The battle among the best camera phones comes down to more than mere hardware specs — the quality of the shot is also key. So to see which phones benefit the most from photo-processing features and computational photography, we make sure that every phone we tests goes through head-to-head photo face-offs. By reviewing a phone's camera output against what its closest competitors can do, we get a sense of which camera phones are worth the money.
Our Samsung Galaxy A54 vs. Google Pixel 6a camera face-off shows the impressive strides Samsung's midrange phone has made on the camera front, just as we've posted our Google Pixel 7a review.
Our head-to-head camera testing covers photos in a variety of conditions — outdoors, low-light, portrait shots, selfies and more. That helps us find camera phones that meld the best sensors and computational photography and AI to extract the best possible light, color and detail out of every scenario.
Some of our head-to-head testing includes an iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Google Pixel 7 Pro camera shootout to show how two of our top-rated camera phones compare. We also look at how the Galaxy S23, iPhone 14 and Pixel 7 handle low-light photos.
After hundreds of hours of testing and many head-to-head photo comparisons, these are the best camera phones you can buy right now.
The best camera phones you can buy today
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Our crown for the best camera phone belongs to the Galaxy S23 Ultra. This beast can do it all with its 200MP main sensor, 30x optical zoom, excellent selfies, and the still-amazing 100x digital Space Zoom. This new Ultra does what the likes of Apple and Google cannot.
New this year is the astrophotography mode, too, allowing for stunning shots of the night sky, including the moon. You can also shoot in 50MP RAW or use the full 200MP in the regular camera app. The upgraded stabilization also makes the Galaxy S23 Ultra a fantastic video phone with the ability to shoot at up to 8K 30 fps.
Of course, all of this comes at a hefty $1,199 asking price, so be prepared to shell out some cash for the privilege. But if you want the best camera experience in 2023 so far, this is it.
Read our full Galaxy S23 Ultra revew.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max is everything you could ever want in a smartphone, including the best-in-class performance and cameras. The new 48MP main sensor is extremely powerful, offering crystal clear images with beautiful colors and lighting. The ultrawide lens also saw a bump in size, so it lets in more light. The telephoto sticks to 3x, which we think is a bit low given the competition.
The main sensor also sports 2x optical zoom on its own, letting you get that quad-pixel quality on a zoomed image. There’s Apple’s new Photonic Engine, which improves on the phone maker’s computational photography for mid- and low-light scenes. All told, you won’t find better all around cameras on a smartphone.
Read our full iPhone 14 Pro Max review.
Coming in hot right behind the iPhone 14 Pro Max is the Pixel 7 Pro, Google’s latest flagship. This phone improves upon its predecessor in many key ways (except for battery life), including offering a 5x optical zoom on its telephoto lens. The Pixel 7 Pro keeps the same 50MP main and 12MP ultrawide sensors as the Pixel 6 Pro, but that’s just fine.
From the main and ultrawide cameras, pictures look stunning, matching and/or besting the iPhone 14 Pro (which shares the same camera system as the iPhone 14 Pro Max) in a lot of scenarios. Apple still had the upper hand on color reproduction in telephoto images, even if it tops out at 3x optical zoom.
The Pixel 7 Pro’s 10.8MP front camera also lags behind Apple, especially in dimmer settings. We noticed some extra face smoothing in our testing, while the iPhone reproduced more facial details. Even so, the Pixel 7 Pro is an incredible camera phone, certainly the best in the Android camp.
Read our full Pixel 7 Pro review.
Samsung has equipped its midrange phone with a much better camera, giving the Galaxy A54 the same 50MP main shooter that comes with the Galaxy S23. The result is some impressive photos particularly when compared to what the Pixel 6a produces, as we did in our Samsung Galaxy A54 vs. Google Pixel 6a camera face-off.
The larger sensor on the Galaxy A54 means it can capture more light, for more detailed and clear shots indoors and when the lights are low. There are still some photos that look better when shot by the Pixel 6a, but the Galaxy A54 performs better in more scenarios, making it our choice for the best camera phone under $500.
