Best camera phones: Top quality smartphone cameras for photography

In general, if you buy a premium smartphone, you will be getting yourself an excellent photography sidekick. You no longer need to carry with you an extra standalone camera because of your phone now having your back.

Manufacturers have been pushing the boundaries of mobile technology. New phones are faster, bigger, brighter, and most importantly, shoot better photos and record outstanding 4k videos. The portable photo snappers and vid recorders that smartphones have now become, enable you to record and share most important memories at high resolution on the go.

However, there are a lot of contenders competing for the prime spot. So, what should you look for when choosing the best camera phone for your budget? Specs sheets? Not really. Phone developers highlight photography capabilities on their phone products by adding a sheer number of megapixels on their camera units. It is easy to be tricked into purchasing a mobile device whose specs sheets say that there’s a 20MP camera on the back and bypass other devices whose number of megapixels might be 12 or 16. The following will be a quick explanation why more megapixels is not always better.

Why more megapixels is not always better?

Judging the photography features on a phone solely on the number of megapixels listed on its specs sheet makes for quite a lousy way to predict photographic performance. Simply put, the megapixel count is the total number of pixels that will make up an image captured by a camera sensor. To receive the megapixel number in an image sensor, multiply the number of horizontal pixels by vertical pixels. For instance, a 4608 x 3456 image sensor in the Nikon Coolpix B500 DSLR camera equates to sixteen megapixels.

Going past the megapixel number, the size of the sensor is a much accurate way to judge a camera. DSLR cameras often have much larger sensors and lenses than smartphone cameras. What not everyone knows is that “pixels” do not have a standard size. Cameras with a larger image sensor have larger pixels. Thus, they are capable of capturing more light and generating images of better quality. This is where manufacturers play with specs sheets. They stuff more pixels on their camera sensors to intentionally increase the megapixel count and better-promote their devices. But the megapixel fallacy has a toll and not a positive one. For them to make all those pixels fit inside the small sensor, they have to decrease the size of the pixels too, and those now-smaller pixels capture less light and produce noisy images. That’s why some smartphones with 12MP cameras can snap way better photos than phones with 16MP or 20MP cameras.

Along the sensor size and the image processor that comes with the dedicated graphics processors built into the CPUs of the modern smartphones the software that ties them all together plays a major role on how bright photos shot by a particular phone can be. The current best camera phone, Google Pixel 3, the software trickery where Google specializes in, makes this phone stand out from the competition.

 Why do some phones have two cameras (or more) on one side?

In most flagship mobiles you will find more two cameras on one side, sometimes even three such as with the LG V40 ThinQ or Huawei Mate 20 Pro. But, what are dual-camera phones, why do you need one, and are two cameras better than one?

The most popular dual-camera setup you will find on smartphones consists of a telephoto and a wide-angle lens working together. The telephoto unit is often associated with the featured digital zoom that gives you a fast 2x optical zoom. Because it has a shallow field of view, it makes distant objects appear similar in size to the objects near the camera, with the primary camera serving as a depth sensor, the telephoto sensor creates the bokeh effect that blurs objects in the background and highlights the foreground.

While the Wide-angle concept works reversely. The sensor with a vastly large field of view enables you to capture a larger area on the camera without having to move the device back and forth. Simply explained, the Telephoto camera lets you zoom in into your subjects while the wide-angle lens zooms out. When working together, the two camera sensors shoot images of a higher quality and make them appear more realistic.

What to look for when buying a phone for photography and video recording?

The top phones for photography have their cameras featuring HDR that lets the sensor capture brighter and darker areas in greater detail, an optical image stabilization to counter camera shake, video recording at a high number of frames per second such as 60fps when snapping 4K videos.

Anyways, camera sensor is not everything you should concern yourself with. Other smartphone features are important as well. Recording 4K videos take a big chunk off your phone’s internal memory, a phone with a vast built-in memory capacity and the support to expand the storage via a microSD is almost a must-have.

The perfect mobile for pics and videos should as well have a powerful battery to keep it going and a bright display of a high resolution for you to preview your pics and play recorded videos.

