Smartphones are taking great pictures, comparable to point-and-shoot cameras. With advancements in hardware and a consumer demand for multi-function devices, smartphone cameras replace standalone cameras.
However, when selecting a phone, there’s a lot to consider. From processing power and RAM for multitasking, to screen size, battery capacity, and operating system, there’s a seemingly endless slog through specification sheets. Looking for a device to take pictures? These phones have the best cameras today.
What Gives Smartphone Best Cameras?
When you’re picking out a camera, it’s easy to get caught up on pixel counts. While it’s true you’ll want a smartphone camera with a higher pixel count, you’ll also want to take into account factors such as focal length and pixel size.
A high megapixel count yields more detail in pictures. Thus, for picture clarity, zooming, and cropped photos, megapixels do matter. But often this is more of a marketing tactic.
Sensor size is essential to many camera aspects such as crop factor and focal length. Notably, this includes the light gathering components of a sensor. The larger the sensor, the more light it’s able to gather on account of a larger area. Usually, you’ll find this as some sort of ratio, like 1/3.06 inches. However, be aware that this doesn’t connote dimensions. Instead, it indicates sensor type.
Megapixel count provides insight for zooming and cropping, sensor size shows how much light gathering a camera maintains, and pixel size provides details on photodetectors in the CMOS sensor. A CMOS sensor converts light into electrons. Technology such as stacked CMOS, typically found in Sony cameras, delivers improved reflectivity and superior low-light performance. You’ll want to pay attention to aperture as well. This is measured in f-stops. Wider aperture makes for a shallow depth of field. Aperture also dictates blurriness and sharpness.
Finally, focal length gives the distance between the sensor and lens. What this does is show the field of view, as well as magnification. TechSpot gives an excellent breakdown of each of these components with pictorial examples and makes for fantastic reading if you’re keen to dig into technical specifications.
Pay attention to:
- Megapixel count
- Sensor size
Best Budget Phones for Cameras
As budget-oriented smartphones go, the Huawei Honor 6X is an awesome choice because of its camera. Onboard, you’ll find a bokeh secondary lens. Its dual-camera comes with a 12MP camera on top and a 2MP sensor underneath. PC Mag found pictures great in well-lit scenarios. In lower light, quality suffers slightly. However, Night or HDR modes alleviated some of the blur.
What its secondary sensor does is enable bokeh in its Wide Aperture mode. PC Mag found that Wide Aperture pictures with the Huawei Honor 6X both inside and out came out brilliantly. The focus was on point, and the default camera app, Pro Camera, arrives with a bevy of settings for ISO, aperture, focus, and white balance adjustments. It’s not a perfect camera, and the handset lacks premium features such as NFC or dual-band Wi-Fi. Still, for the best camera experience at this price point, the Huawei Honor 6X is the clear winner.
- Dual 12MP and 2MP rear camera
- Phase detection autofocus
- 1/2.9-inch sensor
- Front-facing 8MP camera
It’s right there in the name. The Asus ZenFone 3 Zoom is a top pick as a phone with a fantastic camera. In its review, Tom’s Guide praised the Zenfone’s zooming capabilities as well as long battery life. It’s fitting that the ZenFone 3 Zoom lives up to its name.
On the back, you’ll find dual rear cameras with a 2.3x optical zoom. What’s more, these are 12MP and it’s all wrapped up in a sleek form factor. In comparison tests, the ZenFone 3 Zoom easily bested the Moto G5 Plus and matched up well against the iPhone 7 which is far more expensive than the ZenFone 3 Zoom. For beautiful photo viewing, the ZenFone 3 Zoom makes spectacular use of a 5.5-inch AMOLED display. On account of its dual camera action and superb zoom in a slim casing, the ZenFone 3 Zoom is one of the best cameras in a smartphone you’ll find. As an alternative, check out the Alcatel Idol 4S which on account of its 16MP camera is a fabulous Samsung Galaxy S8 alternative.
