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With every passing year, phones continue to boast about having the best smartphone cameras. From Instagram to Snapchat to TikTok, having a better camera is a prime selling point for modern smartphones. There are a few things you need to keep in mind when picking out a phone for higher quality video and still photos.
Some things you'll want to keep in mind are the number of megapixels your camera has, the bigger the number, the more fidelity your pictures will have. You'll also want to pay attention to the types of lenses the phone comes equipped with. If you need some additional zoom, you'll want a telephoto lens, but you'll want an ultra-wide lens if you want to rock those panoramic shots.
If you're looking to master the ins and outs of phone photography, check out our tips for mobile photography.
Night mode is awesome
Triple camera is super versatile
No manual mode
Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro delivers some pretty impressive specs for serious mobile photographers, and while some may pan the triple-lens camera system as something that’s already been done by other smartphones, Apple has combined it with advanced computational photography features to make it far greater than the sum of its parts.
The three-lens rear camera employs a main f/1.8 wide-angle, an f/2.4 ultra-wide, and an f/2.0 telephoto lens. In our testing, our Editor-in-Chief, Lance Ulanoff, found that they "take excellent, color-accurate, and detailed images."
The ISO ranges have similarly increased, no doubt to help with Night Mode, which uses a series of exposure-bracketed photos to create extremely impressive shots in extreme low-light. Apple has also upped its video capabilities, now offering smooth 4K/60fps recording with extended dynamic range. The front TrueDepth camera also gets bumped up to 12 megapixels, and now offers 4K/60fps recording as well.
The new "Super Retina XDR" display lets you view your photos and videos as they’re meant to be seen, with a 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 1200 nits of brightness, and unsurpassed color accuracy, thanks to the wide P3 color gamut. Meanwhile, Apple’s True Tone display matches color tones to surrounding ambient light. And, to top it all off, the iPhone 11 Pro gets four hours more battery life than its predecessor. An 18-watt fast charger is included in the box.
"The Apple iPhone 11 Pro and larger iPhone 11 Pro Max are still the best iPhones ever." — Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief
Cameras operate well under the majority of conditions
Low-light camera underperforms
Below average battery life
Most smartphones today come with (at least) dual-lens camera setups. These generally include a primary sensor and a telephoto lens for achieving optical zoom. While that’s great, an ultra-wide lens is always better, since it lets you capture more detail into every photo. If that’s the kind of versatility you desire in your next smartphone’s camera, Samsung’s Galaxy S10e is exactly what you need.
Our testing showed that the rear camera system of the Galaxy S10e uses two lenses: a 12-megapixel primary sensor with dual aperture (f/1.5 and f/2.4), and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide module with an f/2.2 aperture. With its expansive 123-degree Field Of View (FOV), the ultra-wide lens allows you to capture a whole bunch of detail in every shot. Not just that, the secondary sensor also makes it possible to capture stunning panoramic shots, both horizontally and vertically. The primary lens comes with dual-pixel PDAF (Phase-Detection Autofocus) and is optically-stabilized as well. The camera app on the Galaxy S10e lets you seamlessly switch between the two lenses.
Samsung’s Scene Optimizer image assistant can automatically adjust camera settings according to the subjects/scenes you are shooting. It can recognize 30 different modes/scenes, including Stage, Vehicles, City, Text, and Clothes. Samsung Galaxy S10e can record 4K (2160p) videos at 60fps and 720p super slow-mo videos at 960fps, with HDR support. The smartphone also comes with a 10-megapixel (f/1.9) selfie camera that can record 4K (2160p) videos at 30fps.
"It's probably the best 1080p panel you'll find on a smartphone today." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester
Awesome steady shot mode
Telephoto and ultra-wide cameras
Just 2x zoom
Samsung's Galaxy S-series devices have always been synonymous with a top-tier mobile camera experience (among other things), and the Galaxy S10 is no different. Versatile and feature-packed, the camera system on Samsung's latest flagship is undeniably the best you're going to find on any smartphone today.
