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The best camera phones in 2021

Best camera phones
(Image credit: Redd on Unsplash)
5 best camera phones

If you’re looking to buy the best camera phone on the market, you’re going to have a hard time finding just one mobile for you, because there are so many fantastic options available to you from different companies.

Most premium smartphones boast plenty of cameras on the back with high-megapixel sensors, varied lenses, and smart AI optimizations and software to help you capture a fantastic photo or video wherever you are. It’s no wonder that many professionals now use smartphones to record video or capture amazing-looking images, and you can join their ranks too with these devices.

Camera capabilities have become a big selling point in most top-end smartphones, with many brands joining forces with traditional camera and lens companies like Zeiss, Hasselblad and Leica to improve their hardware or bring extra software modes.

For this guide, we’ve found the all-around best camera phones, regardless of their price or value-for-money proposition - that means most of the options are pretty expensive. There is a market for fantastic budget camera phones, but that’s not what this guide is about. Sure, these won’t quite compare to the best cameras you can buy, but some of them are close.

If you’re a fan of Apple’s smartphones, we’ve got a guide on the best iPhones for photography which you should check out - the list you're looking at now covers both Apple and Android smartphones, with top camera phones from both sides.

So if you’re on the market for a phone to capture high-res, great-looking videos, or amazing-looking photos with great color and contrast (or information for subsequent editing), we’ve got you covered.

The best camera phones available now

best camera phone: iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Maxcb badge

(Image credit: Apple)

01. iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max

Apple's newest powerhouses

Release date: September 2021 | Weight: 204g / 240g | Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.7mm / 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.7mm | OS: iOS 15 | Screen size: 6.1-inch / 6.7-inch | Resolution: 1170x2532 / 1284x2778 | CPU: A15 Bionic | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Battery: 3,095mAh / 4,373mAh | Rear camera: 12MP (wide, f/1.5) + 12MP (telephoto, 3x optical zoom, f/2.8) + 12MP (ultra-wide, 120-degree, f/1.8) | Front camera: 12MP (wide, f/2.2)

Fantastic processing software
New macro photography mode
Very expensive
Limited upgrades over iPhone 12 series

Apple's iPhone 13 family was launched in late 2021, and the Pro and Pro Max handsets are the top siblings in the line. Sure, they're not huge upgrades over the iPhone 12 devices, but some of the biggest upgrades are in the camera software department.

The iPhone 13 and 13 Pro beat out their predecessors with a new macro mode which lets you take detailed pictures of close-up objects like food, bugs or plants. There are also improvements to videography with  Cinematic Video, and you can now focus pull while capturing film, which will be really useful for people trying to shoot movies on their phone.

One other change to the iPhone 13 Pro devices might appeal to the artist in you: now you can finally buy iPhones with 1TB internal storage, so you can now capture many more pictures or hours of film without running out of space.

That's all on top of the iOS mobile you know and love (or don't love, in the case of Android fans) with a powerful processor, good-looking screen and okayish battery life.

best camera phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultracb badge

(Image credit: Samsung)

02. 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 (International), Snapdragon 888 (US & China) | RAM: 12GB, 16GB | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB | Battery: 5,000Ah | Rear camera: 108MP (wide, f/1.8) + 10MP (periscope, 10x optical zoom, f/4.9) + 10MP (telephoto, 3x optical zoom, f/2.4) + 12MP (ultrawide, 120-degree, f/2.2) | Front camera: 40MP (wide, f/2.2)

 Wacom pen tech 
 Excellent camera zoom 
Big and bulky 

Remember when phones had one camera? Well, now they have five. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best Android camera phone you can get right now, and certainly has the best zoom capability of any phone we’ve ever seen. 

The phenomenal power of the four-camera array on the rear has to be seen to be believed. The main sensor is a 108MP model that gives you immense digital zooming and cropping ability, with a new autofocus system that fixes the sharpness issues with the S20 Ultra. It is ably backed up by two 10MP telephoto sensors and a 12MP ultra-wide. This gives you amazing shooting flexibility for a smartphone, and a frankly scary ability to capture shots at a distance. The 40MP selfie camera, completing the quintet, also acquits itself well.

Features elsewhere across the board are predictably great. 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. 

