Ten years ago, the idea that our smartphone would replace a compact camera seemed ludicrous, but as we storm into 2020, 108MP smartphone camera sensors are a thing and some phones have as many as five snappers around the back. Camera phones are clearly blowing up - not literally though, that was 2016.
The iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are Apple's newest smartphones, and the tech giant has finally caught up with the competition, introducing a dedicated night mode and an ultra-wide camera on all three.
Meanwhile, Google has introduced a second rear camera on its Pixels, so the Pixel 4s have a zoom lens to grab extra detail close up. Where’s the ultra-wide? It’s missing, but on the plus side, a new Astrophotography mode that can capture night skies, stars, and even entire planets helps differentiate the Pixels from the camera phone crowd.
Want to know more about dual-cameras? Check out our video below.
Optical zoom vs digital zoom
Understand your camera phone's close-up potential
The difference between optical and digital zoom is important to know when shopping for a new camera phone. It’s not the only tech category where these two kinds of camera zoom pop up, but they butt heads here like nowhere else.
It’s all to play for, and with Huawei in hot political water, its only 2019 flagship available in the UK is the P30 Pro, with the new Mate 30 Pro unreleased given the lack of Google Play Services on board. As for the US - no Huawei devices are currently being sold there. Regardless, the P30 Pro has held onto the top spot for the majority of 2019, so how does it fare almost a year after it launched?
At TechRadar we put smartphone cameras through rigorous testing in different lighting conditions and scenarios, and snap people, pets, plants and more to work out how each camera fares in the real world.
Beyond the specs and capabilities of the cameras, there are a number of aspects you’ll also want to consider. For example, getting a high storage option or one that supports a microSD card will be helpful if you capture lots of 4K video, while good battery life is important to ensure you don’t find yourself out of juice before the day is done.
There's a lot to consider then, so to help you, we've compiled this list of the best camera phones, each of which we've tested extensively.
1. iPhone 11 Pro
The best point and shoot camera phone
Release date: September 2019 | Main camera: 12MP (f/1.8) | Telephoto: 12MP (f/2.0) | Ultra-wide: 12MP (f/2.4) | OIS: Yes | Front camera: 12MP | Weight: 188g | Dimensions: 144 x 71.4 x 8.1mm | Battery size: 3,046mAh | Max video quality: 4K 60fps | Storage: 64GB / 256GB / 512GB | Memory card slot: No
The iPhone 11 Pro doesn’t just feature the best smartphone camera Apple’s ever made, it’s also the best camera phone money can buy for a certain type of user. It’s reliable - you take a shot and it’s likely going to be a good one, even in middling light. Dynamic range is strong, and with three cameras, it’s versatile too.
The primary camera features a 26mm focal length, perfect for grabbing everyday snaps. The ultra-wide camera takes a step back so you don’t have to, getting more in the frame with its 13mm focal length. As for the telephoto camera, as with the iPhone XS, it zooms into your subject with a 52mm focal length - perfect for portraits.
While there’s no manual mode and the 12MP resolution is meagre on paper compared to some of the competition, results still impress, and Apple has introduced a new night mode which can hold the shutter open for incredible low light photography.
This can’t beat the Astrophotography feature on the Pixels when steadied on a surface or a tripod, but handheld, it’s up there with the best of them.
Add to the mix a beautifully consistent color and tonal profile across all three cameras, and if you’re an Apple fan looking for a camera champ, this is as good as it gets.
Read our full iPhone 11 Pro review
2. Google Pixel 4
The best for stargazers
Release date: October 2019 | Main camera: 12.2MP (f/1.7) | Telephoto: 16MP (f/2.4) | Ultra-wide: None | OIS: Yes | Front camera: 8MP | Weight: 162g | Dimensions: 147.1 x 68.8 x 8.2mm | Battery size: 2,800mAh | Max video quality: 4K 30fps | Storage: 64GB / 128GB | Memory card slot: No
The Pixel 4 is probably the most mixed bag in our list; on the one hand, it’s a fantastic camera phone with capabilities even DSLR users can only dream of, made possible by the almost 5-minute long-exposure Astrophotography mode. On the other hand, however, it’s a pricey flagship with poor battery life and no ultra-wide camera.
If you’re thinking about picking one up, therefore, we’d urge you to go for the Pixel 4 XL if you hope to make it through a full day as this bigger Pixel 4 lasts that bit longer.
Both phones have the same excellent dual-camera, and it’s a corker. Despite its main sensor being just 12.2MP, similar to the iPhone 11 Pro, it grabs beautifully balanced pictures almost every time.
The Pixel 4s also introduce a handy exposure control when taking a shot, so you can boost shadows separately to overall brightness, ensuring detail pops even in darker spots and can stay tapered in highlights.
When the light drops, get the phone on a steady surface, point it at the sky, and it will engage its acclaimed Astrophotography mode, capturing night skies, stars and even galaxies on a clear night.
Despite this win though, one notable omission on the new Pixels is an ultra-wide camera, so if you know you’ll want to capture GoPro-style super-wide shots, you might want to look at any other phone in our best camera phone list.
