Best camera phone 2016: the ultimate smartphone camera test

Eight phones, one winner

Smartphone cameras are awesome. We've come a long way from the Nokia 7650 and its 0.3MP snapper which arguably kicked started the obsession of cramming cameras into handsets.

Now the top mobiles on the market rival - and even exceed - the capabilities of compact cameras while also performing a multitude of other tasks.

But which smartphone offers the best camera performance and image quality? 

We've taken eight of the best phones from 2016 to find out who's top shot by shooting landscape, macro, indoor, low light and portrait images with each phone and analyzing all the photos with some highly trained, fine-toothed eyeballs.

Throw in a selfie camera test and a couple of high ISO challenges for good measure, and the best overall performer gets the glory.

It's time to meet the contenders.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Key specs

  • 12MP 1/3-inch, 28mm, f/1.8 and 12MP 1/3.6-inch, 56mm, f/2.8
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Phase detection autofocus
  • Quad-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front camera: 7MP, 28mm, f/2.2
  • 5.5-inch IPS LCD display, 1080 x 1920, 401ppi

The iPhone 7 Plus is the first phone from Apple to boast dual cameras on the rear, with a couple of 12MP snappers located in the rounded bump on the body of the phone. 

While both have the same megapixel rating, they are not identical with one having a wider field of view than the other. 

This gives you the ability to 'zoom' by switching between the two cameras, and also allows the 7 Plus to sport a fancy portrait mode which can blur the background while keeping your subject in focus.

Google Pixel XL

Key specs

  • 12.3MP 1/2.3-inch, f/2.0
  • Electronic image stabilization
  • Phase detection and laser autofocus
  • Dual-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front camera: 8MP, f/2.4
  • 5.5-inch AMOLED display, 1440 x 2560, 534ppi

Google's latest own-brand smartphone duo are of more premium ilk than previous years and the search giant has upped its camera game to bring the Pixel and Pixel XL in line with other top flagships on the market.

We've selected the Pixel XL of the two for our best camera phone test, as its larger 5.5-inch QHD display provides a larger, higher resolution viewfinder for your shots.

HTC 10

Key specs

  • 12MP 1/2.3-inch, 26mm, f/1.8
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Laser autofocus
  • Dual-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front camera: 5MP, 23mm, f/1.8, OIS
  • 5.2-inch LCD display, 1440 x 2560, 565ppi
  • microSD
  • Native raw capture

HTC has a strong pedigree in the smartphone camera market, and it has even dabbled in dual cameras in the past with the HTC One M8, but its latest flagship camera phone sticks with a single snapper.

There's a powerful manual mode baked into the camera app, and used the right way the HTC 10 is capable of some stunning shots - but is that enough to make it the best camera phone of 2016?

Huawei P9

Key specs

  • Dual 12MP, 27mm, f/2.2
  • Phase detection autofocus
  • Dual-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front camera: 8MP, f/2.4
  • 5.2-inch LCD display, 1080 x 1920, 423ppi
  • microSD
  • Native raw capture

It's double trouble on the Huawei P9 with two 12MP cameras sitting flush to the rear of the Chinese firm's handset - but like the 7 Plus they're not identical.

One is a full color RGB lens, while the other is a black and white offering tasked with sucking in extra light and working in unison with the color snapper. Co-engineered with camera giant Leica the P9 offers compelling camera phone competition.

LG G5

Key specs

  • 16MP, 29mm, f/1.8 and 8MP, 12mm, f/2.4
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Laser autofocus
  • LED flash
  • Front camera: 8MP, f/2.0
  • 5.3-inch IPS LCD display, 1440 x 2560, 554ppi
  • microSD
  • Native raw capture

We're not done with the dual-snappers, with the LG G5 the third camera phone contender offering up a duo on its rear - and it's a third different implementation too.

Here you get a main 16MP snapper alongside a wide-angled 8MP camera and like the 7 Plus, you can jump between the two for a 'zoom' effect. LG's always trying something a bit different, but can its quirky pairing snap a victory? 

Motorola Moto Z

Key specs

  • 13MP, f/1.8
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Laser autofocus
  • Dual-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front camera: 5MP, f/2.2
  • 5.5-inch AMOLED display, 1440 x 2560, 535ppi
  • microSD

Motorola has had somewhat of a resurgence in 2016 under the stewardship of new(ish) owner Lenovo and the flagship Moto Z is solid offering and a real camera phone contender.

A 13MP camera adorns the rear of the phone in a sizable circular bump, while also claiming the title of 'world's thinnest phone' - which means it'll slide nicely into your jeans.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Key specs

  • 12MP 1/2.5-inch, 26mm, f/1.7
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Phase detection autofocus
  • LED flash
  • Front camera: 5MP, 22mm, f/1.7
  • 5.5-inch AMOLED display, 1440 x 2560, 534ppi
  • microSD
  • Native raw capture

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is currently our best phone in the world right now, and for good reason as it excels in pretty much every way - including the camera.

We've chosen the S7 Edge over the Galaxy S7 for its larger screen and more stylish design. We know it's one of the best snappers on the market, but is it the best camera phone? Only one way to find out - read on!

Sony Xperia XZ

Key specs

  • 23MP 1/2.3-inch, 24mm, f/2.0
  • Electronic image stabilization
  • Phase detection and laser autofocus
  • LED flash
  • Front camera: 13MP, 22mm, f/2.0
  • 5.2-inch IPS LCD display, 1080 x 1920, 424ppi
  • microSD

Sony has an awesome background in photography, producing some of the best professional cameras around - and that technical know-how has filtered down to its smartphone range too.

The Xperia XZ is just the latest in what has been a long line of solid smartphone cameras, and the powerful 23MP snapper on the rear means this is a camera phone you'll want to keep an eye on throughout the test.