- Dual 12MP rear cameras
- 2.3x optical zoom
Best Mid-Range Handsets for Cameras
As CNET boasts, the Oppo R11 delivers an iPhone aesthetic. The 5.5-inch phone sports dual cameras. Side-by-side on the phone’s back, you’ll find a 20MP camera and a 16MP shooter. Then there’s the 20MP front-facing selfie camera. With its three cameras, the Oppo R11 is one of the best cameras you can purchase today. CNET also notes that the Oppo R11 performs well in low light, making it excellent for smartphone photography.
Both of the rear cameras come outfitted with a 2x optical zoom. A Qualcomm Spectra Image Signal Processor (ISP) handles post-processing. There’s a selective focus in the dual camera portrait mode which blurs the background behind a subject (giving the appearance of bokeh). However, CNET does note that there’s occasional lag when taking pictures. Still, it’s an excellent handset that’s reasonably priced, employs a selfie camera with more megapixels than many rear-facing shooters, and clocks in benchmarks close to the Google Pixel.
- Dual 20MP (f/2.6) and 16MP (f/1.7) rear cameras
- Facial detection
- 20MP f/2.0 rear camera
- Solid low light performance
When the OnePlus One first hit the mobile market, it swept the phone space by storm. That trend continues with the OnePlus 5. Notably, you’ll find an amazing dual camera setup. There is a 20MP and 16MP dual-camera array for clear, vivid photos.
In addition to the 20MP and 16MP rear shooters, you’ll find a front-facing 16MP camera. That’s more than the rear cameras on some point-and-shoot cameras! Still, megapixels aren’t the full picture. TechRadar raves over the vastly improved OnePlus 5 camera. You’ll find a wide aperture of f/1.7 for bright photos which eschew dipping into overexposure. Its telephoto lens yields a f/2.6 aperture. Since both sensors are color sensors, you can zoom with little to no image quality loss.
- Dual 20MP and 16MP rear cameras
- Wide-lens aperture of f/1.7 and telephoto aperture of f/2.6
- 16MP front-facing camera
Best Flagship Phones for Cameras
The Google Pixel is one of the most celebrated Android handsets. That’s largely because of its combination of superb pricing, excellent specs, and its unadulterated version of Android. CNET raves that the Pixel’s camera is excellent. Its default shooting mode is HDR, and low light performance remains fantastic. There’s a neat feature where you can simply flick your wrist to change between the front and rear cameras.
Although it suffers from overly visible lens flares, CNET describes the Google Pixel’s photos as vivid. Overall, the Google Pixel ranks among the top cameras you can buy today.
- 12.3MP f/2.0 camera
- 8MP f/2.4 front-facing camera
- Default HDR shooting
- Good low-light performance
Although Canon, Kodak, and Pentax rank as the best-known camera manufacturers, Sony produces some of the best DSLRs you can buy. Similarly, Sony brings its seasoned photography expertise to the mobile realm. On the Sony Xperia XZ, you’ll find a whopping 19MP camera with HDR, electronic image stabilization, laser autofocus, and face detection. Moreover, you’ll find an Exmor RS and hybrid autofocus. On its front camera, the Xperia XZ Premium houses a 13MP camera with a 22mm wide-angle lens. There’s Exmor RS, and f/2.0 aperture.
Where the Xperia XZ Premium really dominates is its 960 frames per second slow motion. TechRadar appreciated the slow-mo capture as well as 4K display which it calls “stunning.” While that’s video, not photography, it’s a testament to the quality of the camera found in the Sony Xperia XZ Premium. Plus, you’ll find a Super Slow mode which boasts a one-shot slow motion capture. This shoots a short five-second clip at 960 FPS. Aside from an incredible camera, the XZ Premium includes a gorgeous 4K display and excellent battery life.
