The battle for best camera phone comes down to an Apple vs. Google showdown. And while we have our favorite, the quality of images produced by the latest phones from those companies proves that this is a great time for mobile photography.
Not only do the best camera phones feature improved hardware — Apple upgraded the sensors on the iPhone 13, while the Pixel 6 Pro gets a long-awaited telephoto lens — the software keeps improving, too. Both Apple and Google rely heavily on computational photography to further improve the images their camera phones produce.
Of course, you’re not limited to the iPhone or the Pixel if you want a phone that takes great pictures. Samsung also upgraded the cameras used for its Galaxy S22 lineup for an interesting logjam at the top of our best camera phones list. Check out our Samsung Galaxy S22 vs iPhone 13 Pro Max low-light photography comparison or our Portrait mode face-off to see what we mean
Such camera testing has helped us find devices that capture memorable images and once-in-a-lifetime shots you’d miss with less-capable handsets. We’re looking for camera phones that meld intricate optics and sensors with software algorithms that rely upon math and science to extract the best possible light, color and detail out of every scenario. It’s not just about the number of lenses on the back, either — some phone makers make the most of artificial intelligence to improve the post-processing on your photos.
1. iPhone 13 Pro Max
The biggest iPhone 13 is also the best camera phone you can buy. Apple went all out with the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s hardware, increasing the sensor size for the main and ultrawide cameras and adding autofocus to the latter. That ultrawide can act as a macro camera, photographing subjects up to 2 cm away. The sensor-shift OIS introduced last year on the iPhone 12 Pro Max returns this year and the telephoto received a boost to 3x.
Apple also improved its computational photography, especially when it comes to low-light. Also new this year are Photographic Styles — basically real-time filters — and Cinematic mode. The latter is portrait video on steroids, boasting dynamically shifting focus to create a truly professional video experience.
2. Pixel 6 Pro
Google has once again claimed its Android photography crown. The Pixel 6 Pro has incredible cameras, thanks to upgraded hardware and powerful software chops. The end result is something that can go toe-to-toe with Apple and even evenly trade blows (especially with the night mode, Night Sight).
The 50MP main camera sensor lets in 150% more light, while the 48MP telephoto lens sports 4x optical zoom and 20x digital zoom. And the 11MP front-facing camera has a 94-degree field of view for ultrawide selfies.
Not only do you get the best cameras on an Android phone, but the Pixel 6 Pro sports the new Tensor chip, which lends itself well to things like computational photography and new Google Assistant features. If you’re in the Android camp, this is the phone to get if you want the best mobile photography experience.
3. Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
The latest Galaxy flagship’s four-camera system is top-notch, featuring wide, ultra-wide, telephoto and super-zoom sensors. The first of these boasts a 108MP sensor, with an f/1.8 aperture, Dual Pixel AF, and an 85-degree field of view. The 12MP ultra-wide camera features an f/2.2 aperture and a 120-degree field of view. There’s also one 10MP telephoto with an equivalent three times zoom (f/2.4) and another 10MP telephoto with a 10 times zoom (f/4.9). And that’s not to mention the selfie camera, with its 40MP resolution, f/2.2 aperture and 8K video capture at 24fps.
More broadly, this is a large, stylish and powerful smartphone. Its 6.8-inch AMOLED screen is to die for, with smooth motion, vivid colors, impressive brightness, and 500 pixels per inch resolution.
The S Pen stylus is brilliant, and gives you the kind of productivity you previously only got with a Galaxy Note. There’s a powerful 5,000 mAh battery to keep it going for hours, and the design and look of the phone is simple but, to our eyes, very stylish.
4. OnePlus 10 Pro
OnePlus used to be the “flagship killer” brand but has since evolved into higher-priced flagships directly challenging the likes of Samsung and Apple. Compared to Samsung, OnePlus offers an experience that is free from ads and bloatware while also now providing some interesting features such as reverse wireless charging and adaptive 120Hz displays.
