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Impressive range of shooting modes
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The camera on a phone is more than just the sum of its megapixels. For that reason, Finder's expert team of reviewers have extensively tested the cameras of every phone on this list. When we're reviewing a phone, we put a special focus on its camera capabilities because it's such a key value area for most smartphones.
Our editorial team chose the phones in this list based on a weighted balance of camera features, quality and our experiences when testing them, compared to other phones available in the market. The selection and order were not based on our overall phone review scores.
Samsung's premium 2021 Galaxy S series flagship tops our charts of the best camera phones you can buy right now, and not without reason. While Samsung brought in periscope zoom lenses in the Galaxy S20 family, the refinements it placed in the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G give it a degree of zoom sharpness that we just haven't seen in any other handset. Combine that with a wide array of rear lenses to cover every shooting need, and you've got a highly capable camera handset. On the downside, you can't boost the storage, so you'll need a good cloud photo backup strategy. Samsung uses AI to improve focus speed, and that mostly works – but when it doesn't it can go a touch off-track, as we found in our review. A battery pack might also be wise, as there's no included charger in the box.
Lots of smartphone users only look to Apple for their camera goodies, and if that's you, then look no further than the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max. It's very explicitly Apple's premium camera phone offering, leveraging the company's ability to merge hardware and software features like no other. The inbuilt sensor shift stabilisation on its lenses allows for some truly superb photography, and Apple's own ProRAW standard allows the pro shooters a lot of flexibility when it comes to post-processing. Not that this is a camera phone only for the pros, however, as Apple's camera app does a lot of the selections for you by default.
On the camera front, however, the iPhone 12 Pro Max isn't the sharpest for very low light detail, and while it can stretch to 2.5x optical zoom, that's still well behind the competition. Like every iPhone ever, you're also limited to just the onboard storage on the phone, though naturally Apple would love it if you also invested in an iCloud subscription for your photo backups.
Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE offers the essential Samsung Galaxy S20 experience with one big point of difference: It's substantially cheaper. On the camera front, however, that still leaves you with most of the S20's best features to play with. You get "Space Zoom" at up to 30x, and while that full expansion leaves a lot to be desired, you can still get some great shots if you keep your zoom aspirations modest. It's also a very good phone for shooting in low light, especially at its price point.
For camera users, there are some compromises in play. The plastic body isn't as robust as the full metal bodies of regular Galaxy S phones, which could be an issue in the field. It's also not the best battery performer if you're going to be shooting video or lots of stills work away from a charger for any length of time.
Google's cheapest Pixel in its current lineup gets our nod in the lower-cost camera category simply because, while it's limited to single rear and front lenses, Google's AI makes an awful lot out of those simple camera setups.
As it's done since the Pixel line debuted, the secret sauce here is Google's AI work in photo optimisation, making it an ideal phone to give to somebody who actively doesn't want to learn about apertures and exposure times, but instead wants pleasing photos with minimal effort. The Pixel 4a is especially good in low light, right up to astrophotography shots, although you will need a tripod for that to even be a possibility.
One the downside you're stuck with a fixed storage allocation in a plastic body phone, and for the same money you could get any number of mid-range phones with 3-4 lens choices at the rear. Still, if you want simple and effective, the Google Pixel 4a is the way to go.
The Vivo X60 Pro 5G's camera claim to fame is the inclusion of an inbuilt gimbal stabiliser for both still and video shooting work. In combination with its primary 48MP f/1.5 sensor it can deliver some really pleasing photos, even if you're not a camera pro. It's also rather keenly priced for its general performance if you're just after a good all-round phone.
The Vivo X60 Pro 5G manages zoom well at standard optical length and even a little with hybrid digital, although predictably if you take it to its full length you do end up with a lot of image issues.
Oppo's current flagship is the Oppo Find X3 Pro with its fancy microscope camera, but for our money, the camera phone to buy if you're an Oppo fan is the more affordable Oppo Find X3 Neo.
The Oppo Find X3 Neo takes a more traditional camera path than its pricier sibling, with a primary 50MP f/1.8 sensor, 16MP f/2.2 Ultra-Wide, 13MP f/2.4 telephoto and 2MP macro lens on the rear, and 32MP front facing "selfie" camera.
That camera recipe gives you a lot of choices when composing your shots. While most 2MP Macro lenses aren't even worth looking at, the X3 Neo does a fairly good job of getting those close-up shots without losing detail or focus too quickly.
On the downside, while you do get 256GB of onboard storage, there's no way to expand that out with microSD cards. It's also lacking in water resistance, which means it's probably not the camera phone to take on your next fishing trip.
The iPhone 12 – not the iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max or iPhone 12 Mini – was our choice as the best iPhone on a balance of price and features for 2020 and early 2021. On the camera front while you don't quite get the photo toolkit of the more expensive iPhone 12 Pro Max, you're still getting some nicely optimised dual 12MP sensors at the rear capable of delivering some very nice shots. It makes the iPhone 12 a good choice for everday camera phone users who want to stay within the Apple camp but without spending the full premium commanded by the Pro iPhones.
The big caveat here is that the iPhone 13 family is expected to launch around the September/October timeframe, and it may be worth waiting to see what kinds of camera goodies Apple's updated smartphones bring to bear.
If we're talking purely cameras, then Huawei's astonishing Huawei P40 Pro Plus should sit at the number one spot. It combines a primary 50MP f/1.9 sensor with a 40MP Ultra Wide sensor and dual 8MP 10x/3x optical zoom sensors into a package that can deliver truly stunning results in even the most challenging situations.
So why isn't it sitting at the number one spot? It's because while it's an Android phone, the US government restrictions on Google means that it's limited to the open source bits of Android only. This means no Google apps, including Google Photos, but also no Google Play store, which means if your camera journey includes popular photo editing apps, you're not likely to find them in Huawei's jumbled and slightly dodgy App Gallery alternative.
It's a crying shame, because the P40 Pro+ is a superb example of what a company can do when it puts lots of resources into photography – but it's otherwise not a phone we can heartily recommend.
The typical stomping ground of a realme phone is in the budget space, but the Chinese maker flexes its muscles into the mid-range with the realme X3 SuperZoom. As the name suggests, the inclusion of a zoom lens – in this case an 8x optical periscope lens – is a key selling point. Combine that with a pixel binning 64MP sensor and you can really push the realme X3 SuperZoom out quite a lot before you start to lose serious detail.
Like many lower cost phones there's also a 2MP macro lens on board, although like so many of those similar handsets it's not a highlight. You're also constrained to onboard storage only, and the lack of water resistance means it might not be great for those rainy day shooting sessions.
Apple isn't really into the whole "cheap" thing, except in the few instances where it is. The Apple iPhone SE 2020 is a considerably lower-cost iPhone option, and with that low price come some specific camera compromises. You do get access to the wide array of very smart iOS Camera apps, and its single lens does shoot quite well, but at the same price point you could easily have a triple or quad lens Android camera phone. You're stuck in the doldrums of Apple's fixed storage allocations as well, and with battery life that may leave you wanting.
However, if your smartphone OS of choice is an iOS and you're on a tight budget, it's the camera option for you.
Compare the specs and purchasing options of each phone in the table below. (Click on "View Details" for more product specifications.)
We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you're interested in before making a decision.
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