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Today, it is very important to own one of the best camera phones, since for most of us our smartphone is also the only camera we possess. It is also the only truly handy camera when you come across a memorable situation or an unforgettable landscape you wish to immortalize.
The best camera phones boast a number of features that have greatly improved image quality, including bigger sensors, optical image stabilization (OIS), and even optical zoom – and are often able to deliver better results than a traditional camera.
Modern smartphones have actually replaced traditional compact cameras. These tiny computers have become our trusted cameras, making photo quality a priority when choosing a new smartphone. The photographic capabilities of a new phone have become such an important sales pitch, that many premium devices even support the raw image format so that you can assume complete control over photo processing. Obviously, for professionals, having a DSLR or mirrorless camera is still crucial. But your phone can be an excellent backup camera and can even sport some features lacking from your trusted DSLR or mirrorless camera — such as 8K video recording.
Moreover, some of the weaknesses of smaller cameras have been eliminated with the use of “computational photography”; the best camera phones combine the best in optical and sensor technology with advanced software algorithms (Artificial Intelligence) to extract even more light, color, and detail from every scene. For example, the Auto HDR function combines multiple shots for high-dynamic-range images, bokeh mode produces portraits with blurry backgrounds on par with those of DSLR and mirrorless cameras, while Night mode captures fantastic photos in low light conditions.
However, as screens become bigger, sensors more advanced, and chipsets ever more powerful, it can be difficult to choose the best camera phone for you. There is, in fact, much more that goes into a great camera phone than a good lens and a high megapixel count – such as the type and number of lenses but also performance in low light conditions and camera app software. Therefore, in order to choose the best camera phone, you can no longer just read the spec list. Instead, and based on your priorities, the best camera phone may not be the right choice for you.
That’s why we have created this list. The best camera phones are usually also the best smartphones in general, and you will find mostly premium devices on this list, but there are also a couple of excellent choices for those on a budget — not only flagship phones can take beautiful photos.
The photographic revolution
They say that “the best camera is the one you always have with you”. The fact that we all have a smartphone always with us led to a revolution in the field of photography. We shoot and share more photos than ever before, and the smartphone has played an important role in the reinvention of digital photography. In fact, we’ve reached the point where you can leave your old point and shoot camera at home as long as you have a good camera phone in your pocket.
Some years back everyone expected to find just two lenses on a smartphone, one in the front and one on the back. Nowadays camera phones with multiple lenses are common. A phone with a multiple-camera module (of two, three, four, or even five lenses) is a way to add versatility to the camera. A telephoto lens can provide a better bokeh effect in portrait mode, while a wide-angle lens lets you capture a much wider landscape.
When we talk about megapixels we refer to the amount of detail in a photo: the greater the number of megapixels, the more detail you will see in an image. However, there is a myriad of things that creates a good photo.
Be that as it may, camera phones that boast a high number of megapixels are becoming ever more popular. The advantage of a high megapixel count is that you can crop images after shooting, or zoom in without losing any data and without having to use a telephoto lens. The disadvantage is that individual pixels can sometimes be so small that can create problems with the color acquisition or when shooting in low light conditions (more on this below).
Superzoom is the result of both previous trends. Modern smartphones are combining high megapixel images with optical zoom lenses and software magic in order to deliver a 30x, 50x, and even 100x zoom. Unfortunately, any photo taken with a zoom above 10x will surely show “artifacting”.
How many megapixels?
As we explained earlier, the number of megapixels that the camera sensor can capture determines how detailed a photo will be; the higher the number, the higher the level of detail. However, a large number of megapixels is not enough to determine a good camera.
Moreover, many modern cameras use “pixel binning”, a process that combines data from multiple pixels (usually 4 or 9) into one. This process increases the level of detail while keeping the number of megapixels low.
For example, a 48-megapixel camera with a 4:1 pixel binning produces 12-megapixel photos that will be much better than any “normal” 12-megapixel camera.
The size of the sensor is another thing to consider. A larger sensor can capture more light (more details, better colors, and enhanced performance in low light conditions). Therefore an 8-megapixel camera with a larger sensor (bigger pixels), could potentially achieve better results than a 12-megapixel camera with a smaller sensor (smaller pixels).
The downside is that big sensors tend to have a very short focus plane, so it can be harder to focus an entire scene when some elements are too close to the lens.
The aperture is the hole that the light passes through on its way to hit the sensor and is important for low light performance. The smaller the number, the larger the aperture. Thus an f/1.7 aperture is slightly larger than an f/1.8 one.
In addition, advanced Night modes combine different images over time to “artificially” illuminate a photo. It’s like taking a long exposure photo but smartphones use artificial intelligence to reduce blur by aligning the various images together.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) works more or less the same; it is a technique where the camera takes multiple photos (in different exposures) of the same subject and then combines them in post-processing to create a single shot, which is usually brighter and more detailed than an image without HDR. It requires some processing power, so it will take more time to render on low-end devices, but it’s always preferable if you want the very best photo possible.
Combine all this together with a good Pro mode — an increasing number of camera phones offers manual settings that allow you to change the exposure, aperture, and focus — and you will be able to get exactly the shot you desire.
What about video?
In the era of Instagram and TikTok, video is more important than ever. For video recording, two specs are really important: resolution and framerate.
