Cameras in smartphones have come a long way over the last few years, with a number of features that have greatly improved the quality of images produced by smartphones, including optical image stabilisation (OIS), larger sensors, bright lenses, and even optical zoom making them even better for photography.
The photographic capabilities of smartphones has become such a massive selling feature, that many premium smartphones now support shooting "raw" images, so you can take complete control over image processing.
Some of the weaknesses of small sensor cameras have also been removed by the use of "computational photography" - for example Auto HDR, combines images for improved dynamic range, "Bokeh mode" produces DSLR-like images with blurred backgrounds for portraits, and multi-shot night modes offer better low-light shots, with reduced noise.
Here we highlight some of the best camera phones on the market today, up until now, and what makes them unique so you can make a more informed purchase next time you upgrade / buy a new smartphone.
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1. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
With the same cameras as the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is bound to impress, however, Samsung has updated the software to include auto scene recognition which will automatically apply optimum settings to deliver better photos. There's a large 6.4inch screen which makes composing and viewing photos a great experience. There's manual shooting letting you select f/1.5 or f/2.4 apertures with the wide-angle lens. There's also raw support, Auto HDR, and an 8mp f/1.7 selfie camera with autofocus ensuring selfie's are correctly focused. As you'd expect with a premium smartphone, it's waterproof with an IP68 rating. It has plenty of RAM and storage, and comes with a bluetooth stylus that can be used as a remote shutter release! ISO speeds from ISO50 to ISO1250 can be used, and there's a large 4000mAh battery for great battery life.
Camera features at a glance: 12mp, f/1.5-2.4 lens, 26mm equivalent wide-angle, and telephoto f/2.4 lens, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS for both cameras), 4K 60fps video, 8mp selfie camera with AF, MicroSD slot, raw.
2. Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus features an ultra bright f/1.5 - f/2.4 aperture lens, and the S9 Plus has a second telephoto camera. Both feature a 12-megapixel sensor and optical image stabilisation (OIS), and the front selfie camera is an 8mp f/1.7 camera with Auto Focus (AF), which is still quite rare. The screen is an impressive 6.2inch Quad HD+ screen that dominates the front of the phone, whilst maintaining a similar size to other phones with 5.5 or 6inch screens. The phone can capture high-speed video at 960fps, 4K video at 60fps as well as 9-megapixel stills when in video mode. It's dustproof and waterproof to a depth of 1.5m for up to 30 mins. With the ability to expand the memory with a microSD card and tough Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the screen and back on the phone, it's ideal for those who love to get out and about and take lots of images, no matter the weather. It operates at a very impressive speed and you can use the volume control as a shutter button. ISO speeds from ISO50 to ISO1250 can be used, and using the manual mode you can shoot raw images.
Camera features at a glance: 12mp, f/1.5-2.4 lens, 26mm equivalent, telephoto f/2.4 lens, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), 4K 60fps video, 8mp selfie camera with AF, MicroSD slot, raw.
3. Google Pixel 3 / 3 XL
The Google Pixel 3 (and 3 XL) may only have one rear camera but they make up for it by providing some of the best camera software available. This offers a number of intelligent shooting modes that combine a number of shots (often without you even being able to notice any kind of delay). The features include Super-Res technology to give 2x zoom with improved detail. There's a very impressive Night Sight mode, which can give excellent low-light shots. There's a Bokeh effect / portrait shooting mode for portraits, and Auto HDR improves the dynamic range in shots. High-speed continuous shooting may not be new, but the "Top Shot" feature makes it easy to get the best shot, and it all happens quickly, easily, and for the most part automatically.
The Pixel 3 also features dual 8mp front cameras, with an ultra-wide angle, and a wide-angle to let you get more people in to group shots. Available in two sizes, as the Google Pixel 3 with a 5.5inch screen or the Google Pixel 3 XL with a 6.3inch screen and larger battery. Like other premium smartphones, the Pixel 3 is waterproof.
Camera features at a glance: 12mp, f/1.8 lens, 26mm equivalent, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), 4K 30fps video, dual 8mp selfie cameras (ultra-wide and wide-angle), raw.
