The latest flagship phones can take photos that rival those of a proper camera but you're getting the convenience and portability that not even a the best mirrorless camera can give you.
We test smartphone cameras extensively, taking pictures in the various modes using each of the lenses and sensors on each device. Besides raw camera specs we also check the image processing tech which contributes a lot to the final image.
This helps us work out how each camera fares in the real world, so we've made this list of the best camera phones to help you choose which is best for you.
Note: We've just completed our review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra rand the new range of iPhone 12 models and we plan to add those to our list shortly, so do check back regularly for the latest update to our rankings.
Top camera phones at a glance
- Huawei P40 Pro
- Apple iPhone 11 Pro
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus
- Apple iPhone 11
- Vivo X50Pro
- Huawei P30 Pro
- Xiaomi Mi Note 10
- Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
The Huawei P40 Pro is the best camera phone you can buy for under $1,000 / £900 it’s that simple. In fact, for a certain type of photographer - one who values a telephoto camera - it’s just the best camera phone around, period.
Recommending it comes with its own set of caveats given the Huawei/Google situation though. That’s why despite its extensive list of stellar features, you definitely need to read our P40 Pro review before picking one up. Irrespective of its software limitations though, its camera will knock your socks off.
The P40 Pro’s Leica-branded imaging system is spearheaded by a brand new 50MP sensor, which uses RYYB (red yellow yellow blue) sub-pixel formation, like the 40MP P30 Pro before it. Huawei claims this makes its cameras better able to handle dark scenes like a champion, and we can attest to the fact the P40 Pro absolutely can.
The main camera’s lens is a pretty standard f/1.9 aperture on paper, but with a huge sensor size (for a smartphone) and OIS, combined with Huawei’s mighty electronic image stabilization, it’s still a low light star. This phone can pretty much see in the dark, even in automatic mode - something no other non-Huawei phones can do.
There’s also a 40MP f/1.8 ultra-wide camera, a 12MP telephoto camera that’s capable of 5x optical zoom or 50x digital zoom, and a time-of-flight (ToF) sensor for creating bokeh effects.
Photos taken on the P40 Pro are high on detail and low on noise. Unlike Samsung, Huawei’s photos don’t look overly sharpened, and while they aren’t as natural and neutral as those taken on the Oppo Find X2 Pro, many will prefer Huawei’s comparatively punchy style.
As far as zoom goes, while the P40 Pro may not get quite as close as the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the phone costs a lot less, and more importantly, delivers more consistent image quality across its cameras.
The rest of the phone’s hardware is top-tier, it looks a treat and has plenty of power, so if (and only if) you’re comfortable with the Google-free software experience, the P40 Pro packs plenty to love.
Read more: Huawei P40 Pro review
The iPhone 11 Pro doesn’t just feature the best smartphone camera Apple’s ever made, it’s also the best camera phone money can buy for a certain type of user. It’s reliable - you take a shot and it’s likely going to be a good one, even in middling light. Dynamic range is strong, and with three cameras, it’s versatile too.
The primary camera features a 26mm focal length, perfect for grabbing everyday snaps. The ultra-wide camera takes a step back so you don’t have to, getting more in the frame with its 13mm focal length. As for the telephoto camera, as with the iPhone XS, it zooms into your subject with a 52mm focal length - perfect for portraits.
While there’s no manual mode and the 12MP resolution is meagre on paper compared to some of the competition, results still impress, and Apple has introduced a new night mode which can hold the shutter open for incredible low light photography.
This can’t beat the Astrophotography feature on the Pixels when steadied on a surface or a tripod, but handheld, it’s up there with the best of them.
Add to the mix a beautifully consistent color and tonal profile across all three cameras, and if you’re an Apple fan looking for a camera champ, this is as good as it gets.
Read our full iPhone 11 Pro review
There’s a huge amount going on with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s camera setup. For starters, you’ve got over 200 megapixels across the front and rear cameras, then there are those smart new shooting modes to talk about; and finally - there’s that huge zoom - 100x ‘Space Zoom’. Marketing jargon? Absolutely, but irrespective, the S20 Ultra’s camera is a telephoto champion.