The resolution shows the amount of detail the video footage will have. 8K videos have a resolution of 7,680×4,320 pixels, 4K ones are composed of 3,840×2,160 pixels while Full HD video has 1,920×1.080 pixels. While 1080p video is still good enough for most people, many smartphones can now record in 4K while modern flagships can capture 8K videos. The higher the resolution, the better, but keep in mind that 8K videos take up a lot of space – about 600MB per minute – and at the time of writing the primary use of 8K footage is for video editing purposes, especially if you want to crop or zoom the image.
Some smartphones have the ability to record Full HD video at 240 fps (1/8 speed) or even up to 960fps (1/32 speed), which means that you can capture slow-motion footage. “Slow-mo” can create exciting effects and many camera phones are also capable of other tricks such as time-lapse, hyper-lapse, and bokeh.
Last but not least, optical image stabilization (OIS) helps keep the camera stable, thus if your hands tremble, it will be less noticeable. Optical image stabilization is always better than electronic or digital stabilization (EIS), creating much more stable footage. Many high-end smartphones use both types of stabilization, thus boasting a Steadicam effect.
Why do professional photographers prefer iPhones?
More than anything else for the availability of third-party camera apps. There are a couple of them available for Android, but the ones most used by professionals tend to come out first and are updated much faster on iOS.
Quick tips in order to buy the best camera phone for you
There are many things to consider in order to buy a good camera phone. A good way to get started is to decide what kind of photos you intend to take. Not all multi-lens cameras are the same: some have an ultra-wide lens for stunning landscapes, others have telephoto lenses for fabulous bokeh portraits, and some feature both. The latest flagships even have a periscope lens that can achieve a lossless 10x zoom, almost on par with DSLRs.
The other thing to understand is that megapixels do not matter as much as the aperture. Cameras with a wider aperture (smaller ƒ-stop numbers translate into wider lenses) let in more light, which helps produce better shots at night.
And do not forget about the front-facing camera. In a world where we are taking more selfies than ever before, you should not overlook the selfie camera. Some can even replicate the same effects in portrait mode as rear cameras.
Camera phone Vs. DSLR and mirrorless cameras
Camera phones improved very quickly thanks to innovation in hardware and software, but some physical constraints make it difficult for them to compete with DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Although modern smartphones are bigger than before they still have to fit in our pockets. The truth is that even the best camera phones can’t compete with DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
So, to get the highest photo quality, the best performance in low light conditions, and a flawless optical zoom, you’ll need a reflex or mirrorless camera.
If you don’t need to take professional photos though, one of the best camera phones will be more than enough for you.
Below you will find our list of the best camera phones that you can buy right now
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max: best iOS camera phone
The iPhone 12 Pro Max (Check on Amazon) is not the best phone, but it is Apple’s top-of-the-line model for 2020 and as you might expect, it features the best hardware of any iPhone to date.
While the iPhone 12 Pro (Check on Amazon) isn’t outmatched when it comes to cameras, the iPhone 12 Pro Max takes iOS’ photographic capabilities to another level, thanks mainly to the bigger main camera sensor that lets in more light and thus grants better performance in low light conditions. In addition, the Night mode has been expanded and can now also work with the ultra-wide and selfie cameras, so you’re not limited to the type of photos you can take at night. We’re not keen on Apple’s image processing (a tad too elaborate), but the iPhone 12 Pro Max can also shoot photos in ProRAW to give photographers maximum flexibility in terms of editing.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max Includes a 12MP main camera (f/1.6), a 12MP telephoto lens (f/2.2, 65mm, 2.5x optical zoom, and 12x digital zoom), a 12MP ultra-wide angle lens (f/2.4, with a 120-degree field of view), and even a LiDAR scanner, which allows for better portraits in Night mode.
In addition, Apple’s computational photography capabilities are very impressive this time around, thanks to its Deep Fusion system that produces finer details, and Smart HDR 3 that combines multiple exposures to create the best picture possible – regardless of ambient light. Apple even included a sensor-shift image stabilization system that results in super-stable video.
The problems we have with the iPhone 12 Pro Max relate to the lack of autofocus on the ultra-wide-angle and selfie cameras, and the 2.5x optical zoom, beaten by quite a few competing phones.
However, the iPhone remains one of the most competent camera phones around, and with Dolby Vision support for videos, it’s not just in photos that the iPhone 12 Pro Max excels.
In fact, it is the best phone you can currently buy for video capture, as it can record at all kinds of resolutions, all kinds of frame rates, with all three cameras, and even simultaneously. Last but not least, the video footage can benefit from Apple’s HDR which delivers an industry-leading dynamic range.
All in all, this is the best Apple camera phone yet, and it offers the best photo experience currently available on a phone!
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: the best
If you want a phone with a good camera, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (Check on Amazon) definitely has the best. It’s our favorite smartphone for a variety of reasons including its incredibly versatile camera module with a super-zoom function that really works.
While the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (Check on Amazon) has not kept all the promises given, that of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra succeeds in its intent.
The quadruple-camera module on the back of the S21 Ultra consists of a 108MP (f/1.8) main sensor, an ultra-wide (120°) 12MP (f/2.2) sensor, and — for the first time in a phone — two telephoto lenses. Both use a 10MP sensor with OIS (Optical Image Stabilization), but the first one has an f/2.4 aperture that allows for a 3x optical zoom while the second has an f/4.9 aperture capable of 10x optical zoom. The 100x digital zoom makes a welcome return but this time around it is assisted by a Zoom Lock function that helps keep things in focus.
