Whats the best smartphone for low light photography?

It’s crazy how far phones have come. I think back to my first ever phone at the age of 16 – a Motorola the size of a house brick. I barely used it except to text friends when I was bored at home in the evenings. And now, nearly 20 years later my phone has become my life line, it’s my business, it can set my house alarm and turn my lights on, it counts my steps and my heart rate, it gives me access to a world of information. One of the most impressive functions though are the cameras on modern smartphones. Their capabilities are astounding. My latest iPhone 11 Pro has 3 lenses, plus the front camera, all 12 megapixels. Thats 4 different lenses in something that fits in the palm of my hand. Each of them is far better than the best digital camera a hobbyist would own just 10 years ago! But which smartphone has the best camera for low light photography?

Both of these were taken on the Pixel 4 using the Night Site feature and a tripod

Low Light Photography

One area where phones have started making huge progress recently is low light/night photography. When I bought my iPhone 11 Pro quite a few months back, I was really impressed with its 4 seconds exposures and stabilisation. Then I was approached by Google, who challenged me to use the Pixel 4 for astro-photography. My first thoughts were very skeptical. Taking photos of the stars and night sky can be tricky enough of a professional camera, but a phone? I took them up on their offer and travelled to Norway to try and capture the Aurora. Google decided to send a crew to film my little adventure. Full disclosure here, Google paid me for this. But I would never advocate and put my name behind a product I don’t believe in.

The Best Smartphone for Low Light Photography

The Google Pixel 4 is a beast. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect, and I personally prefer the interface of an iPhone. The battery isn’t the greatest on the Pixel 4 but it has some great features. Where it really comes into its own is in low light photography.

To really take advantage of it you need a sturdy tripod because it can take up to 4 minute exposures. Yes, you heard that right, 4 MINUTE! I rarely take more than 30 second exposures on my professional SLR! The phone actually takes several photos during the 4 minutes and blends them together to get a balanced exposure. It’s impressive stuff. Using my professional gear I do the same thing, and blend the images in Photoshop. You need a fair bit of knowledge and skill to do this well but in the Pixel 4 it’s all automated. The final images can’t match a good SLR or mirrorless camera, but I was surprised by the quality and the lack of noise in the dark areas.

The Pixel 4s ability to deal with low light is astounding but you will need a tripod

For me, a phone is never going to replace my professional gear. But for the average person or even a hobbyist I think this phone is a game changer. if you have any questions about it, please don’t hesitate to comment below or to get in touch.

If you want to learn more about night photography, read my post about photographing the northern lights.