The best camera phones are pushing the boundaries of technology and are often capable of delivering better results than the 'proper' camera in your kit bag. As screens get larger, camera phone sensors get more advanced and chipsets get more powerful, it can be tricky to keep track of the latest and greatest handsets. Luckily, we've rounded up the best for you right here.
The best camera phones don't just deliver pure power – they're also a perfect package of convenience, with countless apps at your fingertips. However, one of the most impressive aspects of these handsets is their megapixel count. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra has an impressive 108MP sensor, 8K video and a 100x digital zoom – specs that traditional cameras just haven't achieved yet.
However, the S20 Ultra isn't an outlier. Beefy sensors are becoming the norm for flagship phones, with the Motorola Edge+, Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, Xiaomi Mi Note 10 following suit. While phones aren't yet able to beat the best DSLRs or the best mirrorless cameras for image quality, the technology is moving so quickly that it almost feels like it's only a matter of time.
However, the most significant advantage that camera phones hold over cameras is how small they are in comparison. Even the best compact cameras can still prove annoyingly bulky, but folding phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and the Motorola Razr are making massive strides in compact technology.
Smartphone technology moves quickly, so this list is constantly changing. As we move towards the end of 2020, 5G is set to become the next big thing, so make sure to check out our best 5G phone for photography guide if you live somewhere with 5G infrastructure.
The best camera phone in 2021
The iPhone 12 Pro is one of the best camera phones currently available, featuring 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 the new Ceramic Shield display that has a 4x better drop performance, you just can't go wrong with the new iPhone 12 Pro!
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G is not just the most capable camera phone in the Galaxy family, it is arguably the most impressive camera phone ever. 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
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
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.
Galaxy S-series phones have traditionally been right up there for camera quality, and the S10 5G is no exception. 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
The Sony Xperia 1 II 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. There are a number of welcome improvements over the original there’s no wireless charging. If want the ultimate cinema experience, both from a content creation and consumption point of view, the Xperia 1 II is it.
In full: Sony Xperia 1 II review
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.
If you want Pen-input, then the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus is the best out there - and that makes it the best phablet around. It wildly outclasses everything other than its predecessor (the Samsung Galaxy Note 9) in that respect. The Pen input makes this in many ways a much more complete imaging device than other phones out there, as editing with a stylus enables far greater control (and Samsung's OCR is second to none, when it comes to handwriting recognition). And on top of that, the Pen even acts as a remote shutter for taking shots and selfies! If you don’t care about the stylus, though, it’s still an excellent phone, with a capable triple-camera system that captures fantastic photos and video, a wonderful screen, and a whole lot of horsepower under the hood. Though the lack of headphone jack is worth bearing in mind!
In full: Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus review
Google’s Pixel 3A is the first midrange phone from Google that features a flagship quality camera, making that coveted Pixel imaging experience that bit more accessible. With its lone 12MP sensor coupled with an f/1.8 aperture lens, it shouldn’t be anywhere near this top ten list from a specs point of view. Thanks to Google’s stellar software wizardry though, the Pixel 3A is able to take quality pictures, shot after shot. The 3A also features Night Sight, for long exposure night shooting that can turn night into day. This means when it comes to low light shooting, this midranger stacks up to smartphones like the P30 Pro and iPhone XS, which cost around double the price of the Pixel. While the 3A won’t be a gaming champ or power user’s dream phone, it’s still a great choice for anyone who wants a quality camera phone without breaking the bank.
In full: Google Pixel 3A review
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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