The strongest smartphone cameras we’ve reviewed

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These days smartphones are used for far more than just taking calls. For many it’s their main camera and the primary way they capture life’s standout moments. If you’re looking to upgrade your current phone to one with a truly standout camera then this is the list for you.

We know how important the ability of the camera on the back (and front) of a smartphone is. Whether it’s capturing a child’s first steps or keeping track of all the memories during the holiday of a lifetime, a phone needs to consistently churn out crisp shots in all manner of tricky conditions.

All the phones that have been selected for this list have been thoroughly reviewed by one of our product experts. We’ve spent time with the phones, shooting in various conditions to see how they really handle light, dark and other photography and videography situations before then comparing the results to their main rivals.

The best smartphone camera might not necessarily be the best in every area, but it will be the best overall choice when everything is taken into account. 

Being exceptional at video is pointless if still image capture is poor, and having loads of lenses is a waste if none of them are reliable. It’s a similar story for megapixel counts – just because a phone might have a 50MP or 108MP sensor doesn’t it’s better than a phone with a 12MP camera. A lot goes into making a good phone camera, from the quality of elements used to the brand’s skill at developing software.

Camera skills aside, these phones are all excellent in other areas too – we wouldn’t recommend a top camera phone if it wasn’t great elsewhere too.

You can also head over to our best phones list for our definitive guide to the top phones released this year, along with our guides to the best Android phones and the best iPhones for the best of either OS.

How we test

Learn more about how we test mobile phones

We review a smartphone’s camera based on our experience with it, not a manufacturer’s claims or boasts. We shoot sample images and video in varying conditions to properly test its skills and we include sample images in our review wherever possible. 

If a smartphone has a specific camera setting – a night mode, for example – we’ll test it thoroughly, while always comparing it to what else is on the market.

iPhone 13 Pro Max

The best for video

Pros

  • Huge screen is gorgeous
  • Three very good cameras
  • Really impressive battery life
  • ProMotion finally on an iPhone

Cons

  • Selfie camera needs an upgrade
  • Notch feels tired
  • Other phones have better zoom

We think the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the best all-round camera phone. It’s reliable in all conditions, captures the best video out of any other phone on this list and comes packing three distinct cameras each capturing different focal lengths.

It’s not the best camera phone in every specific area, however. We much prefer the zoom skills on the Galaxy S22 Ultra, for example, as it captures a much clearer overall image when you zoom in to a subject. But on the whole, the iPhone 13 Pro Max comes out top.

In terms of the overall spec of the camera hardware, the iPhone 13 Pro Max might look modest on paper. There are three 12-megapixel cameras on the back, a single 12-megapixel on the front for selfies and a max 4K 60fps resolution for video recording.

Where the iPhone 13 Pro Max impressed us is in the results. When compared to the Galaxy S22 Ultra and Oppo Find X5 Pro, the shots from the iPhone were generally a little more true to life. Skin tones are more natural and the way it captures contrasting environments looks much more appealing. 

Apple has also done a great job ensuring the shots from the wide, ultra wide and telephoto cameras all look alike, so you’re not suddenly met with varying colour science when you switch lenses.

There’s a dedicated Night Mode for shooting in darker instances. Unlike all the other phones we’ve listed below, you can’t actually manually turn this on or off – it just bursts into life when the camera can’t pick up enough light. Results in low-light are great, with plenty of detail retained and dark spots kept mostly free of noise. It would be nice to be able to turn the Night Mode on manually, though.

The excellent results continue when we look at video capture. While it doesn’t shoot video in the same 8K resolution as the S22 Ultra, the 4K capture we recorded was well stabilised without looking fake and packed the same great colour reproduction as the photos.

The only camera that’s poor is the front one. Selfies are a little washed when compared to the S22 Ultra and have a tendency to look flat.

There’s also epic battery life (two days if you don’t hammer it too hard) so you won’t run out of juice on a busy shooting day and a gorgeous display to view the images back on. If you want a smaller screen, the regular iPhone 13 Pro has exactly the same camera skills. The iPhone 13 is a good choice too, if you’re happy to ditch the telephoto zoom completely.

Reviewer: Max Parker 

Full review: iPhone 13 Pro Max review

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Best for zooming

Pros

  • Stunning display with fantastic detail and brightness
  • Versatile camera system with impressive zoom
  • Good low-light camera performance
  • Fast charging
  • Promise of many years of updates

Cons

  • Battery life should be better
  • Design a step backward
  • You need to buy the fast charger separately

We were impressed with all the cameras on Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra flagship, however it was the phone’s zooming skills that set it apart most from its rivals. None of the other phones on this list can zoom 10x while keeping as much detail, with the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Oppo Find X5 Pro churning out much blurrier results in our comparison tests.

The other cameras capture pleasing images too. Whether you’re shooting with the 108-megapixel main camera with its f/1.8 lens or the 12-megapixel ultrawide. We found that colours are a little more vibrant and saturated than the iPhone 13 Pro or the Pixel 6 Pro, giving everything an amped-up look. This is particularly noticeable when you’re shooting plants or bright skies and while it might be a bonus for some who like the look, we preferred our images to be a little more true-to-life.

