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The best camera phone in 2019: which is the best smartphone for photography?

best camera phone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The launch of the new iPhone 11 models has shaken up the camera phone market – again! So choosing the best camera phone just got even harder. With multi-camera arrays, 48-megapixel sensors, time-of-flight depth cameras and zoom capability, camera phones can rival (or beat) actual cameras.

Even the best smartphones can't honestly challenge DSLRs or mirrorless cameras for quality, but they're easily a match for cheaper point and shoot cameras – and they have two unique selling points: 1) they're always with you, 2) you can share images and videos instantly.

Even the best camera phones have to rely on small sensors and – usually – fixed focal length lenses, just to keep the slim profile that makes them pocketable. But the latest multi-lens arrays and computational photography from the likes of Google, Apple and Huawei are pushing boundaries when it comes to low light shooting and dynamic range. In addition, Huawei and Oppo are even featuring 5x optical zoom, using a prism to create a kind of 'periscope' lens system, lifting the lid on versatility never seen before on smartphones.

Our top pick for the best camera phone right now is the iPhone 11 Pro thanks to its versatile triple-camera array and class-leading image quality that dials back on image processing in order to preserve better realism. . But Huawei's position in the global market is uncertain (and controversial) right now, so not everyone can even buy one.

The iPhone 11 Pro relegates the mighty Huawei P30 Pro into second place. While the Chinese phone is still technically superior to Apple's latest offering, it can't quite match the natural look and feel of the iPhone's images, with some of the P30 Pro's shots looking a bit too HDR'd and oversharpened by comparison.

The Oppo Reno 10x Zoom is another interesting entry into our chart – thanks to its impressive range of focal lengths that allow you to zoom that much closer into the subject, and Sony has blown smartphone videography out of the water with its Xperia 1.

Things are moving very fast right now in the camera phone market, so what's true this week might change again very quickly. 5G networks are starting to expand, of course, and if you are looking for the best 5G phone for photography we have a separate guide for that.

It's a brilliant time to buy a phone for its camera capabilities, and there’s very likely one on this list ideally suited to you and your camera phone needs.

Best camera phone: Apple iPhone 11 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple iPhone 11 Pro

It's not just the triple-camera array, it's the image quality and usability

Release date: September 2019 | Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.8, 12MP 52mm f/2 | Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera | OIS: Yes | Weight: 188 g | Dimensions: 144 x 71.4 x 8.1 mm | Storage: 64/256/512GB

Triple-camera array
Consistent image quality
Brilliant 'slofies'
Portrait effects
No 5G yet
Unambitious specs

The iPhone 11 Pro's triple-camera array is hardly cutting edge by today's standards, but it works brilliantly. The colors, tones and exposures are consistent across all three cameras, but it's Apples restrained approach to image processing that really sets the iPhone 11 Pro apart from the competition. Where flagship phones from the likes of Huawei and Samsung tend to produce shots with aggressive HDR, sharpening, and noise reduction, the iPhone's images look more true-to-life and never show signs of being over-processed. The new ultrawide camera is just brilliant for travel photography, landmarks and spectacular interiors, and while it can't quite match the edge to edge image quality of the other lenses, it still produces sharp, distortion-free ultra-wide images that widen your horizons in every possible way. We like the regular iPhone 11 Pro best – the iPhone 11 Pro Max has the same cameras but it's just a bit big, while the regular iPhone 11 is cheaper but doesn't have the 52mm telephoto lens.

Read more: Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review

Best camera phone: Huawei P30 Pro

2. Huawei P30 Pro

It's packed with cutting-edge camera tech, but image quality purists may have issues

Release date: April 2019 | Rear cameras: 40MP (Wide Angle Lens, f/1.6, OIS), 20MP (Ultra Wide Angle Lens, f/2.2), 8MP (Telephoto, f/3.4, OIS) | Front camera: 32MP | OIS: Yes | Weight: 192 g | Dimensions: 158 x 73.4 x 8.4 mm | Storage: 128/256/512 GB

Best in class zoom
Superb low-light photography
Great manual control
Screen is just 1080p
Pro mode could be better

