Your phone is the camera you always carry. And if you haven’t upgraded your phone in a few years, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much camera performance (particularly low-light image quality) has improved. In fact, we’ve pretty much reached the point that you can leave your old point-and-shoot at home as long as you’ve got a good camera phone in your pocket.
But not all phone cameras are created equal. We put every phone we review though a rigorous series of camera evaluations in our test lab to determine which are the best shooters on the market. We’ve gathered the top ten camera phones here. Not only will you not have to worry about carrying a separate camera if you’ve got one of these in your pocket, each is a stellar smartphone in its own right.
From Selfies to Portraits
Phone makers like to tout specs, but spec sheets are largely meaningless noawadays. Manufacturers will go on about megapixels, pixel size, and low-light performance, and while all of these factors are important, we’ve found that spec sheet promises rarely measure up in real-life performance. Optical image stabilization is another hot buzzword: It’s supposed to improve low-light performance, but doesn’t always, because the image-processing software has to cooperate properly. You have to read the reviews to get an idea of the difference in camera quality between phones.
Almost all phones have both front and rear cameras nowadays. The front cameras, designed for selfies, often have some extra triggering mechanism. For instance, phones with rear buttons or sensors like the Huawei Honor 8 and LG V20 let you take a selfie by tapping the back of the phone; the Samsung Galaxy S7 lets you take one by hitting the volume down key.
Rear cameras have gotten simpler, and much better, in recent years. The trend among Android manufacturers to have a dozen confusing camera modes, which really peaked in the Samsung Galaxy S4/S5 era, has died down. (A few manufacturers, like Sony, unfortunately haven’t gotten the message yet.)
Trends and Accessories
The latest trend in camera phones is the dual-lens main camera. It’s a bit of a throwback; there was a 2011 fad with dual-lens cameras being used for 3D capture (see the HTC EVO 3D), but now they’re being used for a range of different functions. The iPhone 7 Plus uses them for optical zoom and “bokeh” depth-of-field focus effects. The Honor 6X just uses them for bokeh. The Honor 8 uses them for wider gamut color capture, and the LG V20 uses them for an ultra-wide angle option. We think that in the future, multiple-camera setups will also be used for augmented reality applications that are aware of your position in a room.
Who has the best dual-camera idea, here? At the moment, we’d say it’s Apple, just looking at how often people use each feature. Zoom is definitely something that improves your photography.
If you’re a serious shooter, you may also want to think about accessories and photography apps. The iPhone platform still leads there, with the broadest range of extra lenses, cases, clips, and pro-level apps. But Samsung also has a good ecosystem of cases and accessories, including an official Galaxy S7 lens cover with wide-angle and telephoto lenses.
And for the ultimate in image quality, the best possible low-light performance, or killer optical zoom, you’ll still want a DSLR or mirrorless dedicated camera. Our list of the Best Digital Cameras is a great place to start. And be sure to check out our Beyond-Basic Photography Tips.
With that in mind, these are our favorite camera phones available today. We’ve stocked this list with a range of phones at different price points. So while the camera in the $249 Honor 6X is a lot more sluggish than the one in the zippy Google Pixel, it’s the best camera you can get on a phone under $300 right now. Also note that this list is in order of overall rating of the phone itself, and not how good the cameras are.
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