Here is all the information you need to know about the mobile phones with the best cameras to help you make the right decision when looking for the smartphone with the best camera.

Google Pixel 3 / Google Pixel 3XL

Google Pixel 3 back design and camera

The Pixel 3 and the larger version of it, Pixel 3 XL, are the best Android smartphones and the top phones for photography. What makes the Pixel 3 the best smartphone for snapping photos and recording hi-res videos is the hidden Pixel Visual Core chipset and the software that specializes in recognizing what photos should look like and help you take the right shots every time.

The Pixel Visual Core is a built-in chipset that analyzes HDR+ images five times faster than a standard application processor and requires only one-tenth of the power. It handles machine learning, adjusts images based on the scene, and most of the other complex tasks that are related to the camera.

Google hasn’t given up on the single primary camera yet. As everyone knows that Google is all about perfecting algorithms and processing data, the software on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL allows the 12MP camera on the flagship phone outperform every other adversary phone in feature supports related to photography.

The primary camera on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL is a 12.2MP 1/2.55″ sensor with 1.4µm pixel size, dual pixel PDAF, OIS, auto-HDR, and dual-LED flash. At the hardware level, it is very similar to the camera found on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. The placement of the camera and LED flash is now arranged in a similar way to the placement on the Pixel 2 XL, with both Pixel 3 phones sharing the same concept.

Pixel 3 wins against any phone for snapping bright photos at low light. The Google software dodge called Night Sight enhances photography at low light, surpassing any competitor, including Huawei’s photography beast, the Mate 20 Pro. Photos shot by this phone are bright and realistic.

Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are also the best phones for selfie-taking. They sport two 8MP cameras where one of them is a wide-angle unit with PDAF and the other has an ultra-wide angle of view. Having two cameras at the front highlights the effects you can apply to your selfies and helps create better bokeh pictures to stun your friends on the social media.

Besides photography feature supports being at the top notch, another reason why either Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL should be your next camera phone is the unlimited amount of storage Google grants you on Google Photos for your high-resolution snaps and 4K videos.

Along the excellent camera, the Pixel 3 is the top compact smartphone. It sports a 5.5-inch FHD OLED screen and has no notch in it. The Pixel 3 XL is even larger, now sporting a 6.3-inch QHD display. The new Pixel phones are larger, and if you aren’t bothered by the ugly notch, the Pixel 3XL is the better of the two.

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Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Huawei Mate 20 Pro hands on review back design and camera

Huawei has paid its dues on pushing mobile photography forward. Cooperation with the German brand of cameras and lenses, Leica, resulted in the production of impressive high-profile smartphones that have excellent lenses on both sides.

Mate 20 Pro came soon after the P20 Pro, one of the best camera phones out there and it now takes the lead as the best Chinese phone money can buy. The triple camera setup is similar to that of the P20 Pro, a 40MP wide angle, 20MP ultrawide, and an 8MP telephoto sensor. There is not that much difference in camera performance on those two top-end phones at the hardware level. The software is what makes this trio-camera setup on the Mate 20 Pro better.

Cameras on the Mate 20 Pro are arranged on a grid of 2×2 where are positioned the three cameras and the dual-tone dual-LED flash. The main 40MP RGB sensor with a wide f/1.8 aperture and PDAF specializes in capturing details on every shot, with its sensor having a pixel size 1.7µm, its sensor receives more light and makes it the best phone camera for low light photography. The 8MP telephoto sensor captures objects in the distance and helps create the artistic bokeh effect while the 20MP ultra wide angle lens highlights panorama and landscape photos.

A front-facing 24MP sensor with PDAF that snaps outstanding selfies and now lets you unlock your phone with your face via a 3D scan.

Software and hardware upgrade is what pushes further the photography performance on the Mate 20 Pro. The new Huawei flagship boasts the world’s first 7nm chipset, the Kirin 980, which allegedly is one generation ahead of the current Qualcomm powerhouse, the Snapdragon 845. Noting that the even previous Huawei chip, the Kirin 970, was reported to deal faster with AI-related tasks than the Snapdragon 845. Kirin 980 allows the AI to work more quickly on analyzing each separate photo you take with your phone and make later shots better.