At the back, Samsung Galaxy S10 comes with a triple-lens camera setup. It's comprised of a 12-megapixel primary module with dual aperture (f/1.5 and f/2.4), another 12-megapixel (telephoto) sensor with an f/2.4 aperture, and a third 16-megapixel (ultra-wide) unit with an f/2.2 aperture. Our tester, Andrew Hayward, even said, "The ultra-wide-angle lens is a feature we never knew we needed until now."
The primary and telephoto sensors feature super-fast autofocus and OIS (Optical Image Stabilization), allowing the S10 to capture lifelike photos in all kinds of lighting conditions. The Galaxy S10's camera app lets you effortlessly switch between the three lenses (via pinch-to-zoom gestures), and the integrated 'Scene Optimizer' can recognize up to 30 different scenes (e.g. Sunset, Food, and Mountain) for automatic adjustment of camera settings.
As far as videos are concerned, the Galaxy S10 can shoot 4K (2160p) videos at 60fps and 720p super slow-mo videos at an astounding 960fps, complete with HDR10+ support. Even the 10-megapixel (f/1.9) selfie camera can record 4K (2160p) videos at 30fps and comes with everything from live focus to automatic face detection to help you up your selfie game.
"The Galaxy S10 wows in a way that few other phones can match." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester
Excellent battery life
Can't charge wirelessly
Display could be better
Launched in October 2018, Google’s Pixel 3 comes with the same class-leading mobile photography chops as its predecessors; the third-generation Pixel absolutely shines in low light camera performance. For those who love taking pictures at night, this is the smartphone camera to get.
The primary camera setup on Google Pixel 3 is a single-lens affair. There’s just a 12.2-megapixel sensor with an f/1.8 aperture, helped by dual-pixel PDAF (Phase-Detection Autofocus) and OIS (Optical Image Stabilization). While this hardware may seem a bit humble in comparison to the multi-lens camera setups that other flagship smartphones come with, Google’s advanced image-processing algorithms and automatic HDR enhancements make all the difference here, allowing for stunning photos. However, the real magic happens at night.
Thanks to Google’s revolutionary Night Sight technology, the Pixel 3 lets you capture vibrant and detailed photos even in pitch-dark conditions, and that too without a flash or a tripod. It works by constantly adapting to shooting conditions (e.g. available light, subject movement), adjusting settings such as exposure value(s) accordingly. Night Sight also uses machine learning to balance colors, resulting in natural-looking photos. And for videos, our tests showed that the Pixel 3 can record 4K (2160p) videos at 30fps and 720p videos at 240fps. Interestingly, the smartphone has a dual-lens selfie camera setup, comprised of two 8-megapixel (f/1.8 and f/2.2) lenses.
"The sound quality is almost as good as what you would expect from a smart speaker." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester
Tons of photography options
Might overwhelm the casual photographer
Just average battery life
There’s no denying the fact that LG makes some amazing smartphones. The V40 ThinQ is one such vastly-underrated mobile device, with video-recording capabilities unlike any other smartphone out there.
The tri-lens rear camera setup of LG V40 ThinQ includes a 12-megapixel primary sensor with an f/1.5 aperture, a 16-megapixel (ultra-wide) module with an f/1.9 aperture, and a 12-megapixel (telephoto) unit having an f/2.4 aperture. Our testing showed that the standard and telephoto lenses are optically-stabilized, with PDAF (Phase-Detection Autofocus) helping in steady shots even with 2x optical zoom.
Complementing the imaging hardware is LG’s feature-rich camera app, which comes with everything from AI-based image composition to extensive manual controls for audio/video. It even packs a unique Triple Shot mode, which allows the smartphone to capture a shot with each of the three lenses and join them in the form of a small video with zoom-in transitions. LG V40 ThinQ can capture 4K (2160p) videos at up to 60fps and Full-HD (1080p) videos at up to 240fps, complete with 24-bit/192kHz stereo sound and HDR support.
