It should come as no surprise that having the best camera around is clearly not a big priority for Razer. In fact, we still remember the bare-bones nature and hardly impressive quality of the original Razer Phone camera setup.
Upon first inspection, we were a bit underwhelmed to by the apparent lack of change in the camera department. At least on paper. The 12MP, f/1.8, 25mm (wide), plus 12MP, f/2.6, 2x telephoto is still the same. However, upon further inspection and some snooping around in Android config files, it turns out the actual hardware module have been swapped. While the original Razer phone used a pair of Samsung sensors, namely S5K2L7 and S5K3M3, the Razer Phone 2 is equipped with Sony Exmor units. As per said config files, these are the IMX351 and IMX363. Now, some of Razer's official specs don't really match up with those posted by Sony for said sensors. Perhaps, Razer is down-scaling or cropping a bit, but we won't ponder too much on such details.
We will, however, note that unlike its predecessor, the Razer Phone 2 has OIS added to the feature mix. It is one of the more aggressive implementations we have seen in a while, with the viewfinder floating around quite noticeably and at times rather sporadically. It does offer some tangible extra stabilization, though, which is nice.
Still, the only real burning question here is - has Razer improved its camera experience? Well, the short answer is Yes, but only relatively and in terms of actual camera quality. Looking at the Camera app UI first, we find a noticeably improved, but still quite messy and even sloppy regarding its interface.
But first the good bits - we definitely appreciate the newly added features. The Razer camera is no longer as bare-bones as it was. At least now there are some extra modes, neatly organized on the left side of the screen, like Portrait, Beauty, and Panorama. It's like we're back in 2015, but hey, it's a progress if you look Razer's phones in isolation.
But we're not quite done with the bashing. Take another closer look at the right-hand side of the main camera UI. Those few pixels at the top and bottom there are actually functional icons that simply ended up cropped by the phone. King of odd when you consider Razer only had a single device and its resolution to size the UI for.
Now, let's look at the Beauty mode, shall we? Moving past the fact that the mode is only available for the selfie camera, for some reason, that unmitigated disaster of a control cluster on the left is actually a set of icons, leftover incorrectly from another camera mode, overlapping the Beauty mode intensity slider. The latter still works, somewhat, which, we guess is a plus?
OK, to be fair, while reviewing the Razer Phone 2 a small OTA did come in, actually managing to impressively install itself automatically in the background (proper project Treble style) that remedied these UI issues for us.
OF course, we could have left this whole detail out, but we kind of felt the whole thing was pretty indicative of Razer's overall attitude towards the camera.
As far as interesting new functionality goes, we feel like we have to mention the little thermometer icon near the bottom right, which is now fully visible, after the update. It toggles between two color profiles, intended to fluorescent lighting and cloudy weather and a third auto option. Both manual modes look really off, almost like filters, so you are probably better off leaving them alone.
The seamless zoom feature from the original Razer Phone is still present. Although there is now a convenient toggle between 1x and 2x, the way Razer implemented zooming has the phone constantly switching from the telephoto camera to a crop of the main one and you can never be quite sure which one is in use.
There is an Auto HDR mode this time around. But we'll discuss its shortcoming more in a bit.
On to actual photo quality then. One thing we can say with a fair bit of confidence is that the Razer Phone 2 offers an improvement in this respect over its predecessor. That being said, it's hardly a remarkable one.
In no particular order, the Razer Phone 2 has trouble focusing accurately all the time and even when it does, most shots end up looking really blurry for a number of reasons. Edge to edge sharpness, for one, is really inconsistent. Also, noise suppression is rather aggressive and tends to "paint over" most things, leaving few well-defined lines behind. The algorithm also does a lot of damage to the sky, leaving behind unnatural looking patches of "fixed" same color pixels.
In an effort to, what we can assume is a remedy for the noise suppression damage, a lot of sharpening gets applied to most shots. Last, but definitely not least, dynamic range is rather poor, losing most of the detail in the shadows by default.
But, as we mentioned earlier, the Razer Phone 2 does have HDR. In fact, Auto HDR, which is one better than what the original Razer Phone had to work with. It should help with shadows and highlights, right?
Turns out, that's a solid NO. Most of the time, HDR hardly managed to recover any clipped detail in the shadows. All the while, it very frequently overexposed the shot clipping all highlights and somehow narrowing the dynamic range even further along the way. Very rarely did it actually manage to do any good and only in ideal HDR conditions, like this half-sky, half reflective glass building shot.
Honestly, you are are better off just leaving HDR Off and forgetting about it indefinitely. Since, at best, you can hope it won't touch your shot at all and at its worse, it can do a fair bit of damage.
So, how is the 2x telephoto camera then? Well, take pretty much everything we already said about the main camera and add some extra softness and less detail in the mix.
HDR on the telephoto seems to be even more sporadic, as far as exposure goes.
Portrait mode is plagued by all the issues of the regular stills, but is still capable of producing nice results every now and then. Edge detection does fail pretty often, though, leading us to believe that Razer opted for a pure software approach to things rather than leveraging extra data from the secondary camera.
These are admittedly pretty discouraging results under what we can describe as pretty good overall conditions. Still, we decided to take the Razer Phone 2 on a night shoot.
Surprisingly enough, this worked out better than we thought. Now, there is still plenty of noise on the shots and edge to edge sharpness is not uniform, but Razer's particular approach to photography just seems to work a bit better in low light. Of course, that's all comparatively speaking.
Naturally, we also took a crank at our studio posters with both the normal and the telephoto cameras. Here are the results for your pixel-peeping pleasure.
On the selfie side of things, we get an 8MP, fixed focus snapper. Nothing too fancy. The results don't look half bad, considering the circumstances and matching expectations.
Just, for the love of photography, don't touch the Beauty mode. It's... something else...
It should come as no surprise that the Razer Phone 2 is capable of capturing video at up to 2160p resolution. It does so with a petty standard configuration - AVC video, hovering just around 42 Mb/s and a stereo AAC audio stream at 48 kHz.
Quality can be best described as usable. Just like with stills, softness and noise are an issue, colors are a bit off. But what probably does the most damage to clips is the lacking dynamic range. Still, the sky looks better on video, which is something positive we can add here.
Dropping the resolution down to 1080p does little to improve the dynamic range or the colors. Sharpness understandably takes a hit with the lower pixel count and the noise becomes even more visible. We wouldn't recommend it.
We can't really say the telephoto is any worse than the main camera in video. In fact, the two are actually pretty comparable. At least there is that.
Looking at stabilization, the OIS system in place is clearly contributing quite a bit to videos. It works at any resolution and on the telephoto, as well. Unfortunately, the work that it does is really counter-productive. The frame jaunts about quite a bit with every hand movement, mostly ruining the videos.
In case you want to examine Razer Phone 2 video samples in more depth, you can download unedited samples here: 4K (10s, 52MB), 4K telephoto (10s, 52MB), 1080p at 30fps (10s, 25MB), and 1080p at 30fps telephoto (10s, 25MB).
Last but not least, here is the Razer Phone 2 in our video compare database - both the main wide and the telephoto cameras.