iPhone XS Max vs Samsung Galaxy Note 9 vs Google Pixel 3 XL – The Best Camera for Travel Photography Is Clear

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When you’re traveling you really only have one chance to capture that special moment in time.  And most of us aren’t lugging around big heavy cameras and lenses.  On my last trip to Europe I brought my Canon EOS 80D.  It’s a wonderful camera that takes amazing video.  But to really make it work in all situations (wide angle, low light, etc.) you need to add expensive and heavy lenses.

Meanwhile, today’s high-end smartphones are less expensive than “pro-sumer” cameras AND they’re super easy to bring with you.  As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you actually carry with you!

So I’ve compiled expert analysis on the top 3 smartphone cameras on the market today:  iPhone XS Max, Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and Google Pixel 3 XL.

Below the video I’ll also give you insider tips where WE are the experts — turning credit card points into amazing travel experiences!  Short version:  I use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for fantastic warranty protection on expensive gadgets like these.  And I use my Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card to earn 5% cash back on my monthly cell phone bill.

This video will show you rather than tell you.  Below the video I’m summarized the thoughts of other tech and photography experts.

Google’s Pixel 3 XL Uses Advanced Software to Automatically Improve Your Photos

“The Tech Guy” Is Impressed

The Tech Guy, Leo Laporte, tests all new phones and he is a travel photography hobbyist.  On his weekly show he was gushing over how great the Pixel 3 XL performs — especially its zoom.

Zoom is typically horrible on phone cameras because it mainly uses computerization to mimic the real zoom of a cameras that have fancy lenses.  But the Pixel 3 XL has got it all figured out according to Leo.  He says of course it can’t replace $1,000 lenses that you add to $1,000 cameras but it’s pretty darn close.

PcWorld Agrees

PcWorld calls Google’s “processing the best in its field.”  And it notes that the Pixel 3 XL has an extra camera on the FRONT.  It’s for a feature called Group Selfie Cam.

“Using a slider at the bottom of the screen, you can adjust the camera from a 75-degree field-of-view to a 97-degree one to capture more people in your shot. There’s also a new feature called Photobooth that will trigger the shutter when you smile or make a funny face.”

We’ve all experienced this frustration.  You want a shot of you and your partner in front of the Eiffel Tower or other landmark and all you see in the photo is your outstretched hand and your two faces, totally obscuring the travel part of your travel photo!  And no, not all of us want to extend selfie-sticks everywhere.  So this is the Pixel 3 XL’s answer to that problem.

Tom’s Guide Makes It Unanimous

Tom’s Guide is another tech resource I trust.  Their latest rankings are:

  • Best Overall Camera Phone: Google Pixel 3
  • Best AI Camera: Samsung Galaxy Note 9
  • Best iPhone Camera: iPhone XS Max

They highlight the Pixel 3’s Top Shot tool.  “It suggests a better photo from the many exposures the Pixel 3 has captured when an unwanted blink or blur mars your shot.”

Tom’s Guide’s explains what they mean by best “AI” camera:  “[Note 9’s] Scene Optimizer feature can recognize 20 different scenarios and adjust camera settings on the fly so that your image comes out with the proper contrast, brightness and saturation.  Scene Optimizer worked well in our tests, particularly in low light.  But where the AI-powered Note 9 really stands out is with a Flaw Detection feature, which notices when you’ve taken a picture that may not be up to snuff.  If someone blinks or if there’s too much blur, the Note 9 will suggest you take the photo again; it can also preemptively warn about backlighting.”

Wait, Your Camera Also Makes PHONE Calls?!

Of course there’s more to consider than the camera when selecting a phone.  But for travelers like you, I’d say it’s a very important consideration!  I’m looking closer at the Google Pixel 3 after these strong reviews.  Currently I like T-Mobile and the iPhone because my T-Mobile plan gives me free texting pretty much worldwide and enough free Wi-Fi to keep my GPS navigation and email working well when I’m overseas.

And if you’re in love with iPhone you’re likely to find the iPhone XS Max camera to be amazing enough!  Its portrait mode is pretty sweet.

Extend Your Phone’s Warranty and Earn Travel Points or Cash Back

These are expensive phones.  Protect your purchase!

For instance, when I buy an expensive item that might break I use my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Buy your phone with this card and you’ll get 1 extra year added to a warranty of 3 years or less.  You’ll be covered for the amount charged to your card, up to a maximum of $10,000 per item, and no more than $50,000 per calendar year.  If you head to application page you can see all the details.  This is a great credit card for travel and purchase protection.

I’ve kept it for many years.  And there’s no annual fee in the first year either so it’s a no-brainer to try it out.

If you’re not earning travel points or cash back on your monthly phone bill, wow, you’re missing out!  I use my Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card to earn 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 on my cell phone bill.  That’s 5% cash back.  (Although I skip the cash and keep the travel points instead!)

Fine print: You’ll get 5% cash back (5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points) on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, and internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.

Ink Business Cash has no annual fee.  I love it and have had this card for many years also.  It’s great for anyone with a small business.  I applied and was approved using my social security number (no tax ID needed) for my sole proprietorship.

Don’t have a business?  Consider the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card to pay your cell phone bill.  This card has some awesome cell phone protection with it… When you pay your monthly cell phone bill with it, you can receive up to $600 of protection (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft.

The information for the Wells Fargo Cash Wise has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.   

Which Camera Do You Use to Take Photos While Traveling?

Let us know in the comments!

Million Mile Secrets features a team of points and miles experts who have traveled to over 80 countries and have used 60+ credit cards responsibly to accumulate loyalty points and travel the world on the cheap! The Million Mile Secrets team has been featured on The Points Guy, TIME, Yahoo Finance and many other leading points & miles media outlets.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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