There’s not much to criticise. It’s expensive, of course, but if you’re going to go after the biggest Android manufacturer’s brand-new flagship phone, you’d hardly expect anything else. If you want the best camera phone, this is it. 

best camera phone: iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Maxcb badge

(Image credit: Apple)

03. iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max

Apple's older Pro phones are still worthy

Relaese date: October 2020 | Weight: 189g / 228g | Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm / 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.4mm | OS: iOS 14 | Screen size: 6.1-inch / 6.7-inch | Resolution: 1170x2532 / 1284x2778 | CPU: A14 Bionic | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB. 256GB, 512GB | Battery: 2,815mAh / 3,687mAh | Rear camera: 12MP (wide, f/1.6) + 12MP (telephoto, 2x optical zoom, f/2.0) + 12MP (ultra-wide, 120-degree, f/2.4) | Front camera: 12MP (wide, f/2.2)

Powerful camera
Good-looking color options
Still very expensive
Battery life isn't amazing

No one could argue with you for saying that the iPhone 12 Pro Max is one of the best camera phones ever made, With a 12MP f1.6 main camera, a 12MP f/2.2 telephoto camera that can achieve a 2.5x optical zoom and a 12MP f/2.4 ultra-wide camera, it’s absolutely bristling with imaging technology. The iPhone 12 Pro is the same, but with a smaller body.

Sure, the newer iPhone 13 Pro models beat out their older relatives, but only by a small amount - sure, the improved optical zoom, new macro mode and bigger sensors of the new phones are nice, but the older phones aren't far behind.

Low-light shooting has always been a problem for smartphones, as their size and shape prohibits the use of really large sensors that you’d find in cameras, which hurts the dynamic range of images. The iPhone 12 Pro has a larger sensor than most, meaning it’s streets ahead of the majority of smartphones in terms of low-light capability. What’s more, it has a LiDAR scanner that improves its Night Mode portraits by improving the depth sensing in low light. Apple has also added HDR3, which combines multiple exposures for the best possible image. This can be used in any lighting conditions, again potentially giving you a little extra oomph in low light.

Editing images on an iPhone is easy as anything, and the video has been improved with Dolby Vision too. The iPhone 12 Pro phones are a stunning achievement. 

best camera phone: Huawei Mate 40 Pro

(Image credit: Huawei)

04. Huawei Mate 40 Pro

An insanely good photography experience

Release date: November 2020 | Weight: 212g | Dimensions: 162.9 x 75.5 x 9.1mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.76-inch | Resolution: 1344x2772 | CPU: Kirin 9000 5G | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128, 256GB | Battery: 4,400mAh | Rear camera: 50MP (wide, f/1.9) + 12MP (periscope, 5x optical zoom, f/3.4) + 20MP (ultrawide, f/1.8) | Front camera: 13MP (ultrawide, f/2.4) + TOF

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. 

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

05. Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

The most over-the-top camera phone

Release: March 2021 | Screen size: 6.81" | Resolution: 1440x3200 pixels | Dimensions: 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.4 mm | Weight: 234g | Rear camera: 50MP (wide + OIS) + 48MP (ultra-wide) + 48MP (telephoto) | Front camera: 20MP (wide) | Storage: 128GB/256GB | Battery: 5000mAh | Release date: March 2021 | Weight: 234g | Dimensions: 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.4mm | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6.81-inch | Resolution: 1440x3200 | CPU: Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 12GB, | Storage: 256GB, 512GB | Battery: 5,000mAh | Rear camera: 50MP (wide, f/2.0) + 48MP (periscope, 5x optical zoom, f/4.1) + 48MP (ultrawide, 128-degree, f/2.2) **Front camera:** 20MP (wide, f/2.2)

Fast charging
Excellent camera
Bulky design

If we’re talking about hardware alone, then the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has everything it takes to be the best camera phone on our list. It’s got the largest camera sensor ever seen on a smartphone, creeping up to the 1-inch sensor size seen on pro-grade compact cameras. The result of such a large sensor is photos with beautifully shallow depth of field. Of the three cameras around the back, each is around 50MP in resolution, so whether you’re zooming or going ultra-wide, you won’t need to compromise on photo quality. 

It isn’t just the camera sensors that are exceptional on the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. On the phone’s hefty rear camera bump around the back, there’s a second screen so you can take selfies and group shots with the best camera on the handset. 