Other features like expandable storage and a long-lasting battery make this phone appealing to mobile photographers. And its $449 starting price means you don't have to pay big bucks for a very good camera phone.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy A54 review.
Google's Pixel 7a continues the fine tradition of Pixel A phones offering a superlative camera experience, except this time the hardware deserves as much credit as Google's computational photography and AI-powered photo processing. For this model, Google has done away with the 12.2MP main camera and added a 64MP sensor that's physically larger than before. That means more light provinding more detail to shots, and the result is a camera phone that's neck and neck with the Galaxy A54 among budget devices.
The Pixel 7a tends to favor dark colors which don't always serve it well in every scenario. But low-light photos are excellent and the portrait mode is tops, making this a great camera phone for the money.
The Tensor G2 chipset powers a number of impressive features like the Magic Eraser tool for removing unwanted people and Photo Unblur for cleaning up older images. And a bright 6.1-inch display lets you see your photos clearly, even in bright light.
Read our full Google Pixel 7a review.
If you’re put off by both the size and price of the iPhone 14 Pro Max but still want the same capable cameras, then look no further than the iPhone 14 Pro. With its more compact 6.1-inch display, this phone is one powerful beast. And with the new 48MP main sensor, the iPhone 14 Pro can take some beautiful photos.
The ultrawide camera also got an upgrade to allow in more light for better-lit pictures. The telephoto lens sticks to 3x — and we wish it was at least 4x to match the competition — but the main camera has its own 2x optical zoom, too. All told, the iPhone 14 Pro is the best compact camera phone.
Read our full iPhone 14 Pro review.
Although we’ve dismissed OnePlus in the past when it comes to the best camera phones, this year, the OnePlus 11 means business. Thanks to the third year of the Hasselblad partnership, OnePlus has upped the ante to the point where it excels in many photography situations. It even gives the Pixel 7 Pro a run for its money.
Where the OnePlus 11 could use work is low-light. For example, indoor shots still tend to have an overly warm tone to them, though not nearly as pronounced as the OnePlus 10 Pro. And at night, the OnePlus 11 struggles with overexposure, making things like lit objects a bit too bright and noisy.
Still, the OnePlus 11 earns a spot on this list thanks to its stellar daytime performance. The issues the phone has could be addressed in software updates, but even in its current state, it’s more than good enough for most people, especially at $699.
Read our full OnePlus 11 review.
While it might lack the new 48MP sensor present on the Pro models, the iPhone 14 is still a great camera phone. It packs a faster aperture for better lighting, plus an upgraded ultrawide sensor. In short, the photos that the iPhone 14 puts out are a step above last year.
Details and dynamic range give the iPhone 14 a leg up over many of its similarly-priced competitors, such as the Galaxy S22. (Samsung’s phone has the advantage in zoom, however.) But for $799, the iPhone 14 offers a great camera experience.
Trying to decide if you should get the iPhone 14 or save $100 by opting for the iPhone 13 and its reduced price? Our iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 camera shootout shows the changes Apple made to its cameras in the course of a year produce different images.
Read our full iPhone 14 review.
Why keep the Pixel 6a among the best camera phones even though its predecessor is already available? Because the Pixel 6a remains on sale, but for a lower price. And this remains a very good camera phone, especially now that it's $349. (And potentially less with one of the best best Google Pixel 6a deals.)
Opt for the Pixel 6a, and you'll get a phone that has the same Tensor processor as the Pixel 6. That means this budget device is capable of the same machine learning-powered features found on pricier Google phones. For instance, the Pixel 6a supports Magic Eraser, the photo-editing tool that lets you erase extraneous people and objects from images with a tap.
Battery life could certainly be better on this phone, but for a low-cost camera phone, you'll find few better options than the Pixel 6a.
Read our full Google Pixel 6a review.
The Galaxy S23 offers something you won't find on a comparably priced iPhone — a telephoto lens. And thanks to its support for 3x optical and 30x digital, that camera lets you get up close for very detailed shots. In fact, the entire rear camera setup of the Galaxy S23 impresses. Like the other S23 phones, it boasts improved night photography and does a much better job of handling colors without over-saturation. The difference is that at $799, the Galaxy S23 is the least expensive of Samsung's flagships.
