What’s a smartphone without a powerful camera? One of the core features you’ll likely want from a new smartphone is a powerful camera. The best camera phones are usually the best phones overall. In 2019, zooming jumped to the next level, multi-camera sensor arrays became common and even budget phones gained the ability to snap excellent pictures – it was an extraordinary year. This year has already had an exciting start, with the launch of the highly anticipated Samsung Galaxy S20 and Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. Also this year, he likes of the latest iPhones typically deliver the best image quality of the time.
Huawei’s top dogs have also entered this race in the past couple of years, but as of mid-2019, they do come with caveats when it comes to their software future.
In this review, we compare the capabilities smartphone cameras. We also consider a number of aspects, including whether getting a high-storage option or one that supports a microSD card will be helpful if you capture lots of 4K video, and flagging fundamental shortcomings like battery life so you don’t find yourself out of juice before the day is done.
So to help you, we’ve compiled this list of the best camera phones to help you when it comes to choosing your next camera phone.
Best point and shoot camera: iPhone 11 Pro
Best Android camera phone: Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus
Best phone camera for video: iPhone 11
Best for optical zoom and other features: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Best phone camera for night shooting: Huawei P30 Pro
Best big phone camera: Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
Best value flagship camera: Huawei P40 Pro
Best for file-hoarders: Oppo Find X2 Pro
iPhone 11 Pro
- A lovely, supremely bright display
- One of the best camera systems on any phone
- There’s a quick charger in the box
- Some of the most advanced auto HDR
- Design hasn’t changed much and the notch remains annoying
- 64GB still the base storage option
- Very expensive
- No AF on the selfie cam/ultra wide
The iPhone 11 Pro rates as the best for video capture as it can record at all sorts of resolutions at all sorts of frame rates with its three cams and even do it simultaneously. It also boasts one of the smoothest video stabilization systems you can find in a phone, and the videos too can benefit from Apple’s Smart HDR ensuring class-leading dynamic range.
Taking Smart HDR a notch up, Apple’s Deep Fusion in stills makes for even better images than the already excellent output from before the iOS 13.2 update. Unfortunately, the output of the generally muted color is not so thrilling, but that’s Apple’s way of doing things.
The iPhone also lacks autofocus on the selfie cam and the ultra-wide. Then there’s the 2x optical zoom, bested by quite a few competing offerings by now. All in all, though, the iPhone remains one of the most competent camera phones around.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus
- Great screen
- Strong performance
- Good battery
- Fantastic screen
- Versatile camera
- Ugly UI
- 8K video recording is pointless
- Busy interface
- Bland design
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus rocks a total of four rear camera sensors, including a 12-megapixel main camera, a 64-megapixel telephoto sensor, a 12-megapixel ultrawide lens, and a 0.3-megapixel depth sensor.
It’s a set-up that offers a lot of versatility, and thankfully Samsung has dialled down post-processing so images look more realistic and less overdone (though portrait shots were sometimes overly smooth). Autofocus was very useful and accurate too.
The only real photographic disadvantage compared to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is that zoom is less powerful, but we didn’t find that to be a major loss by any means.
- Most affordable iPhone 11-series
- Excellent low light photography
- Great night mode
- Consistent colors across cameras
- Long-lasting battery
- Really nice colour options
- No telephoto camera
- Lower on detail than the competition
- No manual mode
- A screen resolution bump would have been nice
- Still no fast charger in the box
Unlike the iPhone 11 Pro, the vanilla iPhone 11 misses out on a telephoto camera, instead packing a 2-style wide + ultra-wide dual snapper around the back. Still, it is exciting to see the new long exposure night mode fires up when shooting in low light on this lower-cost model.
This means the iPhone 11 can see in the dark, even when you’re hand-holding the phone, and the photo quality across its primary and ultra-wide cameras is fantastic. Another area this iPhone excel is video capture; it will shoot 4K resolution video at up to 60fps, and do so across all their lenses.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
- Big-sensor main cam gathers a lot of light
- Unique 9-to-1 binning helps with noise and HDR
- Biggest sensor in a telephoto cam
- 8K video recording.
- Lots and lots of megapixels to play with
- Great zooming up to 10x
- Ultra expensive
- Ultra wide cam lacks autofocus
- ‘Space zoom 100x’ is for marketing only
- Battery life isn’t the best
You will appreciate the Ultra for taking modern smartphone photography beyond the realm of the established.
The S20 Ultra packs unique hardware and uses it to deliver some spectacular results. The big sensors give it an advantage in challenging light, whether its photos from the main cam or the telephoto. That telephoto is, indeed, capable of bringing distant subjects closer, but the 4x-5x is where you’d be liking the image quality and 10x is the usability threshold. Not 100x.
Video will turn out spectacular, particularly in the dark. The 8K capture capability (you’d best stick to daylight for that) is a welcome addition too even if footage is not quite amazing in quality nor do we know what to do with it at this point.
If you’re after versatility in your camera phone, then the Galaxy S20 Ultra is a great choice. It packs three main rear cameras (wide, ultra-wide and tele), a sensor for calculating depth, shoots 8K video and captures selfies with a 40-megapixel front camera.
