The battle for best camera phone comes down to an Apple vs. Google showdown. And while we have our favorite, the quality of images produced by the latest phones from those companies proves that this is a great time for mobile photography.
Not only do the best camera phones feature improved hardware — Apple upgraded the sensors on the iPhone 13, while the Pixel 6 Pro gets a long awaited telephoto lens — the software keeps improving, too. Both Apple and Google rely heavily on computational photography to further improve the images their camera phones produce.
Of course, you're not limited to the iPhone or the Pixel if you want a phone that takes great pictures. Samsung also upgraded the cameras used for its Galaxy S22 lineup for an interesting logjam at the top of our best camera phones list. Check out our Samsung Galaxy S22 vs iPhone 13 Pro Max low-light photography comparison or our Portrait mode face-off to see what we mean
Such camera testing has helped us find devices that capture memorable images and once-in-a-lifetime shots you'd miss with less-capable handsets. We're looking for camera phones that meld intricate optics and sensors with software algorithms that rely upon math and science to extract the best possible light, color and detail out of every scenario. It's not just about the number of lenses on the back, either — some phone makers make the most of artificial intelligence to improve post processing on your 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.
What are the best camera phones?
The current king of camera phones is the iPhone 13 Pro Max, followed very closely by the smaller (and less expensive) iPhone 13 Pro. Featuring a triple 12MP setup with larger sensors on the wide and ultrawide cameras, plus 3x optical zoom on the telephoto lens, the new Pro models earn their names with spectacular photos and videos.
If you want to look beyond Apple's phones, plenty of the best Android phones feature impressive cameras of their own. The Google Pixel 6 Pro, and the Pixel 6 next to it, are the new cream of the crop. The latest phones from Samsung — particularly the Galaxy S22 Ultra — come close, especially when it comes to low-light photos and zooming in on subjects, but Google's phones remain the best. (These three photos show why the Pixel 6 Pro tops the Galaxy S22 Ultra.)
Google's stellar camera phones include the Pixel 5a, one of the best camera phones you can buy on a budget — at least for now. Google plans to release the Pixel 6a, and it figures to replace the Pixel 5a as the budget camera phone to get. While the Pixel 5a out-shoots Apple's new iPhone SE, the 2022 model of Apple's budget phone is still a solid choice, even if it doesn't support a Night mode.
Our best camera phones rankings include a gallery of shots we've taken with each phone. Just click on the arrows in the pictures below to see a sample of what these camera phones are capable of.
The best camera phones you can buy today
The biggest iPhone 13 is also the best camera phone you can buy. Apple went all out with the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s hardware, increasing the sensor size for the main and ultrawide cameras and adding autofocus to the latter. That ultrawide can act as a macro camera, photographing subjects up to 2 cm away. The sensor-shift OIS introduced last year on the iPhone 12 Pro Max returns this year and the telephoto received a boost to 3x.
Apple also improved its computational photography, especially when it comes to low-light. Also new this year are Photographic Styles — basically real-time filters — and Cinematic mode. The latter is portrait video on steroids, boasting dynamically shifting focus to create a truly professional video experience.
This is the phone to get if you want the best camera experience.
Read our full iPhone 13 Pro Max review.
Google has once again claimed its Android photography crown. The Pixel 6 Pro has incredible cameras, thanks to upgraded hardware and powerful software chops. The end result is something that can go toe-to-toe with Apple and even evenly trade blows (especially with the night mode, Night Sight).
The 50MP main camera sensor lets in 150% more light, while the 48MP telephoto lens sports 4x optical zoom and 20x digital zoom. And the 11MP front-facing camera has a 94-degree field of view for ultrawide selfies.
Not only do you get the best cameras on an Android phone, but the Pixel 6 Pro sports the new Tensor chip, which lends itself well to things like computational photography and new Google Assistant features. If you’re in the Android camp, this is the phone to get if you want the best mobile photography experience.
Read our full Google Pixel 6 Pro review.
Nipping at the heels of its bigger brother, the iPhone 13 Pro is a very close second on this list of the best camera phones. It sports the same hardware as the iPhone 13 Pro Max with the larger sensors, autofocus on the ultrawide camera and macro mode.
However, the iPhone 13 Pro is right in line with the Pro Max, getting sensor-shift OIS and the same 3x optical zoom. Photographic Styles and Cinematic mode also come standard. Basically, this is the phone to get if you want the best camera experience but in a smaller package. The 6.1-inch display is still gorgeous and features 120Hz ProMotion for ultra smooth animations and transitions.
The battery life is even awesome, going for almost 12 hours in our battery life test, meaning you can take plenty of pictures and videos.
Read our full iPhone 13 Pro review.
Samsung didn’t make major changes to the camera setup on the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but the enhancements over the S21 Ultra are very welcome. For starters, the 108MP main camera has a larger sensor, letting in more light. A Super Clear Glass over that lens eliminates flare when you’re shooting in twilight and at night. The end result is better low-light photos and some sharp images when using the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s Night mode.
Other camera improvements to the Galaxy S22 Ultra focus on the software side of things. You now get adaptive pixel technology for combining 9 pixels into one (another low-light photo improvement), enhanced AI high-res processing and 4x faster multi-frame processing. Portrait mode benefits from AI Stereo Depth Maps to better separate your subject from the background of the shot. And a video Auto Framing feature recognizes up to 10 people and keeps them in focus when you’re shooting. These software features are already getting a boost from Samsung, which began a camera update rollout in June 2022. Among the key improvements are a performance upgrade to portrait mode and a bug fix for Single Take.
