While we like to recommend just one camera phone and call it a day, the niche in the handset market is more complicated. The best camera phone won’t be the same for everyone, as different phones take very different approaches to photography. Do you want the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s lens overload and wider zoom? The point and shoot simplicity of the iPhone 12? Or the best software on Google Pixel 5?
Maybe you want to get closer to macro shots, or maybe you’re more interested in selfies. Then there are other considerations like megapixel counts, low light performance, and more.
So the choice can be overwhelming, but to help you decide we’ve put together this guide, highlighting the best camera phones overall. Not all of these will fit everyone equally, but we’ve included an overview of each, so you can see their strengths and weaknesses and make an informed decision.
If you just want the best of the best, we’ve got you covered there too, as this list is ranked according to our own personal preferences, so you’ll find our star pick in the number one slot.
But if something doesn’t feel right, don’t be discouraged, as the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are going to go on sale soon and are likely to make the list once a full review is done. We’re also getting our hands on the iPhone 13 range soon, which we expect to rank high among the best smartphone cameras of the year.
best camera phone 2021
While the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s camera didn’t live up to its promise, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra does a lot.
As with everything in the S21 Ultra, the camera is top-end, with a 108MP f/1.8 main snapper, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide one, and – in a move that’s pretty much unheard of on phones – two telephoto cameras. They’re both 10MP, but one has an f/2.4 aperture and allows for 3x optical zoom, while the other has an f/4.9 aperture and allows for 10x optical zoom.
And the results are as impressive as the numbers – so much so that we labeled it the best camera zoom on a phone in our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.
Non-zoomed shots also look great, though sometimes not as good as those of the best rivals. But with multiple camera modes, including new additions like Director’s View (which lets you shoot video with both the front and rear cameras at the same time), along with a highly capable 40MP front-facing camera, this one Makes for a smartphone a photographer’s dream.
read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review
You might be surprised to see the Huawei Mate 40 Pro here – after all, this is a phone we only rated 3.5 stars from, and it’s nowhere near our best smartphone list. But the reason we can’t rank it high in general has nothing to do with its limited app status (due to no access to the Google Play Store) and its cameras.
In fact, its cameras are exceptional. It has a 50MP f/1.9 main camera, a 12MP f/3.4 periscope one (with 5x optical zoom), and a 20MP f/1.8 ultra-wide one.
While it doesn’t have as many lenses as some rivals, it does account for all the most important variants, and they all perform very well.
From portrait shots to wide landscapes, zoomed in photos and close up subjects, we found in our review that the Huawei Mate 40 Pro can cope with all kinds of photos wonderfully. It works great even in low light.
And while our focus is on the rear snapper, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro also has a decent setup on the front, with a 13MP f/2.4 camera connected to a Time-of-Flight (ToF) sensor for sensing depth.
There are tons of photography modes and tools available in the Huawei Mate 40 Pro, from light painting feature to dedicated moon photography mode.
read our full Huawei Mate 40 Pro Review
The iPhone 12 Pro Max isn’t the best smartphone, but it’s pretty close to being the best camera phone. This includes a 12MP f/1.6 main snapper, a 12MP f/2.2 telephoto one (with 2.5x optical zoom), a 12MP f/2.4 ultra-wide, and even a LiDAR scanner, which supports Night Mode Portrait. enables.
Truly nighttime – and low light in general – is something that the iPhone 12 Pro Max is much less of an issue with than most smartphones, thanks to a larger sensor that can take in a lot of light. Night mode is also usable with both the main and ultra-wide sensors, so you’re not limited in the types of photos you can take at night.
Smart HDR 3 meanwhile is a new feature to the range that combines multiple exposures to create the best possible picture – which is something that can benefit your shots no matter what the lighting.
The onboard editing options are great too, and with Dolby Vision supported for video it’s not just the constant that the iPhone 12 Pro Max excels at.
Overall it’s an excellent setup, with each lens performing well. It’s only a slightly better camera phone than the iPhone 12 Pro, but it still has the edge, making it the best iPhone for photography.
read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max Review
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a high-spec camera, but it’s the telephoto camera that really stands out. It’s a 12MP f/3.0 snapper with 5x optical zoom and 50x digital zoom.
Both those specs are impressive, and while the S20 Ultra offers 100x digital zoom, which was little more than a gimmick, the Note 20 Ultra actually improves that snap thanks to a wider aperture and larger pixels.
And while the telephoto camera is the highlight, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s 108MP f/1.8 main camera and 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide also perform well.
The Note 20 Ultra’s camera is also incredibly easy and fun to use, and it benefits from extras like 8K video and Single Take mode, which increase the chance of taking photos and photos at the same time using different lenses and modes. Takes a bunch of videos. You are capturing something good.
Low-light photos aren’t as detailed as some of the competition, such as the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but otherwise it’s an exceptional camera setup.
read our full samsung galaxy note 20 ultra review
OnePlus phones don’t often feature on this list, and while the OnePlus 9 Pro still doesn’t threaten the top spot, it’s by far the best camera phone the company has put up at launch.
It has a 48MP f/1.8 main camera, an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto one (with 3.3x optical zoom), 50MP f/2.2 ultra-wide and a 2MP monochrome one, for boosting black and white shots. Among them, the Ultra-Wide is arguably the most notable, as it features a freeform lens design that minimizes the ‘barrel’ distortion found at the edges of ultra-wide shots taken on other phones.
The cameras on the OnePlus 9 Pro were also developed in collaboration with Hasselblad, although this collaboration mostly extended to color calibration and the design of the camera app. We expect more from this partnership on future OnePlus phones, but the results are noticeable here too, with accurate colors in photos.
And while the OnePlus 9 Pro has powerful manual controls, it also works well when taking photos in auto, so it’s a strong point-and-shoot option. With video recording up to 8K quality, and a capable 16MP front-facing camera, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a good all-rounder as far as photography goes – and in most other ways.
read our full oneplus 9 pro review