Mate 20 Pro with its massive 6.39-inch AMOLED QHD screen makes an outstanding viewfinder while the large 4,200 mAh battery will let you take snaps for quite a while. There are many different variants of the Mate 20 Pro. From the standard Mate 20 to the top-price Mate 20 RS Porsche edition.

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Huawei P20 Pro

Huawei P20 Pro hands on review back design and camera

The P20 Pro is another exceptional mobile for photo snaps that Huawei made. It is quite comparable to the Mate 20 Pro in those terms. It also has a trio of mind-boggling cameras on the rear. They are placed vertically one over the other with the LED flash positioned at the bottom.

Huawei P20 Pro has the same 40MP, 8MP and 20MP camera setup on the back as found on the Mate 20 Pro. But on this mobile, the 20MP is a monochrome sensor that specializes in taking stunning black and white photos. A 24MP selfie snapper stands at the front, but it doesn’t have the 3D facial security system and the 3D Life Emoji that are implemented on the later Mate 20.

Although the camera on the Mate 20 Pro is more versatile due to the drop of the monochrome sensor for a wide-angle sensor is a leap ahead of the P20 pro by offering a Super HDR mode that combines ten frames at a RAW level and offers overkilling ISO values of up to 51,000, the P20 Pro remains to be as one of the best phones to take photos with.

The Leica zoom system on its cameras, the P20 Pro, supports 5x Hybrid Zoom, it was the first phone to provide this feature without a retractable lens. Huawei’s Master AI 2.0 image processing featured on this premium smartphone enables the device to create sections on photographs and treat each section separately to deliver better-quality snaps. Just like the Mate 20 Pro, the P20 Pro can also generate super slow-mo videos at 960 frames per second.

What makes the P20 Pro a steal is that it is one of the very few phones with a Home button and front-mounted fingerprint that equips the latest hardware and software.

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Samsung Galaxy Note9

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 hands on review back design and camera

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the best Samsung phone at this time and the Samsung phone with the best camera. The dual 12MP snappers on the back revolve around a 12MP sensor with a revolutionary wide aperture of f/1.5 and pixel size of 1.4µm that works wonders to take dazzling snaps at low light and a second 12MP telephoto sensor with 2x optical zoom. Both cameras have OIS of their own while only the primary wide-angle unit is a dual-pixel PDAF sensor.

The camera on the Note 9 is perfectioned by the AI-backed software. The pre-installed Flaw Detection feature inspects each shot for blinks, blurs, backlighting, or smudges and when anything that’s interfering with the quality of the photo is found you will see a notification to adjust settings and reshoot. Note9 will actually let you know that the lens on your camera has collected dust and you’ll need to clean it to snap great pics.

The aperture adjustment is one of the best things that this phone has regarding photography. Depending on how lit the environment you want to capture with the lens of your phone’s camera, you can adjust the aperture from a stunning wide of f/1.5 at low light to the other end of the spectrum of f/2.4 where the objects are perfectly lit.

The promising scene optimizer on the Note9 is built to instantly detect objects and offers 20 different of modes to enhance colors for dazzling photoshoots.

The best smartphone with curved edge display ever made also brings an 8MP selfie snapper at the front with autofocus and the support for recording quad HD videos at 1440pixels. Selfies taken with the Note 9 can blow anyone away. You can take selfies remotely on the Note9 by using the Stylus Pen. You won’t need a selfie stick, place your phone in a position that it can see you and use the single button on your S Pen to take a selfie.

The massive notch-less QHD AMOLED display of 6.4-inch and the powerful Snapdragon 845 chipset with up to 8GB of RAM makes the Galaxy Note9 one of the best smartphones to play PUBG Mobile and other high-end games.

