Moto G6 vs Nokia 7 Plus vs Honor 7X camera shootout

Can budget phone cameras keep up with race cars? We took a trio to the track

The best camera we can own is the one that performs superbly when we need it most. Often, this can be in a situation that demands speed, and not one that’s all about composition, art, and attention to detail. We want the best results possible, in the easiest way imaginable, without having to mess around. After all, a smartphone is supposed to be user friendly and convenient, so why can’t the same be asked of the camera?

Motorola wanted to demonstrate how fast and effective the new Moto G6’s camera is, so it invited us along to — where else — a race track in the U.K. to prove it. Except we didn’t turn up with just our racing booties and a Moto G6. We brought the Nokia 7 Plus and the Honor 7X along for the ride. All three of these phones cost half that of even the cheapest flagship phone, and represent great value for money, but how do the cameras perform in a situation that demands speed? Let’s take a look.

Camera tech

How do the cameras compare on paper? The $250 Moto G6 has an f/1.8 aperture, dual-lens rear camera with 12-megapixel and 5-megapixel sensors. The video camera shoots at 1080p, and there are various special modes including Spot Color, a Cutout mode, and Portrait Mode, plus an 8-megapixel selfie camera. It’s worth noting the Moto G6 and the Moto G6 Plus share the same camera specifications, so the results here should be comparable.

Moto G6 vs Nokia 7 Plus vs Honor 7X Camera Shootout
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The 300 British pound/$390 Nokia 7 Plus has a 12 megapixel, f/1.75 aperture main lens and a second 13-megapixel, f/2.6 aperture lens. Both have Zeiss optics, and the camera has a portrait-style mode called Live Bokeh, as well as the cool Bothie mode that takes a photo with the front and rear camera simultaneously. The selfie camera packs 16 megapixels, and the video mode is enhanced with Nokia’s Ozo triple microphone array. This phone is sadly not available in the U.S. yet.

Finally, the Honor 7X is the oldest phone here, having been released late last year, but it’s still a great device with a strong camera, especially for just $200. The rear camera has two lenses — a 16 megapixel, f/2.2 aperture sensor, and a 2-megapixel, f/2.9 aperture sensor — and although the specs can’t quite match the other two here, the app has plenty of features including portrait and bokeh modes.

Speed test

Speed is of the essence on an “experience day,” like the one we attended. There isn’t much time for taking photos, so you just want to get on with it when the time comes. However, if the picture ends up being rubbish, it’ll be time wasted and moments missed. The camera app is an important part of this process.

The Moto G6’s camera app is very simple, and it really is the fastest here. There are three buttons for the stills, video, and options menu above the shutter release. In the menu you tap the option you want, then hit the stills camera button to return to normal. It doesn’t always make sense though, as the Manual mode is not under the options menu, but in a separate button along the top of the display. We love the helpful shortcut that lets you shake the phone to quickly open the camera app from the lock screen, which secured its win.

The Nokia 7 Plus’ app is also simple, with a few options hidden under the menu button in the top left of the screen. The Nokia has a 2x lossless zoom feature, which the Moto G6 and 7X don’t have. The Honor 7X has the most complex and feature rich camera app. Slide the screen left or right to show all the options, and there’s quick access to portrait and aperture modes along the top of the screen.

The Nokia 7 Plus was more stable, but slower to open than the Moto G6. Finally, due to its complexity, the Honor 7X needs you to be familiar with how to use the camera ahead of time to get the best from it, but once you are, it’s a powerful companion.

Winner: Moto G6

Renault Clio Cup Racers

Bedford Autodrome is the home of Palmer Sport, and we were there to drive the company’s Renault Clio Cup Racer, and an F3000 single-seat racing car. The brightly colored Clio’s were up first, and we took two pictures of the cars, one as a two-shot and another of the grid with the garages in the background.

Six very different photos are produced. The Moto G6 is the only phone that automatically activated HDR, and it really shows in both images. In the shot of the two cars, you can see more detail in the wheel arches and the front valance, and while the sky isn’t so richly blue as the Nokia’s photo, it’s a beautiful picture. The Honor 7X washes out the yellow cars too much, and you can’t see much in the shadow of the garages in the second picture either.

In the Moto G6’s HDR-enhanced photo you can clearly see into the back of the garage and make out stacks of tires. This is at the expense of some realism in the track surface’s color, and a blue sky that’s too light. We don’t like the almost purple sky in either of the Honor 7X’s photos.

The Nokia 7 Plus produces the photos with the best balance. The sky and the track surface look like they did on the day, and there’s enough detail in the garages to show what’s there. Best of all, the colorful livery on the cars is well separated, and the yellow pops in the image.

Winner: Nokia 7 Plus

Race car mirror

This is a bokeh mode test, and again the results are really different, emphasizing how important reliability is in many situations where we use our phones as cameras. The Nokia 7 Plus still has some problems with its Live Bokeh mode. Here, it actually focused on the car’s seats and not the mirror, despite giving us a “Depth Success” message at the time. It’s a perfect example of the camera not giving us the picture we wanted, in a situation that we’re unable to replicate, and it’s a shame because the photo is excellent otherwise.

