The "perfect" iNat phone

Hello all,

I am looking for a new phone with a good macro lens. My friend owns a HUAWEI Mate 10 pro and the pictures are pretty good:

Anything similar/better you can recommend?

Or in other words, is there a perfect iNaturalist phone and why?

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For maro you can use additional lenses for phone if you wish, there’re topics about that.
As I know best cameras based on software are iPhone and Huawei.

My phone is Xiaomi MI 9 and I have no porblems in using it for iNat, like colours of it more than some other phones I had or just used, e.g. it’s much better focusing when using x2 camera than my husbans’ phone, it’s not as good as iPhone I guess and it’s not that macro as you could get with additional lenses, but it’s making pretty idable shots:


Generally the lens on a phone is not the important bit, it’s the sensor. At this point the lenses are all pretty comparable.

You can get clip-on attachments for macro, telephoto, etc, but none of them will be much good if the sensor is low quality.

You want a phone that does a good job of handling low light and movement, does a good job of color and while balance management, and assists with countering handshake, if possible. One that has a bit more control over the camera functions than average is good too, but that can often be handled by third party apps, although if you’re taking the photos within iNat then you won’t have access to the camera functions anyway, so I guess that is less relevant.

You also want it to be affordable. Sony makes a few models with really good cameras and controls, but they’re their flagship models and are super expensive, same with some of the phones with dedicated integral macro lenses.

I’d say get a phone with the features you want in a smartphone, while making a slight priority for the camera quality, and then spend the extra $20-100 to pick up a set of clip-on lenses (the price range is to account for variation in quality of said lenses, and for things like clip-on or wi-fi enabled microscopes).

It’s kind of too bad Sony’s Sony QX30 and QX1 never really caught on and was developed more as they were interesting approaches to blending a decent camera and lens with a smartphone.

Personally, I rarely use my phone for observations, I prefer the quality and control of a dedicated camera. Still, as the saying goes, “The best camera is the one you have with you,” and a smartphone is a good option.


I should mention that the sensor/lens issue is reversed in smartphones from what it is in normal cameras. With regular cameras the sensors are generally better than most people ever need, and the image quality is lense dependent. In smartphones the lenses are all pretty much the same, but the sensor size and quality is critical.


I have an iPhone 11 pro and would highly recommend it! I also use a moment 10x macro lens, which is a bit expensive but worth it in my opinion. I make a lot of insect observations but they’re great for getting close-up details on plants and flowers as well if that’s what you’re into. Not only is the phone’s camera great quality on its own, but with the lens even things small enough to fit on a single blade of grass (grass-vaneers or rice-leaf bugs for example) become crystal clear. Well, assuming you’re able to make them sit still long enough. If it’s something larger then that (Butterflies, larger moths or other things of similar size) you can see details on them like facial features that you might not otherwise be able too.

Tldr; iPhone 11 pro + moment 10x macro lens is pretty great, highly reccomend

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I always recommend just buying a cheap/midrange phone and spending the excess money on a standalone camera if you’re mostly looking for photos. The midrange phones like the iPhone SE or Pixel 4a are almost as good as flagships except the camera is worse and they cost half the price. You can get one of those phones plus a used mirrorless/dslr camera for the same price as the flagships!

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It is not a cheap option, but the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a very decent x 30 zoom (and workable until x100 under full day light) and a good macro lens as well… That way you have everything in a single device, the only drawback of having 5 lens incorporated is that digiscoping is not working (except using the manual mode) as it keeps jumping between lens and it doesn’t work. Extremely satisfying, but not a cheap option.

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My main concern is whether a phone can zoom in to capture birds, even garden birds a few feet away. I cannot find a phone that can do that - maybe the Pixel 4 can? Does anyone ahve experience? Right now I have no phone that can take birds I can clearly see with my eye.

As for macro, my old phone (Moto G6) is not good at zoom, but, when I got two new phones (Samsung A42 and Pixel 4a), both took good color renditions that look amazing at full crop but with no detail whatsoever when zoomed in - making them not that useful for ID. The software applies a sharpening, and the result is worse than unsharpened in that it can remove details of bugs.