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Samsung Galaxy S9+

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus hands on review back design and the camera

Although the cameras on the Galaxy S9+ and Note9 appear to be the same on paper, the Note9 units actually perform slightly better. If you were to purchase the best Samsung phone camera, then the top choice will definitely be Note 9. Despite that, the Galaxy S9 Plus has camera sensors that do wonders.

With only the Galaxy S9+ having the dual-camera setup it is the better device of the Galaxy S9 series. The cameras on the S9+ have the same specs sheets as those found on Note 9. The super slow-mo video recording at 960 frames per second coming with this phone will blow you away.

The housed adjustable dual-aperture technology automatically adjusts to snap sharp photos regardless of the light conditions. This upgraded tech also comes with the single-camera Galaxy S9.

Having a curved and bright display of 6.2-inches makes the S9+ an excellent viewfinder and still compact. For anyone that cares, yes, there is a headphone jack on the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+.

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iPhone XS / iPhone XS Max

iPhone XS Max hands on review back design and camera

Apple’s newest iPhone is one of the best phones ever made, and it also is the best camera smartphone for Apple fans. The best iPhone camera that comes on the iPhone XS and XS Max revolves around a 12MP primary 1/2.55″ sensor with an aperture of f/1.8 and 1.4µm pixel size and a second 12MP telephoto 1/3.4″ sensor with pixel size of 1.0µm and two-time optical zoom. Both sensors have optical image stabilization and phase detection autofocus of their own.

A 7MP TrueDepth sensor at the front is all you need for glaring selfies and remarkable video chat.

Besides the excellent sensors, what truly makes the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max one of the top phones for recording high-resolution videos and capturing phenomenal imagery is its super-fast A12 Bionic chipset. Its next-generation Neural engine uses real-time machine learning to transform the way you experience mobile photography.

The new smart HDR sews together multiple frames, with the new improvements it works wonders to limit overexposure of the bright light and adds those much-needed shadow details to your photos. Because of the pixel size is larger on the iPhone XS than it was on the iPhone X, the new iPhone shoots brighter pics at low light. An outstanding function that iPhone allows regarding photo shooting is the possibility to adjust the bokeh effect similar to what you can do on a DSLR camera. You can blur to maximum objects in the background or let them be clearly visible with no impact on your targetted objects.

iPhone Xs and Xs max can both record 4K videos at up to 60 frames per second and full HD at 240 frames per second. The standard XS version still is a compact phone with its 5.8-inch AMOLED screen. The 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max would make a better viewfinder than it.

Regarding power, almost like every other top-end smartphone out there, the Apple flagship is programmed to last you an entire day with a single charge. If you happen to take snaps very often, then consider connecting your new iPhone with a portable power bank for it to keep kicking through the day.

The iPhone XR has an excellent single-camera sensor that will grant you the XS performance for a lower budget.

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LG V40 ThinQ

LG V40 ThinQ hands on review, back design and cameras

LG attempted to revolutionize the current mobile photography experience by bringing the world’s first five-camera smartphone, the V40 ThinQ. The combination of three cameras on the back and two at the front bests photography features on LG’s previous flagship, the V30, and makes the cameras on the new flagship more versatile. However, it is no secret, LG’s phone with three sensors at the rear cannot shoot clearer photography than the single-camera Pixel 3. The V40 ThinQ also has a higher starting price than most of its competition.

The primary triple camera setup on the LG V40 involves a standard 12MP sensor with a large aperture of f/1.5, 1.4µm pixel size, 3-axis optical image stabilization, and phase detection autofocus, a 12MP telephoto sensor with two-time optical zoom, f/2.4 aperture, OIS, and PDAF, and a 16MP ultra-wide lens with an aperture of f/1.9. The two selfie snappers on the V40 ThinQ are an 8MP sensor with f/1.9 aperture and a second wide-angle 5MP camera with a smaller aperture of f/2.2. The pixel size on both selfie cameras measures 1.4µm, such large pixels allows the sensors to snap clearer selfies and rank the V40 ThinQ as one of the phones with the best selfie cameras.