We’ve hit year two of the brand’s partnership with Swedish camera-maker Hasselblad and the latest update comes in the form of the 50-megapixel ultra-wide lens. With it, you can capture as wide as 150-degrees of imagery, which makes the OnePlus 10 Pro a stellar pick for landscape photography. The far-range camera also lends itself to excellent macro shots and what OnePlus calls “XPan mode”. Paying homage to Hasselblad, XPan photos fill a 65:24 aspect ratio, creating a wide and cinematic impression.
5. iPhone 13 Pro
Nipping at the heels of its bigger brother, the iPhone 13 Pro is a very close second on this list of the best camera phones. It sports the same hardware as the iPhone 13 Pro Max with the larger sensors, autofocus on the ultrawide camera and macro mode.
However, the iPhone 13 Pro is right in line with the Pro Max, getting sensor-shift OIS and the same 3x optical zoom. Photographic Styles and Cinematic mode also come standard. Basically, this is the phone to get if you want the best camera experience but in a smaller package. The 6.1-inch display is still gorgeous and features 120Hz ProMotion for ultra smooth animations and transitions.
The battery life is even awesome, going for almost 12 hours in our battery life test, meaning you can take plenty of pictures and videos.
6. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Until the launch of the latest Samsung Galaxy S22 ultra, the S21 Ultra was one of our top camera phones, and it remains a stunningly sophisticated device with a lot to offer. This 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. You also get a fantastic 6.8-inch screen.
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.
7. Apple iPhone 12 Pro
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!
8. Sony Xperia Pro-I
Most people use the automatic settings of their smartphone camera, but for those who want to take things to the next level, there is the Sony Xperia Pro-I is the one for them. The phone was developed with help from Sony’s Alpha camera engineers, and even after several weeks of use, the phone was too much for me to handle.
While many smartphones have basic software to control your cameras, Sony provides software that gives users full control over every function in the triple camera array. Unlike every other Android phone I have used, there is no application on the phone called Camera. Instead, Sony provides Photo Pro, Cinema Pro, and Video Pro apps. There is also an Imaging Edge app that supports connections to dedicated cameras.
Sony has several features that have been brought forward from phones of the past, including a microSD card, camera shutter button, 3.5mm audio port, and a notification light. These are all useful for professional photographers.
9. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G
The 2020 Galaxy Z Fold 2 set the bar for foldable devices that also serve as mini tablets. At first glance, the Z Fold 3 may appear to be just a minor update to the Z Fold 2, but at a starting price of $200 less, Samsung provides S Pen support and IPX8 water resistance. These were two features many have asked for, and Samsung delivered once again.
In addition to a couple of new features, the cover display resolution and refresh rate were updated so you get a high-resolution display with 120 Hz support constructed of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. The main display has improved panels and a screen protector that provides an 80% increase in its durability. The three main cameras are basically the same, but the new under-display camera is a step forward in mobile technology.
10. Huawei Mate 40 Pro
First things first – the Mate 40 Pro has one tragic flaw, and it’s a deal breaker for most people. Thanks to the Google trade ban in the US, you can’t access Google’s own app store. Huawei’s store is still playing catch up, and you’re likely to be frustrated with certain apps not working, even if you can easily download them online.
Having said that, the Mate 40 Pro is still one of the best camera phones in the world, offering the complete package. Both regular and ultra-wide angle shots look superb in both well-lit and dark conditions, while the 5x optical zoom performs remarkably well even in lower light too. Focusing is fast and snappy, and the front-facing selfie camera also cram in larger groups, thanks to its wide angle lens.
Throw in super-stabilized video with impressive HDR for good measure, and you have a smartphone with a camera that’s capable of excelling at any task you care to throw at it.
We loved the way the Mate 40 Pro picked up colors, with dramatic sunsets and vibrant food dishes standing out when captured on the phone. Low-light shooting is great too, whether you’re snapping people or objects.
We’ve also got to commend the range of camera modes Huawei offers – options like Moon Photography, Spotlight Portrait, 50x Hyperzoom, incredibly slow-motion video recording and light painting all give the phone a real edge for playful or experimental photographers. We had lots of fun trying these out to take great snaps.