So, I either keep my old phone, or replace for a cheap phone with 5G when one comes out and this quits working (I returned the other two each time), or get a used Pixel 4 since $400 is too much for a phone. In the meantime - if I don’t get a Pixel 4 - I want to get, and from what I hear I recommend, an Olympus TG tough phone, 5 or 6, as my macro camera and even underwater if I get into snorkeling. Then in the far far future I will replace my superzoom - which was very good - with a mirrorless camera and zoom lens up to ~ 300 mm for far stuff / birds.

The camera I’ve mostly used, which has a good zoom function, and can get birds to id - not headshots, but color rendition and focus enough for id - is a Fuji Finepix Hs 30 EXR. It is around a decade old by time of manufacture. The front element of my lens fell off due to my disassembling it to get rid of an oil spot that’s been there since I got it, and I got it used. It’s weaknesses are low light - I take shots in the evenings sometimes and this camera can’t capture images then without a flash, and, for people, it’s a bit fuzzy at night indoors - shutter speed 1/6 seconds at max or lower - and the macro mode doesn’t really magnify insects small as crab spiders enough for me and the zoom doesn’t magnify them enough either (you have to be far enough away to get focus locked). And, the ‘oil spot’ in all my images at certain focal lengths.

But, for medium sized insects, and gull-sized birds at rest, and flowers or plants of average height, it has been a wonderful camera. I believe the next superzoom camera to fill its role should be good as well. I got it for $250 used, which means I inherited it with a defect, and so new can be better - but, I got my smartphone for circa $250, and previous laptops circa $500, but prices seem to have gone only up so I don’t know how much you’ll find a superzoom going for around now.

Many of the pics on iNat of birds and such, are taken with zuper-zooms - the focal length range is very convenient. Which is why I got it. But, they have a very small sensor - which is how they manage that, combined with a wide lens at the wide lens end.

Does anybody know a phone that can actually take a picture of a bird, and is cheap? - that’s my question.

(I live somewhere with many birds I want to voucher for myself).

Thanks for all the input!

I do have a decent camera (including a macro-clip on) that I am very happy with (Panasonic Lumix dmc-fz300 with Raynox DCR-250). It is a rather low priced set-up, but I rarely don’t get shots where the animal is not identifiable, which is my personal priority. If I have to suggest the “perfect” iNat camera, it would be this one!

My phone should just be a back-up or replacement when I don’t have my camera with me. You guys have suggested some good options already!


I use samsung galaxy s21, and the pictures are very good!

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Me too! Except mine is fz200. It’s been a great camera and set-up for me.

Your pictures are very nice! I am impressed with the detail you captured.

I have an iPhone 11 Pro Max, too. But, mine does not usually perform as good as yours does. Mine often has a very difficult time focusing. FWIW, this phone has been dropped a number of times, but I do not remember being blown away by the camera even when new.

Perhaps an underappreciated downside of iPhones is that their platform is slow to ingest useful updates to the app functionality. For example, I still can’t edit photos in app (rotation, crop, exposure), and more frustratingly, I still can’t add multiple photos to the same observation in one go!

Do you use binoculars when birding? If you do, you can “digibin” photos of birds by holding your phone up to your binoculars and using that to magnify the subject. I do this for birds or any other distant subjects, and for botany or slower, less timid bugs I have a jeweler’s loupe that I bring into the field anyway that I take pictures through for macro. There are cheap clip-on macro lenses that would be easier to use, though.

I have a Pixel 3a and I love the camera, it’s incredible for such a cheap phone. It can take photos in near darkness, and camera shake is rarely an issue because when you take a photo it records for a few seconds then suggests the one it thinks is best (usually the sharpest one, but you can pick your own if it gets it wrong). The free photo storage on Google Photos helps too, if you’re an avid iNatter. I’d imagine any of the newer Pixels would be just as good, probably better. One thing to consider when deciding models is ruggedness, I’ve dropped mine from only a foot or so above a gravel driveway and now have a cracked screen (screen protector/case may fix this?), and the 3a isn’t rated for any protection against water versus the 3 can be submerged in 1.5 meters of water, for example.

Oh thank you! ^^ Maybe it was damaged a bit when you dropped it? :/ sorry to hear that if so

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