With the Nokia out of the running, it’s down to the Moto G6 and the Honor 7X. The Motorola phone really focuses in on the mirror, blurring out the background almost entirely, including the mirror’s actual support. The Honor 7X does it much better. You can still read the Palmer Sport logo on the side of the car, and there are details on top of the mirror itself almost missing from the Moto G6’s picture.

Winner: Honor 7X

Blue race car

Another two photos of the same subject, from different angles. The cockpit is shot facing the bright sunlight outside the window, while the entire car is taken with the sun behind us.

Let’s begin with the Nokia. Once more, it fails to capture the photo we expected. The background is more in focus, along with the tire sidewalls, than the instrument cluster at the center of the image. In all these photos, we tapped the same section for focus and exposure, and it’s a surprise to see it like this.

The Moto G6 and the Honor 7X both managed to focus on the car’s interior, but both struggled with the challenging light. The roll bar in the Honor 7X’s photo is jet black, but almost grey in the G6’s, while the interior in the photo is considerably clearer and more detailed. Similarly, the tire sidewalls are also detailed, but the area by the door in the top right is overexposed and washed out. Neither picture is great, so this one is a tie.

How about the photo of the car itself, can it break the tie?

The Nokia 7 Plus still has problems knowing where to focus, and there is some blur in the photo around the edges. The Moto G6 handles the color and contrast in a similar way to the Nokia 7 Plus, and produces a sharper more pleasing photo. The Honor 7X actually takes the sharpest photo out of the three, and we prefer the shade of blue in its photo too. This gives it the win here.

Winner: Honor 7X

F3000 garage

This is a much closer race (sorry), and it’s the Honor 7X that loses out first due to the reds becoming more pink that they were in reality. The Nokia and the Moto G6 are very close, and it’s almost impossible to pick between them.

However, the deeper you look into the Nokia’s photo the sharper the details are. Despite this, the Moto G6’s photo is still one we’d be very happy with, as it captured the regimented line-up of the cars in a visually-interesting way. Forced to pick a winner, we’d go for the Nokia.

Winner: Nokia 7 Plus

Portrait Mode

Who wouldn’t want a celebratory selfie after a day of being a racing driver? Using portrait mode all three cope in different ways with the bright background and the challenge of isolating the helmet and the face. The Honor 7X very effectively blurs the background around the helmet, and keeps the color and brightness balance just right for the subject’s face. The background is slightly overexposed, but the racing car in the background is still visible, giving the scene further context.

The environment is even more clear in the Moto G6’s photo, and the color balance is beautiful. Just look at the red car and the blue sky against the black race suit. It’s a shame the portrait effect took away the edge of the visor; but we think this may be because the subject’s angle is different to the Honor 7X’s photo.

The Nokia 7 Plus is somewhere in-between. The background is overexposed, but the racing car is red and obvious in the photo, while the portrait mode isolates the helmet well. However, because the background is overexposed, detail is lost around the left-hand side of the helmet. The race suit is also quite grey. It’s probably slightly more realistic, but the Moto G6’s photo, even with the less effective edge blur, is the one we’d want to share.

Winner: Moto G6

Video performance

We also shot some quick panning videos showing the cars going round the track with each device, and also shot our main video above on the Moto G6.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Nokia easily beat the Honor 7X and the Moto G6 here, with a smoother, steadier, and more detailed video. However, it was the audio that really surprised. The Nokia 7 Plus has three microphones with special tuning, and the performance was superb, giving the scene real emotion. It was far more representative of the car’s sound.

Winner: Nokia 7 Plus

Conclusion

The Nokia 7 Plus won three categories, while the Moto G6 and the Honor 7X took two. While this technically gives the Nokia 7 Plus the overall win, the photo categories it lost were failures, which is much worse than producing a less impressive shot. We noted problems with the bokeh mode in our review, and no software update has arrived to cure this between then and now, and this test shows how photos can be ruined by such issues. It’s impossible to recommend a phone that may let you down when you need it most.

The surprise here is the Honor 7X, which not only took two categories, but also came very close to winning in two others. It’s the cheapest and oldest phone here, so to outperform these two at all shows how accomplished Honor is at producing great cameras. The Moto G6 also took some excellent photos, and we enjoyed using features like Spot Color to produce some fun images that would be more time consuming to make with the other devices. What’s more, it was definitely the fastest to take each photo thanks to that gesture shortcut.

Here’s our complicated conclusion. The most expensive phone is the best for photos and video, except when it’s not at which time it’s the absolute worst, and the cheapest phone is the best all-rounder. In the middle is the Moto G6, a phone that you won’t be unhappy with at all. Plus, Motorola really did prove it has the fastest camera app here, with its shake-to-wake feature. All that said, it’s very hard to argue against the Honor 7X when it costs so little.

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