The Nonacell main sensor groups together every nine pixels to produce 12MP photos — by default — with a high dynamic range both during the day and at night. It captures sharper, more detailed, and more natural-looking images compared to previous generations — colors are still compatible with Instagram but slightly more nuanced — and with a softer bokeh effect that obfuscates the background to highlight the subject. This high-resolution sensor (108MP) also allows for video recording up to [email protected] — it is more of a marketing stunt than of real importance, but it’s there if you want to use it —, ideal for those who shoot a lot of videos.
The ultra-wide camera is the best one we have seen so far from Samsung. It produces slightly sharper photos than before, while the addition of autofocus further extends its usability.
Add to all this hardware goodness the wide range of camera modes, new software tricks – including goodies like last year’s Simple Take feature that has been improved to generate slow-motion videos when you press the shutter button and the new Director’s View feature that allows you to shoot videos with both the front and rear cameras at the same time, while you can also switch between them on the fly – and the 40MP selfie camera – identical to the one we find on the S20 Ultra but with better software processing – and you can understand why the S21 Ultra is the best camera phone of 2021.
The only gripe we have with the S21 Ultra’s camera is its short-range zoom (under 3x). Both telephoto lenses produce spectacular photos at their native focal lengths, and the intermediate zoom (between 3x and 10x) isn’t bad either. Going beyond the 10x limit is not out of the question but — similar to the S20 Ultra — Space Zoom (100x) shots are best left for the marketing team.
For the rest, it is worth noting that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is quite large, offering a screen size of 6.8″. Other key features include the fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor (in the US and China or Exynos 2100 in the rest of the world), the stunning Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with a WQHD+ resolution (3,200×1,440 pixels), a refresh rate of 120Hz, the support for HDR10+ and a peak brightness of 1500 nits.
If you like to have a point-and-shoot camera always with you and don’t mind splurging (Check on Amazon) for it, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a fantastic camera phone!
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: a valid alternative
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (Check on Amazon) isn’t just the phone with the best camera in the Galaxy line-up, it’s the phone with the most impressive camera, yet. Instead of focusing on computational photography, the S20 Ultra is betting everything on megapixels. There are 108 of those in the main camera, 60 in the telephoto lens, and 12 in the ultra-wide one. The same pattern continues to the front, where you’ll find a 40-megapixel selfie camera.
But hardware alone isn’t gonna cut it in 2020, and Samsung has gifted this phone with some new software tricks. The main feature is called Space Zoom: a 100x hybrid zoom! Yes, it sounds more impressive than it is, after all, the telephoto lens features an optical zoom of “just” about 10x. The 100x zoom is a combination of optical and digital zoom, hence the term “hybrid”. That said, the S20 Ultra’s zoom is better than anything else out there.
You’ll also find the excellent Single Take function, which pulls stills, GIFs, and other shareable images from a single 10-second video. Existing features, such as Night Mode, have also seen some improvement.
All in all, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is the best camera phone if money is no concern.
Google Pixel 5 & 4a 5G: best Android point-and-shoot camera phones
For some time now Pixel phones were an automatic recommendation when it came to camera phones, but that’s no longer the case. The competition has caught up with Google’s computational photography, and Pixel phones are starting to look poorly equipped in comparison.
Be that as it may, in testing out the Pixel 5 (Check on Amazon), our expectations were high. And it didn’t disappoint us; we were really impressed by Google’s flagship camera, despite its many other flaws. If you are looking for an Android point-and-shoot camera phone, then Google Pixel 5 is the ideal choice. Despite not having the most up-to-date hardware, what it lacks in innovation, makes up in reliability and usability.
See, this year Google added the ultra-wide camera, much-requested by users, but it came in place of the telephoto lens – which is unfortunate – and that’s really the only change at the hardware level. By comparison, competing phones often have three or even four cameras.
Google, in fact, equipped the Pixel 5 with a camera module that incorporates two photosensors in the back. The Pixel 5 features a 12.2MP main camera (f/1.7) and a 16MP (f.2.2) ultra-wide angle lens.
Where the Pixel 5 disappoints compared to the competition is the zoom. Google has promised that its new Super Zoom based on Artificial intelligence will make up for the missing telephoto lens – we’re talking about the king of computational photography after all. Well, zoomed photos are definitely better than your typical digital zoom camera phone, but they’re not on par with those taken with a dedicated zoom lens. It seems Google’s computational magic has finally reached its limit.
Despite this, Google’s device takes advantage of every other tool at its disposal, capturing clear and detailed shots, with accurate colors in good lighting conditions, although its performance decreases slightly in low light conditions. In addition, while the ultra-wide-angle lens is ideal for inserting many subjects into a single shot, there is considerable distortion at the edges, albeit less than other ultra-wide lenses.
But it’s software that elevates this camera to excellence, with features such as Portrait Light mode convincingly illuminating faces and subjects, along with the powerful set of photo editing tools embedded into the device that lets you refine your photos in post. In addition, Google’s Night Sight feature is a thousand times better than Apple’s Night Mode on the iPhone 11 Pro (Check on Amazon); surely, Night mode on the iPhone 12 Pro (Check on Amazon) is up to par, if not slightly better. The Pixel 5 also boasts a rather unique dual exposure function, which allows you to adjust contrast and brightness before shooting, even in low light conditions. And for those who need it, there’s also the astrophotography feature.
