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The best camera phone in 2021: which is the best smartphone for photography?

best camera phone in 2021
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best camera phones offer a tantalizing combination of the pinnacle of imaging technology with pin-sharp displays and lightning-fast internet connectivity. In fact, some handsets can deliver better photographs than the 'proper' camera you might otherwise be tempted to pick up. 

As camera phone technology progresses, you might find it tricky to keep up to date on the latest handsets available. To help you find the best camera phone for you, we've rounded up a selection of the latest models with a range of budgets in mind.

Camera phone technology can really boil down to one simple concept – pure and simple convenience. Not only will the best camera phones feature powerful imaging sensors (for example, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has an incredible 108MP sensor – higher than most of the best professional cameras), but they'll also have incredible computational photography features that takes a matter of milliseconds to process the images you capture and improve aspects such as sharpness, white balance and more. 

While the best camera phones might not yet be able to beat the best DSLRs or the best mirrorless cameras for sheer image quality, the one area that camera phones beat out traditional cameras in is their size. Even the best compact cameras can still take up the majority of your pocket (if they even fit in at all!), but the best fold phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 are incredibly compact.

No matter whether you're looking for a high end camera phone that will help you capture fantastic social media content, or you're simply looking for an everyday handset that will capture beautiful family snaps, we've rounded up the best camera phones currently available below…

The best camera phone in 2021

best camera phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli/Digital Camera World)

1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

If you're looking for the best camera phone, look no further

Release date: January 2021
Rear cameras: 108MP f/1.8, 10MP f/2.4, 10MP f/4.9, 12MP f/2.2 ultrawide
Front camera: 40MP
OIS: Yes
Weight: 227 g
Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm
Storage: 128/256/512GB
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic camera zoom+Beautiful display
Reasons to avoid
-A little pricey-No microSD card slot

If you're looking for a handset with an excellent camera, then the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra could be exactly what you're looking for. This camera phone features four rear cameras, including a 108MP f/1.8 main camera, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera and two 10MP telephoto cameras – one with an f/2.4 aperture and 3x optical zoom and one with an f/4.9 aperture and a huge 10x optical zoom. It's worth noting that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is pretty big, offering a 6.8" screen size that users with smaller hands might struggle to maneuver. The Dynamic AMOLED 2X display features a 120Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling and gaming experiences, HDR10+ support, 1500-nit peak brightness and a 1440 x 3200 resolution. 

In full: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple iPhone 13 Pro

More evolution than revolution, but still the best iPhone ever

Release date: September 2021
Rear cameras: 12MP f/1.5, 12MP f/1.8 ultrawide, 12MP f/2.8 telephoto
Front camera: 12MP
OIS: Yes
Weight: 204g
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.7mm
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB
Reasons to buy
+Extensively upgraded cameras+120Hz screen refresh rate
Reasons to avoid
-Still 'only' 3x optical zoom-Expensive

Though it's camera improvements may be fairly modest when compared to the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 13 Pro still sports some worthwhile upgrades. There's a useful new macro mode, along with an improvement to low light shooting with the ultra-wide camera. New picture styles are worth experimenting with, while the Cinematic video mode is a clever feature and nice to have if you're a budding movie-maker.

As for camera hardware, Apple has gone for a triple lens set up on the iPhone 13 Pro, giving us a standard, ultra wide and telephoto lens. We have the same focal lengths for the 26mm (equivalent) standard lens, and 13mm (0.5x) ultra-wide optic, but the telephoto lens has been extended to a 3x (78mm) offering, compared with the iPhone 12 Pro’s 2x lens.

Overall, the iPhone 13 Pro is without question the best iPhone for photographers to date (exactly what we’d expect) and it produces fantastic image and video quality, but it’s not for those who are particularly budget conscious, especially if you’re already in possession of a 12 Pro which is very nearly as good.

In full: iPhone 13 Pro review

best camera phone - iPhone 12 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple iPhone 12 Pro

New photo features make the iPhone 12 Pro a force to be reckoned with

Release date: October 2020
Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.6, 12MP 52mm f/2
Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera
Dual OIS: Yes
Weight: 189 g
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm
Storage: 128/256/512GB
Reasons to buy
+Triple-camera unit+New Apple ProRAW file format+LiDAR scanner+5G
Reasons to avoid
-'Only' 12MP camera sensors

Though it's no longer the latest iPhone, the iPhone 12 Pro is still one of the most advanced handsets for photographers currently available. It features an impressive triple camera unit, including an ultra wide f/2.4 camera, a wide f/1.6 camera and a telephoto f/2 camera. Meanwhile, the front-facing TrueDepth camera features a 12MP sensor as well. There are plenty of new features on the iPhone 12 Pro, such as a LiDAR scanner – which will mean faster focusing in low light situations. The iPhone 12 Pro will also be able to use the new Apple ProRAW file format, which means users will be able to combine the great computational photography effects Apple is known for with the power of RAW files. Combined with the addition of 5G and a Ceramic Shield display that has a 4x better drop performance, you can't really go wrong with the iPhone 12 Pro!

