We’ve got just about every smartphone buying guide you could ever hope for here on the site, but one thing we’ve only just put together is our best smartphones for selfies piece.

It’s something I’d be meaning to get around to for quite some time, but recently I found myself at the perfect crossroads of having lots of flagship devices in my possession at the same time and no longer having a puffed-out pregnant face. Win win!

I duly set about capturing my own face what felt like several thousand times, using a number of different models, including several of the aforementioned flagships, a couple of mid-rangers and even a super-cheap sub £300 phone.

Going in, I had my assumptions. Of course, the flagships will be the best, and the cheapy option will be the worst, duh!

But, wow, was I wrong. In particular what shocked me was just how bad the iPhone 15 Pro Max was. Considering this is a company that trades on its photographic power, stuffs its cameras full of impressive-sounding tech, and, most critically, it’s the one I use myself all the time, I expected it to at least come vaguely near the top.

Flagship brands

The brands in the test, aside from Apple, included Xiaomi, Samsung, Google, Honor, Sony, OnePlus and TECNO. I’m listing them there in the order in which I thought they’d probably perform if I had to take a guess without testing them out. The iPhone I would probably have placed either in second or third place, fourth probably would have been respectable too.

But, to my surprise, it landed squarely at the bottom with easily the worst performance of the lot – with some of the pictures being a lot worse than I’d be happy with using even on social media.

So, what was so bad? While the iPhone performed well enough in good light – just as all of the others in my test did – when the light dropped, the performance did so too. Detail was practically non-existent in some places, with lots of smudging going on. I’d probably bin them if they weren’t needed for a super-important highly-significant group test on this website!

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Poor specs

It’s perhaps not a huge surprise when we know that the iPhone’s sensor is tiny and has a fairly low resolution. But, then, so do many of the others in the group… isn’t there some kind of computational wizardry magic that could sort this out? And if not, why not, dammit?

To my absolute surprise, my favourite from the group was the TECNO Camon 30 Premier 5G. This is a sub £300 phone from a company which prides itself on its portrait and skin-tone technology – it also has a 50MP selfie sensor, compared to the iPhone’s paltry 12MP. The only downside – and admittedly this is a pretty major one – is that Tecno doesn’t sell its phones everywhere, so if you’re in the UK or US, you’ll be out of luck.

But there were others that came pretty close. Meanwhile, the other flagships in the test, from big names like Samsung (S24 Ultra) and Google (Pixel 8 Pro) were also pretty disappointing, with mediocre performances in low light. So at least it’s not just Apple letting the side down here from the “big three”. Sony (Xperia 1 VI) was also a let down, not doing too badly in terms of low light, but making me look like a washed-out ghost compared to the others.

Simply the best

The best result from the expensive flagships came from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, which didn’t surprise me a great deal as I’d wager this is the best smartphone for photography right now, so that makes perfect sense. For those without big budgets, I was pretty impressed by the Honor Magic 6 Pro, too, while the OnePlus 12 was also fairly good, for the price.

So back to the iPhone 15 Pro Max – Apple, what are you playing at? We live in the age of the selfie – and whether you like that or not, it seems unlikely that it’s going away any time soon. Given that, and the fact that many people will be taking selfies in low-light conditions such as on nights out – it’s baffling that Apple doesn’t seem to have made this a priority.

I’d like to hope this will be sorted out for the iPhone 16 Pro, due in September. Sadly, the latest rumours I’ve read suggest that the phone will simply be getting a copy paste selfie specification from the iPhone 15 Pro series.

How disappointing.

Take a look at the full best smartphones for selfies guide to find out more about how each of the smartphones performed. Fair warning, you will have to see my face 49 times. You’re welcome!

The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Amateur Photographer magazine or Kelsey Media Limited. If you have an opinion you’d like to share on this topic, or any other photography-related subject, email: ap.ed@kelsey.co.uk 

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