Last but not least, the Pixel 5 can now record video at [email protected]
The Pixel 5 doesn’t push Pixel’s camera to new heights as we’d expected, but its lower price means that more people can enjoy its excellent camera.
The biggest argument against the Pixel 5 is that you can get the much cheaper Pixel 4a 5G with the exact same camera setup and software innovations, which ruins the value of the Pixel 5. As a result, the Pixel 4a 5G takes the same photos as the Pixel 5, only it does so for (Check on Amazon). The good news, though, is that there’s almost no other competition at this price range: Google Pixel 5’s photography is that good.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: best business camera phone
The new Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the second phone from Samsung to boast the “Ultra” moniker and it’s the best business camera phone as it excels in everything.
Its 108-megapixel primary camera — the same one we first saw in the Galaxy S20 Ultra (Check on Amazon) earlier this year, but which was plagued by design flaws – was refined with the use of a new laser autofocus sensor. The 12MP telephoto lens uses a periscope design to achieve a 5x optical zoom, a 10x digital lossless zoom, and a 50x hybrid zoom! In addition, this device can record 8K video, HDR video, and sports a more than capable Night mode, thus being a camera phone suitable for any occasion.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra doesn’t take better photos than the Apple 11 Pro (Check on Amazon) and Pro Max (Check on Amazon); it excessively smooths faces in portrait mode and has a tendency to blow out the highlights. On the other hand, it is difficult to declare a clear winner among the three regarding the overall image quality; however, the Samsung is infinitely more versatile than the two Apple flagships, due to its insane Megapixel count and unrivaled zoom.
Aside from the camera, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra offers a stunning 6.9-inch OLED display featuring a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate technology and the unmatched performance of its Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ SoC in the U.S. (Samsung Exynos 990 in the rest of the world).
Considering its price of (Check on Amazon) you wouldn’t expect anything less.
OnePlus 9 Pro: the best for wide-angle shots
OnePlus phones are not often included in this list. Previous models were usually one or two steps behind the rest of the best camera phones and while the OnePlus 9 Pro (Check on Amazon) doesn’t threaten the primacy of Apple and Samsung, it is by far the best camera phone that the company has produced so far.
It boasts a 48 MP (f/1.8) main camera with optical image stabilization (OIS), an 8 MP (f/2.4) telephoto lens with a 3.3x optical zoom and OIS, a 50 MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide lens, and a 2 MP monochrome sensor for shooting in black and white. The ultra-wide camera is definitely the most noteworthy of the three as it features a “free-form” lens design that reduces the distortion often observed at the edges of wide-angle shots.
OnePlus 9 Pro’s cameras were developed in collaboration with photography specialist Hasselblad. The collaboration mainly concerned color calibration (and the results are evident since post-processing has improved dramatically) and the design of the camera app (it features a new Pro mode for better manual controls). And despite the OnePlus 9 Pro now sporting new powerful manual controls, it can still function as a traditional point and shoot camera. We also expect more from this partnership on future models – OnePlus and Hasselblad have signed a multi-year agreement.
Add to all this video recording up to 8K at 30 fps and an equally capable 16 MP (f/2.4) selfie camera, and the OnePlus 9 Pro is a solid all-rounder when it comes to photography.
The only drawback is that we experienced some mixed results when shooting in low light conditions. Anyhow, overall, we were very pleased with the photographic prowess of the OnePlus 9 Pro, which can now finally go toe to toe with the best from Apple and Samsung.
As for the rest, this is a powerful device, with a fantastic screen, amazing stereo speakers, and super-fast charging. And it’s also great value for money, being a premium phone that sells for a much lower price (Check on Amazon) than many other flagships.
Apple iPhone 12 & 12 mini: best value iPhone cameras
While the iPhones 12 Pro (Check on Amazon) and Pro Max (Check on Amazon) set the new standards for mobile photography, the iPhones 12 (Check on Amazon) and 12 mini (Check on Amazon) are not far behind – they offer an identical camera experience, and in normal shots, the amount of detail captured by their cameras still manages to surprise us. Even if they don’t have a telephoto lens or the LiDAR scanner — both features found in the two Pro models — these iPhones still benefit from Apple’s camera software and a neural engine. This means they can boast the same premium functions like Night Mode, Deep Fusion, and Smart HDR!
These two iPhones come with a dual-camera module on the back, which consists of a 12MP (f/1.6) main sensor – which works much better in low light conditions than the old iPhone 11, producing even more beautiful colors and better exposure – and a 12MP ultra-wide-angle lens (f/2.2), as well as a single 12MP camera (f/2.2) on the front.
Despite the fact that the iPhones 12 and 12 mini don’t have a dedicated telephoto lens, you still get a digital zoom of up to 5x. The lack of a zoom lens obviously means that these cameras aren’t ideal if you want to shoot distant subjects, and there are better choices on this list if zoom is important to you.
All three cameras work well and – as with the rest of the iPhone 12 range – these two iPhones perform better than most competing phones in low light conditions – and this is true regardless of which lens you use since the new Night mode works with all of them. What’s more, all iPhone 12s are now capable of shooting in Night Time-lapse mode. In addition, the iPhone 12’s selfie camera is capable of shooting in both Night and Deep Fusion modes, both features that were not available on the iPhone 11’s (Check on Amazon) selfie camera.
