The Best Smartphone Cameras

These picks give digital cameras a run for their money

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

The newest phones offer multiple lenses, high MP sensors, and the latest technologies. From Instagram to Snapchat to TikTok, having a better camera is a prime selling point for modern smartphones because mobile photography is essential to everyone.

Our experts reviewed a variety of smartphones to find out which devices offered the best cameras. Read on to see our picks in different categories and price ranges. And if you're looking to master the ins and outs of phone photography, check out our tips for mobile photography.

Best Apple

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

4.8
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max Pacific Blue

Apple

What We Like
  • Night mode is awesome

  • More zoom on the telephoto lens

  • Works well with AR applications

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Apple's iPhone 12 Pro Max delivers impressive specs for serious mobile photographers. While some may pan the triple-lens camera system as something that's already been done by other smartphones, Apple continues to improve its rear-camera system, adding more perks per generation.

The iPhone 11 Pro already had an impressive camera, but the 12 Pro Max's is even better. It incorporates a LiDAR sensor for better low-light photos, better performance with AR apps, and better overall pictures. 

Compared to the already-impressive iPhone 11 series, the 12 Pro Max has more zoom on the telephoto lens and a larger wide-angle sensor to allow more light. The three-lens rear camera employs a main f/1.6 wide-angle, an f/2.4 ultra-wide, and an f/2.0 telephoto lens. In our testing, our reviewer, Andrew Hayward, noted that he could see more detail in nighttime photos with the 12 Pro Max.

Rear Cameras: 12MP Ultra-wide, wide, telephoto system | Front Camera: 12MP TrueDepth camera system | Video Recording: 4K resolution and 60 frames per second

Best Android

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

4.6
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Courtesy of Best Buy

What We Like
  • Ultra-detailed photos

  • Excellent night photos

  • Advanced camera system

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Most smartphones come with (at least) dual-lens camera setups. These generally include a primary sensor and a telephoto lens for optical zoom. While that’s great, an ultra-wide lens is usually better since it lets you capture more detail in every photo. Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra takes it further, adding another ultra-zoom camera.

The front selfie-cam is 40MP, while our testing showed that the rear camera system of the Galaxy S21 Ultra uses a 12MP primary sensor with dual pixel autofocus, as well as a 108MP ultra-wide module with an f/1.8 aperture, a 10MP telephoto camera with f/2.4 aperture, and another 10MP telephoto lens with f/4.9 aperture. Plus, with Super Resolution Zoom of up to 100x and optical image stabilization, you get a clear image no matter how close-up you want. 

Our reviewer, Andrew, noted that he could take hyper-detailed photos with the 108MP primary sensor, and the ultra-wide and 3x telephoto lenses delivered quality images.

Rear Cameras: 12MP Ultra Wide Camera (F2.2), 108MP Wide-angle Camera (F1.8) 10MP Telephoto Camera (F2.4), 10MP Telephoto Camera (F4.9) | Front Camera: 40MP Selfie Cam | Video Recording: 8k resolution

Best Value

Google Pixel 4a 5G

4.3
Pixel 4a 5G

Courtesy of Best Buy

What We Like
  • Ideal for astrophotography

  • Good camera software

  • Main and ultra-wide cameras

What We Don't Like
  • Only a two-camera system

Like the Google Pixel 3a, the Pixel 4a 5G has an impressive camera for a smartphone that comes at a budget price. The Pixel 4a’s rear camera system includes a 12.2MP dual-pixel camera with f/1.7 aperture and a 77-degree field of view and a 16MP ultra-wide camera with f/2.2 aperture and a 117-degree field of view.

Our reviewer, Andrew, called the Pixel 4a 5g’s camera a "fantastic point-and-shoot camera." He said the camera is excellent for astrophotography and can take good nighttime and distance photos.

Rear Cameras: 12.2 MP (f/1.7), 16 MP ultra-wide (f/2.2) | Front Camera: 8MP | Video Recording: 4K at 30 FPS

Best Google

Google Pixel 5

4.2
The Google Pixel 5 is our pick for best Android phone
What We Like
  • Ideal for astrophotography

  • Good camera software

  • Main and ultra-wide cameras

What We Don't Like
  • Only a two-camera system

The Google Pixel 5 has the same camera system as the Pixel 4a 5G, but we include it because the phone offers a few additional perks, like longer battery life and more RAM. This means you’ll get a 12.2MP dual-pixel primary camera, a 16MP ultra-wide camera, and an 8MP selfie camera. 

You can take advantage of a few cool features available on the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5, like enhancements to portraits, which let you adjust lighting even after taking a picture. Our reviewer, Andrew, praised the Night Sight feature and was able to take clear photos in low light.