We were less impressed with the new front camera, which produced some lackluster selfies when compared to what other top camera phones are capable of. At least, the Galaxy S23 features better battery life thanks to its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset. That helped the Galaxy S23 last 2.5 hours longer than the Galaxy S22 did on our battery test, giving you more time out in the world to shoot photos with this phone.
If you don't mind paying up for a device with a bigger screen, the $999 Galaxy S23 Plus has the same camera setup as the standard S23 and produces equally impressive results.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S23 review.
How to pick the best camera phone for you
There are many factors to consider if camera quality factors heavily into your smartphone purchasing decision. A good way to start is by asking yourself what kinds of photos you see yourself taking. Not all multi-lens cameras are created equal — some have ultrawide lenses for stunning landscapes, others have telephotos for zoomed-in shallow-depth-of-field portraits, and others still have both. The newest flagships from the likes of Samsung and Huawei even have periscope-style lenses that can achieve up to 10x lossless zoom, rivaling the power of DSLRs.
Something else to consider: Megapixels don’t matter as much as aperture. Cameras with a wider aperture (lower ƒ-stop numbers translate to wider lenses) let in more light, which greatly helps produce better shots in the dark. The high-megapixel sensors found in the latest devices are nice, but it's a common misconception that pixel count directly translates to better-looking photos.
Do you need a portrait mode that allows for bokeh backgrounds? That’s where the subject of the photo is in sharp focus, while an artistic blur blankets the rest of the scene. Although it started as a feature exclusive to multi-camera phones, even cheaper phones like the single-lens iPhone SE 2022 can now capture bokeh-effect portraits. Some devices even let you adjust the strength of the blur before and after you take a shot.
Front camera specs are important, too. In a world where we’re taking more selfies than ever, you shouldn’t overlook a phone’s front camera. Many front cameras, like the ones on the iPhone 14 and Pixel 7, can actually perform the same portrait mode effects that rear cameras pull off. Some phones feature two front cameras, with the second lens pulling in more background details, though that feature has gone out of fashion recently.
Finally, 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. A word to the wise, though: Be wary that ratcheting up the resolution will result in clips that take up much more space on your smartphone's internal storage.
How we test camera phones
When we evaluate the best camera phones, we pick phones of comparable prices and capabilities and put them through a range of head-to-head comparisons. We pick common shooting situations — landscapes, indoor and outdoor shots, portraits and selfies in daylight and at night. We also test out each camera lens, including ultrawide angle and telephoto lenses if the phone features those.
In addition to testing the rear lenses of each phone, we also test the front camera, snapping selfies in both standard and portrait mode. We then compare the results to similar camera phones.
Photos used in our comparisons are taken with the default settings on each camera. Even if a phone offers manual controls, we don't test those, as we want to replicate the experience the typical smartphone user would have using the camera app on a device.
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.
Camera testing is the most relevant evaluation for picking the best camera phones, but our smartphone reviews include other testing, such as performance testing, battery testing and display testing. You can see the full results of those tests — outlined in our explanation of how Tom's Guide tests and reviews smartphones — when we rate the best phones overall.
The Resolution Myth
Generally speaking, the more megapixels a cellphone camera offers, the better the quality of pictures you can take with the device. However, this is not always true. While the megapixel resolution is important, it alone does not guarantee the optimal results for picture quality. Other variables such as lens quality, shutter speed, low-light performance play an equally important role in determining the overall quality of pictures taken with a cellphone or smartphone camera. Nevertheless, the best camera cellphones offer resolution ratings of at least 10 megapixels, and a few models support resolutions of 20 megapixels or more.
The above linked review is not alone in determining that that the Samsung s7 s7Edge are the best cameras in smart phones.
Also pixel count, particularly in as small a sensor as phones have play next to no role at all in image quality.
To the author do some research. Don't be lazy and just list the newest phones, in order, from the two biggest names in the industry. There are enough corporate sponsored fluff pieces for Samsung already.
The Sony's do well, but aren't as magical as you might wish.