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The best camera phones in 2020

best camera phones
(Image credit: Future)

Everyone wants the best camera phone for taking great photos. And that's why we perform in-depth camera testing on every phone we review, evaluating image quality in a wide range of conditions. We also perform head-to-head face-offs to compare camera performance.

And all that testing convinces us that the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are the best camera phones you can buy, thanks to improved low-light photography, powerful video features and portrait-taking supremacy.

The latest iPhones face some serious competition from Samsung's new Galaxy S20 phones, but it isn't the Galaxy S20 Ultra and its 108-MP main shooter that's pushing the iPhone. While that phone produced some impressive photos in our testing, we also noticed some issues with autofocus on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. (Samsung says it will soon have a fix.) Those issues don't affect the Galaxy S20 Plus, which also produces some of the finest photos we've seen outside of the iPhone.

Those who really want to maximize their mobile photography but spend as little as possible are well advised to check out Google's Pixel 3a, one of the best Android phones out there, thanks to its phenomenal image quality in a package that costs half as much as the company's own flagships. 

The best camera phones you can buy today

Best camera phone: iPhone 11 Pro Max

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. iPhone 11 Pro Max

The best camera phone for now

Display Size (Pixels): 6.5-inch OLED (2688x1242) | CPU: A13 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB / No | Cameras (Back / Front): 12MP (f/1.8); 12MP (f/2.0); 12MP (f/2.4) / 12MP (f/2.2) | Weight: 7.97 ounces | Battery Life (Hrs:Mins): 11:44

Stellar triple cameras with Night Mode
Gorgeous, bright OLED display
A13 Bionic CPU fastest around
Improved battery life
Only 64GB of storage

The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max may face a formidable challenge from the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, Galaxy S20 Plus and Galaxy S20 where photography is concerned. But Apple's phones remain among the best camera phones available, and the certainly the best choice for iOS loyalists.

Both premium iPhones incorporate ultra-wide angle and telephoto lenses, though those are the least of the enhancements Apple has made to its newest flagships. The real work has been done in software, where the new iPhone's computational photography and video capabilities have been stepped up massively.

Apple's Night Mode sets a benchmark for low-light photography within the industry, while the company's Smart HDR technology utilizes a breakthrough machine learning technique called semantic rendering to selectively over- or underexpose specific areas of the scene differently. And on the video front, all three of the iPhone 11 Pro's rear cameras can record at 4K resolution and 60 frames-per-second, and even the front-facing shooter captures slow motion clips for dynamic and dramatic "slofies."

Both the regular 5.8-inch model and the 6.5-inch Max variant feature the same cameras, while the cheaper 6.1-inch iPhone 11 ditches the telephoto lens, but can still capture the same quality photos otherwise.

Read our full iPhone 11 Pro Max review.

Best camera phones galaxy s20 plus

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus

Best telephoto lens

Display Size (Pixels): 6.7-inch OLED (3,200 x 1,440 pixels) | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 12GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 512GB / Yes | Cameras (Back / Front): / 12MP primary (ƒ/1.8); 64MP telephoto (ƒ/2.0); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); VGA time of flight / 10 MP | Weight: 6.56 ounces | Battery Life (Hrs:Mins): 10:31

Impressive photos
Fun Single Take feature
Support for 8K video
Expensive
Few displays support 8K video right now

You don't need to pay up for the $1,399 Galaxy S20 Ultra to get the best camera phone for Android users. The Galaxy S20 Plus is $200 cheapper, and while it doesn't feature the Ultra's 108MP main sensor or a telephoto lens with a Space Zoom feature, it still produces shots that surpass what Google's phones have to offer. And some of the Galaxy S20 Plus' output even gives the iPhone 11 Pro a run for its money.

The four-camera setup on the Galaxy S20 Plus — a 12MP main shooter joined by a 64MP telephoto lens, 12MP ultra wide angle lens and time-of-flight sensor — produce colorful, well-composed shots. And when you need to zoom in to capture more detail, the 3x lossless zoom on the Galaxy S20 Plus' telephoto lens beats what other smartphones have to offer. We were even impressed when we zoomed in further with a 10x digital zoom, though anything beyond that — the S20 Plus can support up to a 30x zoom — and your pictures get a little grainy. 