In full: iPhone 12 Pro review

(Image credit: Google)

A capable point-and-shoot camera phone with great battery life

Release date: October 2019
Rear cameras: 12.2MP (27mm-equiv. wide angle lens, f/1.7, PDAF, OIS), 16MP (ultra wide angle, f/2.2)
Front camera: 8 MP, f/2, 24mm (wide), ToF 3D Camera
Weight: 151 g
Dimensions: 144.7 x 70.4 x 8.0 mm
Storage: 128 GB
Reasons to buy
+Great camera+Good battery life+Wireless charging
Reasons to avoid
-No expandable storage-No telephoto power-Midrange power

If you're looking for a fuss-free and capable point-and-shoot camera phone, then the Google Pixel 5 might be the handset for you. While the Google Pixel 5 might not have the most up-to-date tech, what it lacks in innovation it makes up for with reliability and usability. The rear dual camera unit on the Google Pixel 5 features a 12.2MP 27mm f/1.7 camera and a 16MP ultra wide f/2.2 camera, but it's the software that really elevates this camera to excellence. Meanwhile, the Snapdragon 765G chipset works well with the Android 11 OS for a lag-free camera phone experience. The Google Pixel 5 also has some exciting flagship features to offer, such as a 90Hz refresh rate display, water resistance and wireless charging. 

In full: Google Pixel 5 review

(Image credit: Andrew Williams/Digital Camera World)

A tech spec behemoth with 108MP, 100x zoom and 8K video

Release date: March 2020
Rear cameras: 108MP (primary f/1.8, 26mm, OIS), 12MP (ultra wide angle f/2.2, 13mm), 48MP (telephoto f/3.5, 103mm), ToF depth-sensing camera
Front camera: 40MP (f/2.2, 26mm)
OIS: Yes
Weight: 222 g
Dimensions: 166.9 x 76 x 8.8mm
Storage: 128 / 256 / 512 GB
Reasons to buy
+108MP primary camera+Up to 100x zoom+8K video+5G future-proofing
Reasons to avoid
-100x zoom of limited use-8K video comes with caveats-Battery life is an issue

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G might not be the latest in its lineup, but it's still a fantastically good camera phone. Its 108MP camera proves to be more than a numbers play. And while the 100x zoom may not deliver at the extreme end, it's more than capable of giving you great-looking telephoto images. This, however, is a phone with foibles – namely the inconsistent image processing and battery life – but these will surely be fixed with firmware. The 8K is more limited you might hope, the 120Hz mode is best avoided for most, and the cost is restrictively high for many. However, the hardware is a league above that of the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus. And judged on its picture performance, when everything clicks, it is almost certainly the best Android camera phone ever – and the best 5G camera phone, to boot.

In full: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review
Also see:
Best phablets in 2020

(Image credit: Apple)

6. Apple iPhone 12

It might not have the telephoto camera, but the iPhone 12 is still a great buy

Release date: October 2020
Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.6
Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera
OIS: Yes
Weight: 164 g
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm
Storage: 64/128/256GB
Reasons to buy
+Dual-camera unit+5G+New Ceramic Shield screen
Reasons to avoid
-No telephoto camera-No LiDAR scanner

The iPhone 12 might not have quite the same wow-factor as the iPhone 12 Pro, but it's certainly no slouch when it comes to its photographic capabilities, featuring a 12MP wide angle and a 12MP ultra wide angle. While the iPhone 12 doesn't have a dedicated telephoto camera, users can achieve a digital zoom of up to 5x. All of the iPhone 12 models are now capable of HDR video recording with Dolby Vision, although on the iPhone 12 this is only up to 30fps as compared to the iPhone 12 Pro's 60fps. The iPhone 12's front-facing camera is capable of both Night mode and Deep Fusion, which weren't available on the base iPhone 11's selfie camera. The iPhone 12 is also now capable of Night mode Time-lapse. One of the most exciting upgrades for the iPhone 12 family is the new Ceramic Shield display, which features a 4x better drop performance. 