What’s the price you pay for such fantastic photography capabilities you might be wondering? Well, the phone isn’t exactly affordable, costing £1,199 (around $1,670). In addition to its imposing price is an imposing physique; the Mi 11 Ultra weighs 234g, making it one of the heaviest smartphones currently on the market. 

While you get plenty of power for the price (and weight) of the phone, not to mention stacks of storage and one of the best screens to ever grace a smartphone, the Mi 11 Ultra does have a few niggles. It gets very warm when gaming on it – bordering on too hot to handle if graphics settings are ramped all the way up. In turn, this pricey camera champ is really a phone for someone happy to invest a bit of time (and money) getting to grips with its nuances. Once you do, you’ll get some class-leading photos, but if you’re after an easy life, or just really like wearing skinny jeans, you’d be better off with another camera phone.  

Best camera phones: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Samsung)

06. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

The best foldable camera phone

Release date: August 2021 | Weight: 271g | Dimensions: 158.2 x 128.1 x 6.4 (unfolded) | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6.2-inch (outer), 7.6-inch (inner) | Resolution: 832x2268 (outer), 1768x2208 (inner) | CPU: Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 12GB, | Storage: 256GB, 512GB | Battery: 4,400mAh | Rear camera: 12MP (wide, f/1.8) + 12MP (telephoto, 2x optical zoom, f/2.4) + 12MP (ultrawide, 123-degree, f/2.2) **Front camera:** 4MP (wide, f/1.8) + 10MP (wide, f/2.2)

Folding allows new possibilities
IPX8 water-resistant
Cameras are good, not great

Foldable phones have been something of a puzzle for manufacturers to get working, but they may have just cracked it with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, which delivers loads of top-line features, and makes clever use of its foldable design to offer unique photographic features.

The dual screens are of luxurious quality, as Samsung can be relied upon to deliver. An 120Hz refresh rate across the pair of them means that everything displays and moves with delectable smoothness. The detail about 380 pixels per inch (PPI) delivers sharpness that isn't quite class-leading, but is still pretty much faultless. Also, in a nice touch, the selfie camera is under the inner screen, so there's no need for a notch.

So let's talk about the cameras. With three 12MP sensors on its rear, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 sports an array that is not world-beating, but is comfortably enough for most users. What sets it apart though is the clever way it uses its ability to fold – you can stand the phone up on a surface when it's half open, and shoot blur-free long exposures. Any other smartphone would need one of the best smartphone tripods to do this. You can also flip one screen around while shooting portraits and allow both you and your subject to see what's being shot, and there's also the fact that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 can shoot 4K 60p video. Not too shabby! Find out more with our Galaxy Z Fold 3 review.

best camera phone: Oppo Find X3 Pro

(Image credit: Oppo)

07. Oppo Find X3 Pro

The best camera for microscopic photography

Release date: March 2021 | Weight: 193g | Dimensions: 163.6 x 74 x 8.3mm | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6.7-inch | Resolution: 1440x3216 | CPU: Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 8GB, 12GB, 16GB | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB | Battery: 4,500mAh | Rear camera: 50MP (wide, f/1.8) + 13MP (telephoto, 2x optical zoom, f/2.4) + 50MP (ultrawide, 110-degree, f/2.2) + 3MP (microscope, 60x magnification, f/3.0) | Front camera: 32MP (wide, f/2.4)

Elegant design
Unique microlens camera
Poor zoom

There’s no shortage of camera phones that do the same thing, but OPPO’s flagship Find X3 Pro has a unique party trick – its 3MP Microlens camera. Capable of up to 25x optical magnification (60x digital), the camera is nothing short of a microscope on the back of the phone. Matched with a ring light to illuminate the detail within the detail, the Find X3 Pro’s the only option for fans of tiny textures looking to snap at a granular level, picking up much more than a human eye can make out.

The rest of the camera phone also competes head-on with the best out there. The Find X3 Pro sports the same premium 50MP Sony sensor across both its wide and ultra-wide cameras. By not using lower-quality sensors for the secondary camera, the phone maintains a high level of detail and colour accuracy across more situations. Also of note, it also captures 10-bit content, showcasing a billion colours, whether taking photos or recording videos.