We wish the Galaxy S20 Plus wasn't as aggressive with smoothing out skin tones as it is when you use Live Focus to capture a portrait shot. But we absolutely love the phone's Single Take feature, which captures multiple shots using the S20 Plus' various cameras. You can then pick the shot you prefer.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review.

Best camera phone: Google Pixel 3a

(Image credit: Future)

3. Google Pixel 3a

The best midrange camera phone

Display Size (Pixels): 5.6-inch OLED (2280x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 670 | RAM: 4GB | Storage / Expandable: 64GB / No | Cameras (Back / Front): 12MP (f/1.8) / 8MP (f/2.0) | Weight: 5.2 ounces | Battery Life (Hrs:Mins): 11:59

Flagship-caliber camera
Low price
Excellent battery life
Display could be brighter
No wireless charging

Midrange phone makers have had to step up their game ever since Google's Pixel 3a arrived in 2019, establishing itself as the best camera phone under $400. Boosted with the same computational photography software that powers the Pixel 3, as well as an identical 12.2-megapixel sensor and a similarly high-end Qualcomm Spectra image signal processor, the 5.6-inch Pixel 3a can pull off shots that are nigh indistinguishable from Google's other handsets that are twice as expensive.

The Pixel 3a also comes with Google's cutting-edge imaging modes, like Night Sight for amazing shots in the dark, and Super Res Zoom that delivers digitally zoomed images that are shockingly similar to what you get from devices with 2x optical zoom lenses. For $400, no other camera phone comes close — not even Samsung's triple-lens, $349 Galaxy A50 — though if you'd prefer a larger handset, the $479 Pixel 3a XL stuffs all the same hardware into a larger 6-inch body with a bigger battery to match.

If you're considering the Pixel 3a, be aware that rumors point to a successor — the Pixel 4a — coming out later this spring.

Read our full Google Pixel 3a review.

Best camera phone: Google Pixel 4

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Google Pixel 4

The best AI camera

Display Size (Pixels): 5.7-inch OLED (2280x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 855 | RAM: 6GB | Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB / No | Cameras (Back / Front): 12.2MP (f/1.7); 16MP (f/2.4) / 8MP (f/2.0) | Weight: 5.71 ounces | Battery Life (Hrs:Mins): 8:03

Class-leading cameras
Smooth 90Hz display
Effective Face Unlock
Disappointing battery life
Relatively dim display

With the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, Google gifted its flagship smartphones with a dual-lens imaging system for the first time ever. Two cameras — a 12.2-MP primary wide-angle and a 16-MP telephoto — work in concert to deliver phenomenal images in all conditions, boosted heavily by Google's amazing computational photography techniques.

A new machine learning-based white balance feature corrects for strong color casts in even the most challenging scenarios, while a Live HDR+ feature allows users to see the final, processed result in real time, before they tap the shutter button.

Google has boosted its Super Res Zoom technology as well. Combined with the focal length advantage of that telephoto lens, the Pixel 4 can capture images at up to 8x power digitally that look nearly as good as what an optical lens would produce. We still believe that the ultrawide cameras in both the S20 Ultra and iPhone 11 Pro unlock potential the Pixel 4 can't realize, and that Samsung and Apple still hold the upper hand in other respects (namely, optical zoom capabilities and shallow depth-of-field effects). Nevertheless, Google has once again delivered an all-time best camera phone.

Read our full Google Pixel 4 review.

Moto G7 Power

5. Moto G7 Power

A solid camera in a budget phone

Display size (Pixels): 6.2-inch LCD (1512x720) | CPU: Snapdragon 632 | RAM: 3GB | Storage/Expandable: 32GB / Yes | Cameras (Back/Front): 12 MP(f/2.0) / 8MP (f/2.2) | Weight: 6.9 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 15:35

Incredible battery life
Solid performance
Low price
Bland design
Low-res display

If all you have to spend is $250, the Moto G7 Power is one of the best camera pones for the money. Motorola's easy-to-use camera interface and stock inclusion of the Google Photos app ensures a flagship-caliber software experience, despite the handset's bargain price.

