here at Tech Advisor towers has an opinion.
I’ve been lucky to review or use phones in 2022 such as the iPhone 14 Pro, Google Pixel 7 Pro, Huawei Mate 50 Pro, and Sony Xperia 1 IV. They’ve all had outstanding cameras with premium hardware and polished software experiences.
But for all their prowess – and name brand recognition – none of them have my favourite mobile camera of the year.
This year, my colleague Dom Preston and I agree: our favourite phone camera of 2022 is the Vivo X80 Pro.
That’s right, not the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra or iPhone 14 Pro. Not even the Pixel 7 Pro. Vivo has them all beat for sheer photography performance, in a device that’s delightful to use as a mobile camera.
It’s down to the main camera, a 50Mp f/1.6 sensor that is 1/1.3in. That’s large for a mobile camera, letting in more light and giving the X80 Pro phenomenally good low light performance.
Vivo’s V1+ image processing chip combines with this excellent sensor to pull off day time shots with stunning, accurate colour and great detail that doesn’t over sharpen scenes where other phone brands tend to.
You can tap or scroll through the photo galleries:
But it’s in low light that the X80 Pro really excels. It offers stunning high dynamic range (HDR) and can confidently balance the mix of light sources without blowing them out too bright.
Where other phones will render a night time shot far brighter than it was in reality with its night mode, the X80 Pro instead gives an accurate shot that reflects the mood of the scene.
Below, I compared the X80 Pro’s camera to the popular iPhone 13 on a dark street. You can use the slider to see the difference between the images.
The iPhone (on the left) does a solid job but notice how the Vivo’s (on the right) is simply better. The Vivo captures far more detail in the leaves on the right and the cars and houses on the left. The colour of the pavement is also truer to life where the iPhone renders it more yellowy.
This is mostly down to the sensor being able to take in more light, and Vivo’s software being able to process the data well. The iPhone’s image isn’t bad – but the Vivo’s is streets ahead with sharper detail, and often in these situation does not even click into its night mode because the auto setting is already so good.
I thought about writing an extensive comparison article like this with pixel peeping to compare the Vivo to other phones in depth, but that would have taken the joy out of it. I’ve simply been enjoying the X80 Pro safe in the knowledge it is this good.
The best phone cameras make me want to use them more. Though I have carried various iPhones this year, from the 12 Pro Max to the 14 Plus to the 14 Pro, I still don’t find myself using them as cameras as much as I do with the Vivo. The phone compels me to be more creative and observant.
The X80 Pro is able to handle bright neon lights without them blurring or overpowering the scene, and night time shots have a great atmosphere to them.
But it can handle several levels of light during the day too. Take a look at the shot below. This is a very difficult thing to achieve, with darkness inside and out, but light sources aplenty outside. It’s a breeze for the X80 Pro, which can take in all the depth of the scene.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
With the X80 Pro to hand, I am snapping away because I am more often than not blown away with the results. It makes me a better photographer, and, more to the point, makes my average photography look much better thanks to its stupendous abilities.
As well as the main sensor, there three other versatile lenses – a 48Mp f/2.2 ultrawide lens a 12Mp f/1.6 2x zoom telephoto lens with gimbal stabilisation and a final 8Mp, f/3.4, 5x zoom periscope lens with OIS.
The gimbal stabilisation on one of the telephoto lenses gives excellent clarity and good bokeh to portrait shots that might otherwise suffer from my shaky hands.
I don’t normally zoom in to 5x, but it’s good to know the option is there with a 5x optical sensor, though at 8Mp the quality diminishes somewhat. I prefer the ultrawide camera, which can handle HDR very well:
Henry Burrell / Foundry
As an aside, I also really like the off the wall camera bump design on the back of the X80 Pro, which anecdotally I know a lot of people don’t. At least Vivo is trying something unique in a world of glass slab phones.
I’m less enamoured with Vivo’s Funtouch OS Android skin, which is a little more palatable after an update to Android 13 but is much less polished than Google’s Android 13, Samsung’s latest One UI, or even OnePlus’s Oxygen OS.
But it doesn’t matter to me when the X80 Pro’s cameras are this good. At the end of the year, it’s still the phone camera I reach for when I want to nail a shot or capture photos on an important day.
It’s a big deal that Vivo is selling the X80 Pro in Europe and the UK officially. Importing can be a huge barrier to purchase, and if Vivo wants to actually sell its excellent phones in the West it needs to improve availability for all its phones.
But with the new X90 Pro+ announced and already promising to be an even better photography experience with its 1in main sensor, the future looks bright for Vivo. If mobile photography is important to you, look beyond Apple, Samsung, and Google. You might be surprised what’s on offer.