Best camera phone: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli/Digital Camera World)

7. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

This phone offers a high-end chipset and an excellent zoom lens

Release date: August 2020
Rear cameras: 108MP, 12MP, 12MP
Front camera: 10MP
OIS: Yes
Weight: 208 g
Dimensions: 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm
Storage: 128/256/512GB
Reasons to buy
+Comes with the S Pen+Excellent camera for stills and video
Reasons to avoid
-Pretty expensive-Inconsistent battery results

If you're looking for one of the best camera phones for telephoto capabilities, then the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra might be right up your alley. Featuring a triple rear camera, the Note 20 Ultra has a 108MP f/1.8 main camera, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera and – the pièce de résistance – a 12MP f/3 camera with 5x optical zoom and 50x digital zoom. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra comes in three colors, including Mystic Bronze, Mystic White or Mystic Black. While the Note 20 Ultra is a little pricey, we've definitely seen the handset begin to fall since it first appeared on the market back in April 2020. 

In full: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli/Digital Camera World)

A videographer’s dream

Release date: August 2021
Rear camera: 12MP (24mm f/1.7) + 12MP (70mm f/2.3, 105mm f/2.8) + 12MP (16mm f/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP (f/2)
Rear camera aperture: f/1.7 + f/2.3 + f/2.8 + f/2.2
Dimensions: 165 x 71 x 8.2 mm
Storage: 128GB/256GB
Reasons to buy
+Excellent pro video features+Stunning screen+Plenty of power and storage
Reasons to avoid
-Screen could be brighter-Expensive-Weaker zoom than competition

The Sony Xperia 1 III is the only choice for video pros and cinema buffs who want to get manual with their smartphone videography. It’s able to shoot footage at up to 21:9 for cinema style capture, offers full manual control and features a beautifully flat color profile, perfect for post-processing in Premiere Pro or Da Vinci Resolve. Thankfully, almost everything else about this phone is excellent too, with a striking 21:9, 4K HDR screen, a clean UI and a snappy chipset ensuring plenty of power under the hood. Sony photography fans will also appreciate all the Alpha elements that have made their way into the Xperia camera UI. If want the ultimate cinema experience, both from a content creation and consumption point of view, the Xperia 1 III is it.

In full: Sony Xperia 1 III review

(Image credit: Future)

Great cameras, solid image quality, 5G future-proofing

Release date: April 2019
Rear cameras: 12MP (Wide Angle Lens, f/1.5, OIS), 16MP (Ultra Wide Angle Lens, f/2.2), 12MP (Telephoto, f/2.4, OIS), ToF depth-sensing camera
Front camera: 10MP, ToF depth-sensing camera
OIS: Yes
Weight: 198 g
Dimensions: 162.6 x 77.1 x 7.9mm
Storage: 256/512 GB
Reasons to buy
+Excellent camera+Stunning display+Futureproofed with 5G
Reasons to avoid
-The phone can get hot (Exynos version)-Mediocre battery life (Exynos version)-5G coverage still in its infancy

Galaxy S-series phones have traditionally been right up there for camera quality, and the S10 5G is no exception. While it doesn't have the all-singing, all-dancing features of the Ultra variant, it's still a fantastic bit of tech. Its quad rear features the desirable wide/ultrawide/telephoto/time of flight combo, and all four cameras perform superbly. Don't be put off by the main camera sensor being 'only' 12MP – the 40MP and 48MP sensors in rival phones almost always record at 10MP and 12MP respectively in their default shooting modes. Although Samsung may trail the likes of Huawei for sheer camera hardware innovation, the Galaxy S10 nails the basics with terrific image quality and flawless Auto mode performance. We also like Samsung's commitment to quality 4K video, adding new Digital Video Stabilization, along with HDR10+ support for ultra-high contrast video that looks great on a compatible TV.

In full: Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli/Digital Camera World)

Fantastic photographic capabilities make this a great choice

Release date: November 2020
Rear cameras: 50MP (primary f/1.9, OIS), 20MP (ultra wide angle, f/1.8), 12MP (125mm telephoto, f/3.4, OIS)
Front camera: 13MP f/2.4, 3D depth sensing camera
OIS: Yes
Weight: 212 g
Dimensions: 162.9 x 75.5 x 9.1 mm
Storage: 256/512 GB
Reasons to buy
+Best low light photography+5x optical zoom
Reasons to avoid
-No Google Mobile services-Can get warm while gaming

If the Huawei Mate 40 Pro wasn't limited by its unfortunate lack of access to the Google Play Store, then you would definitely see it rank much higher up our best camera phones guide. The Huawei Mate 40 Pro's camera system features a 50MP main camera, a 12MP 125mm telephoto periscope camera and a 20MP ultra wide camera. With PDAF, OIS and a 5x optical zoom, users can expect a fantastic experience when capturing both photos and video. If you fancy experimenting with manual controls, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro features manual ISO of up to 6400, a manual shutter of up to 30secs and shooting modes including Slow-mo, Panorama, Monochrome, Light Painting and more. 