The G7 Power can be heavy-handed with its image processing sometimes, and it struggles in low-light, as most cheap handsets do. But when conditions are ideal, it's not too shabby. Don't sweat the lack of a second camera for depth effects, either — those always tend to produce poor portraits on budget handsets anyway.

Although it has nothing to do with photography, the G7 Power's unbelievably long-lasting battery alone should make it worthy of your attention.

Read our full Moto G7 Power review.

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 translate to wider lenses) let in more light, which can help produce better shots in the dark. The high-megapixel sensors found in the latest devices are nice, but less necessary — so don't be afraid to snap up last year's model, perhaps even used, to get a solid camera phone on the cheap.
  • Not all multi-lens cameras are created equal. While more smartphones are featuring multiple rear cameras nowadays, those cameras don’t necessarily perform the same. Some phones, like the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS, use their extra lenses to allow for depth-of-field effects; others, like the LG V30, just let you switch between wide-angle and standard perspectives. Newer flagship phones, like the iPhone 11 Pro, have added a third lens, for even more points of view.
  • 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 3a 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 11 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 Pixel 4, for example, can record 4K video at 30 frames per second, while the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro double the frame rate to 60 fps for 4K video.) Also, some cameras offer slow-motion features and video filters.
  • BrodaFett
    You should have included the Sony xperia z5 on here. 23 megapixels and Sony tech equals a deserved mention in this article. Samsung might have the best specs but in my experience are the least reliable and most likely to be a factory lemon. They get too much hype already so show some deserved love to other brands.
    Reply
  • Brian_100
    Point taken Brodafett, However You Must Have All The Knowledge of What Makes a Cell Phone Camera The Best, and its Not Havingt The Most Mega Pixls That Make The Best Cell Phone Cameras!!!!
    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.
    Reply
  • bjornl
    17626249 said:
    You should have included the Sony xperia z5 on here. 23 megapixels and Sony tech equals a deserved mention in this article. Samsung might have the best specs but in my experience are the least reliable and most likely to be a factory lemon. They get too much hype already so show some deserved love to other brands.

    The above linked review is not alone in determining that that the Samsung s7 s7Edge are the best cameras in smart phones.
    http://www.dxomark.com/Mobiles/Samsung-Galaxy-S7-edge-Mobile-Review-A-new-champion
    Also pixel count, particularly in as small a sensor as phones have play next to no role at all in image quality.
    Reply
  • BrodaFett
    Yes, I am well aware that pixels aren't the end all be all of photography. My point was simply the Sony xperia z5 is every bit as good as any of these cameras listed. It wasn't mentioned because it is not a Samsung or Apple iPhone period. Let me ask both of you how good are Sony lenses?? Yeah they are very good. The xperia is a Sony phone with Sony lenses and camera technology. Then logically shouldn't they get mentioned on this list? Instead it's Samsung, Samsung, Samsung, Apple, Samsung. So, do you want to keep singling out one little point from my comment, or address the actual basis of my original comment? Disprove that the xperia z5 doesn't deserve to be on this list. I'm waiting.

    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.
    Reply
  • 098340394852
    One of three of Samsung and Apple's sensor part sources is Sony. Guess which produces the best results in tests? A good camera is low fringe and grain and best low-light handling under competitive pixel density. Three years ago Sony finish a "super white" low-light tech that nobody has yet to compete with. You think they are going to use worse parts on their own products?
    Reply
  • bjornl
    You guys should just check out DXO Mobile. Which unlike uninformed random noise from the internet is fact based.
    http://www.dxomark.com/Mobiles
    The Sony's do well, but aren't as magical as you might wish.
    Reply
  • ladinboarder
    No comment about the Lumia 950? ..maybe/probably the true winner in the categories "Best Smartphone Camera Overall" and "Best Smartphone Video"?!?!
    Reply
  • malaima
    The Sony's do well, but aren't as magical as you might wish.
    Reply
  • Faisal_15
    Well I think the sony cybershot was one off the best cell phone camera at that time.. cybershot took us to another level of photography
    Reply
  • Michael Trenton
    I have a Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. Best phone camera I've had ever. :)
    Reply