If you love your photography, but don't want to carry a weighty DSLR around with you all day, the best camera phones offer high-end image technology with supreme portability. But which one should you go for? We're here to breakdown the pros and cons of all the top camera phones currently on market.
We've picked out our 10 favourite handsets based on our reviewing and testing experience and detailed comparison of the specs. Be warned: a lot of the phones we've featured are the flagships of their lines, meaning they come at a considerable price. We've made an effort to also include some cheaper options, but please check out our guide to the best budget camera phones if the phones below - which often hover around the $1,000 mark for sim-free handset – are out of your price range.
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If you thought smartphone cameras couldn't get any better, Samsung stepped up to the plate to prove you wrong with the magnificent Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and its 200MP flagship camera. Now, granted, you're not likely to be shooting 200MP images very often – the real tricks are in features like 16-in-1 pixel binning that greatly enhances light and detail, delivering images of superb quality even in dark conditions. The quad-camera array on the S23 Ultra gives you real shooting flexibility, with a 10x optical zoom that brings distant subjects closer, as well as an ultra-wide module and a dedicated autofocus array.
You can ignore that headline-grabbing 100x zoom mode – it's mostly a gimmick that's pretty much impossible to use in the real world, and Samsung has come under some flak recently for possibly augmenting its 'Space Zoom' shots with some AI trickery. But this doesn't detract from the fundamentals of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. It's simply the best-specced smartphone camera array on the market right now. Drop into Pro mode and record in .DNG raw format for the ultimate in shooting flexibility and performance.
If you're strictly Team Apple, the latest flagship iPhones are of the best camera phones out there. The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max offer enough of an improvement over the 14 series to land on our list, even if they don't look all that different, design-wise.
The Pro and Pro Max have significantly better cameras than the standard iPhone, sporting that additional third lens (the Pro Max has a telephoto with 5X optical zoom, the Pro is 3X), and excellent macro abilities. Though the cameras are an incremental upgrade over the 14 Pro and Pro Max, there are improvements that include lens choices, that 5X zoom on the Pro Max (the previous were 3X), technical sounding 'nano-scale coatings', which apparently improve flare and ghosting and an improved photonic (machine learning) engine that will give better output.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, while one generation old, is one of the best phones for creatives – as well as one of the best smartphones in general. It has a dazzling 6.8-inch screen with a 2K resolution, and the S Pen stylus means you can sketch or take notes with ease. But it really shines when it comes to mobile photography.
In reviewing the S22 Ultra, we found that whether we wanted to take a wide shot of a big view, needed to jump in close for a portrait shop or wanted to travel far (and really far) into the distance for a zoom shot, we could rely on it to provide. Photos taken with a 30x zoom are much clearer here than what the S21 Ultra could produce, and night photography yields warmer tones and more balanced contrasts.
And if you're into making movies on your smartphone, the S22 Ultra offers a Pro Videography mode that'll allow you to select which lens you want to shoot on and what range the mic is recording in – plus other tweaks like white balance and focus, as you'd find in the Pro Photography mode. You can shoot up to 8K video, but know it'll drain the battery and cause the phone to overheat.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review.
It's not been long since Google announced the launch of the Pixel 7 Pro, and that means that right now we're seeing some great deals on its predecessor, the 2021 Pixel 6 Pro. The older phone is still widely available, and as its price has come down in the wake of its successor, we think it's really worth considering as one of the best-value camera phones.
Indeed, the Google Pixel 6 Pro was awarded the best camera phone of the year in the Creative Bloq Awards 2022. It has a big 50MP sensor on its main camera, which takes in a lot of light, as well as a powerful telephoto and ultra-wide camera.
Best of all is Google's software. We found the AI scene optimization to be fantastic at tweaking pictures. Night Sight is fairly good for low-light photography, and the Magic Eraser is good at editing out unwanted objects and even people if the shot's clean enough, although Photoshop doesn't need to worry too much yet. It can get hot, and battery life is poor when compared to the S22 Ultra and the iPhone 14 Pro Max, although no worse than the iPhone 14 Pro.
Sony's been putting out some great cameras, so you would hope for good things from its camera phones, and the fourth-generation Xperia 1 doesn't disappoint. It justifies its place on this list thanks to a few key features designed more for professional photographers than average consumers.
The zoom camera on the Xperia 1 IV has a moving lens, which facilitates continuous optical zoom between 3.5x and 5.2x, giving the phone a competitive edge for people who like zoom photography. The phone also sports a physical shutter button, which can be partially depressed to find focus or fully pressed to take a picture, giving a camera-esque experience.
