Best Smartphone Cameras 2019

Product Use case Rating
Google Pixel 3 Best Overall Camera Phone 4.5
Galaxy Note 9 Best AI Camera 4
iPhone XS Max Best iPhone Camera 4.5
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Best Camera in Low-Light 4
Nokia 7.1 Best Budget Camera Phone 4
Huawei Mate 20 Pro Best Triple Lens Camera 4.5

After putting the leading smartphones through in-depth testing and photo comparisons, we have a new favorite when it comes to capturing photos. The Pixel 3 offers the best camera on a smartphone, improving on the outstanding Pixel 2 XL with software-driven enhancements. That's even more true now that the impressive Night Sight feature is arriving on Google's phones.

Still, it's a close battle for camera phone supremacy. The iPhone XS Max and iPhone XS offer enhancements of their own over the iPhone X that produce better low-light photos. The latest iPhones definitely offer the best cameras of any Apple device and beat out Samsung's Note 9 in our recent camera face-off.

That said, the AI-driven smarts Samsung introduced in the Note 9 really impress. That's a feature you'll find in other well-regarded camera phones like LG's G7 ThinQ, but the Note 9 includes flaw detection features alongside its ability to detect images. And it sports the same low-light shooting features that have made the Galaxy S9+ one of our top-rated camera phones.

Meanwhile, if you still want a good camera but don't want to spend more than $400 on your next phone, the Nokia 7.1 is a midrange model that doesn't sacrifice camera quality in exchange for a lower price. It's our new pick for best budget camera phone.

News and Updates (Updated Jan. 10)

  • Galaxy S10 Incoming! (and still leaking): We just got the invite for the Feb. 20 event where Samsung plans to unveil the Galaxy S10 phones. The Galaxy S10+ is rumored to boast dual front cameras and as many as four rear cameras. The upcoming phone may also sport a hole-punch camera on the left side of its screen instead of a notch, based on an S10 prototype reportedly spotted in the wild. Check out our full roundup of Galaxy S10 rumors.
  • OnePlus 6, 5 and 5T get Nightscape Mode: OnePlus introduced Nightscape Mode for low-light photo ops with the OnePlus 6T, and the feature is now rolling out to a few of the company's older models with the latest OxygenOS update.
  • Xiaomi Mi Mix 3's Pop-Up Camera: Xiaomi took a different path to avoid having a notch on its new Mi Mix 3 phone — the front-facing camera pops up. We've gone hands-on with the new phone, which is coming to the UK, but not the U.S.

Last year’s Pixel 2 had one of the best cameras on a smartphone, and the Pixel 3 ups the stakes not with hardware improvements but by leveraging Google’s expertise with AI and computational photography. A new Top Shot tool suggests a better photo from the many exposures the Pixel 3 has captured when an unwanted blink or blur mars your shot. Super Res Zoom makes up for the Pixel’s lack of optical zoom by combining multiple frames to fill in the details when you zoom in on a shot.

Up front, dual lenses help you squeeze more people and background details into your selfie shot. And a software update has brought improved low-light photos with Google’s Night Sight feature. Based on our comparisons, the Pixel 3 is now the camera phone to beat.

Lots of cameras have turned to artificial intelligence to help optimize camera settings, and the Note 9 is no different. Its Scene Optimizer feature can recognize 20 different scenarios and adjust camera settings on the fly so that your image comes out with the proper contrast, brightness and saturation. Scene Optimizer worked well in our tests, particularly in low light. But where the AI-powered Note 9 really stands out is with a Flaw Detection feature, which notices when you’ve taken a picture that may not be up to snuff. If someone blinks or if there’s too much blur, the Note 9 will suggest you take the photo again; it can also preemptively warn about backlighting.

Apple improved the cameras in its latest iPhones by adding a sensor with bigger and deeper pixels to let in up to 50 percent more light than the iPhone X's camera did. The result is you get improved photos in low-light settings, putting the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max on more equal footing with the Pixel 2 XL. A new Smart HDR mode in the latest iPhones combine a new ISP, faster sensors and better algorithms to bring out the highlights and details of a photo, even one with shadows. And a new Depth Control feature lets you adjust the depth of field after you take a shot.

Samsung focused on improving the cameras on the flagship phones it released in 2018. The Galaxy S9+ was among the first to reap the benefits for that decision. The most obvious change is a second rear lens, which lets the S9+ capture Live Focus shots with blurred backgrounds just like the Galaxy Note 8 and Note 9. But the real star of the show is the variable aperture on the S9+’s main rear camera. In low light settings, it can switch to a wide f/1.5 aperture, which means your photos look sharper, even when you capture them in the dark. The S9 camera also has dedicated memory aimed at reducing noise in your finished photos.

The Nokia 7.1 puts the lie to the notion that you have to pay top dollar for a good camera phone. This $350 smartphone may have a midrange price, especially when compared to what Apple and Samsung charge for top-of-the-line devices, but it didn't skimp on the 12-megapixel and 5-MP rear cameras. When we compared the cameras to the Nokia 7.1 to similarly priced phones, we were rewarded with shots that offered less blur and more accurate white balance. Add in a great display and surprisingly strong performance, and you've got a phone that's more than worth its low-asking price.

Huawei's Mate 20 Pro follows the lead of a previous Huawei phone, the excellent P20 Pro, by adapting a triple lens setup for its rear camera. The results are pretty impressive even if the Mate 20 Pro lacks a dedicated monochrome sensor. The 40-MP main camera, 8-MP telephoto and 20-MP ultra-wide lenses work together to provide top quality images and a 3x optical zoom. AI powered features help optimize camera settings without forcing you to fiddle with anything. Our biggest disappointment with the Mate 20 Pro is that it's not officially available in the U.S., though you can find international versions at some retailers.

