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The best camera phones in 2021

best camera phones
(Image credit: grinvalds on Getty Images)
5 best camera phones

If taking photos is your number one priority, the competition is fierce amongst the best camera phones out now. For those in the market for an upgrade, the choices are plentiful whether you’re after a pocketable point-and-shoot camera to supplement a bulky DSLR, or a brilliant mobile video camera. Obviously, for professionals making a full-time living from photography, grabbing one of the best cameras out there is still crucial. But your smartphone can act as an excellent backup, and could even pack some tricks up its sleeve missing from higher-end dedicated snappers like 8K video.

We've tested hundreds of smartphones, and whittled our list of best camera phones you can buy down to just ten. We'll cover multiple price points, but if you're looking for something particularly cheap, check out our roundup of the best budget camera phones. That way you can invest in the (much more reasonable) best smartphone lenses or a smartphone tripod with all the cash you've saved to boost your mobile imaging.

The best camera phones available now

best camera phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultracb badge

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

01. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The do-it-all smartphone

Release date: January 2021 | Weight: 227 g (Sub6), 229 g (mmWave) | Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6.8-inch | Resolution: 1440x3200 | CPU: Exynos 2100 (5 nm) - International Snapdragon 888 (5 nm) - USA/China | RAM: 12GB/16GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Battery: 5,000Ah | Rear camera: 108MP + 10MP + 10MP + 12MP | Front camera: 40MP

 Wacom pen tech 
 Excellent camera zoom 
Big and bulky 

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra does everything you need it to do. Its big, bright, bold, beautiful benchmark of a screen will dazzle you while watching your favourite content. And with S Pen support (S Pen sold separately), not to mention the most versatile camera system available, it’s also a creative suite unto itself, allowing you to shoot 8K video and snap pics with its 108MP stills camera and 10x zoom.

With a top-of-the-line processor, wireless charging, water resistance, and a smart interface, it’s difficult to find fault with the Galaxy S21 Ultra if you can get past its high price and hefty frame. The phone even doubles up as a desktop experience thanks to DeX, Samsung’s big-screen user interface, which fires up when you connect it to a computer or a monitor. 

In turn, with fewer shortcomings than possibly any flagship phone on the market, Samsung is once again back on top of the Android world, and owing to its versatility, many will prefer the S21 Ultra as a package to the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Best camera phone: iPhone 12 Pro Maxcb badge

(Image credit: Apple)

02. iPhone 12 Pro Max

The best smartphone camera for most people

Weight: 228g | Dimensions: 160.8mm x 78.1mm x 7.4mm | OS: iOS 14 | Screen size: 6.7-inch | Resolution: 1284 x 2778 | CPU: A14 Bionic | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Battery: 3687mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 12MP

Powerful camera
Great battery life
Very expensive
Large build

The iPhone 12 Pro Max ranks right near the top of the list as one of the very best camera phones in the world. It has a 12MP f/1.6 main camera, a 12MP f/2.2 telephoto one (along with 2.5x optical zoom), a 12MP f/2.4 ultra-wide camera, and a bonus LiDAR scanner, for great Night Mode portraits.

Night and low light shots is something the iPhone 12 Pro Max clearly excels in, made possible by its large sensor. Night Mode itself can be used with both the main and ultra-wide sensors too, which is another handy bonus for low light photographers.

A new feature Apple has introduced is HDR3, which combines multiple exposures to create the best possible shot, which can be applied in all lighting conditions.

Throw in a bunch of great editing features and Dolby Vision video, it’s plain to see this is by far the best camera setup Apple has ever produced. For most people, this is the absolute best smartphone camera experience currently available, as it doesn’t have the major app problem that the Huawei Mate 40 Pro has.

Huawei Mate 40 Procb badge

(Image credit: Huawei)

03. Huawei Mate 40 Pro

An insanely good photography experience

Release date: November 2020 | Weight: 212g | Dimensions: 162.9 x 75.5 x 9.1 mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.76-inch | Resolution: 1344 x 2772 | CPU: Kirin 9000 5G | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128/256GB | Battery: 4400mAh | Rear camera: 50MP (wide, f/1.9) + 12MP (periscope telephoto, f/3.4) + 20MP (ultrawide, f/1.8) | Front camera: 13MP (ultrawide, f/2.4)

Stunning design
 Superb all-round camera skills
Lack of apps due to removal of Play Store

First things first - the Mate 40 Pro has one tragic flaw, and it’s a deal breaker for most people. Thanks to the Google trade ban in the US, you can’t access Google’s own app store. Huawei’s store is still playing catch up, and you’re likely to be frustrated with certain apps not working, even if you can easily download them online.

Having said that, the Mate 40 Pro is still the best cameraphone in the world, offering the best overall complete package. Both regular and ultra-wide angle shots look superb in both well-lit and dark conditions, while the 5x optical zoom performs remarkably well even in lower light too. Focusing is fast and snappy, and the front-facing selfie camera also cram in larger groups, thanks to its wide angle lens. 