With its triple cameras on the rear, the V40 can record 4K videos at 60 and 30 frames per second and as well as full HD videos at 30, 60, and 240 frames per second. The 12MP standard and telephoto sensors can take images at a maximum resolution of 4032 x 3024 pixels while the 16MP wide-angle sensor can shoot them at up to 4656 x 3492 pixels. This is important because of the phone’s feature to allow you to see a preview of each photography as seen by each sensor and select the better of them.

LG offers a large number of ways to take a photo, and they are quite fun to experiment with. With the rear cameras it lets you see a triple preview of snaps from each sensor while with the selfie snappers you can pick from five studio-like lighting effects that lighten or contour your selfies, blur and create an awesome bokeh effect on any taken selfie, replace with any color you want the background, or turn into moving animations any objects on your shots.

Along with infinite customizations with the cameras, the LG V40 features HDR to elevate the quality of your snaps and add life to dark spots on the background and has AI that helps make each shot an artistic photography.

The sheer size of the V40 ThinQ, its 6.4-inch QHD OLED display that has no notch in it makes it an excellent viewfinder to preview your pics. It 3,300 mAh battery isn’t amongst the largest, but it now charges faster due to the Quick Charge 3.0 technology. Another reason why buy the V40 ThinQ is its in-house headphone jack.

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Sony Xperia XZ3

Sony Xperia XZ3 hands on review, back design and cameras preview

Xperia XZ3 is the best phone for photography the Japanese manufacturer of electronics, Sony. Its single 19-megapixel sensor can do wonders. The 19MP Exmor RS wide-angle sensor featuring an aperture of f/2.0, 1.22µm pixel size, predictive phase detection autofocus, and laser autofocus is backed by the company’s Bionz image processor that analyzes and processes images captured by the camera faster to deliver the better possible images.

Images shot with the back camera of the Sony Xperia ZX3 are excellent, but there is noise on distant objects when you zoom in to photographs. However, this phone has some hidden camera tricks of its own. It supports 4K HDR videos at 30 frames per second and its super slow-mo video recording at 960 frames per second is at 1080pixels, outplaying the Galaxy Note9 whose super slow motion videos are at 720p.

The 13MP selfie camera on the Xperia XZ3 is amongst the best sensors on a phone. It has a wide aperture of f/1.9, 1.12µm pixel size, supports HDR, and snaps brilliant selfies and records clear full HD videos.

Xperia XZ3 boasts a 6.0-inch OLED screen with a resolution of 1440 x 2880 pixels that has curves on the edges, has 64gigs of internal memory that you can expand by inserting a microSD card, and gets powered by a 3,300 mAh battery. Xperia XZ3, one of the best phones with curved edge display out there also lets adds some fun to its cameras by letting you turn your photos into 3D image creations.

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HTC U12+

HTC U12+ hands on review, preview of the back design and cameras

HTC’s U12+ flagship is one of the most handsome phones money can buy. Its glass body design gets to fully express its self on the Translucent Blue edition that exposes the internal components. The transparent version of this phone certainly is the most attractive one.

The primary cameras on the HTC U12 Plus include a primary 1/2.55″ UltraPixel 4 sensor with 1.4µm pixel size, f/1.75, dual-pixel PDAF, OIS, and laser autofocus and a second 16MP telephoto sensor with f/2.6 aperture, two-time optical zoom, and 1.0µm pixel size with autofocus function of its own.

HTC U12 Plus can record 4K videos at 60 frames per second and 1080p videos at 30, 60, and 240 frames per second.

The U12+ greatly improves the camera performance when compared to HTC’s previous flagship phone, the U11. It takes outstanding still images and is an excellent camera phone for outdoor photography where when exposed to sufficient light it renders colors quite good and focuses rapidly on the subjects. It isn’t the perfect though. Many other top-tier Android flagship phones outperform it.

Images taken with this phone do have noise, and such noise is more visible at low light. The overall photography features on the current HTC phone are outstanding, but there are phones that take better photos than it.