How We Test Smartphone Cameras

We put the market's leading handsets through a variety of common shooting situations, such as landscapes, portraits and selfies in daylight and at night. Then, we analyze each set of images on a color-calibrated monitor to see which smartphone had the best combination of color accuracy, clarity and contrast. We also perform in-depth camera comparisons between the top phones, using each handset in their auto mode to take a wide range of photos in different conditions. After declaring a winner in each round, we name an overall winner of that face-off.

In each of our smartphone reviews, we also factor in any special features, such as dual lenses and what they enable, Portrait Modes, and other special modes, before we come to a conclusion.

 5 Quick Tips for Buying a Camera Phone

  • The megapixels don’t matter as much as aperture. Cameras with a wider aperture (lower f-stop numbers mean wider lenses) let in more light, which can help produce better shots in the dark.

  • Not all dual lenses are created equal. While more smartphones are featuring dual rear cameras, those cameras don’t necessarily perform the same. Some phones like the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS use their dual lenses to allow for depth-of-field effects; others, like the LG V30, just let you switch between wide-angle and standard lenses. Other flagship phones are adding a third lens, which generally helps improve low-light photography while also adding depth-of-field effects.

  • Do you need Portrait mode? It goes by different names — Portrait mode on the iPhone, Live Focus on Samsung's phones — but more phones let you play around with bokeh effects. That’s where the subject of the photo is in sharp focus, while the background features an artistic blur. While that’s mostly a feature on dual-camera phones, the single-lens Pixel uses software to produce a bokeh effect. Some phones also let you adjust the effect before and after you take a shot.

  • The front camera specs are just as important. In a world where we’re taking more selfies, you shouldn’t overlook a phone’s front camera. Besides the megapixels, check out the aperture to get a sense of how the camera will perform in low-light. And some front cameras, like the ones on the iPhone XS and Pixel 3, can perform the same Portrait mode effects that dual rear cameras pull off. The Pixel 3 is one of a handful of phones to add dual lenses up front, letting you fit more people or include more background in your shots.

  • Don’t forget about video. Your cameras shoot more than just still images. Consider what resolution the camera captures video at along with the frame rate. (The LG V30, for example, can record 4K video at 30 frames per second, while the iPhone XS and XS Max double the frame rate to 60 fps for 4K video.) Also look at the camera offers slow-motion features and video filters.

More Camera Recommendations:
Best Cameras for the Money
Best Bridge Cameras
Best Mirrorless Cameras
Best DSLRs
Best Waterproof Cameras
Best Action Cameras
Best 360 Degree Cameras
Best Security Cameras
Best Point and Shoot Cameras

Create a new thread in the Digital Cameras forum about this subject
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • Esthil
    Were the Lumia 950 or Lumia 950 XL used in these comparisons? I do not see them represented.

    Other reviews I have seen still place those as the top camera performers. We are hesitant to get off of the Windows Phone environment, as we are thoroughly invested in the setups of our devices, and without seeing any real proof that the competition can out-do the Lumias' cameras, I would be even more reluctant to switch.

    Thank you for the information!
  • JarrodT
    The Sony Xperia Z3 is better then all these cameras! 20.3 megapixels!

    Compared to iphone 7 plus's 12 Megapixels, 8.3 Mps more, and almost 3x better then the iphone 5s camera
  • respite2410
    I recently ported the Google Pixel camera to my LG I have the best of both worlds.
  • ihab666
    Still no Sony Xperia's on Tom's list even for best camera phones. Can someone please notify me when the joke is over please? Like JarrodT, I own a Sony Xperia Z5 compact 23mp and can match it with the phones on the company paid reviews. New Xperia's with lower megapixels but with best motion cameras to go with it.
  • dimus
    The Lumia 950 XL has a far better camera than these ones!
  • utahman1971
    The joke is when someone keeps saying higher MP is better camera. It is not the MP that makes it better, it is the user that knows how to use the camera. Plus, the author is a iPhone fan, making it seem better than all phones. Can't stand iPhone fans bragging about a phone that really is not that much better.
  • sonali456
    The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 camera is one of the very best we've tested for a number of reasons: firstly, because the dual sensors are impressive and powerful.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous said:
    The Sony Xperia Z3 is better then all these cameras! 20.3 megapixels!

    Compared to iphone 7 plus's 12 Megapixels, 8.3 Mps more, and almost 3x better then the iphone 5s camera

    There's more to achieving high picture quality than just having big numbers in the pixel-depth :/
  • nizarkadri01
    Where's huawei p20 pro !!!!! i guess that's the best camera phone in today's market
  • mobileslatesthindi
    Sir Thanks for Sharing Very Useful Information About Best Mobileslatest Smartphone 2018. I have Read Your Article now I Can Purchase an Best Smartphone…
  • siltsunrise
    I love it! A camera review without any actual photos or testing. Specs specs specs. Meaningless.
  • israelramirez1992
    Since this is updated, we all know the P20 Pro should definitely be at the top, come on.
  • smithbrien28
    How many megapixels of camera your phone really needs? When it comes to the smartphone camera, more megapixels don’t mean better photos. These days companies are producing the highest megapixel camera phones every next month. The market is full of the various variety of smartphones with the highest megapixel camera phones, but which smartphone is best for you and suit your needs? There are over thousands of best camera smartphones in the market.
  • coupontop1020
    The smartphone which have some of the best features is Sony Xperia Z5 Premium.
  • Ryan Park
    Xiaomi Mi A2 camera is far superior to the Nokia 7.1 and the phone is way cheaper!
  • kiks.cute
    what can you say about samsaung galaxy a7 ?