All in all, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is an easy pick for the Best camera phone award. For a money-is-no-object type of consumer, that is.
Huawei P30 Pro
- 5x periscope tele remains among the longest around
- AF on the ultra wide cam
- About half the price of the recent P40 Pro
- Has Google Mobile Services support, unlike recent P40 Pro
- Fantastic photos
- Multiple cameras and lenses
- Battery life is excellent
- Clever extras, such as in-display fingerprint and reverse wireless charging
- No AF on the selfie cam
- Video recording isn’t competitive
- The Galaxy S20 Ultra is superior in low light, particularly when zooming in
- Huawei’s software remains a weakness
A full one-year-old, the Huawei P30 Pro remains relevant. Packing a 5x periscope telephoto, it was one of the pioneers of such long teles and is still one of the longest zooms on the market. Its ultra-wide-angle cam has autofocus too, adding points for versatility.
The P30 Pro, as most Huawei phones until the P40 Pro, isn’t quite as capable in video recording, though. Additionally, last year’s Pro is missing autofocus on the selfie shooter. But at half the price of a P40 Pro we figure the tradeoffs are well worth it. Plus, the P30 Pro comes from a time when Huawei phones still had proper Google backing.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
- Fantastic size for a Note phone
- The S Pen remains great
- Very wide ultra-wide angle
- Versatile triple camera
- Great video performance
- The camera isn’t quite as good as other rivals
- Night mode isn’t class-leading
- Auto mode exposes aggressively
The display is the standout feature of the excellent Galaxy Note 10 Plus phone. It appears to be a slightly remodelled Galaxy S10, complete with an S Pen, and that’s no bad thing – the S10 is one of the best Android phones around. It would, however, also have been nice to see Samsung push forward in areas where the S10 has fallen behind some of the competition.
This includes the camera. The rear cameras are similar to those of the S10 and, while you can capture excellent snaps thanks to the three sensors on the back, the phone lacks the dynamic range and night shooting capability of the iPhone 11. Still, video is excellent.
As previously mentioned, the display is great. At 6.8 inches it’s big and bright, with serious punch and detail. The display now runs to the edges of the phone’s front, granting it an impressive 90.9% screen-to-body ratio. The single Infinity-O hole-punch camera is now centrally aligned at the top of the screen and is, therefore, less intrusive than the S10’s solo-sensor effort.
The design remains the best of any Android phone, the functionality of the S Pen offers something unique, and the slightly smaller form factor is also a plus.
Huawei P40 Pro
- All-round great performance across most conditions
- Great 5x periscope
- Top-class selfies
- properly good selfie portraits
- Great video quality
- Excellent stabilization
- Stellar imaging
- Gorgeous design
- No Google services
- Big screen cutout
- Night mode for photos isn’t a big leap forward
- 4K60 videos are disappointing
The P40 Pro from Huawei may not have Google’s blessing but that doesn’t mean it’s not a top-class camera phone. A 5x zoom periscope telephoto next to big-sensor main and ultra-wide-angle modules make up an impressive specsheet, but more importantly, it delivers the goods. Add to that the competent selfie shooter with a ToF sidekick for portraits and it’s hard to find fault with the P40 Pro’s imaging department (the byproduct that is the huge pill-shaped cutout in the display doesn’t count).
Not always the case on Huaweis, the P40 Pro can also shoot excellent video – that is, if you stay away from the 4K60 mode, which is a letdown. Stabilization in 30fps modes is top-notch, though.
This phone isn’t recommended for everyone because of the lack of Google services integration. The reason for this has nothing to do with its hardware; it’s all down to the US-China trade war, and the fact Huawei can’t use Google services on its phones at the moment. While the P40 Pro will be a dream for anyone trying to uncouple themselves from Google, therefore, definitely read up on it before you pick one up, as the implications are far-reaching.
Oppo Find X2 Pro
- Fastest charging
- Highest storage capacity
- No wireless charging
Oppo has been relatively unknown until recently, but it landed with a bang. And the Find X2 Pro is no doubt one of the best smartphones of the year so far.
From a camera point of view, the X2 Pro wows, introducing Sony’s new 48MP sensor to the world. Grabbing high-resolution photos with beautiful depth and plenty of detail, the great thing about photos shot on the Find X2 Pro is that they look natural and realistic, especially when set aside those captured on Samsung phones. Packing a 5x zoom telephoto camera, the Pro also gets you close to the action, and its ultra-wide camera is a pin-sharp 48MP, for GoPro-esque shots you can crop into.
Delivering flagship power, decent battery life and an absolutely jaw-dropping screen, inside and out, the X2 Pro impresses. That said, we haven’t even covered the phone’s two standout features – the X2 Pro delivers the fastest charging on the market – powering up from 0-100% in 38 minutes, not to mention over half a terabyte of storage as well – that’s three times what Samsung offers on the S20 Ultra. In turn, power users will love the fact Oppo has well and truly arrived.
See all phones specifications and comparison chart here.