In full: Huawei Mate 40 Pro review

(Image credit: OnePlus)

Stacked with power and packing 5G, too

Release date: March 2021
Rear camera: Main camera 48MP (f/1.8), telephoto 8MP (f/2.4), ultra-wide 50MP (f/2.2), depth 2MP (f/2.4)
Front camera: 16MP
OIS: Yes
Weight: 197g
Dimensions: 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm
Storage: 128/256GB
Reasons to buy
+Very well-specced+Premium design
Reasons to avoid
-Telephoto camera could be better-Pricier than predecessor

The result of a landmark partnership between OnePlus and Hasselblad, the OnePlus 9 Pro features a full range of fantastic photography-oriented specs, including a powerful rear quad camera with a 48MP main lens, a 50MP ultra-wide lens, 8MP telephoto lens and a 2MP monochrome lens (for better black & white shots). While the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus tops our best camera phone buying guide, you might be interested to know that the OnePlus 9 Pro betters the S21 Plus when it comes to optical zoom. Meanwhile, the OnePlus 9 Pro also features 8K video recording and a 16MP front-facing camera with decent performance. Hasselblad's influence mostly shows itself in the image processing and a fresh look for the camera interface, including a pro mode for better manual photo capture. 

In full: OnePlus 9 Pro review

(Image credit: Apple)

12. iPhone SE (2020)

iPhone 8 body + iPhone 11 processor = iPhone SE

Release date: April 2020
Rear camera: 12-megapixel, 28mm
Front camera: 7MP
OIS: Yes
Rear camera aperture: f/1.8
Weight: 148g
Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm
Storage: 64/256GB
Reasons to buy
+Great 4K video+Very good imaging in bright light
Reasons to avoid
-No zoom-Single, older camera

The iPhone SE (2020) is a brilliant proposition: a $399 / £415 / AU$749 iPhone that takes the form factor and camera of the iPhone 8, and pairs it with the processor and software magic of the iPhone 11 Pro. The result is a pocket-friendly handset in terms of both size and price, with fusion technology that delivers highly respectable photographs and 4K video. Its smaller 4.7-inch 720p screen isn't as bright and doesn't refresh as fast as the flagship models, but that also means that its battery doesn't get gobbled up as fast either. It sticks with Touch ID instead of Face ID (great for the mask-wearing COVID era) and boasts Qi wireless charging. It's IP67 water and dust resistant, and features image stabilization for rock-solid 4K 60fps video. Between the A13 Bionic chip and Apple-standard software updates, the iPhone SE is the best value handset out there.

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

The camera phone with the record breaking pixel count

Release date: December 2019
Rear cameras: Wide: 108MP (f/1.7) Telephoto: 12MP (f/2.0) + 5MP (f/2.0) Ultra-wide: 20MP (f/2.2) Macro: 2MP (f/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP
Weight: 208g
Dimensions: 157.8 x 74.2 x 9.7 mm
Battery size: 5260mAh
Storage: 128GB
Reasons to buy
+Plenty of detail from main camera+Loaded up with shooting modes+Wide choice of focal lengths
Reasons to avoid
-Midrange power-Only main camera is true flagship quality-No expandable storage

Xiaomi's penta-camera Mi Note 10 is a phone with a 108MP sensor, Made by Samsung and expected to feature in the Galaxy S20 Ultra, it's is a world-first, toppling resolution records and packing more pixels than virtually any DSLR or mirrorless cameras – let alone any smartphone. Just like  the 48MP cameras in our list, the Mi Note 10 uses quad-pixel technology, or ‘pixel binning’ to grab standard shots. This technique combines four pixels into one, so a 48MP sensor would create a 12MP image, and the 108MP sensor on the Mi Note 10 produces a 27MP image. When the light is right, however, you can ramp up the resolution and capture full 108MP images for jaw droppingly detailed shots – nothing else comes close to the Mi Note 10 in this respect. The main camera nails it, and in good light, beats out the competition in many respects, albeit with a characteristically cool shot. The reason this megapixel-tastic phone isn’t higher on our list is because the additional cameras can be inconsistent. While we love the fact it packs an optical 2x zoom, 5x zoom and an ultra-wide angle, as well as a dedicated macro camera, if quality if your focus, shoot with the main 108MP module most of the time. 

In full: Xiaomi Mi Note 10 review

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Louise Carey

With over a decade of photographic experience, Louise arms Digital Camera World with a wealth of knowledge on photographic technique and know-how – something at which she is so adept that she's delivered workshops for the likes of ITV and Sue Ryder. Louise also brings years of experience as both a web and print journalist, having served as features editor for Practical Photography magazine and contributing photography tutorials and camera analysis to titles including Digital Camera Magazine and  Digital Photographer. Louise currently shoots with the Fujifilm X-T200 and the Nikon D800, capturing self-portraits and still life images, and is DCW's ecommerce editor, meaning that she knows good camera, lens and laptop deals when she sees them.