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I have a Samsung J7 (2017) phone and am happily shooting HDR photos with it, with the Pro HDR Camera app. I'm happy with the results except for the noise level. I think my noise problems occur in low-light conditions only (I'm talking "shooting evening sky that is still very blue, halfway between day and night", not "night" or "indoors with weak bulb").

If I were to buy a new phone to remedy that, what should I look for?

  • A larger sensor?
  • Sensor type?
  • More megapixels?
  • Dual camera?
  • Smaller f-number?
  • RAW shooting?

The noise is monochromatic, not RGB, and is much amplified by tonemapping.

  • For a $200 phone you might want to compare yours to reviews of the Moto G5+, you're not going to get a better F number and those other features will probably double the price. The HDR on the J7 (2017) didn't do well in Reviews for low light. Budget? – Rob Dec 3 '17 at 19:34
  • @Rob: My budget is $364 for a used phone (non-round number because I converted it from my local currency). I'll look into Moto G5+, thanks. – Stefan Monov Dec 3 '17 at 23:16
  • @Rob: I just got the idea of pixel peeping photo comparisons, and so far I've noticed that the LG G6 (which I was already eyeing for its RAW capability) produces almost no noise compared to the J7, AND doesn't do the weird median-filter-like smudging at the pixel level. Looks like I've got myself a strong option. :) – Stefan Monov Dec 3 '17 at 23:25
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A larger sensor and smaller f-number (larger aperture) will generally yield better results in low light. However, mobile phones heavily rely on good software these days to produce the final JPG image, which may have just as big of an impact on the final image as all the technical specifications of the camera.

DxOMark compare mobile phone cameras and can be a good place to look for a phone that scores well for low noise.

RAW capabilities will definitively give you more control, but to fully utilise it you might have to do more than what is practical. Mounting the phone on a tripod, putting the camera to manual mode, control the shutter speed and ISO manually to lower the noise level, over and underexpose, load files into Lightroom or similar application and then create the HDR photo will probably give you a quite good result, but given that you are using a mobile phone that is probably not the way you want to do it.

A higher resolution (for the same sensor size) will often reduce the dynamic range a bit, so if resolution is not important you might actually achieve a better result with a lower resolution (given that everything else is equal).

Last, better cameras (in general) tends to have more "new" stuff, so although features like dual camera might not make a difference technically, it it likely that a phone with such a feature also has a better sensor that can produce better HDR photos.

To summarise, I would recommend looking at DxOMark scores, look at some of the sample photos and use that to find out what suits your needs within the budget.

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