4. Samsung Galaxy S8
The Samsung Galaxy S8 uses the same, already excellent, camera as the S7, with a 12-megapixel rear camera with dual pixel technology and a bright f/1.7 aperture, and improves the phone with an upgraded 8mp selfie camera with Auto Focus (AF). The screen is an impressive 5.8inch Quad HD+ screen that dominates the front of the phone, whilst maintaining the same compact size as the previous phone! The phone can capture 4K video as well as 9-megapixel stills when in video mode. It's dustproof and waterproof to a depth of 1.5m for up to 30 mins. With the ability to expand the memory with a microSD card and tough Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the screen and back on the phone, it's ideal for those who love to get out and about and take lots of images, no matter the weather. It operates at a very impressive speed and you can use the volume control as a shutter button. ISO speeds from ISO50 to ISO800 are selectable in manual mode.
Camera features at a glance: 12mp, f/1.7 lens, 26mm equivalent, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), 4K video recording, MicroSD slot, raw.
5. Huawei Mate 20 Pro
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro feels, and looks, like a true flagship device, with an abundance of technology crammed into a stylish and relatively compact smartphone, considering the large 6.39inch screen.
The camera is generally great, there's a good ultra-wide-angle camera, with an impressive 2.5cm macro mode. The main camera is the best of the three, giving good results in a variety of situations. The 3x telephoto camera, as we found with the P20 Pro, can struggle with focus (particularly when capturing video). When you switch between the standard and telephoto cameras, the colour saturation often changes, too, however, when the camera does get it right, results can be very good.
If you look at the Huawei Mate 20 Pro as a cutting-edge smartphone, with a very good standard camera, with the option of an ultra-wide-angle and 3x telephoto cameras as optional extras, then you have an extremely versatile smartphone. However, if you expect the ultra-wide-angle and telephoto cameras to be as good as the main camera, then you'll most likely be disappointed.
For the dedicated photographer, you can shoot in Pro mode, and get better images by processing the raw files yourself. For everyone else, you can get great results leaving the camera on default settings, and leaving Master AI to sort everything out for you. 95% of people who buy this smartphone will be extremely happy with the cameras. The fussy, or the more serious photographers, may wish it was just a tiny bit better.
Overall, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is a true flagship smartphone, pushing the boundaries of what's considered possible with a smartphone, with a stylish design, in-screen fingerprint reader, face recognition, 3D scanning (coming soon), impressive battery life, extremely fast processor, plenty of storage and more. With three cameras it offers a variety of shooting possibilities, and will certainly keep the majority of people very impressed.
Camera features at a glance: Leica Triple Cameras (Rear), 20mp f/2.2 Ultra-Wide-Angle Lens - 16mm equivalent, 20mp output, 40mp f/1.8 Standard Lens - 27mm equivalent, 10/40mp output, 8mp f/2.4 Telephoto Lens - 81mm equivalent, 10mp output, with OIS, AI IS, 24mp f/2.0 selfie camera, Dual-tone LEF flash, 4K video, FullHD video, ISO50-102400, 2.5cm macro focus, Super HDR, personalised bokeh
6. Huawei Mate 10 Pro
The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is Huawei's top of the range flagship smartphone, not only does it feature dual Leica f/1.6 cameras with colour and black and white sensors, but also features a top of the range processor, that includes a "Neural Processing Unit" designed to speed up "Artificial Intelligence" (AI), for both smartphone and camera features. The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is a large smartphone, thanks to a 6inch screen, and it's set up with a 12mp f/1.6 colour camera, and a 20mp f/1.6 black and white camera, both lenses equivalent to 27mm in 35mm terms. The main 12mp colour camera features optical image stabilisation, and there is prominent Leica branding next to the cameras on the back, as well as a Dual LED flash. The camera can record 4K (UHD) video, as well as high-speed video at 120fps at FullHD resolution.
If you're looking for a large smartphone, with an emphasis on the camera(s) included, then the Mate 10 Pro certainly offers a complete package.
Camera features at a glance: Dual cameras 12mp colour, 20mp black and white, f/1.6 lenses, 27mm equivalent, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), 4K video recording, MicroSD slot, raw.
