Huawei P30 Pro
Armed with a quartet of cameras and seriously innovative software, the Huawei P30 Pro is the best thing to happen to mobile photography yet. It’s a pretty awesome phone, too.
Galaxy S10 Plus
The Galaxy S10 Plus is one of the best phones money can buy, with fast performance, an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, improved cameras and extra-long battery life.
iPhone XS Max
The iPhone XS is faster and takes better pictures than its predecessor, but the iPhone XS Max hogs the spotlight with its ginormous 6.5-inch display.
Everyone wants a smartphone that can take photos that will get more likes, or ones that will look great in a photo frame. After conducting in-depth testing and photo comparisons, the quad-lens Huawei P30 Pro is the finest camera phone money can buy today.
Still, it’s a close battle for mobile imaging supremacy. Google’s AI-powered Pixel 3 beat the Galaxy S10 Plus in a photo face-off, but only just barely, as Samsung has made numerous improvements to that phone’s camera, including new software features and a triple-lens setup on the back.
The iPhone XS Max and iPhone XS offer enhancements of their own over the iPhone X that produce better low-light photos, though they’re likely to be outdone by the advanced new multi-camera systems in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro.
Meanwhile, if you still want a good camera but want to spend as little as possible on your next phone, the Pixel 3a offers a phenomenal camera quality on a par with Google’s flagship models in a significantly cheaper package. It’s far and away our pick for the best budget camera phone.
While a lot of our top picks take excellent photos in low light, you can increase your chances of getting a sharp shot if you attach your phone to a tripod. Based on our research, here are the best iPhone tripods, which will also work with other smartphones.
News and Updates (September 2019)
- iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro are here: Apple has pulled the covers off its 2019 smartphones, and just as we suspected, they each tout major improvements to the camera. The $699 iPhone 11 features a dual-lens 12-megapixel camera on the rear, adding an ultrawide shooter to last year’s iPhone XR. Meanwhile, the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max gain a third telephoto lens, enabling 2x optical zoom and, of course, shallow depth-of-field portraits. A bevy of new software shooting modes are on offer too, including Night Mode, Deep Fusion shooting and video that can seamlessly switch from one lens to the next, without missing a beat (and all at 4K and 60 frames per second, no less). Expect a deep dive into the new iPhones’ cameras in the coming days.
- Galaxy Note 10 camera faceoff: We’ve reviewed both the Galaxy Note 10 Plus and Galaxy Note 10, which both feature solid cameras, though nothing that would displace our top-rated camera phones. For a closer look at how the cameras on Samsung’s new phones measure up, check out our camera face-off between the Note 10 Plus and Pixel 3 XL.
Best Overall Camera Phone
The Huawei P30 Pro leads our list of the best camera phones on the market because it does pretty much everything well. With a grand total of four cameras on the back, comprising a 40-megapixel main sensor, an industry-first 5x zoom periscope lens, a super wide-angle shooter for fantastic landscapes and a time-of-flight camera to provide accurate depth effects, the P30 Pro has the right tools for practically any photo op. The zoom lens in particular is especially game-changing — other handsets can draw 2x or 3x closer, but 5x offers a unique perspective, and Huawei’s 10x hybrid zoom can pull off some amazing shots from a very far distance, using a combination of powerful optics and intelligent processing. Unfortunately, the P30 Pro still isn’t very convenient to buy in the U.S., and the future for the Chinese phone company is uncertain as the Trump administration imposes restrictions on Huawei’s ability to access U.S. components and software for its phones. Still, if you can get your hands on the P30 Pro, your mobile photos will have never looked better.
Best Triple Lens Camera
More doesn’t always mean merrier, but the addition of a third camera to the back of Samsung’s Galaxy S10 Plus is definitely produces better shots than this phone’s predecessors. We’re particularly impressed with how the ultra-wide 16-MP camera on the back of the S10 Plus can pull back to offer more captivating, detailed views. The other two lenses — a 12-MP dual-pixel main camera and 12-MP telephoto shooter — yield solid results, too, aided by a dedicated neural processing unit that can fine-tune the camera’s settings. Samsung improved portrait shots, too, with Live Focus effects that let you easily blur and change colors of the shot’s background.
Note that Samsung just announced the Galaxy Note 10 family, with both the 6.3-inch Note 10 and 6.8-inch Note 10 Plus offering three rear cameras; the larger Note 10 Plus also has a time-of-flight sensor for improved portrait shots. We’ll find out how the cameras on these new Samsung phones compare shortly.