The iPhones 12 and 12 mini also benefit from the improved Smart HDR 3, which uses artificial intelligence to optimize images – Deep Fusion AI technology ensures that the device applies the right amount of optimization without making images appear too elaborate — while for videos you can take advantage of Dolby Vision — these are the world’s first phones capable of recording video in Dolby Vision HDR -, which means that these phones are able to cover a wider dynamic range and reproduce brighter colors than ever before, although on the iPhone 12 and 12 mini you can only shoot videos up to [email protected], compared to [email protected] on the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. In fact, the test video we shot with our iPhone 12 looks a lot sharper than anything current Android flagships can produce.
Ultimately, these two iPhones are the ideal phones to buy if the price of the iPhone 12 Pro seems too much to you.
Google Pixel 4a: best cheap camera phone
The Google Pixel 4a (Check on Amazon) was released in August 2020 and its camera is ridiculously good. It is, in fact, equipped with the Pixel 4’s stellar camera, while costing much less.
The single 12.2MP (ƒ/1.7) rear camera pales in comparison to the quartet of sensors we find on the back of many mid-range phones, but is, nevertheless, able to dominate most of them.
The difference is that the single lens of the Pixel 4a benefits from Google’s software magic in image processing, from Night Sight and Super Res Zoom all the way to Live HDR+. Whether it’s a bright outdoor scene or a low-light interior one, the Pixel 4a can produce realistic color tones and excellent detail. Thanks to the software, Google is able to reproduce the same camera performance as phones sporting a 48MP or even a 64MP camera, and, unless you are obsessed with zoom lenses, you will probably prefer the Pixel 4a’s photos more than those of other phones in its price range.
The end product is not only the best cheap camera phone but one of the absolute best camera phones yet. And since it comes equipped with as much as 128GB of built-in storage, you’ll have plenty of space for photos and videos compared to the amount of internal memory you get from most competing phones, including the 64GB iPhone SE (Check on Amazon).
In addition, The Pixel 4a can boast tricks that the iPhone SE can not. Apple’s device lacks a Night mode and can capture portraits with only a shallow depth of field – two limitations that the Pixel 4a does not suffer from.
Besides the amazing camera, you also get the stylish Pixel Launcher, for an even cleaner and more functional Android experience, as well as timely updates guaranteed for three years.
And despite the price, Google managed to include a 5.8-inch OLED screen that displays super-sharp images – albeit at a standard refresh rate (60Hz). The body is made of plastic but is of good quality and comes in a more comfortable size for one-handed use.
If you want to be able to capture the most beautiful photos for the least amount of money, the Pixel 4a should be at the top of your list.
Before you go out and buy it, though, it’s worth taking a look at the 5G version. The Pixel 4a 5G (Check on Amazon) features the same dual rear camera module and Snapdragon 765G processor as the Pixel 5, and a larger display (6.2 inches). It’s a bit more expensive, but if you want a 5G device, it’s worth the extra money.
Samsung Galaxy S21 & S21+: not the best but still great
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is easily the best camera phone released so far. However, at (Check on Amazon) is not cheap. But Samsung released three S21 models this year.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 (Check on Amazon) and S21+ (Check on Amazon) sport a camera module very similar to the one we find on their bigger sibling but for hundreds of dollars less. You’ll get a 12 MP main camera, a 12 MP ultra-wide-angle lens, and a 64 MP telephoto lens, plus a 10 MP selfie camera. Just like the Ultra, both of these phones can record videos at [email protected] The only real difference is that their 3x hybrid zoom can’t hold up to the 10x optical zoom offered by the S21 Ultra.
We should also note that despite the Galaxy S21 and S21+ cameras are pretty much the same as the ones we find on the Galaxy S20 (Check on Amazon) and S20+ (Check on Amazon), they actually take much more impressive photos thanks to Samsung’s software improvements. This move is part of the company’s strategy to reduce costs, and in fact, the S21 and S21+ were less expensive than the S20 and S20+ during launch.
These software enhancements include new shooting modes, such as Single Take and Director’s View. The first allows you to capture a variety of photos and videos using all three rear cameras, while the second lets you shoot using the front and rear cameras at the same time.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21+ are capable of capturing detailed images in well-lit environments, with superb dynamic range, and bold, intense colors that seem to jump straight out from the screen. Night mode does a great job of improving brightness without adding annoying visual noises or dimming lighting sources.
Thus, if you need a modern flagship camera phone, then the Samsung Galaxy S21 is the ideal candidate: it’s a compact, pocketable device, that boasts the same camera module as the S21+ while costing less (Check on Amazon). The S21+ (Check on Amazon), on the other hand, offers the added bonus of a bigger display and battery.
Apple iPhone 12 Pro: best camera phone for most people
“The best camera phone on the market”. This was Apple’s claim during the launch of the iPhone 11 Pro (Check on Amazon). Apple has reclaimed its lost ground compared to Android competitors with the release of the iPhone 11 series, and now the 12 series takes things a step further. At first glance, the cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro (Check on Amazon) look exactly the same as those on the iPhone 12 Pro Max (Check on Amazon), and it is true that they are not very different, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max is superior, mainly thanks to its bigger main sensor and improved zoom.
