Camera Phone Buying Guide
What is the best camera phone? The answer depends largely on how you take pictures. For some people, it’s all about getting the highest resolution camera for the crispest graphic quality. For others, the best camera phones are those with intuitive editing software, so they can crop and filter their snapshots without taking a Photoshop course. Yet others just want a phone that takes high-quality snapshots and selfies without the need for adjusting settings.
That said, smartphones with the best cameras do have some features in common. They tend to include a high megapixel camera with two or more rear lenses. They also usually possess reliable auto settings for novice shutterbugs while letting more experienced photographers have more control over camera settings.
What is the Best Camera Phone?
It’s difficult to choose a clear winner among today’s high megapixel camera phones, as different cameras work best for different photographers. We can, however, narrow the competition. Below are four smartphones from the most recent releases featuring the best cameras: the iPhone 12 Pro, the Google Pixel 5, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Note 5G, and the Oppo Find X2 Pro.
The iPhone 12 Pro: Apple’s Highest Resolution Camera to Date
The iPhone 12 Pro’s three rear 12MP lenses might not make it the highest resolution camera on the market, but don’t let numbers alone fool you — this is one of the best camera phones out there. A wider aperture on the main camera allows you to take brighter, sharper pictures in low light, while the ultrawide lens provides you with an exceptional 120-degree field of view.
Apple’s included everything you might need in a camera. Easily altered settings allow you to change the lighting in Portrait Mode, while auto image stabilization and advanced red-eye correction operate quietly in the background. When used for video, the iPhone 12 Pro allows you to record in high-resolution Dolby Vision for amazing HDR videos. The phone offers advanced features for technically minded photographers while remaining easy to operate for quick snapshots and impromptu selfies.
The Google Pixel 5
With a brilliant camera and ultrawide lens, the Google Pixel 5 earns its place among the smartphones with the best cameras. Like the iPhone Pro, the Pixel 5 has upped its low light capabilities, allowing you to take low light portraits without the flash and even capture night skies.
The Google Pixel 5 automatically enhances color and lighting for vivid pictures and can add extra light to remove shadows that would otherwise interfere with that perfect portrait. As for the video, smooth panning capabilities inspired by Hollywood cameras help you create exciting, vibrant video clips.
The Samsung Ultra Note20 5G
If we had to choose the best Android camera phones based on megapixels alone, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra leads the pack. The best Android camera phones, Ultras offer a triple-lens rear camera that includes an incredible 108MP lens, a 48MP (f/3.5) telephoto lens, and a 12MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide lens. The 40MP front camera only adds to the S20 Ultra’s reputation as the highest resolution camera on the market. What does this mean to you as a photographer? Basically, it means that you’ll be taking some of the most detailed, vivid shots of your life.
While the S20 Ultra’s 10x zoom is impressive, the camera’s night mode doesn’t match up to the Pixel 4 or the iPhone 11 Pro. Still, if you're looking for Android smartphones with the best cameras, the S20 Ultra is right for you.
The Oppo Find X2 Pro
The Oppo Find X2 Pro isn’t currently available in America but dominates the Asian camera phone market. Three rear cameras include a 48MP main lens, a 48MP ultrawide lens, and a 13MP telephoto. The front camera’s 32MP lens makes it one of the highest resolution camera lenses available for selfies, while it's AI Color Drizzle produces vibrant colors for social media shots.
How Do Older Model Phones Compare to the Best Smartphone Cameras?
When it comes to smartphones with the best cameras, newer is almost always better. Each new camera model improves the quality of camera phones, with higher megapixels, additional features, and better settings.
This doesn’t, however, mean older model smartphone cameras aren’t well-made. With the exception of avid photographers, most of us won’t see much difference in picture quality if we’re using the latest iPhone or an iPhone 11.
If you’re willing to accept slightly fewer megapixels and the latest camera settings, an older phone like the iPhone 11 Pro, Google Pixel 4, or Samsung S10 will provide you with an excellent camera at a more affordable price than the latest models, and you can always upgrade when the time is right.
The iPhone 11 Pro
The iPhone 11 Pro offers two rear cameras: a 12MP (f/2.0) telephoto lens and an ultra-wide 12MP (f/2.4) lens. The front camera is 12MP, and the camera phone offers a maximum video quality of 4K at 60fps.
For amateur photographers who don’t want to mess around much with settings, the iPhone 11 Pro is a great choice, providing reliably consistent shots even in low light. Use the 13mm focal length of the ultra-wide lens for sweeping shots, and the 52mm telephoto lens for portraits. There’s no manual mode, but a new night mode allows even beginning photographers the opportunity to experiment with night photography.
The Google Pixel 4
Boasting a rear 12.2 MP (f/1.7) wide lens and a 16 MP (f/2.4) telephoto lens, the Google Pixel definitely beats the iPhone 11 Pro when it comes to high resolution. The two rear camera lenses work together to take the best shot, while Google’s impressive computational photography technology helps you produce remarkable shots with little effort. The front camera only offers 8MP (f/2.0), but given the power of the two back cameras, you’ll probably only use the front for selfies.
The Pixel 4’s telephoto lens is supported by Google’s Super Res Zoom technology, allowing the camera to capture 8x digital zooms that rival the quality of an optical lens.
The Samsung Galaxy S10
The Samsung Galaxy S10 has a camera that compares favorably with many newer model smartphones. You won’t get the highest resolution camera, but the S10’s 12 MP standard lens and 16 MP ultra-wide-angle are still more than capable of taking detailed shots, and videos are crisp and clear. Like the Note20, you can quickly switch between the three rear lenses by tapping the little leaf icons on the screen.
Overall, if you want one of the best Android camera phones, go for the Note20. If you just want a reliable camera for casual snapshots, the Samsung Galaxy S10 more than meets your needs.
Taking Photos With Camera Phones
Whether you want the point-and-shoot abilities of the iPhone 12 Pro or the intense details created by the Samsung Ultra Note20’s highest-resolution camera, you’ll be able to take amazing photos. Then again, camera technology has come so far most people don’t see much difference between a photoshoot with the latest smartphones and a picture taken with an iPhone 11 or Samsung S10. Bear this in mind, but be aware that camera capabilities are not the only reason for upgrading your phone — you might be perfectly happy with your phone’s camera but want the added processing power of the newest model.
Remember that while smartphones with the best cameras are easy to use, images are only as good as the steadiness of your hand. Consider using a portable tripod, especially for macro and low light photography. Play with the camera settings and editing software, but take the time to learn about basic photo composition as well. You’ll be amazed how giving a scene a once-over before taking a picture improves the final image.