Meanwhile, for the first time on a Sony phone, you can record 4K and 120fps footage on any of the three rear cameras and one on the front, which is useful for videographers and bloggers. We also quite like Sony's creativity apps like Photography Pro and Cinema Pro (there's also Audio Pro for music). The photography app isn't the easiest to use since it's modelled on cameras rather than smartphones, but if you're familiar with using a DSLR, you'll have no problem with it.
Read more in our in-depth Sony Xperia 1 IV review.
OnePlus's high-end phone from 2022 offers an impressive trio of rear cameras, with the company's partnership with pro camera manufacturer Hasselblad paying off again. We found the main, ultra-wide and telephoto cameras offer a lovely shallow depth in a lot of shots, although some might feel the AI optimisations leave the pictures a little oversaturated.
There are some unique modes available. XPan, inspired by the niche Hasselblad camera of the same name, takes wide panoramas, while 150-degree mode uses the ultra-wide camera to create a fisheye-like effect.
Beyond the camera, we found the OnePlus 10 Pro to be a well-rounded Android phone with a good-looking screen, fast charging and plenty of processing power. As with all phones, it has a few rough edges, and we found it ran hot when put through intense use. OnePlus has since released an update, the OnePlus 11 (there's no Pro version coming anytime soon), and while it is a little cheaper and sports some camera upgrades, it lacks the 150-degree ultra-wide module on the 10 Pro.
Read more in our in-depth OnePlus 10 Pro review.
The Oppo Find X5 Pro was one of the most talked about top-end smartphones of 2022, and mostly because of its camera, thanks to help from Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad. There's a 32MB selfie on the front and three lenses on the back neatly grouped into a kind of plateau: a main 50MP with a super fast f/1.7 aperture, an ultra-wide-angle 50MP camera with f/2.2 and a 13MP telephoto lens with f/2.4. Gone is the Find X3 Pro's dedicated microscopic macro lens.
The two main lenses are fantastic with great, vivid colours and the low apertures allow fast shots. The telephoto lens is less impressive, with only a 2X zoom, which lags behind much of the competition. The new Marisilicon X neural processing unit applies AI imaging algorithms right on RAW data to improve noise reduction in low light for photos and 4K video. Meanwhile, Hasselblad's filters that can add a film-like quality to the most mundane of images.
Cameras aside, the Oppo Find X5 Pro has a unique, sleek design – its camera bump is a smooth slope rather tan a clumsy protrusion. The display is also very good and highly adjustable.
Read more in our in-depth Oppo Find X5 review.
Realme isn't a company that often gets onto 'best camera phone' lists, generally due to its lack of top-end smartphones, but the GT 2 Pro is its first top-end phone and it wins Realme a place on this list. The phone's 50MP main and ultra-wide cameras are great, but the real reason the phone is on this list is its 40x magnification microscope camera.
We found Realme's mobile miraculous for how it offers impressive camera features at a much lower price than you'd expect. The main camera is incredible for low-light photography, and would definitely give an iPhone a run for its money. It also captures loads of colour and light in daylight or well-lit settings.
We had loads of fun playing about with the microscope camera, and this is a great phone for a few other reasons too. It charges quickly, its screen looks great, and it's very powerful. Plus, it's one of the most affordable mobiles on this list, making it a great alternative to the big flashy phones from the bigger brands.
Read more in our in-depth Realme GT Pro 2 review.
If you long for the days when flip phones were the standard, there's the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4. Samsung has continued to make the right tweaks in order to produce the lightest and thinnest Fold phone yet.
There are five cameras spread around the Z Fold 4 – three on the back, a selfie camera in the front display, and then another in the inner display. These aren't Samsung's best cameras, but they're a notable upgrade from the previous foldable, with a 50MP main camera with an f/1.8 lens, a 12MP ultra-wide and a 10MP, 3x zoom telephoto. The selfie camera on the cover display is also 10MP, but the in-display selfie camera is a rather lacklustre 4MP. A fun feature of the phone is the way its foldability allows it to work as its own tripod. And if you open it up while taking a shot, you can give subjects a preview by duplicating your viewfinder to the front display.
This is undeniably a pricey phone, so some users may want to consider Samsung's other current folding option, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4. Just be aware it uses just a two-camera array on the rear, rather than the triple-setup of the Fold 4.
