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How good can a $300 'flagship' smartphone camera be?

Not flagship quality, but not bad either.

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There were plenty of phones announced at IFA 2018, ranging from flagships like the Sony Xperia XZ3 to midrange options like the Motorola One. BlackBerry also unveiled a "Lite Edition" of its flagship KEY2, which is meant to reach a wider audience by dropping the cost and offering more color options. When it comes to creating more affordable devices, companies often skimp on cameras, which frankly sucks for anyone who wants a midrange phone but still wants solid photo quality. Without a good camera, your phone is basically a sad little work machine with no window to your world. The $300 Pocophone F1 has an impressive list of specs for the price, like a powerful Snapdragon 845 processor and a 6.18-inch full HD+ display, but we were curious how its cameras measured up. What better excuse then, to take the phone out on a "tourist test" here in Berlin, shooting the gorgeous architecture around the city's Konzerthaus?

The Pocophone F1 has a 12-megapixel sensor on the back with a f/1.9 aperture, paired with a 5-megapixel sensor for sensing depth. Up front, it packs a 20-megapixel camera, which also offers portrait mode, HDR and flash by lighting up the screen. It's a pretty good combination for the price, even if it's not the sharpest resolution or the widest aperture smartphone camera in the market.

Gallery: Pocophone F1 camera samples | 17 Photos

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I was actually surprised when I looked at the pictures on my computer (and other phones). They were bright, crisp and colorful, which is nicer than I'd expected. The images aren't as hot as the ones from the Pixel 2 or the Huawei P20 Pro, of course, but for a $300 phone, the Pocophone's cameras take decent photos. I also liked the selfies from the front-facer -- the phone accurately applies bokeh, though colors were slightly washed out.

It's worth noting that by default, the Pocophone applies a logo to the bottom left of your photos (shot on the rear cameras). I don't really get why this is even a feature at all, but you can disable it. Another thing to look out for is that shooting in Portrait mode with the dual cameras seems to apply some light beautifying effects on your subject's faces, even if you've turned the setting off. A zit on my colleague's face was removed, while another coworker's complexion was lightened and his lips seemed redder than in real life.

Videos were also unexpectedly smooth and evenly exposed, with little distortion. I didn't mind the lack of optical image stabilization here. The quality won't be good enough for you to shoot an amateur movie on, but it'll certainly do for your Instagram stories.

The Pocophone F1 doesn't deliver significantly better quality than the $250 Moto G6, though, which has a wider f/1.8 aperture and lets you adjust the intensity of the background blur after the shot. The Moto G6 is available in the US now, and has a sharper full HD+ screen, although it also suffered from similar brightness issues in sunlight. That said, the Moto has a less-powerful Snapdragon 450 chipset, so your overall experience with the phone might be slower.

All told, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the Pocophone F1's cameras performed. Xiaomi has managed to keep an impressive amount of important features on a device this cheap, and it's a real shame that US shoppers won't be able to get their hands on it, at least for now. It's something that's true of many other phones launched here at IFA 2018, too, like the €300 Motorola One and the Honor Play.

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