There is a lot to love about the P30 Pro - it's a camera phone that has it all: superb low-light photography, unbelievable zoom capabilities (5x optical) and powerful specs. It's been given four lenses on its rear, one of which is a time-of-flight sensor. This means that its depth sensing is also fantastic. It all adds up to a superbly versatile camera phone that performs well in virtually any shooting scenario. However, when judged on core image quality, the P30 Pro is just beaten by the iPhone 11 Pro. Huawei has doubled down on image processing, and it shows, just not always in a good way. While HDR that preserves ever pixel of highlight detail is technically impressive, it can leave some high-contrast shots looking somewhat flat, while aggressive sharpening and noise reduction can leave some shots looking slightly painterly. Make no mistake, these are relatively minor issues that are usally only apparent when viewing images at 100% size, but its these details that separate the best camera phones from the rest. As the P30 Pro is now out, we have taken the P20 Pro out of this list - if you can still get it though, it is also a superb camera phone.

In full: Huawei P30 Pro review

Best camera phone: Google Pixel 3

3. Google Pixel 3

One of the best Android cameras - especially for low light

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

Brilliant zoom
Superb night mode
Oodles of manual control
Only one lens
Super Res Zoom disappoints

The original 2016 Google Pixel was a showcase for how advanced image processing could overcome the limitations of a small sensor. The Pixel 3’s 12MP, f/1.8, 28mm-equivalent camera produces images that are even sharper and more detailed than those from the Huawei P30 Pro, and Google's image processing is slightly less aggressive than Huawei's, leading to more natural-looking shots, especially of people. But while the Pixel 3 arguably produces the best image quality, it's a one-trick - or rather, one-camera - wonder. The single rear camera lacks the versatility of phones with multiple rear-facing cameras, and Google's software workaround - Super Res Zoom, which combines a burst of images to produce a digitally zoomed photo - falls well short of the detail resolved by an optically zoomed image. Results at 2x zoom are usable, but go further and images resemble those shot with any old digital zoom - blurry and soft. It doesn't even compare with the results you get from the proper telephoto cameras in the P30 Pro and Honor 20 Pro. We'll hopefully know very soon what Google has up its sleeve for the widely-rumored Pixel 4.

4. OnePlus 7 Pro

Great for portraits, with a great bokeh effect from its 3-camera array

Release date: May 2019 | Rear camera: 48MP (f/1.6) + 8MP (f/2.4) + 16MP (f/2.2) | Front camera: 16MP | Weight: 162.6g | Dimensions: 162.6 x 75.9 x 8.8 mm | Storage: 128/256GB

Superb Leica lenses
The best portrait mode on a phone
Powerful pro features
No monochrome lens
Post production is a bit much

The OnePlus 7’s key selling point is its all-screen fascia, made possible by its pop-up selfie camera. Having said that, its primary camera also happens to be the best to ever feature on a OnePlus phone. With a primary wide-angle camera packing a 48MP sensor, coupled with an f/1.6 lens, it grabs plenty of detail. Thanks to a 3x zoom telephoto camera, and a 13mm ultrawide camera, it also delivers versatility in spades, and with OIS across the wide and telephoto cameras, it holds things nice and steady too. We haven’t got any complaints when it comes to daylight photography, but the night mode can’t quite stack up to the Pixel 3 or Huawei P30 Pro. In addition, there’s no wireless charging or official water resistance rating, so it hasn’t quite made it to the top of the list; but with its attractive price tag and a glorious look and feel, it still manages to deliver across the board great value.

In full: OnePlus 7 Pro review

5. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

A great camera selection and decent image quality, if not quite the very best

Release date: March 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) | Front camera: 10MP | OIS: Yes | Weight: 175 g | Dimensions: 157.6 x 74.1 x 7.8mm | Storage: 128/512/1024GB

Versatile triple rear camera set-up
Great camera app
Feature-packed video spec
Limited telephoto zoom
Big and slippery to hold

Galaxy S-series phones have traditionally been right up there for camera quality, and the S10 Plus is no exception. It's triple rear cameras may seem slightly lacking compared to the latest quad-camera phones, but the wide/ultrawide/telephoto combo is versatile and performs very well. 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 real-world shooting. 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.

