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.
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.
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
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 ultra-wide 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.
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
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.
The P30 Pro replaces Huawei's 2018 flagship, the P20 Pro. This is still an excellent camera phone though, and can still be found new or on contract for significantly less than the P30 Pro if you shop around.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
A great camera selection and decent image quality, with futureproofed 5G support
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
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.
OnePlus 7T Pro
Great for portraits, with a great bokeh effect from its 3-camera array
Release date: October 2019 | Rear cameras: 48MP wide (f/1.6) + 8MP telephoto (f/2.4) + 16MP ultrawide (f/2.2) | Front camera: 16MP | Weight: 206g | Dimensions: 162.6 x 75.9 x 8.8 mm | Storage: 256GB
The OnePlus 7T Pro features a triple camera array headed by a 48MP half-inch sensor and a wide f/1.6 lens. There’s also an 8MP telephoto camera giving 2.87x zoom, plus a 16MP ultra-wide camera capable of a 117-degree field of view. The primary and telephoto modules both benefit from OIS, while the ultrawide camera boasts a new Super Macro mode that lets you lock focus as close as 2.5cm. Like the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 XL, the OnePlus 7T Pro has a night mode - Nightscape. This long-exposure mode can keep the shutter open for as long as 30 seconds if you can find a tripod, or for about four seconds when handheld. Despite the main camera using a 48MP sensor, as in the P30 Pro, photos are taken at 12MP unless you fire up Pro mode. This pixel binning produces shots with lower overall resolution, but better dynamic range and noise handling. The 7T Pro continues to impress with its 6.67-inch display that uses a super-smooth 90Hz refresh rate and an exceptionally high 500PPI pixel density. If you’re on a tighter budget, the OnePlus 7T Pro offers unbeatable value for a camera phone.
Google Pixel 4 XL
A good Android camera phone, but expensive given the limited camera hardware
Release date: October 2019 | Rear cameras: 12.2MP (28mm-equiv. wide angle lens, f/1.7, PDAF, OIS), 16MP (45mm equiv. telephoto, f/2.4, PDAF, OIS) | Front camera: 8 MP, f/2, 22mm (wide), ToF 3D Camera | Weight: 193 g | Dimensions: 160.4 x 75.1 x 8.2 mm | Storage: 64/128 GB
The Pixel 3 was starting to look dated with its single rear-facing camera, but now Google has got with the times and added a telephoto camera for around 2x of optical 'zoom'. However, it’s the Pixel 4’s new Astro mode that’s its biggest selling point. This holds the shutter open for in excess of four minutes to grab incomparable detail from night skies, providing that the phone is held perfectly still. In normal automatic mode, the Pixel 4 XL captures punchy images with plenty of detail. Compared to the iPhone 11 Pro, the Pixel exposes scenes a little darker, thereby creating a more realistic image most of the time. When the lights go down, the phone generates more image noise than many rivals, but this is a product of Google’s more restrained noise reduction processing.
The Google Pixel 4 XL is the better of the two Pixel 4 phones, especially if you’re a power user or heavy picture-taker, thanks to its sharper screen and bigger, longer-lasting battery. Even so, the two-camera setup is still a lacklustre effort compared to the multi-camera arrays offered by the majority of its flagship rivals. You'll need to be an image quality purist to choose the Pixel 4 over an iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy S10 5G.
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
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.
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
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…
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
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
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
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 mid-ranger 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.
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
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.