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The best camera phones you can get

Want to shoot the best photos possible? Get all the help you can!
By
January 11, 2022
The Google Pixel 6 in Sorta Seafoam color camera bar up close
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Smartphones have effectively replaced point-and-shoot cameras, and many outperform them. These portable computers have become our primary cameras, prioritizing photo quality when picking a new smartphone. That’s why we made a list of the very best camera phones currently available.

The best camera phones are all stunning performers, but different factors put them on this list. Some are better in some ways but fall flat in others. Today we are here to find out which best suits your needs.

What makes a good camera experience?

Before we get into the actual list, there are a few things to consider when looking for a great smartphone camera experience. We’ve got a complete guide if you need a comprehensive rundown, but here are a few topics you should consider.

How many cameras do you need?

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra cameras
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

It’s not uncommon to see three or four rear cameras on phones. Some of the more popular extra cameras today include ultrawide lenses (giving you a broader perspective), telephoto cameras for zooming, periscope cameras for longer-range zoom, macro cameras for close-up snaps, depth sensors for portrait mode and depth effects, and monochrome sensors for proper black-and-white shots.

You generally want main, telephoto/periscope, and ultrawide cameras for the most versatile experience, as we see on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. This gives you the most consistent image quality across a variety of ranges. We’ve also seen some phones like the OnePlus 9 and Xiaomi Mi 11T ditch the telephoto/periscope cameras, sometimes in favor of depth sensors and/or macro cameras.

This practice gets worse as you go down in price, with devices like the Poco M3 and OnePlus Nord N100 having three rear cameras, but two of them are macro and depth sensors, which may be less valuable to many. In this case, a phone like a Pixel 6 would be a better option as it only has two rear cameras, but both are practical (main and ultrawide). In other words, more isn’t always better when it comes to cameras.

Megapixels don’t tell the whole story

Xiaomi 11T Pro angled camera on bench
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Having more megapixels doesn’t automatically equate to better image quality when it comes to smartphone cameras. You shouldn’t assume that a 108MP camera is better because it has a higher megapixel count. In fact, some of the best Android smartphone cameras are equipped with 12MP sensors or thereabouts.

This is because the sensor and pixel size are generally more important than the megapixel count. Larger pixels and sensors usually result in better low-light image capture, less noise in general, and better dynamic range. That’s not to say that there aren’t upsides to more megapixels, though.

Explained: Why camera sensor size is more important than more megapixels

The main benefit of more megapixels is that you can get much more detail, so you can print or display the image much larger without sacrificing quality. Not to mention some of these higher MP cameras take advantage of pixel binning, which could improve overall image quality. Another benefit is that 8K recording requires 33MP+ cameras (much like 4K recording requires ~8.3MP cameras), so 48MP+ cameras comfortably support this video quality option.

Nevertheless, sensor size, pixel size, and megapixels are essentially a trifecta for smartphone photography, and they all depend on each other. You can have plenty of megapixels on a small sensor, but then you won’t have large pixels. One can also have large pixels on a small sensor, which would mean losing out on megapixels. Alternatively, you can also have large pixels on a large sensor with loads of megapixels, but then you’ve got a huge camera bump. So balancing these three factors is an essential task for phone makers.

Software is important too

Motorola Moto One Zoom taking photo viewfinder

Another crucial element is software. A recent poll of Android Authority readers found that almost two-thirds of respondents felt that camera software was more important than hardware.

Smartphone makers differ in their image processing software, even when the same camera hardware is used. For example, Samsung and Oppo tend to deliver images with saturated colors, while LG and Sony opt for more realistic hues.

Camera apps from various brands also tend to differ in terms of features. Samsung offers a neat Single Take feature, Huawei offers reflection removal functionality, and Sony offers a comprehensive Pro camera app. Which is better comes down to personal preference in many cases.

The best camera phones:

Editor’s note: We’ll regularly update this list of the best camera phones as new Android devices launch.


1. Google Pixel 6 series

Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro on a windows ledge
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Google Pixel lineup spent years among the best camera experiences you could get, even when it didn’t pack the latest lenses or the sharpest specs. Now, Google has brought its most significant upgrade since the Pixel 4 series with the brand-new camera bar on the Pixel 6. It’s impossible to ignore the new camera housing, and it brings Google back among the best camera phones you can buy.

Google has raised the bar in the camera department — literally.

Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro feature a new 50MP primary shooter paired with a 12MP ultrawide lens and laser autofocus. However, the premium Pixel 6 Pro adds a third option to the mix in a 48MP telephoto lens. It’s capable of up to 4x optical zoom for better long-range shots. On the front, you’ll find an 8MP selfie shooter for the Pixel 6 and an 11.1MP option on the Pro.

Also read: These are the best budget camera phones

Of course, Google’s real prowess comes in its image processing capabilities. The Pixel 6 models launched with a suite of brand-new tools, including the Magic Eraser, which lets you clean up unwanted distractions in the background. You can also tap into Night Mode and Astrophotography options for your next stargazing adventure.