However, the iPhone 12 Pro takes photos that come very close in quality and does so costing less. It’s more expensive than the iPhone 12 and 12 mini but, for most, its camera is worth the higher price – the Pro model includes a telephoto lens for greater versatility. Its camera module combines, in fact, the fantastic photographic quality with an impressive versatility that makes this the best choice when it comes to phone cameras. Of course, its triple-lens module and 12-megapixel sensors are not enough to compete with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (Check on Amazon), at least not on paper. But Apple has really taken a huge step forward with its software processing. Following in Google’s footsteps on Artificial Intelligence, the iPhone 12 Pro managed to overcome the expected results when reading its technical sheet.
The iPhone 12 Pro has a new 12MP (f/1.6) main camera with OIS that is even faster than before, a 12MP telephoto lens (f/2.0) with OIS and 2x optical zoom, a 12MP ultra-wide-angle camera (f/2.4), and a TrueDepth selfie camera also equipped with a 12MP sensor.
It also comes with plenty of new features, such as a LiDAR scanner, which can be used to create augmented reality experiences and take portraits in Night mode – it helps the camera focus way faster than before. The Night mode is really impressive, allowing you to take bright, detailed shots in situations where other phones would struggle, and you can use it with all three cameras.
The iPhone 12 Pro is also capable of using the new Apple ProRaw file format, meaning you’ll be able to combine Apple’s advanced computational photography effects with the versatility of RAW files.
In addition, machine learning and Deep Fusion technology provide good digital noise reduction while maintaining a natural, almost neutral tone.
The 12MP selfie camera also works well, and there are useful features like Dolby Vision and Smart HDR 3 for better image processing.
The iPhone 12 Pro isn’t the best camera phone on the market, but it is the best for most people and we can only applaud Apple’s progress in this area and for creating one of the most reliable camera phones around.
Apple iPhone SE (2020): Apple’s best mid-range camera phone
The Apple iPhone SE (2020) is simply brilliant: a (Check on Amazon) iPhone that inherits the iPhone 8’s (Check on Amazon) form factor and camera (12-megapixel single-lens camera f/1.8) and pairs it with the iPhone 11 Pro’s (Check on Amazon) processor and software. The result is a pocket phone that offers highly respectable photos and [email protected] (with image stabilization) videos.
Since it lacks an ultrawide or telephoto lens, it’s definitely not perfect — and the competing Google Pixel 4a (Check on Amazon) takes better photos at night – but its camera is far better than those on the vast majority of similar-priced models.
Its small 4.7-inch 720p screen is not as bright or as fast as that of high-end models, but that also means its battery life isn’t affected. It unlocks via Touch ID instead of Face ID (which is great now that we are all wearing a mask).
Last but not least it is water and dust resistant (IP67) and it even boasts wireless charging.
Considering Apple’s regular software updates, the SE 2020 is the best-value iPhone out there.
Huawei Mate 40 Pro: almost the best
You may be surprised to find the Huawei Mate 40 Pro (Check on Amazon) on this list — after all, it’s a phone that we don’t recommend buying. But the reason we can’t recommend it has to do with its limited App Store (since it does not have access to the Google Play Store and Google Play Services due to Google’s trade ban in the United States) and nothing to do with its cameras.
In fact, its camera module is great! It features a 50 MP main camera (f/1.9), a 12 MP (f/3.4) periscope lens with 5x optical zoom, phase detection autofocus (PDAF), and optical image stabilization (OIS), and a 20 MP ultra-wide lens (f/1.8).
Although they do not impress on paper — many rival phones boast more lenses or better specs — it has all the cameras that matter, and all of them work great. From portrait shots to wide landscapes, and zoomed photos to close-up subjects, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro can cope with almost any type of photo and does so brilliantly. It also does a great job in low-light conditions – even without resorting to Night mode.
Photos taken with the Mate 40 Pro display the typical characteristics of Leica cameras. The focus is fast and snappy, and the pictures are warm, rich, and vivid but without looking unnatural or too elaborate — like the photos taken with Samsung smartphones.
The camera app comes with many shooting modes and tools — it features a manual ISO up to 6400 and a manual shutter for up to 30 seconds as well as several modes: Slow-mo, Panorama, Monochrome, Light Painting, and Moon Photography.
In addition, despite our focus on the rear module, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro also boasts a decent configuration on the front, with a 13 MP (f/2.4) wide-angle lens camera (for group selfies) combined with a Time of Flight (ToF) sensor for depth detection.
Add to all this the super stabilized video with impressive use of HDR — the new XD Fusion HDR engine delivers a superior dynamic range for video capture, even at 4K/60 fps — and you get a camera phone that excels in all fields of photography.
If you are interested in photography more than anything else, this is the best camera phone you can buy (Check on Amazon) right now!
Oppo Find X3 Pro: the most unique
We were very impressed with the Oppo Find X2 Pro’s (Check on Amazon) camera module, so it’s no surprise that its successor is another excellent camera phone. Oppo has taken a distinctly different approach with its 2021 flagship; compared to its predecessor, the Oppo Find X3 Pro (Check on Amazon) uses the proven formula of big main and ultra-wide sensors, boasting a wide and an ultra-wide 50 MP camera. Both use the new Sony IMX 766 sensor for optimal quality across the board. However, this time around they are paired with a 2x zoom telephoto lens (the Oppo Find X2 Pro comes with a periscope lens for a far greater 5x optical zoom) and a “microlens” (60x magnification) in an attempt to spice things up.