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6. iPhone XS

The best iPhone for photography up until the 11, but still worth a look

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

Great Portrait mode
Spectacular for selfies
Can oversaturate

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 for photography so far – well at least it did until the new iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max arrived. 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, with 1.4µm pixels 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.

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(Image credit: Oppo)
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7. Oppo Reno 10x Zoom

Release date: June 2019 | Rear camera: 48MP (Wide Angle Lens, f/1.6, OIS), 8MP (Ultra Wide Angle Lens, f/2.2), 13MP (Telephoto, f/3.0, OIS) | Front camera: 16MP | OIS: Yes | Weight: 206 g | Dimensions: 162.6 x 75.9 x 8.8 mm | Storage: 256GB

Impressive zoom function
Versatile camera features
Great screen
Optical zoom doesn't work with video

The Oppo Reno 10X Zoom is the second smartphone in our list to feature a periscope camera, which enables a roughly 5x optical zoom. That means it gets you even closer to the action than the excellent Huawei P30 Pro. Going beyond the zoom, it's an excellent stills camera phone across the board, also featuring a primary 48MP wide-angle camera, as well as an ultrawide snapper, so delivers plenty of versatility. With its 6.4-inch immersive all-screen AMOLED display, Snapdragon 855 internals and ample 4000mAh battery, it is also a flagship from a specs point of view, and a dream to use, for the most part. The main drawbacks of the phone are limitations when it comes to video recording - it doesn't engage the wide or the telephoto cameras for video, only doing so for stills. Additionally, the sheer size of the phone may weigh some down a bit too much. Get past those though, and you may well have found your new favorite smartphone.

Expected to arrive imminently, the Oppo Find X2 could introduce the manufacturer's eagerly awaited under-display camera…

• In full Oppo Reno 10x Zoom review

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8. Sony Xperia 1

A videographer’s dream

Release date: Apr 2019 | Rear camera: 12pm (f/1.6) + 12pm (f/2.4) + 12MP (f/2.4) | Front camera: 8MP | Rear camera aperture: f/1.5 + f/2.4 | Dimensions: 167 x 72 x 8.2 mm | Storage: 128GB

Excellent pro video features
Versatile stills camera
Battery could be better
No wireless charging

The Sony Xperia 1 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 colour profile, perfect for post-processing in Premiere Pro or Davinci 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. It isn’t perfect, the 3330mAh battery could be bigger and there’s no wireless charging, but if you can deal with those niggles and want the ultimate cinema experience - both from a content creation and consumption point of view, the Xperia 1 is it - read our full Xperia 1 review for more.

Google Pixel 3a - best camera phone

9. Google Pixel 3A

Computational photography on a budget

Release date: Apr 2019 | Rear camera: 12pm (f/1.8) | Front camera: 8MP | OIS: Yes | Weight: 147g | Dimensions: 151.3 x 70.1 x 8.2 mm | Storage: 64 or 128GB

Great camera for the price
Stock interface
Totally automated experience
Might not suit enthusiasts

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

10. Xiaomi Mi9

The affordable flagship

Release date: Apr 2019 | Rear camera: 48MP (f1.8) + 12MP (f/2.2) + 16MP (f/2.2) | Front camera: 20MP | OIS: No | Weight: 173g | Dimensions: 157.5 x 74.7 x 7.6 mm | Storage: : 64/128GB

Excellent value for money
Great camera for the price
Night shots aren’t class-leading

For the price, the Xiaomi Mi 9 is excellent. It grabs great shots in good light with respectable dynamic range and color reproduction. With its triple camera setup, the Mi 9 features one wide, one ultra-wide and one telephoto camera, covering a lot of prime lens bases. Thanks to smart software, the phone’s camera also defocuses backgrounds nicely in portrait mode - a feature commonly associated with much pricier iPhone XS. In low light, it’s clear, this camera isn’t the best out there. The lack of OIS resulting in shorter shutter speeds, and there’s also pretty aggressive noise reduction too. Having said that, the electric image stabilization kicks in nicely when capturing video, the phone shoots it at up to 4K 60fps, features flagship internals and great design, making it the most affordable flagship smartphone in our top ten list. 

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