The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are very similar under the hood, with Google’s new Tensor chip powering the pair. You get a Titan M2 security chip and Google’s fastest wired charging to date. However, you’ll have to go Pro for a 5,003mAh battery — the Pixel 6 tops out at 4,600mAh.


Google Pixel 6 specs:

  • Display: 6.4-inch, Full HD+
  • SoC: Tensor
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128/256GB
  • Cameras: 50 and 12MP
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 4,600mAh
  • Software: Android 12

Google Pixel 6 Pro specs:

  • Display: 6.7-inch, Quad HD+
  • SoC: Tensor
  • RAM: 12GB
  • Storage: 128/256/512GB
  • Camera: 50, 48, and 12MP
  • Front camera: 11.1MP
  • Battery: 5,003mAh
  • Software: Android 12

2. Samsung Galaxy S21 series

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Plus backs
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Galaxy S21 family arrived as expected at Samsung’s January Unpacked event, and the three models have set the tone for phones throughout 2021. You get everything you’d expect, and, in the case of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you get even more. Most importantly, these are definitely among the best camera phones available on the market.

More: Samsung Galaxy S21 buyer’s guide

The Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra are all great phones, but if you want the ultimate photography experience, you will go for the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It comes with four cameras, making it the most versatile of the trio. This device also features laser autofocus and 100x hybrid zoom! Not to mention it’s also a beast in terms of all other specs.

Furthermore, these are some of the best phones, speaking generally. Samsung’s flagship trio features great designs, powerful specs, and all that Samsung offers in software.


Samsung Galaxy S21 specs:

  • Display: 6.2-inch, QHD+
  • SoC: SD 888 or Exynos 2100
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB or 256GB
  • Cameras: 12, 12, and 64MP
  • Front camera: 10MP
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Software: Android 11

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus specs:

  • Display: 6.7-inch, QHD+
  • Chipset: SD 888 or Exynos 2100
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB or 256GB
  • Cameras: 12, 12, and 64MP
  • Front camera: 10MP
  • Battery: 4,800mAh
  • Software: Android 11

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra specs:

  • Display: 6.8-inch, QHD+
  • Chipset: SD 888 or Exynos 2100
  • RAM: 12 or 16GB
  • Storage: 128GB, 256, or 512GB
  • Cameras: 12, 10, 10, and 108MP
  • Front camera: 40MP
  • Battery: 5,000mAh
  • Software: Android 11

3. Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra angled rear display
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra presents a unique use case and design that makes it one of the best camera phones, at least in some ways. For starters, it comes with a small screen in the rear, which can be used as a preview for the main cameras. Selfie shooters will love this, and the camera system happens to be a pretty good one too.

Related: The best phones for selfie lovers

We had a bit of an issue with yellow color reproduction during our full review, but that was the only minor problem we encountered. Otherwise, it’s an excellent camera phone with versatility and quality in mind. We also love that Xiaomi ditched the macro camera for a telephoto lens, proving much more helpful for most users.

Just know this phone is also pricey and is on the heavier and bulkier side. It’s also an excellent option, though. The device features a gorgeous screen, a solid battery life, and a build many manufacturers envy.


Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra specs:

  • Display: 6.81-inch, QHD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 8/12GB
  • Storage: 256/512GB
  • Cameras: 50, 48, and 48MP
  • Front camera: 20MP
  • Battery: 5,000mAh
  • Software: Android 11

4. OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro close up of hassleblad
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

OnePlus didn’t make the best camera phones, but things have been changing with the latest generation of handsets. If you liked the OnePlus 8 Pro’s camera, you will love the shooters in the OnePlus 9 Pro. It comes with a versatile lens selection and great hardware.

Read: OnePlus 9 series buying guide

This device is the product of a partnership with photography goliath Hasselblad. This is one of the best-known companies in the photo industry. The Swedish company has been around since 1841, and their brand loyalty goes on par with their product quality. How does all this help the OnePlus 9 Pro, though? This phone takes advantage of Hasselblad’s natural color calibration, which is applied at the sensor level.

You also get plenty of versatility with this camera system. It has the zoom range trifecta, featuring ultrawide, standard, and telephoto lenses. In addition, you get a monochrome camera that, aside from taking moody black and white images, can also help capture more detail than standard color shooters.

OnePlus has also announced the OnePlus 10 Pro, or at least confirmed many of the coming specs. It’s tapped to feature a 50MP, 48MP, and 8MP triple camera setup with a 32MP selfie option. You’ll also find 80W wired charging and a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip under the hood. We expect to see more information soon, as well as pricing and availability.


OnePlus 9 Pro specs:

  • Display: 6.7-inch, QHD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 8/12GB
  • Storage: 128/256GB
  • Cameras: 50, 48, 8, and 2MP
  • Front camera: 16MP
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Software: Android 11

5. Sony Xperia 1 III

Sony Xperia 1 III camera 4 - The best camera phones
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Sony Xperia 1 II has been on our list of the best camera phones for long, and now it’s time for its successor to take its place. The Sony Xperia 1 III comes busting doors, shooting some of the “best-looking pictures out of all the phones we’ve tested,” according to our full review.