The main and ultra-wide-angle cameras produce perfect results under all lighting conditions. The images are beautifully vibrant and colorful, with the distortion on the ultra-wide kept to a minimum. Both of these sensors are more than capable of shooting in low light conditions, and there is also a multi-exposure Night mode for when the light is really scarce. The photos we took in the dark appeared bright enough and with lots of detail.
The 13 MP telephoto lens does a solid job with zoomed shots — but the old model can get better results. Finally, the microscope is a different interpretation of the “macro” trend; it’s a little more than a gimmick, but it’s a very smart and fun move and might be perfect for some.
For the rest, its curvy design is very stylish, the OLED display is simply wonderful, the performance of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC is top-notch and the 65 W charger is incredibly fast – however, the battery life (4,500 mAh) is only average.
Huawei P40 Pro: best value
The successor to the fantastic P30 Pro (Check on Amazon) is an amazing camera phone. Sadly we can’t recommend it as its predecessor. The US government has ordered Google to revoke Huawei’s Android license. Therefore Huawei phones cannot use Google services.
That said, the Huawei P40 Pro (Check on Amazon) is one of the best camera phones around. It sports a quad-camera rear module and a dual selfie camera module.
The main camera sports a 50-megapixel sensor that captures excellent photos no matter the lighting conditions. Then there’s the 5x periscope zoom: zoomed photos have never looked so sharp. Add to the mix an ultra-wide lens, as well as a depth sensor for good measure, and you have a really versatile camera module, capable of giving Apple’s and Google’s camera phones a run for their money.
Add to this the competent selfie camera with a ToF (Time of Flight) sensor for great portraits and it’s hard to find a fault in the P40 Pro’s photo department.
Video footage is also among the best we’ve ever seen from a phone. Ultimately, though, the lack of Google services leaves this phone with a severe handicap, and this is why we still consider the Huawei P30 Pro a better buy.
OnePlus 8 Pro: best camera phone for ease of use
OnePlus improved the camera module of the new OnePlus 8 Pro (Check on Amazon) and crept closer to other flagships thanks to Sony’s new 12-bit IMX689 sensor. This sensor has a size of 1/1.4 and large pixels (1.12 microns). The 48MP main camera shoots crisp and colorful stills, and it’s also capable of capturing stunning bokeh photos even in mediocre lighting conditions. As for the ultra-wide camera, also 48MP, it’s probably the best one you can find on a phone.
In addition, thanks to the phase-detection laser autofocus and optical image stabilization (OIS), the OnePlus 8 Pro is blazing fast to act and produces consistent results across both photos and videos.
On the other hand, when it comes to shooting from afar, it cannot compete with flagships that are equipped with a periscope zoom lens. That said, its telephoto lens (8MP, f/2.4) includes a 3x optical zoom and optical image stabilization (OIS), thus it has a better maximum focal length than the iPhone 11 Pro (Check on Amazon) and is on par with the Samsung Galaxy S20 (Check on Amazon) and S20+ (Check on Amazon) (its main competitors).
The real advantage of the OnePlus 8 Pro is definitely its 48MP ultra-wide camera, which is much like a GoPro. Boasting a huge number of pixels, an f/2.2 aperture that lets in a ton of light, and a viewing angle of 14mm (116°), it can squeeze more information into one frame than any other ultra-wide camera around.
The “fourth” camera is a 12MP color filter sensor that we honestly don’t know what it’s for. Finally, there’s also a 16MP selfie camera sitting in a small hole punch notch on the front.
Videos can be captured in “Super Stable” mode up to Full HD resolutions or in standard mode up to 4K resolution.
Is this the best camera phone? It is definitely one of the best. That said, as a whole, this is probably the best camera phone for ease of use.
Samsung Galaxy S10+: a valid alternative
The camera of the S10+ (Check on Amazon) is different from that of its predecessor, the S9+. To improve the versatility of the already great 12MP main sensor and 12MP telephoto lens, Samsung added a third 16MP wide-angle sensor.
The main camera is basically identical to that of the Galaxy S9 (Check on Amazon) with a variable aperture of f/1.5 and f /2.4. The telephoto lens is also similar, with a 2x zoom and optical stabilization. The 2x zoom works well, but it lacks precision.
As for the photos taken with the ultra-wide-angle lens, they lack detail, which is expected, however, they are sharp as the rest.
The white balance is quite reliable, granting bright colors in almost every lighting condition except total darkness.
The selfie camera dual module (10MP and 8MP) has a standard and a wide-angle lens similar to the one on the Pixel 3 (Check on Amazon). The 10MP secondary lens is used for depth detection and it manages to improve considerably the bokeh effect.
Several Live Focus effects are also available (Blur, Rotate, Zoom, and Colorpoint) and make portrait photos more convincing than those taken with other phones.
When shooting video, the S10+ offers excellent 4K stabilization, unless you want to record at 60 frames per second. Samsung also offers an option to record video up to 4K at 30fps using HDR10+, thus allowing for better contrast and more beautiful colors.
Its only flaw is the absence of a Night mode.