The selfie cameras on the HTC U12 Plus are also some of the best featured on a phone. They are two 8MP sensors with f/2.0 aperture and relatively large pixel sizes of 1.12µm and support HDR just like the cameras on the rear. The front cameras also support 3D facial recognition to instantly access your phone just by looking at it.

There also are AR stickers available to customize photos and videos taken via any of the cameras.

HTC managed to maintain the compactness on its flagship device by limiting its size to only six inches. The featured LCD screen of this phone boasts QHD resolution and does not have a notch, it has 6gigs of RAM and 128GB of expandable internal storage and gets powered by a 3,500 mAh battery.

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OnePlus 6T

OnePlus 6T hands on review, back design and camera

OnePlus phones are the primary option of choice for a premium smartphone experience that costs half the price of the rest of top-tier alternatives. OnePlus 6T is the best camera phone $500 can buy, and there is no doubt about that.

The OnePlus flagship is a high-performing mobile that will cost you just a little more than an average midrange phone and with its equilibrium of features and price will allow you to take some excellent photos and videos in a device that costs nearly half the price of a high-end smartphone. The natural mixing of features and cost is the primary cause that makes every OnePlus phone a top-popular phone choice year after year as manufacturers upgrade their devices.

OnePlus 6T comes housing two wide-angle lenses where the one that serves as the standard sensor is a 16MP 1/2.6″ sensor with 1.22µm pixel size, OIS, and a second 20MP sensor whose pixel size is one µm. Both sensors have a wide aperture of f/1.7 and PDAF. The lack of a telephoto unit with 2X optical zoom kinda limits the photography experience on zoom.

The 16MP selfie camera is as good as any selfie snapper can be. Unless you are a professional photographer that knows what to look for in a camera phone, you won’t be disappointed with the camera performance OnePlus 6T has preserved for you.

The camera on this phone renders colors quite well and performs well in bright and low-light conditions. Its support for HDR highlights the photo shooting experience and offers decent bokeh effects. The autofocus on this phone is amongst the best. An appropriate camera rival of the OnePlus 6T is Google’s flagship from 2017, the Pixel 2.

Design adjustments on the new OnePlus decrease the screen notch and enable it to be amongst the best viewfinder phones for shooting photography and capturing videos at a high resolution. The Snapdragon 845 SoC with 6GB of RAM and the built-in storage model of 256GB leave enough space to experiment with photography and filming.

A 3,700 mAh battery will keep the OnePlus 6T going for an entire day. If you don’t mind paying a little more, the OnePlus 6T McLaren edition has super-fast charging properties that get it fully charged in just 40 minutes. It also has 10GB of RAM.

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Xiaomi Pocophone F1

Xiaomi Pocophone F1 hands on review, back design and camera

Xiaomi revolutionized the market of cheap smartphones with the introduction of the Pocophone F1. The HDR-enabled dual cameras on the Poco F1 include a 12MP  1/2.55″ sensor featuring 1.4µm pixel size, f/1.9 aperture, and dual-pixel PDAF and a 5MP depth sensor with f/2.0 aperture and 1.12µm that together can capture great pictures that render colors quite well and record 4K videos at 30 frames per second.

Poco F1 takes satisfactory photographs at day time. It keeps noise under control and renders colors very accurately to produce sharp and detailed images. The phone doesn’t do that well on environments that aren’t lighted properly, there’s no OIS on the Xiaomi’s budget option, probably as a result of a cost-cutting measure. But in general, the photography features on the Poco phone will not disappoint.

There’s a 20MP sensor at the front that performs well when the light is sufficient. It certainly can’t match up with top-tier competition regarding camera functionalities, but when considering the price, it is the best cheap camera phone out there.

The backbone of the Pocophone is the Snapdragon 845 chipset that turns it into a powerful device that can do everything any other phone can. It has a large FHD display of 6.18-inches with a notch, gets its fuel from a 4,000 mAh battery, has variants with up to 256gigs of expandable memory, and supports the headphone jack. A solid low-price phone option for top-end performance is what Xiaomi has successfully manufactured with the Pocophone F1.

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