The camera app is packed with modes to choose from and low-light performance is a big upgrade over the S21 Ultra we reviewed last year. Dark scenes are clearer and noise has been reduced. 8K video remains a niche feature we doubt many will really want to use, but it’s there if you have an 8K TV and want to show it off.

Reviewer: Max Parker 

Full review: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review

Pixel 6 Pro

Best for stills

Pros

  • Wonderfully clean, future proof Android 12 software
  • Great translation and photo editing services
  • All round brilliant rear camera

If you’re purely wanting a phone camera for stills photography we think the Pixel 6 Pro is the one to go for. 

While it disappoints a bit with video capture and lacks some of the versatility of the iPhone or the S22 Ultra, the beautiful images it captures are rich in detail and vibrancy and are the most pleasing of all the phones on this list. The way it utilises HDR to level out contrast and exposure is fantastic, ensuring photos taken on sunny days really pop. We’ve taken hundreds of snaps on the Pixel 6 Pro and rarely get a dud.

Google’s Night Mode is strong, though not the quickest to capture, and does a great job at producing bright and detailed images in low light.

The zoom skills of this phone are better than the Oppo Find X5 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro, but can’t compare to the S22 Ultra. Google’s software can only get you so far and the better zoom hardware on the Samsung just produces clearer images. It’s a similar story for the ultrawide, which produces adequate images that sit somewhere in the middle in terms of quality.

Reviewer: Alastair Stevenson

Full review: Pixel 6 Pro review

Oppo Find X5 Pro

Best ultrawide

Pros

  • Great screen
  • Strong main and ultrawide cameras
  • Charges very quickly

Cons

  • The shiny back is a miss
  • Poor camera zoom
  • Software needs more polish

Oppo has consistently impressed us with its phones in recent years, with the firm’s ever-improving cameras being one of the biggest reasons why. The Find X5 Pro disappoints with its zoom performance, however it has the strongest ultrawide camera we have tested.

While other phones on this list use inferior sensors for their ultrawides, the Find X5 Pro uses the same hardware for both the wide and ultrawide camera giving you far superior results. Not only are pictures more derailed with better colours, but they lack the distorted edges and strong fish-eye effect we found on the S22 Ultra’s ultrawide camera.

This is the first Oppo phone to use the brand’s own MariSilicon X NPU and it helps the phone have greater control over the image quality. When compared to the outgoing Find X3 Pro – which has very much the same camera hardware – the images here are more detailed, with nicer colour reproduction. Low-light performance has greatly improved too.

Reviewer: Max Parker 

Full review: Oppo Find X5 Pro review

Pixel 5a

Best cheap camera phone

Pros

  • New low price now under $400
  • Camera over-performs
  • Android 12 and guaranteed updates
  • Vibrant display

Cons

  • Feels old hat now Pixel 6 is here
  • Only 60z display

The Pixel 5a is our pick for the best cheap camera phone, even though it can be tricky finding this phone for sale outside of the USA and Japan. If you don’t live in one of these regions we also recommend the older Pixel 4a.

Both phones far outperform other camera phones at this price, utilising some of the computational knowledge Google built into the higher-end Pixel phones to do more than we’d expect from the hardware.

The Pixel 5a packs a rear array of two cameras – one a 12-megapixel ultra wide and the second a 16-megapixel ultrawide. There’s also a standard 8-megapixel camera around the front.

In certain daylight instances, it can be hard to tell the difference between shots taken with the 5a and those taken with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. Google’s HDR skills bring out fantastic contrast and dynamic range across images, while the Night Sight mode pulls brightness out in darker situations.

For the price, you won’t find better.

Reviewer: Chris Smith

Full review: Pixel 5a review

We also considered…

FAQs

What is an optical zoom?

Optical zoom is a camera phone feature that allows you to take images of your subject from afar without allowing the quality to suffer as you might see with digital zoom.

What is a telephoto camera?

Having a telephoto lens on your phone lets you to get very close to your subject without reducing the quality of your image.

What is OIS?

OIS – or optical image stablisation – uses a gyroscope to compensate for shake, keeping your videos stable and your images crisp even in low light.

Specs Comparison

UK RRP

USA RRP

EU RRP

CA RRP

AUD RRP

Manufacturer

Screen Size

Storage Capacity

Rear Camera

Front Camera

Video Recording

IP rating

Battery

Wirless charging

Fast Charging

Size (Dimensions)

Weight

ASIN

Operating System

Release Date

First Reviewed Date

Resolution

HDR

Refresh Rate

Ports

Chipset

RAM

Colours

Trusted Reviews test data

Yiu can see all the test data for the smartphones in this list in the below chart.

Geekbench 5 single core

Geekbench 5 multi core

sRGB

Adobe RGB

DCI-P3

Max brightness

1 hour video playback (Netflix, HDR)

30 minute gaming (intensive)

30 minute gaming (light)

1 hour music streaming (online)

1 hour music streaming (offline)

Time from 0-100% charge

Time from 0-50% charge

3D Mark – Wild Life

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