Throw in super-stabilised video with impressive HDR for good measure, and you have a smartphone with a camera that’s capable of excelling at any task you care to throw at it. If you care about photography more than anything else, this is the current smartphone to beat. 

best camera phone: iPhone 12

(Image credit: Apple)

04. iPhone 12 & iPhone 12 mini

Most affordable iPhone-grade camera

Weight: 164g / 135g | Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm / 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.4mm | OS: iOS 14 | Screen size: 6.1-inch / 5.4-inch | Resolution: 1170 x 2532 / 1080 x 2340 | CPU: A14 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB | Battery: 2,815mAh / 2,227mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP | Front camera: 12MP

Great low light performance
Colourful designs
No telephoto lens
Battery life could be better

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini serve up the exact same camera experiences, and are both a noticeable step down from the iPhone 12 Pro models. They lost both the telephoto lens and LiDAR scanner, and have a 12MP f/1.6 main camera, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide one, and a 12MP f/2.2 snapper on the front.

Despite losing a few features to their Pro brothers, all of the cameras perform well, and continue to beat most other handsets in low light environments. Smart HDR3 is still included, making use of AI to enhance images, while Dolby Vision also remains for adding more flair to your recordings. 

Best camera phone: Huawei P40 Pro

(Image credit: Huawei)

05. Huawei P40 Pro

Best value flagship camera

Release: April 2020 | Screen size: 6.5" | Screen type: OLED | Resolution: 1200 x 2640 pixels | Sharpness: 441 PPI | Certification: HDR10, 90Hz | Dimensions: 158.2 x 72.6 x 9 mm | Weight: 209g | Rear camera: 50MP (wide + OIS) + 40MP (ultra-wide) + 12MP (telephoto) | Front camera: 32MP (wide) | Maximum video resolution: 4K, 60fps | Storage: 128GB-512GB | Memory card slot: Yes (Nano Memory) | Battery: 4500mAh | Pen input: No

Stellar imaging
Gorgeous design
No Google services
Big screen cutout

Huawei’s successor to the fantastic P30 Pro is a worthy follow-up from a camera point of view, but the phone isn’t as easy to recommend as its predecessor. 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 at the behest of President Trump himself. 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. 

Google stuff aside for a second, and there’s no denying the camera power behind this flagship smartphone. It packs four cameras around the back and two on the front. Delivering a stellar main camera with a 50MP sensor resolution and a nice and wide 23mm field of view, come day or night, it nails it. Then there’s the 5x periscope zoom – it pulls in close and stays sharp. Add to the mix an ultra-wide, GoPro style camera as well as a depth sensor, and all your bases are covered, with the P40 Pro bettering big hitters from Google and Samsung. 

With up to 256GB storage and a nippy processor, internals will leave you wanting for nothing, and when they come packaged in such a beautiful glass and metal chassis, the outside matches what’s within. It even feels special; Huawei has curved the screen on all four sides, so whether you’re swiping in from up, down, left, or right, your thumb will effortlessly glide across the display.

Google Pixel 5

(Image credit: Google)

06. Google Pixel 5

Solid camera with great software and editing smarts

Release date: October 2020 | Weight: 151g | Dimensions: 144.7mm x 70.4mm x 8mm | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6-inch | Resolution: 2340 x 1080 | CPU: Snapdragon 765G | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 4000mAh | Rear camera: 16MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP

Fantastic camera software
Handsome, minimal design
No telephoto camera
Night shots could be better

The Google Pixel 5 actually has a rather simple, less feature-packed imaging setup with only two lenses – a 12.2MP f/1.7 main camera, and a 16MP f.2.2 ultra-wide offering. That’s right, Google has opted for no telephoto zoom camera, which is a shame.

Despite this, the Pixel 5 uses the tools available very well, capturing crisp, detailed shots with accurate colours in good lighting, although performance drops somewhat in low light conditions. While the ultra-wide lens is great for cramming more into a single shot, there is some noticeable distortion at the edges.

An area in which the Pixel 5 really shines though, is its software, with features like Portrait Light brightening faces and subjects, along with a powerful set of in-built editing tools for perfecting shots after they’re taken.

best camera phones: Oppo Find X2 Pro

(Image credit: Oppo)

07. Oppo Find X2 Pro

Great for file-hoarders

Release: March 2020 | Screen size: 6.7-inches | Screen type: OLED | Resolution: 1440 x 3168 pixels | Sharpness: 513 pixels-per-inch | Certification: Gorilla Glass 6, HDR10, 120Hz | Dimensions: 65.2 x 74.4 x 8.8 mm | Weight: 217g | Rear camera: 48MP (wide + OIS) | Front camera: 32MP (wide) | Maximum video resolution: 4K, 60fps | Storage: 512GB | Memory card slot: No | Battery: 4260mAh

Fastest charging
Highest storage capacity
No wireless charging

Oppo has been relatively unknown until recently, but it landed with a bang. Last year, its branding was all over Wimbledon, and now it’s launched one of the best smartphones of the year so far, the Find X2 Pro.

