When it came to their photo-taking skills, smartphones used to be shirked by photographers. But now it's a completely different story - camera phone technology has infinitely improved, as this best camera phone buying guide proves..
Whether it's lens and sensor quality, or the features on show (or all of these), flagship smartphones are now matching compacts in the quality stakes and - as you will read - they are starting to give DSLRs a run for their money too. Especially with so many brilliant camera deals flying around.
UPDATE: Three new camera phones have entered our best camera phone guide. They are: the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, OnePlus 6T and the sublime Google Pixel 3.
Our top pick for the best camera phone right now is the Google Pixel 3. Yes, it's only got one lens on the back but what Google has managed to do with that lens is simply stunning.
At the moment, there are a number of camera phones that are simply superb, though - with the differences between the likes of the Google Pixel 3, Huawei Mate 20 Pro (and the older P20 Pro) and the iPhone XS pretty negligible.
In short: it's a brilliant time to buy a phone for its camera capabilities.
1. Google Pixel 3
Not just the best Android camera but the best camera phone.
Release date: October 2018 | Rear camera: 12.2 MP | Front camera: 8 MP, f/1.8, 28mm (wide), PDAF, 8 MP, f/2.2, 19mm (ultrawide) | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.8, 28mm | Weight: 148 g | Dimensions: 145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9 mm | Storage: 64/128 GB
Best camera phone: The Google Pixel 3 has been a revelation in the camera phone stakes. Like its predecessors, it uses just one lens on the back. But the image results are fantastic. When we first tested the Google Pixel 3 against the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, we put the Mate 20 Pro in front. But the new Night Mode, which offers up stunning pictures in the low light, means that the Google Pixel 3 is now the camera king.
2. Huawei P20 Pro
Three cameras have helped earn this camera phone the top spot
Release date: April 2018 | Rear camera: 40MP + 20MP + 8MP | Front camera: 24MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.8 + f/1.6 + f/2.4 | Autofocus type: | Weight: 180g | Dimensions: 155 x 73.9 x 7.8 mm | Storage: 128/256GB
The best all rounder: The Huawei P20 Pro is a very impressive piece of picture taking kit. We’ve ranked it slightly lower here as it’s not as consistent as the Galaxy S9 Plus, but it’s still a powerful camera that combines a 40MP RGB sensor with a 20MP black and white one.
That is said to help with image processing and decreases the amount of noise you’ll get in shots. Thanks to a third rear camera, an 8MP shooter, the phone allows you 3x zoom without having to default to a lower quality digital zoom.
3. Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Fantastic new addition to the camera phone crowd.
Release date: October 2018 | Rear camera: 40MP/20MP/8MP | Front camera: 24 MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.8 + f/2.4 | Weight: 174g | Dimensions: 57.8 x 72.3 x 8.6 mm | Storage: 128/256GB
Best for portraits: The bigger (literally) brother to the P20 Pro, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro may have a slightly different lens setup (no monochrome lens this time around) but it's still a powerhouse in the camera department. The Mate 20 Pro has three (count 'em) lenses on the back, offering super-wide angle and macro shots. But it's the portrait mode that impresses us the most - the bokeh effect you get from the camera is one of the best we've seen.
4. iPhone XS
Tied to Apple? The iPhone XS is a fantastic camera phone
Release date: October 2018 | Rear camera: Dual 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras | Front camera: 7MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.8 + f/2.4 | Weight: 174g | Dimensions: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm | Storage: 64/256GB
The best top-range camera phone: We don’t necessarily think the extra money spent on an iPhone XS gives a better camera experience, but it does offer you the best iPhone that’s ever been made. The X was a marked change for the company and while the iPhone XS doesn't look any different, it still offers a full screen 5.8-inch device that looks futuristic when you hold it in your hand, its camera software has been greatly enhanced.
The camera is a powerful dual 12MP shooter with one sporting f/1.8 and the other f/2.4 that both pack optical image stabilization to offer some impressive shots. We found the colors to be natural, and the fact one is a telephoto sensor helps for shooting detail at a further distance than most other phones on the market.
There's a new sensor, too, which measures 1.4µm and thanks to the new chipset it is now double the speed of its predecessor and has two new features: Smart HDR and Depth Control.
5. Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
This was our favorite camera phone until very recently. But it is still great!
Release date: March 2018 | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.5 + f/2.4 | Weight: 189g | Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm | Storage: 64/128/256GB
A superb camera phone: The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Plus is a camera phone that is actually one of the best phones that money can buy right now too. This is the first time Samsung has embraced dual camera tech, and it uses two 12MP sensors paired together.