7. Google Pixel 2 XL
The Google Pixel 2 XL ticks all the boxes for a flagship smartphone, with a large 18:9 screen, waterproof body and optical image stabilisation. It also makes up for the lack of a second camera by producing some excellent images. It's a shame there's no headphone socket, and we'd like to see more manual control in the default camera app, as settings for the ISO speed and raw shooting would be useful, without having to download other apps. Saying that, for most people, the Google Pixel 2 XL will be a great camera as it's easy to use and produces great results.
Overall, the Google Pixel 2 XL delivers impressive portrait shots and images with high levels of detail, thanks to clever technology.
Camera features at a glance: 12mp f/1.8 camera, 1.4um pixels, OIS, Dual pixel autofocus, dual LED flash, HDR+ shooting, 4K/FullHD Video, water and dust resistant.
8. OnePlus 6
The OnePlus 6 smartphone can be described as an affordable flagship that has premium features at a not so eye-watering price. Image quality is excellent, the camera app gets the 'thumbs-up' and the red version is particularly stylish. We think the OnePlus 6 smartphone is an excellent buy!
The OnePlus6 is a reasonably priced smartphone with specs that make it fit right at home alongside the likes of premium Samsung, Apple and Sony devices. Yes, it doesn't have the kerb appeal an iPhone does but a sensible person can push this to one side and be impressed by what the OnePlus 6 has to offer them.
The main camera performs really well and we really like the camera app which is really intuitive and easy to use. It's a shame the second rear camera doesn't give a longer focal length or something a bit different like a black and white camera (as Huawei do) but with how well the lenses that are built in perform, it's not really a complaint, more of an 'it would be nice'.
The screen size is excellent and viewing isn't a problem and the phone looks smart, particularly the red version which is definitely eye-catching.
There's no microSD slot which is surprising for an Android phone, there's no official IP rating (so don't get it too wet) and there's a lack of stereo speakers but apart from that, we think the OnePlus 6 smartphone is an excellent buy.
Camera features at a glance: Dual 16mp and 20mp f/1.7 lenses, 27.22mm equivalent, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) & Electronic Image Stabilisation (EIS), 4K video recording.
9. Apple iPhone X
The Apple iPhone X marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone and the iPhone X's camera which builds on the dual camera of the iPhone 7 Plus, but features updated cameras, with both the wide-angle (28mm equivalent) and telephoto (56mm equivalent) lenses now featuring Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), a brighter aperture for the telephoto lens (f/2.4 instead of f/2.8), and a larger sensor. Both dual cameras feature 12-megapixels, same as the iPhone 8 Plus, and the wide-angle lens features an f/1.8 aperture.
The front 'selfie' camera has 7-megapixels as well as an aperture of f/2.2 and you can use Portrait Mode to create 'bokeh' in the background of your self-portraits.
Some other features worth mentioning include the 5.8" super retina HD screen which is surrounded by a smaller bezel so the smartphone remains a reasonable size, a water and dust resistant design and those who capture video can now do so in 4K up to 60fps. As with previous iPhone models, there's no headphone socket.
The iPhone X is unmistakably a premium smartphone that's built well, feels solid and looks really great.
Camera features at a glance: Dual 12mp wide-angle and telephoto lenses, f/1.8 & f/2.4, 28mm and 56mm equivalent, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), 4K video recording.
10. Huawei P20
The Huawei P20 is a powerhouse of a phone with excellent camera cability and plenty of camera options including RAW ability and manual controls, all in a stunningly sleek body.
The Huawei P20 is a well-built smartphone offering an outstanding set of cameras, which are sure to please even the most discerning of smartphone photographers. With lightning-fast reaction times and plenty of shooting options including a Pro mode that lets you shoot RAW images and offers full manual control, the phone is a great choice for those that want a phone that's designed with the photographer in mind.
The secondary monochrome camera offers sharp detailed photos and a bright f/1.6 aperture. The phone comes with plenty of RAM and storage, and at this price, it's one of the more affordable premium smartphones
Camera features at a glance: 12 megapixels RGB f/1.8 and 20 megapixel BW f/1.6 dual Leica rear cameras, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), 4K video recording.