Overall, the S10+ has one of the best and more versatile cameras on the market.
Oppo Find X2 Pro: best all-round camera phone
Oppo was relatively unknown until recently but landed with a bang when it launched one of the best smartphones of 2020, the Find X2 Pro (Check on Amazon).
From a camera perspective, the X2 Pro introduces Sony’s new 48MP 12-bit IMX689 sensor (1/1.4″ size, 1.12μm pixels) capable of capturing high-resolution photos with a nice depth of field, lots of detail, and good dynamic range. The best thing though is that the photos look natural and realistic, especially when viewed alongside those captured by Samsung’s flagship models.
In addition, the Oppo Find X2 Pro packs a telephoto periscope lens featuring a 13MP sensor and a 5x optical zoom – something we don’t find often -, which beats both the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (Check on Amazon) and the Apple iPhone 12 Pro (Check on Amazon) when it comes to zoom, and a super-sharp 48MP ultra-wide camera for GoPro-esque shots. The night shots are not as impressive as those of the new iPhone 12, but they’re not bad either. Last but not least, on the front, we also find a 32MP selfie camera.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 SoC makes this smartphone seriously fast, delivering peak performance and a more than decent battery life. And then there is the absolutely stunning 120Hz QHD+ OLED screen!
That said, we haven’t yet talked about the two distinct features of the X2 Pro, which has the fastest charger on the market (65W) — it goes from 0 to 100% in just 40 minutes – that makes up for the lack of Qi wireless charging, not to mention the 256GB of base storage space.
Ultimately, the Find X2 Pro is Oppo’s best “calling card” now that the company has finally decided to make ripples at the top end of the segment.
Xiaomi Mi Note 10: best budget camera phone
Xiaomi aims towards greatness with this phone (Check on Amazon) which was the first to sport a 108MP camera sensor. And with 5 cameras in total, it promises beautiful photos in every situation.
The main 108MP camera is flanked by a 20MP ultra-wide-angle lens, a 2MP macro lens (2-10cm autofocus), and two telephoto lenses: a 5MP 10x hybrid zoom and a 12MP 2x optical zoom one.
The 108MP sensor uses pixel binning: it combines four pixels into one to generate a 27MP final image with great details and low noise. The macro camera is the best one we have tested so far and the telephoto lens can go up to 50x digital zoom, but the quality drops drastically and it doesn’t show the same sharpness as the Huawei P30 Pro.
Not surprisingly, the stills are breathtaking. However, you will mostly use the main camera since it’s the most efficient and accurate one. Sadly the slow app and long rendering times can ruin the photographic experience…
Xiaomi paid special attention to the Portrait mode with precise clipping and well-exploited bokeh. The subject shows an excellent degree of separation from the background thus producing a beautiful photo. Using the selfie cam (32MP), this mode is a little less impressive but still effective.
This is a well-balanced phone that also offers good performance and solid battery life. It does not have much to envy from flagship phones but also fails to achieve the level of excellence of a Google Pixel 4.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro & Pro Max: the best point-and-shoot camera phone
The iPhone 11 Pro (Check on Amazon) and Pro Max (Check on Amazon) not only have the best cameras Apple has ever developed, but they are also the best camera phones for most users. They are extremely consistent and reliable: you take a shot and it will probably be good, just like that, even in mediocre lighting conditions. Their dynamic range is great and with three cameras they now boast excellent versatility.
The main camera has a focal length of 26mm, making it perfect for everyday snapshots. The ultra-wide camera allows you to take a step back without moving physically, framing a field twice as wide compared to the standard lens, thanks to its 13mm focal length. The telephoto lens can zoom in twice as much, again compared to the standard lens, thanks to its 52mm focal length, and is ideal for portraits.
Apple has also introduced a new night mode that can maintain the shutter open for incredible low-light photography. Add to all this the beautiful colors, consistent across all cameras, and you are looking at a camera phone champion.
If you’re already an Apple fan then the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max are a no-brainer.
Huawei P30 Pro: personal favorite
Thanks to its versatility, Huawei occupies the leading position in the world of phone photography.
Compared to the Huawei P20 Pro, the P30 Pro (Check on Amazon) still goes up a notch with its 5x periscope optical zoom that is also optically stabilized. In addition to its three lenses, Huawei added a Time of Flight (depth of field) sensor to enhance portrait mode.
An 8MP sensor has also been integrated behind the periscope lens to deliver what Huawei calls a “lossless 10x zoom”.
The 40MP ultra-wide-angle lens has an aperture of f/1.6 with a focal length of 27mm. Huawei has also upgraded the P30 Pro’s front-facing camera with a 32MP lens and artificial intelligence.
Huawei has abandoned the traditional RGB (red, green, blue) sensor for an RYYB (red, yellow, yellow, blue) Super Spectrum one, that allows it to capture 40% more light and very realistic colors.
In addition to taking sharp and detailed pictures during the day, this phone is just as great at night. The Night mode on the P30 Pro has a high sensitivity, and the images have good colors even in the dark.
Finally, the P30 Pro captures really good video footage but the sound is not as convincing. And although this is the first Huawei phone to offer 4K stabilization, the implementation is quite disappointing.
The P30 Pro is not perfect, but overall, and considering the versatility of its 4 sensors, its otherworldly zoom, amount of detail that can capture, and its Night mode it is still our favorite.