What’s also noteworthy is the OPPO Find X3 Pro’s design. This is a unique-looking smartphone with its smooth camera bump that elegantly rises while most phones protrude clumsily. Beneath its elegant glass and metal exterior, the phone also sports flagship internals like a Snapdragon 888 chipset, 256GB storage, and 12GB RAM, making for a super-premium experience, with only one key shortcoming – zoom range, which is why it hasn’t placed higher in our camera phone countdown.

best camera phones: OnePlus 9 Pro

(Image credit: OnePlus)

08. OnePlus 9 Pro

A flagship with Hasselblad tuning

Release date: March 2021 | Weight: 197g | Dimensions: 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6.5-inch | Resolution: 1440x3216 | CPU: Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 8GB, 12GB | Storage: 128GB, 256GB | Battery: 4,500mAh | Rear camera: 48MP (wide, f/1.8) + 50MP (ultrawide, 104-degree, f/2.2) + 8MP (telephoto, 3.3x optical zoom, f/2.4) + 2MP (monochrome, f/2.4) | Front camera: 16MP (wide, f/2.4)

Photos pop nicely
Excellent cameras
Good, not great battery life
Mediocre zoom camera

Loaded up with a 48MP main camera featuring a custom Sony sensor, the tuning applied to photos taken on the OnePlus 9 Pro is a huge improvement over previous OnePlus phones, especially in challenging lighting. In fact, we’d go so far as to call it one of the best cameras around, especially if you’re not a fan of editing your snaps. Take a photo, and eight times out of 10, it’s Instagram-ready.

The special sensor is capable of capturing super-high framerate 4K footage at up to 120 frames per second – something many pro-grade cameras can’t do. And add to the mix an ultra-high-resolution ultra-wide camera, which captures expansive landscapes at 50MP resolution, and shoots close-up pictures thanks to autofocus (something seldom seen on ultra-wide cameras), and imaging is definitely one of the 9 Pro's fortés.  

The OnePlus 9 Pro is also the first flagship from the Chinese phone maker to feature Hasselblad camera tuning, in addition to elements within the Pro mode that mimic the legendary camera icon's interface.

The phone’s specs are flagship across-the-board too, with Snapdragon 888-power matched with 8GB RAM, and a stunning Dynamic AMOLED screen matched with a 120Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling and punchy visuals.

Also mightily impressive is the OnePlus 9 Pro's charging speeds. It powers up in around 30 minutes thanks to lightning-fast 65W charging. Even wirelessly, the 9 Pro charges quickly when matched with the official Warp Charge 50 Wireless Charger, and with a 4,500 mAh battery, you should get a full day out of it without any issues.

The fact the OnePlus 9 Pro’s price undercuts most flagships out there is yet another boon for the phone, placing it higher in our ranking than any OnePlus before it.

best camera phone: iPhone 13

(Image credit: Apple)

09. iPhone 13 & iPhone 13 mini

Apple's new flagship

Release date: September 2021 | Weight: 174g / 141g | Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.7mm / 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.7mm | OS: iOS 15 | Screen size: 6.1-inch / 5.4-inch | Resolution: 1170 x 2532 / 1080 x 2340 | CPU: A14 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB | Battery: 3,240mAh / 2,438mAh | Rear camera: 12MP (wide, f/1.6) + 12MP (ultrawide, 120-degree, f/2.4) | Front camera: 12MP (wide, f/2.2)

Good battery for an iPhone
Great low-light photography
No telephoto lens
No 120Hz screen

While the iPhone 13 and 13 mini miss out on the powerful telephoto lens of their Pro-tier siblings, and the new cinema and macro modes too, they've got most of the rest of the camera capabilities but at a lower cost.

iPhones are great for low-light photography and these devices are no exception, taking wonderful snaps at night and in poorly-lit conditions. The wide-angle lens here is also fantastic for taking snaps of vistas or large groups of people.

If you don't think you need the bells and whistles of the iPhone 13 Pro range, this is a great alternative.

Google Pixel 5

(Image credit: Google)

10. 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: 2340x1080 | CPU: Snapdragon 765G | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 4,080mAh | Rear camera: 12.2MP (wide, f/1.7) + 16MP (ultrawide, 107-degree, f/2.2) | Front camera: 8MP (wide, f/2.0)

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.

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