Ultimately, the top Apple and Google camera phones remain ahead of Samsung’s best efforts, but only barely. This is the camera phone to get for Samsung fans.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review.
While it might lack the telephoto lens, the Google Pixel 6 is still a powerful camera phone. You get the same 50MP main and 12MP ultrawide sensors in a slightly smaller body. Photos come out clear and crisp, even though we noticed some color inconsistencies in some photos.
Still, the Pixel 6 is the best camera phone for most Android users. You’ll get stunning landscape shots, portraits, and selfies. And with all of the new AI-based photography features like Magic Eraser, you have a lot at your disposal.
Read our full Google Pixel 6 review.
By far, the Pixel 5a from Google has been the best camera experience under $500 as our Google Pixel 5a vs. iPhone SE shoot-out proves. Google added a 16MP ultrawide camera to the 12.2MP main lens, and the results speak for themselves. Throw in Google's AI-powered photo features, and you get some great shots from a $449 device.
The problem with the Pixel 5a is what's right around the corner. Google has a new phone, the Pixel 6a with an even more powerful processor than the Pixel 5a offers. That's going to power new photographic features like the Magic Eraser that the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro already support. So as good as the Pixel 5a has been as a camera phone, its time on this list probably ends when the Pixel 6a arrives in July.
Read our full Google Pixel 5a review.
The best iPhone for the average person, the iPhone 13 features notable improvements over its predecessor. Not only is the battery life significantly better, but the cameras got some upgrades, too. First and foremost, the sensors are larger now, letting in more light to help with indoor and night photos.
Besides just the excellent cameras, you get the Photographic Styles and Cinematic mode that the Pro models have. Though you lose out on the telephoto lens and wider apertures, you nonetheless get a fantastic photography experience for a very reasonable price. Apple even upped the base storage to 128GB while keeping the cost to you the same.
Read our full iPhone 13 review.
OnePlus has come a long way since the days of its afterthought cameras. We’re in the dawn of a new age for the Chinese phone maker with the second generation Hasselblad mobile photography system. The OnePlus 10 Pro is the best camera phone we’ve ever seen from the company.
It’s not quite on the same level as the iPhone 13 Pro Max or Pixel 6 Pro, but it’s very respectable. OnePlus still has a yellow tinge problem in most of the photos, something that’s especially noticeable outdoors. Inside, however, it makes for a warm, cozy feel. The 48MP main camera does all of the heavy lifting, but don’t count out the 50MP ultrawide sensor. It can shoot in a 100-degree field of view with minimal edge distortion, or zoom out to 150 degrees.
Where we think the OnePlus 10 Pro struggles as a camera phone is in its telephoto shots. They’re just not up to par with the other greats on this list, and we think the lower resolution might have something to do with that. At least the 32MP front camera takes nice selfies. Even Nightscape has seen improvements, producing much better low-light photos.
Read our full OnePlus 10 Pro review.
The photo features on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus aren’t as extensive as those on the S22 Ultra, but then again, the price tag isn’t as large either. And the S22 Plus’ cameras are quite capable,especially after Samsung boosted the megapixels on the main shooter to 50MP. The sensor is larger on this year’s phone, too, so the Galaxy S22 Plus lets in more light for sharper photos in more challenging settings.
The main camera isn’t the only one to see some improvement. The telephoto lens on the Galaxy S22 Plus now supports a 3x optical zoom, instead of the hybrid zoom that the S21 Plus had to offer. That means less noise when you zoom in on a subject.
Throw in other features like 8K video capture at 24 frames per second, an Auto Framing feature for tracking up to 10 people when you’re shooting video and advanced stablization features for minimizing shaky video, and you’ve got quite a capable camera phone for less than $1,000.
If you're looking for a smaller version of this phone, then check out the Galaxy S22. It has the same camera capabilities at the Plus, just in a smaller and slightly less expensive package.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus review.
Apple may have stuck with a single-camera design for the iPhone SE (2022), but the lowest-cost iPhone still does plenty with that lone lens. Part of the credit goes to the A15 Bionic inside the SE — the same chipset that the iPhone 13 lineup uses. Because of the A15, the iPhone SE 2022 supports features such as Smart HDR 4 (which can handle tricky lighting situations) and Deep Fusion (for calling it details and textures in photos). The iPhone SE 2022 may only cost $429, but the pictures you've captured will look like they're coming from a much more expensive device.
There's a noticeable shortcoming with the iPhone SE 2022's camera capabilities. Unlike the other best camera phones, there's no Night mode support. And as far as we can tell, there's no reason for leaving out that feature, other than Apple want to distinguish its cheapest phone from its pricier flagships. The result is that the iPhone SE can't match the other phones on this list for taking photos in low- and no-light settings.
That shouldn't necessarily prevent you from turning to the iPhone SE 2022, especially if you like Apple phones but don't care for high price tags. This iPhone still takes excellent all-around photos, even if its nighttime performance leaves a little to be desired.
Read our full iPhone SE (2022) 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, the single-lens iPhone SE is capable of capturing 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 13 and Pixel 6, 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 when we rate the best phones overall.