Read more in our hands-on Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 review.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is still a great choice if you manage to find a decent deal. Its camera array is largely the same as the one that was found on the successor S22 Ultra featured further up our list, offering fantastic flexibility with 108MP main camera and 100x digital zoom.
Features elsewhere across the board still stand up today. The S21 Ultra boasts a top-notch processor, a water-resistant body and wireless charging. It can connect to a monitor and double up as a desktop experience using Samsung’s big-screen interface DeX, and supports Samsung’s S Pen for drawing and note-taking.
What you don't get on the S21 Ultra is S Pen stylus support, which was only introduced on the later S22 Plus. Other than that, it's a fairly similar set up. It's worth really worth buying if you can find it significantly cheaper than the S22, but be aware that those deals come and go.
Read more in our in-depth Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.
How to choose the best camera phone
Obviously there's no one camera phone that s perfect for all users. In our minds, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra comes pretty close, but what about all those Apple lovers? That's why we've picked these 10 options, with different users in mind.
You've got to think about the overall strengths of each camera, what the device focuses on (!). Some have long-ranging zoom cameras, either optical, digital or a combination of both. Others might focus on sensor size or dedicated macro lenses. Available modes might help too, as most brands create their own camera modes. Samsung has Single Take and Food, both of which help you take great-looking pictures with little work, while OnePlus and Oppo have some gorgeous Hasselblad-created filters.
Finally, the shooting experience could influence your buying choice. Some phones offer an easy point-and-shoot experience, so that at the tap of a button you can take social-media-ready posts, while others have a more involved process that makes it easy to fiddle with different settings. Your choice here will depend on your comfort level with cameras, and we've definitely noted anything pertinent in our reviews above.
Of course, you need to consider the rest of the phone experience in your choice too. You're choosing a camera phone, not just a camera, so you also want to consider general processing power, screen quality, batter life and the size of phone you want.
How we test our camera phones
You can look at a spec sheet all you want (and believe me, we do), but really nothing betters getting a camera phone in your hands and having a play. And doing that for long enough to get a good feel for the handset, and to find out what the photography experience is like with it.
That's what we've done with the majority of camera phones above. And where we haven't had a chance to review the model ourselves, we've consulted friends in the business, and sister tech sites that have had time with the handset, and picked their brains. Our thinking is, you may buy one of the models above based on our recommendation, so we need to be 100% sure that we've done a good job of providing the actual best camera phones out there.
Our writers are professional photographers and keen enthusiasts, and so are in tune with all types of potential users, and what they most desire from a camera phone.
How much do the best camera phones cost?
None of the phones in our pick of the best camera phones is cheap. Based on the manufacturers' recommended retail prices, our recommended choices for the best camera phone range from $699 / £699 for the Realme GT 2 Pro to $1,099 / £1,199 for the new iPhone 14 Pro Max and a staggering $1,799 / £1,499 for the Galaxy Z Fold 4 – and those prices are for the starting configurations.
That's a difference of $400 in the US and £500 in the UK – large enough to possibly be a factor in your decision. But when it comes to comparing our top picks, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro Max, the difference in price is pretty minimal, with only around $100 generally separating the two (it depends which configuration you go for).
That said, some of the phones on our list are more likely to see discounts than others. Samsung often offers deals on its phones, especially during events like Black Friday, while Apple doesn't. Your best bet to save on an iPhone is through trade in or through a deal with a phone carrier. Google's Pixel 6 Pro is also seeing some great deals at the moment because of the release of the Pixel 7 Pro.
Are camera phones as good as digital cameras?
This is a slightly complex question. In certain ways, camera phones have physical limitations that make them inferior in a lot of ways to the best cameras. The big one is sensor size – smartphones have to use physically smaller sensors than cameras. Larger sensors are able to use larger individual pixels, which creates a cleaner image with less noise, and makes for better low-light performance.
However, clever computational tricks mean that camera phones are catching up. For instance, the 200MP camera on the Samsung Galaxy S23 isn't really for capturing 200MP images (though it can), it's designed to use a technique called pixel binning that combines several pixel into one, creating a digital simulation of the larger pixels on a camera's sensor. This improves image clarity, and makes shooting modes like Night Photography much more potent.
Of course, some people will always prefer the form factor of a real digital camera, and we haven't even touched upon the advantage (and expense) of being able to swap lenses. Suffice to say, cameras and camera phones each have their place, and neither one is really empirically 'better' these days.