Battle of the budget phones: Moto G6 vs. Nokia 6.1 camera shootout

Moto-G6-vs-Nokia-6.1
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Budget phones have come a long way over the past few years. It’s not hard to find an inexpensive phone that’s both gorgeous and admirably kitted out for $300 or less. Two of our favorites for 2018 are the Nokia 6.1 and Moto G6, and they’re both similarly priced. The weakest part of these two phones — and most budget devices — is often the camera, so we put them both to the test in a week-long camera shootout across New York City to find out which one comes out on top.

If you want to see more camera comparisons, check out our smartphone camera shootout series. Comment below to let us know what camera shootouts you want to see next.

Camera specifications

The Moto G6 is Motorola’s first G-series phone to feature a dual camera setup.  The primary lens has 12 megapixels with a f/1.8 aperture, while the secondary sensor is 5 megapixels with a f/2.2 aperture. There’s a dual-LED dual-tone flash as well. In theory, the wider aperture means the G6 should perform better than its predecessor in low-light environments.

HMD Global, the company licensing the Nokia brand, decided to stick with a single lens setup on the Nokia 6.1. There’s a 16-megapixel Zeiss lens with a f/2.0 aperture. It also uses dual-LED dual-tone flash like the Moto G6.

Camera apps and software

The Moto G6 camera software is fairly simple, but it’s packed with a few extra features. There’s a feature called Active Photos that allows you capture short GIF-like images when you take a photo. Spot Color lets you to convert photos to black and white while retaining one specific color, and there’s also a manual mode, portrait mode, time-lapse, slow motion, and face filter options in the camera app. As for the 8-megapixel front facing camera, there’s a beauty filter that can adjust skin tone and remove minor imperfections.

Moto-G6-vs-Nokia-6-software
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Since the Nokia 6.1 is a part of the Android One program, the camera app is similar to stock Android with a few extra perks. There’s a beauty filter that works on both the front and rear-facing cameras, a Pro mode that allows you to mimic settings you’ll find on a DSLR, as well as a portrait mode only for the selfie cam. But the most interesting camera feature on the Nokia 6.1 is Dual-Sight mode, also known as Bothie mode, as it allows you to simultaneously capture images with the front and rear cameras. This can even be used for live-streaming video on YouTube and Facebook.

All of our photos are taken in auto mode, as that’s the method most people will use.

Courtyard at The Cloisters

We started our camera comparison at The Cloisters museum in upper Manhattan.  First up is a courtyard shot with natural overhead lighting. At first glance, both cameras appear to perform admirably, but if you look closer you’ll notice a few differences. The foliage detail is lost on the Nokia 6.1, and the image seems flat when compared to the Moto G6. The Moto captures the area behind the arches a little better, and the photo is overall a little brighter and sharper too.

Winner: Moto G6

Topiary gardens

The Nokia 6.1 shines in this photo of the Topiary garden, also at The Cloisters. Foliage detail is sharper and more defined than the Moto G6 photo, which is fuzzy and pixelated when you zoom in. The overall color is also more accurate and vibrant in the Nokia photo, while the G6 just looks flat and washed out in comparison.

Winner: Nokia 6.1

Coffee and croissants

We took the Moto G6 and Nokia 6.1 along for our morning coffee run in Brooklyn to see if the two could manage Instagram-worthy food shots, starting with coffee and croissants.

The Nokia 6.1 struggles with color accuracy. White balance is off in the photo, the background colors appear muted, and details are a little fuzzy. The Moto G6, on the other hand, seems to handle white balance a little better, and the colors pop out a little more. It’s not too over-saturated, but what we like is the solid, natural blur behind the subject (there’s virtually none in the Nokia 6.1). It’s the more shareable photo.

Winner: Moto G6

Cappucino

The trend continues in our second indoor shot. The Moto G6 does a great job with color — look at the crema in the espresso cup — the photo from the Nokia 6.1 is muted and dull. The Nokia 6.1 tends to go for blue and cool hues, whereas the Moto opts for warmer tones. If you take a look at the bench and brick wall in the background, both photos have similar blur, but you’ll notice more detail in the G6 photo.

Winner: Moto G6

Street art

To get a better idea of how the Moto G6 and Nokia 6.1 perform in daylight, we took a midday walk through Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The Nokia 6.1 edges ahead slightly. Take a close look at the bricks and fire hydrant in both photos, and you’ll notice a loss of detail on the Moto G6 photo. On the Nokia, it’s easy to make out the brick detail everywhere, as well as the sticker on the fire hydrant. While color representation here may be a little subjective, the Nokia 6.1 photo looks more realistic. The colors on the Moto G6 photo pop a little more, but they’re a little washed out.

Winner: Nokia 6.1

Outside a bar

While it’s been pretty easy to determine the better shot in each scenario so far, things get a little tricky with this photo outside the neighborhood pub. The Nokia 6.1 handles colors a little more accurately here, while the Moto G6 photo is too warm. Zoom in on the flowers in the Nokia photo and you’ll notice a lot more detail. But the Moto G6 takes the cake with dynamic range — look inside the bar and you can see more of what’s happening inside, but this is hardly visible in the Nokia 6.1 photo. We’re split in opinion over this photo. We like the Nokia 6.1’s result for its strong detail and color accuracy, but the fact that you can see a little inside makes the Moto G6 photo a little more inviting.

Winner: Tie

Midnight walk

Budget phone cameras are certainly capable, but they suffer the most in low-light environments. Our first shot in this comparison is of a a restaurant in Union Square, and it’s easy to see the benefit of a wider aperture on the Moto G6. The photo is much more sharp than the Nokia 6.1’s photo, and it’s brighter so you can pick up more details like windows on the adjacent building. We do like the neon sign on the Nokia 6.1 a little more, but the rest of the photo is so poor that it doesn’t really matter.

Winner: Moto G6

Window shopping

Our next shot is of a window display from New York’s famous Fishs Eddy at night. The Moto G6 photo is well lit, but it’s the white balance that’s far more impressive. The dish towels look pure white and clean, the rest of the colors are balanced, and the details are easy to make out. The Nokia 6.1’s photo isn’t too shabby, but the whole image has a yellow tinge, and details are fuzzy. The Nokia photo does seem to do a better job at not over-exposing the light bulbs, though.

Winner: Moto G6

William Seward

Our final shot is of the statue of William E. Seward, former governor of New York, at the entrance of Madison Square Park. In this low-light shot, both cameras performed similarly, though the Moto G6 does a slightly better job overall. If you look closely at the G6 photo you can pick out more detail on the lower half of the statue compared to the Nokia 6.1, which mostly looks blurry. The trees flanking the statue are far more detailed on the Moto G6’s photo, and so is the building in the background. The pedestal is a little too over-exposed, though.

Winner: Moto G6

Conclusion

The wider aperture and second lens help the Moto G6 win this comparison. The camera consistently pulled ahead in low-light scenarios, and it was in general a little more reliable and versatile.

The Nokia 6.1 didn’t perform poorly, though, and it does have the ‘Bothie‘ feature that you won’t find on the Moto G6.