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

best camera phones: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

(Image credit: Samsung)

08. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

Best camera phone for illustrators

Release date: August 2020 | Weight: 208g | Dimensions: 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm | OS: Android 10.0 | Screen size: 6.9-inch | Resolution: 1440x3088 | CPU: Exynos 990 | RAM: 12GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery: 4,500mAh | Rear camera: 108MP + 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 10MP

Detailed photos
Fantastic manual video
 Battery could be better 

The Note 20 Ultra is a camera phone behemoth on paper. Its main sensor resolution is a whopping 108MP, and its Galaxy S20 Ultra-beating optical zoom gets you as close to the action as the P40 Pro. That being said, the main reason the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G isn’t higher on our list is its automatic mode. Unless you switch to night mode or Pro Mode, it just isn’t quite where the competition from Huawei is in low light, and its focus falls short on occasion when capturing stills, even if it does pack best-in-class video autofocus.

The Note 20 Ultra’s night mode is also very good - a huge improvement over that of its predecessor. The phone also packs stellar zoom performance with a 120mm optical range and fantastic video capabilities. That said, as a point and shoot, the camera falls short when compared to the iPhone 11 Pro or the P40 Pro Plus.

Any quibbles, however, may not matter for creatives you just want to doodle. The Note-series, is the best out there if you’re a fan of putting pen to screen on your mobile. With its Wacom digitiser and 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, you can fire up an app like Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and create multi-layered files on the go, then import them into Photoshop to work on when you get back to your studio. The S Pen’s iPad Pro matching 9ms latency and the screen’s 120Hz refresh rate combine beautifully with the phone’s Dynamic AMOLED technology to look spectacular - and its design is also something special too.

best camera phones: OnePlus 8 Pro

(Image credit: OnePlus)

09. OnePlus 8 Pro

Glacier green meets a killer screen

Release: April 2020 | Screen size: 6.78-inches | Screen type: AMOLED | Resolution: 1440 x 3168 pixels | Sharpness: 513 pixels-per-inch | Certification: HDR10+, Gorilla Glass 6, 120Hz | Dimensions: 166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm | Weight: 199g | Rear camera: 48MP (wide + OIS) + 8MP (telephoto) + 48MP (ultra-wide) + Color Effect sensor | Front camera: 16MP (wide) | Maximum video resolution: 8K, 30fps | Storage: 128/256GB | Memory card slot: Yes | Battery: 5000mAh

Good at everything
Gorgeous display
Very big
Zoom could be better

OnePlus phones have always screamed value for money, packing a select range of flagship specs while undercutting the best from the rest. The OnePlus 8 Pro pulls a bit of a switcheroo, bumping up the price, and packing in a bunch of extra features like wireless charging and water resistance, thereby competing head-on with flagships from Samsung and Apple. 

Luckily for OnePlus, in this instance, the gamble pays off. The OnePlus 8’s screen is the same panel as found on the Oppo Find X2 Pro, and it’s stunningly sharp, deep and vibrant all at the same time. Its cameras incorporate Sony’s latest 48MP sensor, which grabs beautiful depth. Thanks to improved nighttime performance, even when the lights go down, pictures shot on it look great. Where it falls behind the Oppo Find X2 Pro and Huawei P40 Pro is zoom, though its 3x optical zoom matches that of its main competition, the Samsung Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus like-for-like.   

The OnePlus 8 Pro is also a power-packed beast from a specs point of view. The processor is top of the line, it charges at up to 30W, both wired and wireless, which is a boon for anyone in a hurry, and thanks to its stereo speakers, it sounds as good as it looks. How good does it look? In its new, frosted Glacial Green guide, very good indeed; curving glass and metal masterfully for a rich-feeling device that’s easy on the eyes.

best camera phone: Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Samsung)

10. Samsung Galaxy S21 5G

Premium Samsung features at a lower price

Release date: January 2021 | Weight: 169 g (Sub6), 171 g (mmWave) | Dimensions: 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm | OS: Android 11, One UI 3.1 | Screen size: 6.2-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2400 | CPU: Exynos 2100 - International / Snapdragon 888 - USA/China | RAM: 8GBGB | Storage: 128GB/256GB | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 64MP (telephoto) + 12MP (wide) + 12MP (ultrawide) | Front camera: 10MP

Great price point
Sleekly designed
No optical zoom
Same specs as previous generation

The Samsung Galaxy S21 may be the latest flagship from Samsung, but it’s actually pared right back when compared to the S21 Ultra. In fact, it’s almost like the S20, version two. 

Despite looking incredibly fancy, its back panel is plastic, a first for the flagship line, which has been sporting glass on either side for generations. The cameras also sport the same specs as last year’s model, two 12MP sensors around the back, as well as a 64MP sensor, and there’s no optical zoom to speak of, just a digital zoom. 

This confusingly capped spec-sheet is all part of Samsung’s plan to keep costs down, and indeed, the S21 isn’t as expensive as the S20 was when it launched. That said, with the S20 FE and other phones available for less and offering more on the camera front, this year’s entry-level Samsung flagship fails to make the splash its larger, pricier sibling the Galaxy S21 Ultra does. 

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