Our very own Robert Triggs reports great image quality, with colors and white balance that are “among the best in the business.” The main camera provides plenty of detail, and processing is much more subtle than the competition’s, making for more natural photos. Consistency has also been improved, though we wish the camera did a bit better in low-light conditions.

The Sony Xperia 1 III shoots the best-looking pictures out of all the phones we've tested. Robert Triggs

It’s not all about photos, though, and Sony excels in the video department. This phone can shoot 4K video at up to a whopping 120fps. Quality is excellent, and stabilization is decent.

Also, consider looking into the Sony Xperia 5 III if you want similar camera quality for a lower price.


Sony Xperia 1 III specs:

  • Display: 6.5-inch, 4K
  • SoC: Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 12GB
  • Storage: 256/512GB
  • Cameras: 12, 12, 12, and 3D ToF
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Software: Android 11

6. Apple iPhone 13 series

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max camera closeup sky - The best camera phones
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying Apple makes some of the best camera phones you can buy. The iPhone 13 series is no exception. This year they have four phones to show for: the iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max. We haven’t tested them first-hand yet, but we’re working on that and are sure these are still some of the best camera phones the market has to offer.

On paper, it looks like the iPhone 13 devices have the same cameras as their direct predecessors. While specs seem the same, that doesn’t mean there are no upgrades to be found. The ultrawide camera on the Pro and Pro Max has been upgraded from an ƒ/2.4 aperture to ƒ/1.8, giving it better shooting in low light.

More: Apple iPhone 13 vs. older iPhones

On the software side, Apple has added support for Cinematic Mode, bringing bokeh effects to video. There’s also Night Mode support for all lenses, which was only a treat the main lens got in the iPhone 12 series. ProRes is also coming to the Pro models “later this year.” The upgrades may not be drastic, but these are still some of the best camera phones you can have.


iPhone 13 specs:

  • Display: 6.1-inch, 2,532 x 1,170
  • SoC: Apple A15 Bionic
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 128/256/512GB
  • Cameras: 12 and 12MP
  • Front camera: 12MP
  • Battery: 3,240mAh
  • Software: iOS 15

iPhone 13 Mini specs:

  • Display: 5.4-inch, 2,340 x 1,080
  • SoC: Apple A15 Bionic
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 128/256/512GB
  • Cameras: 12 and 12MP
  • Front camera: 12MP
  • Battery: 2,438mAh
  • Software: iOS 15

iPhone 13 Pro specs:

  • Display: 6.1-inch, 2,532 x 1,170
  • SoC: Apple A15 Bionic
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 128/256/512/1024GB
  • Cameras: 12, 12, and 12MP + ToF
  • Front camera: 12MP
  • Battery: 3,095mAh
  • Software: iOS 15

iPhone 13 Pro Max specs:

  • Display: 6.7-inch, 2,778 x 1,284
  • SoC: Apple A15 Bionic
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 128/256/512/1024GB
  • Cameras: 12, 12, and 12MP + ToF
  • Front camera: 12MP
  • Battery: 4,373mAh
  • Software: iOS 15

Photography FAQs

Q: What is Zoom?
A: Zoom is the action of changing the focal length to make an object appear closer or further away in a photo. Learn more here!

Q: What are symbols like ƒ/2.4 or ƒ/1.8?
A: These standards refer to a camera’s aperture. This would be the size of the opening through which light enters the camera. The smaller the number, the wider the aperture, and the more light that can enter. Learn more here!

Q: What is macro lens?
A: We aren’t huge fans of macro lenses in smartphones, but you’ll probably encounter a macro lens at some point. Macro refers to the ability to shoot a subject at at least a 1:1 ratio, or real-life size. This means you have to focus on your subject very up close and make it appear much larger. Ever seen images of a fly’s eyes? That’s a macro shot. Learn more here!

Q: What is a megapixel (MP)?
A: Simply put, it’s a way to measure the number of pixels an image has. One MP equals one million pixels. Each pixel is a small dot in an image. Put together, different colored pixels turn into images.

Q: What are ToF cameras?
A: You’ll often see this term being thrown around on camera system specs. ToF refers to “time-of-flight.” These cameras are there to measure distance by recording the time it takes for infrared light to exit the camera system and return. Just like its name entails, it measures the time it took to fly there and back. By measuring distance, the ToF sensor can help the camera decide what to blur out when creating artificial bokeh.

Q: And what is “bokeh”?
A:
Bokeh is a Japanese term that refers to the quality of out-of-focus areas in a photograph. It describes how good background blur looks. Learn more here!


Also, keep in mind that having a great camera smartphone is only half the battle. Getting familiarized with the fundamentals of photography and training your skills will go a long way. Check out our guides below for more tips on how to capture the perfect photo!