As smartphones become ubiquitous, they're quickly replacing traditional point-and-shoot cameras as the go-to device for taking quick photos. The quality of smartphone cameras is quite good, and smartphones make it easy to share those images with others wherever you are.
But not all smartphone cameras are created equal. The Nokia Lumia 1020, for example, has a 41-megapixel sensor; the iPhone 5s has image stabilization and a dual-LED flash; and the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a multitude of features you won't find on even the most advanced stand-alone cameras. Here are the best smartphone cameras for 2013. (All prices are with 2-year carrier contract.)
Best Smartphone Camera Overall: iPhone 5s ($199)
Available on all the major carriers, the iPhone 5s has an 8-MP sensor that's 15 percent larger than that in the iPhone 5, and a lower f/2.2 aperture. Combine that with image stabilization and a dual LED flash, and you've got one of the best phones for taking pictures in low light — or any situation. Apple also improved its Camera app for the 5s. In addition to HDR and Panorama modes, you can now shoot slow-motion videos. Plus, there's a Burst mode that lets you capture up to 10 frames per second.
Best Smartphone Camera Features: Samsung Galaxy S5 ($199)
Samsung's Galaxy S5 packs one of the best cameras you'll find on a smartphone. With a 16-megapixel sensor and 0.3-second autofocus time, the S5 can snap detailed images in the blink of an eye. The handset's real-time HDR feature lets you see what your high-dynamic range image will look like before you take it. Equally impressive is the S5's Shot & More mode, which allows you to shoot photos and adjust them after the fact. (This includes erasing would-be photobombers or choosing the best faces in a group shot.) Rounding out the package is Samsung's Selective Focus mode, which lets you capture an image and change the focus between the background and fornoground.
Best Smartphone Camera for Power Users: Nokia Lumia 1020 ($199)
Come for the breakthrough 41-MP sensor; stay for the camera options. The Lumia 1020 captures so much information when you take a photo that you can zoom way in after you take a photo and still see a high level of detail. [See Lumia 1020 photo samples.] You also get optical image stabilization to prevent shaky images. The fun really starts when you fire up the Pro Camera app, which enables users to change everything from ISO to shutter speed, white balance and exposure compensation. For newbies, there's even a tutorial to guide you through all the settings.
Best Smartphone Camera for Outdoors: Sony Xperia Z1s ($0 up front, $528 over two-year contract)
Want to take your phone for a swim? The Sony Xperia Z1s can be submerged in up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water for 30 minutes at a time, letting you get your Michael Phelps on. You can take photos underwater using its dedicated shutter button and even use the touch screen when it's wet. The phone's 20.7-MP camera has an advanced Exmor-RS sensor — the same type of low-light photo technology used in Sony's stand-alone cameras. HDR mode can be used for stills and video to bring out the detail often lost in parts of a scene that are especially dark or bright. Other handy modes include Background Defocus and Timeshift Burst. Colors in photos from the Z1s were a bit bright for our taste compared to on other smartphone cameras, but none of those other devices would survive a dunk.
Best Phablet Camera: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 ($279)
The Note 3 packs image and video quality worthy of display on its 5.7-inch HD screen. Brilliant colors and sharp detail are hallmarks of the device — from both its main 13-MP rear camera and its 2-MP front-facing shooter. The main camera captured equally good video, even in our tests on a cloudy, snowy New York afternoon. Photos were also pleasantly sharp in night shots, which push the limits of sensors and lenses, especially the small ones on mobile devices. Photo buffs have access to key settings, including light metering, light sensitivity (ISO) and white balance. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 also packs several fun shooting options, such as Drama Shot, which captures multiple images in succession and displays them in sequence.