It all starts with a 108MP primary camera sensor - the same as the one on the Xiaomi Mi Note 10. This time around, it’s combined with a 48MP optical zoom camera, a 12MP ultra-wide camera and a time-of-flight sensor around the back, which gathers depth information for the blurry background, sharp foreground Live Focus stills and video.
The Ultra’s zoom really is best-in-class when compared to other camera phones on the market. It uses a roughly 5x optical zoom with a high-resolution sensor to create virtually lossless 10x zoom images. Packing a fun Single take mode, the whole S20-range is social media-ready, capturing a range of photos and videos simultaneously so you can snap once, then decide later. They’re also all 8K-ready, shooting the highest resolution footage on the block.
Why isn’t the S20 Ultra higher in our list? It’s night mode can’t topple the best out there, and Samsung’s processing is aggressive; so photos can look a touch too punchy. That said, this is still a stellar camera phone with an excellent zoom.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review
On many levels, we’re bigger fans of the S20 Plus than the Ultra. It costs cost less, and pack a much more manageable footprint. Even though they don’t have a “100x Space Zoom” or a 108MP main camera, they still take better snaps than last year’s S10 family.
The main camera across both the S20 and S20 Plus sports a traditional 12MP resolution, combined with a wide open f/1.8 and a 26mm focal length - pretty standard for a flagship. With 1.8µm sized pixels, the S20s won’t be winning any big-pixel awards, but thanks to Dual Pixel PDAF and OIS, they still nail it nine times out of 10, even in dimly lit scenes.
The 64MP telephoto camera may sound tantalizing - all that resolution combined with all that zoom. But, the ‘3x zoom’ these phones pack isn’t the whole picture. The S20’s 64MP sensor combines with a 29mm focal length - just 3mm greater than that of the 26mm main camera. The way it achieve a 3x zoom, however, is by cropping into the sensor, to achieve a 3x Hybrid Zoom. In turn, the phones can’t stack up to the periscope cameras on-test.
As for the ultra-wide cameras on both phones, they clock in at 12 MP, with an f/2.2 aperture and a 13mm focal length. If you’ve opted for the S20 Plus, you’ll also get a time of flight sensor around the back to grab depth information. This helps blur out the background in Live Focus mode, though both phones offer respectable portrait-style shots.
As with the S20 Ultra, the S20 and S20 Plus shoot 8K video at 24fps, and 4K video at up to 60fps. They also capture HDR video too, a relatively unique feature among smartphones today.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review
Unlike the iPhone 11 Pro, the vanilla iPhone 11 misses out on a telephoto camera, instead packing an Asus ROG Phone 2-style wide + ultra-wide dual snapper around the back.
Still, we’re delighted to see the new long exposure night mode fires up when shooting in low light on this lower-cost model.
This means the iPhone 11 can see in the dark, even when you’re hand-holding the phone, and the photo quality across its primary and ultra-wide cameras is fantastic. Another area all the iPhones in our list excel is video capture; they all shoot 4K resolution video at up to 60fps, and do so across all their lenses.
With smooth transitions between lenses and iMovie on board for basic edits, if we were going to pick up a smartphone for some easy-to-use, high-quality filmmaking, it would be any of the iPhones on our list.
Read our full iPhone 11 review
The Huawei P30 Pro has got to be pretty special, given the fact it still clings onto a spot in this list despite launching at the beginning of 2019.
Its excellence comes down to its 'periscope' telephoto lens which takes astounding optically zoomed-in shots at a distance, and its fantastic low light performance, that actually bests the iPhone 11 Pro and Google Pixel 4s in automatic mode, though not always in night mode.
There were a lot of cameras to test on this phone, including four on the back: a 40MP main lens, an 8MP telephoto lens, a 20MP ultra-wide lens, and then a ToF (time-of-flight) camera to sense depth for portrait photos.