- 19MP camera
- 13MP rear-facing camera
- Rear-facing camera: f/2.0 22mm wide-angle lens
- 960 FPS video
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is one of the best phones you can buy. But it keeps getting better. While the Galaxy S8 already featured virtual reality (VR) support for the Samsung Gear VR, it’s been graced with Daydream support making it a top pick for all around entertainment needs. As the latest Samsung flagship handset, the Galaxy S8 employs truly phenomenal hardware.
For its camera, you’ll find a 12MP rear shooter and 8MP front-facing shooter. Its 12MP camera uses an f/1.7 aperture, and 1/2.55-inch sensor. There’s an 8x zoom, as well as RAW file compatibility. The 8MP camera includes an f/1.7 aperture, 1/3.6-inch sensor, and wide selfie mode. Both cameras feature image stabilization. Further, it’s compatible with the Gear 360 camera for shooting video in 4K. If you’re in the market for a flagship like the Samsung Galaxy S8, you may consider the iPhone 7 which also features a phenomenal camera.
- 12MP front-facing camera
- f/1.7 aperture
- 1/2.55-inch sensor
- 8x zoom
- RAW file compatibility
- Shoots in 4K
Best Phone With Camera Under $150
While we’re focusing on the best cameras, not just overall handsets, it’s tough to find a superb camera at the $150 price range. Even most sub-$500 smartphones make several concessions, notably with the camera. You can find a budget smartphone with an excellent camera, but $150 and below is a category of its own.
The BLU R1 Plus is a shockingly solid device at under $150. The BLU R1 presents a slick appearance with its 5.5-inch form factor. The rear-facing camera is a 13MP shooter. As Tom’s Guide reports, the BLU R1 delivers the same megapixel rating as the Moto G5 Plus, but image processing software makes a slight difference. Close-ups appeared brighter than those taken with the G5. But with distance, there’s blurring and it’s clear that the R1 is a budget handset.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to knock the BLU R1. If you’re fine running an older version of Android, and putting up with some lag in general use, the BLU R1 offers the best camera on a phone less than $150.
- 13MP rear camera
- F2.0 aperture
- 1/3.2-inch sensor
- 5MP front-facing camera
- Excellent shooting close up in well-lit areas
Alternative: The Hasselblad True Zoom Camera Mod
This isn’t exactly one phone. Rather, it’s a camera mod for select Motorola phones. The Hasselblad True Zoom camera mod fits onto the back of the Moto Z Droid, Moto Z Force Droid, and Moto Z Play. With this modification, your pitiful camera gets a major upgrade with a 10x optical zoom, Xenon flash, and a physical shutter. That’s an impressive overhaul.
Unfortunately, the add-on alone runs almost $300. You can snag a decent standalone camera for that price. A Pentax K-S1, one of the best DSLRs for your money, comes in at just under $400. Plenty of point and shoots, as well as rugged cameras, are available for that price or less. As such, there are better deals if you’re willing to opt for a standalone camera. But if not, this is a worthy upgrade. Plus, CNET notes that all the Moto Mod does is add a zoom. That’s certainly a benefit. Yet quality remains the same. Just remember, if you get a different phone that’s not compatible with the Hasselblad, you’re out of luck.
- 10x optical zoom
- Physical shutter
- Xenon flash
- Much improved zoom, same photo quality
- Compatible with the Moto Z Play, Moto Z Force Droid, and Moto Z Droid
The Best Phones With the Best Cameras Today
Photography doesn’t require expensive equipment. Instead, with advancements in technology, you can likely use what’s in your pocket: a phone. But finding the best phones and the phones with the best cameras can often differ.
When you’re selecting one of the phones that have the best cameras today, decide what you’re willing to sacrifice. If you’ve got a higher budget, simply snag a flagship like the Samsung Galaxy S8 or iPhone 7. Because cameras are one of the most important features of a phone, and also since flagships deliver premium specs across the board, you’re definitely getting a phone with the best camera available.
If you’re not willing to select a high-end phone, there are plenty of options in the mid-range and budget categories. However, you may forgo aspects such as NFC, dual-band Wi-Fi, or a higher screen resolution.
Which phones with excellent cameras do you recommend?