The Cine Video mode even allows different color grading filters and point zoom effects to be applied to videos. For selfies, the V40 ThinQ features two lenses – an eight-megapixel (f/1.9) and a five-megapixel (f/2.2).
"You'll be hard-pressed to find a better phone for selfies." — Brittany Vincent, Product Tester
Very capable auto mode
Not available in the US
The three cameras offer inconsistent performance
Over the past few years, Huawei’s P series smartphones have come to be renowned for their excellent imaging capabilities. That said, its recently-launched P30 Pro takes mobile photography to a whole new level. If you’re in the market for a powerhouse camera smartphone, look no further.
Huawei P30 Pro features a quad-lens rear camera system, developed in collaboration with Leica. This includes a massive 40-megapixel primary lens with an f/1.6 aperture, a 20-megapixel (ultra-wide) sensor having an f/2.2 aperture, a unique 8-megapixel (telephoto) unit with an f/3.4 aperture, and a fourth ToF (Time of Flight) camera. The primary SuperSpectrum sensor uses a new RYYB (red yellow, yellow blue) color filter (instead of the traditional RGB or red, green blue one), allowing up to 40 percent more light to be captured.
Then there’s the ultra-wide lens, which lets you capture macro mode photos from as close as 2.5cm. However, the true highlight of the P30 Pro’s rear camera setup is its periscopic telephoto lens. With up to 5x optical zoom (and up to 10x hybrid zoom), it brings your subjects closer than ever. The primary and telephoto sensors are optically stabilized and come with Phase-Detection Autofocus (PDAF), a system that improves how often the focus refreshes.
With the ToF camera, you not only get increased focusing speeds but also better Portrait Mode photos. Huawei P30 Pro can shoot 4K (2160p) videos at 30fps, and its camera app comes with more settings than you’ll probably ever need. There’s also a 32-megapixel (f/2.0) selfie camera included in the mix.
"Megapixels and lenses aside, something that often gets overlooked is actual phone performance. In my experience trading a couple of megapixels for a faster processor or more RAM is often worth it." — Alice Newcome-Beill, Associate Commerce Editor
Dual-lens rear camera
Change camera with swipe gestures
Swipe gesture control is finnicky
A bit expensive
Although its product portfolio is quite expansive, Xiaomi is primarily renowned for its smartphones, which offer tremendous value for money. Back in August 2018, the Chinese company unveiled Pocophone F1, the first smartphone under its newly-formed Poco sub-brand. Like all Xiaomi’s smartphones, the Pocophone F1 offers a lot of bang for the buck. Unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the best budget camera smartphones out there.
Xiaomi Pocophone F1 comes with a dual-lens rear camera setup, comprised of a 12-megapixel primary sensor with an f/1.9 aperture, and a five-megapixel secondary depth sensor with an f/2.0 aperture. The primary lens features dual-pixel PDAF (Phase-Detection Autofocus), and standard features like HDR (high dynamic range) are included in the mix as well. During our testing, we found the smartphone’s camera performance to be excellent. Photos shot in daylight (and similar well-lit conditions) came out great, with ample sharpness and resolved detail. Low light photos also turned out to be generally very good, with Auto HDR helping things further.
The camera app comes with multiple modes (e.g. Portrait, Night) that can be selected via simple swipe gestures. It also includes features such as automatic face recognition and AI-based beautification. For videos, the Pocophone F1 can record 4K (2160p) videos at 60fps and 720p super slow-mo videos at 960fps. The smartphone’s selfie camera is a 20-megapixel unit with an f/2.0 aperture. It can record Full-HD (1080p) videos at 30fps and supports HDR as well.
Really needs the mod to stand out from the competition
While smartphone cameras are indeed getting better by the day, they still don’t come with true zoom lenses. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get closer to faraway subjects and capture great-looking photos. Motorola’s Moto Z3 Play can help you do just that, provided you modify it the right way.