The Huawei P30 Pro camera also uses an RYYB (red yellow yellow blue) sensor instead of the industry-standard RGB (red green blue) sensor to capture more light, and it shows. The snaps we took for our review had more detail and less shadow than most of the competition, yet they didn't look completely overexposed.
It's all amazing for a smartphone, but not entirely perfect. We did notice some purple fringing in areas, and the camera software controls aren't always responsive when switching between ultra-wide, 5x zoom, 10x zoom and digital 50x zoom. But the fact that you can get insanely close to objects with a 50x zoom and also shoot at night as if all of the lights were on really sets a new bar for camera phones.
Read our full Huawei P30 Pro review
With the X50 Pro Vivo is swinging for the fences. This phone demands a premium price in part because it is a beautifully built product, but mostly because of its innovative camera tech.
The star of the show is the main 48MP shooter which is mounted on a mechanical gimble. This unique feature means that the lens remains locked on your target even if you're moving, providing you with rock steady video footage and superb low light photos, with the gimbal partly eliminating camera movement during long exposure shots. The gimbal system works remarkably well in practice.
The next attraction is the 5x telescopic zoom lens, up to 60x using digital zoom. Again, the 5x zoom worked exactly as advertised. Then there is a 120-degree wide angle lens, a specialised portrait mode lens, and a 32MP selfie camera with flash. Unfortunately, we found the camera AI for scene recognition to be more of a hindrance than a help.
Round out that set of sensors with some on-board 5G for fast uploading and you understand why Vivo is on our list for the first time. The X50 Pro might have ranked higher but we think it's a little too expensive for a brand that is still establishing its repututaion in South Africa.
Read more: Vivo X50Pro review
Xiaomi has broken the mould with its penta-camera Mi Note 10. The phone’s 108MP sensor, made by Samsung is a world-first, toppling resolution records and packing more pixels than virtually any DSLR or mirrorless cameras - let alone any smartphone.
As with all the 48MP cameras introduced in 2019, the Mi Note 10 uses quad-pixel technology, or ‘pixel binning’ to grab standard shots. This technique combines four pixels into one, so a 48MP sensor would create a 12MP image, and the 108MP sensor on the Mi Note 10 produces a 27MP image. The reason for this combining is to capture broader dynamic range and better low light performance by using information from multiple pixels to create a super pixel. If the light is right, however, you can ramp up the resolution and capture full 108MP images for jaw droppingly detailed shots - nothing else comes close to the Mi Note 10 in this respect
The main camera absolutely nails it, and in good light, beats out the competition in many respects, but the reason this megapixel-monster isn’t higher on our list is because the additional cameras can be inconsistent. While we love the fact it packs an optical 2x zoom, 5x zoom and an ultra-wide angle, as well as a dedicated macro camera, if quality if your focus, shoot with the main 108MP module most of the time.
Read our full Xiaomi Mi Note 10 review
Samsung’s smart dual-aperture main camera introduced on the Samsung Galaxy S9 is back, flipping between f/1.5 and f/2.4 without breaking a sweat. This time, on the Note 10 Plus, it’s combined with a 12mm ultra-wide camera that lets you grab wider shots than virtually any other camera phone around.
That isn’t the only addition to the Note 10 Plus - this time, there’s a time-of-flight sensor, as found on the Huawei P30 Pro, and this captures depth information for improved background defocus and bokeh when shooting in Live Focus (portrait) mode.
Samsung’s camera UI is also incredibly comprehensive, with a pro mode that can keep the shutter open for in excess of 30 seconds, as well as an improved night mode, which tries to take down the likes of Huawei and Google.
Unfortunately, this is where it drops the ball by comparison, but despite good, not sensational night shots, the Note 10 is still a seriously good camera phone, and its clever S Pen can even act as a remote shutter for the times you prop your Note on a surface and snap stepped-back group shots.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus review
Want to know more about dual-cameras? Check out our video below.
- Turn your snaps into a beautiful photo book - we've picked out the best