Rear Cameras: 12.2 MP (f/1.7), 16 MP ultra-wide (f/2.2) | Front Camera: 8MP | Video Recording: 4K at 30 FPS

Best Budget Android

Google Pixel 4a

4.5
The Pixel 4a is our pick for best value Android.

Amazon

What We Like
  • Excellent value

  • Clear pictures

  • Good front camera

What We Don't Like
  • Only one main camera

The Google Pixel 4a's camera is different from the 4a 5G in that it lacks the second ultra-wide camera. However, it features the main 12.2MP dual-pixel camera and the front 8MP selfie cam. This doesn't mean the camera on the Pixel 4a doesn't produce high-quality images, though. Even with the 12.2MP dual-pixel cam, you can capture 4k video at up to 30 FPS, and features like electronic image stabilization make for a steadier image with less blur. 

The Pixel 4a boasts Autofocus with dual pixel phase detection, a 77-degree field of view, and an f/1.7 aperture on the rear camera, which allows you to take pictures up close and at a distance in a variety of different lighting conditions.

Our reviewer, Andrew, found the camera to be an exceptional point-and-shoot camera, producing solid results in various lighting conditions (even low light).

Rear Cameras: 12.2MP (f/1.7) | Front Camera: 8MP | Video Recording: 4K at 30 FPS

Best Compact

Apple iPhone 12 mini

4.5
iPhone 12 Mini

Apple

What We Like
  • More affordable than other newer iPhones

  • Fits in pocket

  • Excellent stabilization features

What We Don't Like
  • Only a dual-camera array

The iPhone 12 mini doesn’t have the advanced three-camera system you’ll find on the Pro Max, but you will get the same camera as you can on the regular iPhone 12. It includes a 12MP wide-angle sensor and a 12MP ultra-wide sensor with a 120-degree field of view. You can record 4K video at up to 60 FPS, and the front camera is a 12MP TrueDepth Camera like you’ll find on the Pro models.

Our reviewer, Andrew, found the 12 mini cameras will produce vibrant images in just about any lighting, and he got a detailed picture during day or night.

Rear Cameras: 12.2MP (f/1.7) | Front Camera: 8MP | Video Recording: 4K at 30 FPS

Best Budget Apple

Apple iPhone SE

4.2
Apple iPhone SE

Amazon

What We Like
  • Budget price

  • Sturdy design

  • iPhone quality

What We Don't Like
  • Not as good as other iPhone cameras

The iPhone SE will not give you the same level of camera that you’d get with newer iPhones or even with many of the Google or Android phones on this list, but it’s still a reliable point-and-shoot smartphone camera.

It’s only a single-camera configuration, so you don’t get separate wide-angle and telephoto sensors, but you get the benefits of Apple’s quality and software. The primary camera is a 12MP wide camera with f/1.8 aperture, while the front camera is 7MP with f/2.2 aperture. 

Our reviewer, Andrew, found that the iPhone SE (2020) takes great selfies, and the camera can handle different shooting scenarios, but you shouldn’t expect it to be on par with the cameras in the iPhone 12 series.

Rear Cameras: 12MP (f/1.8) | Front Camera: 7MP | Video Recording: 4K at 60 FPS


What to Look For in a Smartphone Camera

Megapixels

More megapixels means higher fidelity, so higher generally means better. You'll want this number to be no lower than 12 if you're looking for a new phone explicitly for a solid camera.

Lenses

The amount of lenses that get slapped onto a camera seems to increase exponentially with each generation, but what kind of lenses matters just as much as how many. Depending on your typical subjects, you may want a phone with ultra-wide angle or telephoto lenses for more options.

Extras

Some fun features you may want to keep an eye out for include high-speed or slow-motion video and HDR. These little extras can sweeten the deal when looking for a good camera.

About Our Experts

Erika Rawes has been writing professionally for over a decade, and she’s spent the last five years writing about consumer technology. Erika has reviewed roughly 150 gadgets, including computers, peripherals, A/V equipment, mobile devices, and smart home gadgets. Erika currently writes for Digital Trends and Lifewire.

Andrew Hayward is a prolific Chicago-based tech writer who has lent his expertise to Polygon, TechRadar, and Macworld. He is a smartphone expert with a journalism degree from Lewis University.

Yoona Wagener has a background in content and technical writing. She has written for BigTime Software, Idealist Careers, and other small tech companies.

FAQ
  • Does phone camera quality get worse?

    If you don’t update your software on your phone and protect your camera lenses, your smartphone camera quality can get worse over time. To protect your smartphone camera’s quality, continue to update your software to the latest version, clean your lenses, and consider adding a screen protector to the camera lens portion of your phone.

  • How do you know if your smartphone has good camera quality?

    If you have a phone with more than one camera lens on the back, your phone likely has a pretty good camera. This is not to say single-lens configurations aren’t good, as some single-lens rear cameras are effective at taking clear pictures, but many modern smartphones have a main camera, a wide-angle lens, and a telephoto lens. 

  • How can you improve your phone camera quality?

    You can improve your phone’s camera quality by taking photos in optimal lighting conditions, taking advantage of software that enhances photo quality, and by keeping your lenses free from dirt and debris.

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