Part of Motorola’s modular Z series, the Moto Z3 Play features a dual-lens rear camera system, comprised of a 12-megapixel (f/1.7) sensor and a 5-megapixel secondary depth sensor. You also get dual-pixel PDAF (Phase-Detection Autofocus), and 4K (2160p) video recording at 30fps. Now, on its own, this camera setup is quite modest. However, things change completely when the smartphone is paired with Hasselblad True Zoom mod.
One of the most-powerful Moto Mods out there, Hasselblad True Zoom add-on instantly transforms Motorola Moto Z3 Play into a superzoom digital camera. It comes with 10x optical zoom (along with 4x digital zoom), allowing you to capture sharp and detailed photos even from a distance.
The 12-megapixel zoom lens is helped by a bright Xenon flash, and there’s macro mode support as well. The Pro mode (in the camera app) lets you easily adjust everything from shutter speeds to ISO values. With Hasselblad True Zoom mod, you can even use Motorola Moto Z3 Play to shoot photos in RAW format. Motorola Moto Z3 Play’s eight-megapixel selfie camera can record Full-HD (1080p) videos.
Bright, lustrous screen
Excellent stabilization features
Portrait mode isn't great
Many smartphones today come with features designed to help people take better selfies. LG’s G8 ThinQ is one such smartphone; it comes with a single-lens selfie camera, comprised of an eight-megapixel sensor with an f/.7 aperture. While that may not seem much on its own, the smartphone also features a ToF (Time of Flight) camera up front. This secondary lens uses an Infineon REAL3 sensor chip, designed to better isolate subjects from the surrounding environment. As a result, LG G8 ThinQ’s front-facing camera is able to capture extremely detailed selfies, with best-in-class edge detection and advanced depth mapping.
On the back, LG’s G-series flagship sports a dual-lens primary camera system. Made up of a 12-megapixel (standard) sensor with an f/1.5 aperture and a 16-megapixel (ultra-wide) unit with an f/1.9 aperture, the G8 ThinQ’s rear camera setup is among the best out there. It shoots vibrant photos in all kinds of conditions, with the camera app’s built-in AI Cam making things even better. Speaking of the app, it comes with multiple modes, extensive manual controls, studio lighting effects, and much more. As for videos, LG G8 ThinQ can record 4K (2160p) video at up to 60fps and 720p video at up to 240fps. There’s also support for HDR10 and 24-bit/192kHz stereo sound.
For phenomenal photos and excellent video, it's tough to beat the iPhone 11 Pro. However, for those not currently bought into the Apple ecosystem, Samsung's Galaxy S10 is an excellent runner-up.
Our trusted experts know how essential a camera is to a successful smartphone, and test our top picks accordingly. They test the cameras in a variety of open and closed environments for color accuracy, clarity, and consistency. They also record videos for a variety of platforms to measure for framerates and resolution.
Alice Newcome-Beill currently uses a Google Pixel 3XL as her everyday carry for candid photos of her girlfriend and bodega cats.
Andrew Hayward is a prolific Chicago-based tech writer that has lent his expertise to Polygon, TechRadar and Macworld among others. He is a smartphone expert with a journalism degree from Lewis University.
The former editor-in-chief of mojodo.com, Brittany Vincent, has over 10 years of experience writing about tech and has shared her talents with IGN, Complex, and Mashable, just to name a few.
The current editor-in-chief of Lifewire, Lance Ulanoff, is an authority on the Apple ecosystem. He has more than 30 years of collected experience under his belt writing for nearly every major tech publication.
Jeremy Laukkonen is a hands-on kind of guy that revels in the technical details of everything from smartwatches to muscle cars. He loves breaking down complex things into meaningful information.
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, as well as HDR. While the absence of these isn't a deal-breaker, having these little extras can really sweeten the deal when looking for a good camera.