The main sensor is particularly impressive with an aperture of f/1.5, and that does make for some incredible low-light photography so you can shoot at night. There’s also an impressive bokeh mode for portrait shots. That paired with great video recording, slow motion and AR emoji makes this our very favourite smartphone for photography.
6. OnePlus 6T
A mid-range camera phone that utterly delivers
Release date: May 2018 | Rear camera: 16MP + 20MP | Front camera: 16MP | IS: Yes (one sensor) | Rear camera aperture: f/1.7 + f/1.7 | Weight: 177g | Dimensions: 155.7 x 75.4 x 7.8 mm | Storage: 128/256GB
The best 'value for money' camera phone: With two rear cameras (16MP and 20MP) sporting an impressive f/1.7 aperture each, it already sounds rock solid. OnePlus has also increased the pixel size on the main 16MP shooter too up 19% from the OnePlus 5T – that’s now 1.22um, which means it’s better than ever at low-light shooting.
There’s both OIS and EIS working on the rear 16MP shooter as well as slow motion video recording at 480 frames per second. OnePlus has also improved the night mode on the OnePlus 6T making this the most accomplished OnePlus camera ever. It’s up there with some of the best, and the price of the OnePlus 6T makes this a must-have for those mindful of budget.
7. Moto G6 Plus
The best cheap camera phone you can get right now
Release date: May 2018 | Rear camera: 12MP + 5MP | Front camera: 8MP | OIS: No | Rear camera aperture: f/1.7 + f/2.2 | Weight: 167g | Dimensions: 160 x 75.5 x 8 mm | Storage: 64/128GB
The best cheap camera phone: Is your budget more limited? The Moto G6 Plus isn’t going to blow you away with the photos it can take like some of the other phones in this list, but it is a very affordable device at £240 or less and it sports a dual-rear camera.
It’s a 12MP sensor (f/1.7 aperture) paired with a 5MP depth sensor that allows for a bokeh effect Portrait mode on one of the most affordable devices we’ve ever tested. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for the best photography you can get on a budget device we’d recommend this option from Motorola.
8. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
The best camera phone in the world again, just repackaged
Release date: August 2018 | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.5 + f/2.4 | Weight: 201g | Dimensions: 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm | Storage: 128/512GB
The best Samsung camera phone: This is very much the same camera as the Galaxy S9 Plus, but here there are a couple of little software tweaks that makes it a touch easier to use. We chose the Galaxy S9 Plus as our number one phone in this list as it’s a bit cheaper, but if you want an S Pen and this powerful shooter you can get it with the Note 9.
You may prefer the design of the Note 9 and really want those minor software tweaks, and if you do you’ll continue to get that impressive low-light specializing camera that can shoot some phenomenal images even in its automatic mode.
9. iPhone 8 Plus
A great option for front-facing shooting
Release date: September 2017 | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 7MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.8 + f/2.8 | Weight: 202g | Dimensions: 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5 mm | Storage: 64/256GB
The best camera phone for selfies: Apple’s second phone on this list, the iPhone 8 Plus is a great option if you want to be taking front-facing selfie shots. It may only be a 7MP f/2.2 shooter, but Apple’s image processing is notable here and can create great shots of your face,
Our favourite part is the Portrait mode that is already good at including a bokeh effect, but there’s a new feature called Portrait Lighting that’s enormous fun. It allows you to give the effect that changes the lighting of the shot entirely meaning you can make the whole background black to just focus on your face. Plus there are lots more features like Animoji and panoramic shots for you to play with.
10. Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium
Want to film video? This is the best camera phone out there
Release date: September 2018 | Rear camera: 19MP + 12MP | Front camera: 13MP | OIS: No | Rear camera aperture: f/1.8 + f/1.6 | Weight: 236g | Dimensions: 158 x 80 x 11.9 mm mm | Storage: 64GB
The best camera phone for video: Sony’s phone isn’t cheap, but it comes with some of the best video recording we’ve ever seen on a phone. It features much cleaner low light video than we’ve seen on most of the competition, while its video recording in daylight is top notch too.
Perhaps the most exciting element is you can shoot slow motion video at 960 frames per second in Full HD, which is double the resolution of the Samsung Galaxy S9’s similar feature. If you’re looking for some shareable video clips, this is a must-have for those slow-mo moments.
More buying guides
- The 10 best point-and-shoot cameras
- The 10 best cameras under £500/$600
- The 10 best cameras for beginners
- The 10 best cameras for enthusiasts
- The 8 best flashguns you can buy right now
- The 8 best monopods you can buy right now
- The 8 best camera backpacks right now
- The 37 best photography accessories
- The 6 best LED light panels