Best iPhone Camera
Apple improved the cameras in its 2018 iPhones by adding a sensor with bigger and deeper pixels to let in up to 50 percent more light than the iPhone X’s camera did. The result is you get improved photos in low-light settings, putting the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max on more equal footing with the Pixel 2 XL. A new Smart HDR mode in these iPhones combine a new ISP, faster sensors and better algorithms to bring out the highlights and details of a photo, even one with shadows. And a new Depth Control feature lets you adjust the depth of field after you take a shot.
Best AI Camera
2017’s Pixel 2 had one of the best cameras on a smartphone, and the Pixel 3 ups the stakes not with hardware improvements but by leveraging Google’s expertise with AI and computational photography. Top Shot suggests a better photo from the many exposures the Pixel 3 has captured when an unwanted blink or blur mars your shot. Super Res Zoom makes up for the Pixel’s lack of optical zoom by combining multiple frames to fill in the details when you zoom in on a shot. Up front, dual lenses help you squeeze more people and background details into your selfie shot. And a software update post-release brought improved low-light photos with Google’s Night Sight feature. The Huawei P30 Pro has kicked the Pixel 3 out of the stop spot thanks to its plethora of lenses, though Google’s software is still king. Moreover, the Pixel 3 offers the best camera you can get in a small phone.
Best Budget Camera Phone
Midrange phone makers will have to step their game up now that Google’s $399 Pixel 3a has finally arrived. Boosted with the same computational photography software that powers the $799 Pixel 3, as well as an identical 12.2-megapixel sensor and a similarly high-end Qualcomm Spectra image signal processor, the 5.6-inch Pixel 3a can pull off shots that are nigh indistinguishable from Google’s other handsets that are twice as expensive. It also comes with the firm’s latest cutting-edge imaging modes, like Night Sight for amazing shots in the dark, and Super Res Zoom that delivers digitally zoomed images that are shockingly similar to what you get from devices with 2x optical zoom lenses. For $400, no other camera phone comes close — though if you’d prefer a larger handset, the $479 Pixel 3a XL stuffs all the same hardware into a larger 6-inch body with a bigger battery to match.
How We Test Smartphone Cameras
We put the market’s leading handsets through a variety of common shooting situations, such as landscapes, portraits and selfies in daylight and at night. Then, we analyze each set of images on a color-calibrated monitor to see which smartphone had the best combination of color accuracy, clarity and contrast. We also perform in-depth camera comparisons between the top phones, using each handset in their auto mode to take a wide range of photos in different conditions. After declaring a winner in each round, we name an overall winner of that face-off.
In each of our smartphone reviews, we also factor in any special features, such as dual lenses and what they enable, Portrait Modes, and other special modes, before we come to a conclusion.
5 Quick Tips for Buying a Camera Phone
- The megapixels don’t matter as much as aperture. Cameras with a wider aperture (lower f-stop numbers translate to wider lenses) let in more light, which can help produce better shots in the dark. The high-megapixel sensors found in the latest devices are nice, but less necessary — so don’t be afraid to snap up last year’s model, perhaps even used, to get a solid camera phone on the cheap.
- Not all dual lenses are created equal. While more smartphones are featuring dual rear cameras, those cameras don’t necessarily perform the same. Some phones like the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS use their dual lenses to allow for depth-of-field effects; others, like the LG V30, just let you switch between wide-angle and standard lenses. Other flagship phones are adding a third lens, which generally helps improve low-light photography while also adding depth-of-field effects.
- Do you need Portrait mode? It goes by different names — Portrait mode on the iPhone, Live Focus on Samsung’s phones — but more phones let you play around with bokeh effects. That’s where the subject of the photo is in sharp focus, while the background features an artistic blur. While that’s mostly a feature on dual-camera phones, the single-lens Pixel uses software to produce a bokeh effect. Some phones also let you adjust the effect before and after you take a shot.
- The front camera specs are just as important. In a world where we’re taking more selfies, you shouldn’t overlook a phone’s front camera. Besides the megapixels, check out the aperture to get a sense of how the camera will perform in low-light. And some front cameras, like the ones on the iPhone XS and Pixel 3, can perform the same Portrait mode effects that dual rear cameras pull off. The Pixel 3 is one of a handful of phones to add dual lenses up front, letting you fit more people or include more background in your shots.
- Don’t forget about video. Your cameras shoot more than just still images. Consider what resolution the camera captures video at along with the frame rate. (The Pixel 3, for example, can record 4K video at 30 frames per second, while the iPhone XS and XS Max double the frame rate to 60 fps for 4K video.) Also look at the camera offers slow-motion features and video filters.