Read our full Google Pixel 4 review
3. Huawei P30 Pro
The best superzoom smartphone
Release date: March 2019 | Main camera: 40MP (f/1.6) | Telephoto: 8MP (f/3.4) | Ultra-wide: 20MP (f/2.2) | Other: ToF camera | OIS: Yes | Front camera: 32MP | Weight: 192g | Dimensions: 158 x 73.4 x 8.4mm | Battery size: 4,200mAh | Max video quality: 4K 30fps | Storage: 128GB / 512GB | Memory card slot: Yes
The Huawei P30 Pro has got to be pretty special, given the fact it still clings onto a top three spot despite launching at the beginning of 2019.
Its excellence comes down to its 'periscope' telephoto lens which takes astounding optically zoomed-in shots at a distance, and its fantastic low light performance, that actually bests the iPhone 11 Pro and Google Pixel 4s in automatic mode, though not always in night mode.
There were a lot of cameras to test on this phone, including four on the back: a 40MP main lens, an 8MP telephoto lens, a 20MP ultra-wide lens, and then a ToF (time-of-flight) camera to sense depth for portrait photos.
The Huawei P30 Pro camera also uses an RYYB (red yellow yellow blue) sensor instead of the industry-standard RGB (red green blue) sensor to capture more light, and it shows. The snaps we took for our review had more detail and less shadow than most of the competition, yet they didn't look completely overexposed.
It's all amazing for a smartphone, but not entirely perfect. We did notice some purple fringing in areas, and the camera software controls aren't always responsive when switching between ultra-wide, 5x zoom, 10x zoom and digital 50x zoom. But the fact that you can get insanely close to objects with a 50x zoom and also shoot at night as if all of the lights were on really sets a new bar for camera phones in 2019.
Read our full Huawei P30 Pro review
4. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
A great all-rounder with a remote shutter S Pen
Release date: August 2019 | Main camera: 12MP (f/1.5-2.4) | Telephoto: 12MP (f/2.1) | Ultra-wide: 16MP (f/2.2) | Other: ToF | OIS: Yes | Front camera: 10MP | Weight: 196g | Dimensions: 162.3 x 77.2 x 7.9mm | Battery size: 4,300mAh | Max video quality: 4K 60fps | Storage: 256GB / 512GB | Memory card slot: Yes
Samsung’s smart dual-aperture main camera introduced on the Samsung Galaxy S9 is back, flipping between f/1.5 and f/2.4 without breaking a sweat. This time, on the Note 10 Plus, it’s combined with a 12mm ultra-wide camera that lets you grab wider shots than virtually any other camera phone around.
That isn’t the only addition to the Note 10 Plus - this time, there’s a time-of-flight sensor, as found on the Huawei P30 Pro, and this captures depth information for improved background defocus and bokeh when shooting in Live Focus (portrait) mode.
Samsung’s camera UI is also incredibly comprehensive, with a pro mode that can keep the shutter open for in excess of 30 seconds, as well as an improved night mode, which tries to take down the likes of Huawei and Google.
Unfortunately, this is where it drops the ball by comparison, but despite good, not sensational night shots, the Note 10 is still a seriously good camera phone, and its clever S Pen can even act as a remote shutter for the times you prop your Note on a surface and snap stepped-back group shots.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus review
5. iPhone 11
The most affordable iPhone gets excellent low light photography
Release date: September 2019 | Main camera: 12MP (f/1.8) | Telephoto: No | Ultra-wide: 12MP (f/2.4) | OIS: Yes | Front camera: 12MP | Weight: 194g | Dimensions: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm | Battery size: 3,110mAh | Max video quality: 4K 60fps | Storage: 64GB / 128GB / 256GB | Memory card slot: No
Unlike the iPhone 11 Pro, the vanilla iPhone 11 misses out on a telephoto camera, instead packing an Asus ROG Phone 2-style wide + ultra-wide dual snapper around the back.
Still, we’re delighted to see the new long exposure night mode fires up when shooting in low light on this lower-cost model.
This means the iPhone 11 can see in the dark, even when you’re hand-holding the phone, and the photo quality across its primary and ultra-wide cameras is fantastic. Another area all the iPhones in our list excel is video capture; they all shoot 4K resolution video at up to 60fps, and do so across all their lenses.
With smooth transitions between lenses and iMovie on board for basic edits, if we were going to pick up a smartphone for some easy-to-use, high-quality filmmaking, it would be any of the iPhones on our list.
Read our full iPhone 11 review
6. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
Introducing an ultra-wide angle to the Galaxy S-line
Release date: March 2019 | Main camera: 12MP (f/1.5-2.4) | Telephoto: 12MP (f/2.4) | Ultra-wide: 16MP (f/2.2) | OIS: Yes | Front camera: 10MP + 8MP | Weight: 175g | Dimensions: 157.6 x 74.1 x 7.8mm | Battery size: 4,100mAh | Max video quality: 4K 60fps | Storage: 128GB / 512GB / 1TB | Memory card slot: Yes
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus features a triple-lens camera for a traditional wide-angle, telephoto and ultra-wide setup. The primary 12MP camera takes excellent photos with the same dual-aperture tech featured on every Samsung flagship since the S9, and just like the Note 10, there’s an ultra-wide camera too, grabbing a GoPro-esque angle-of-view. Instantly, we’re off to a versatile start.
Another highlight of the S10 Plus is video, which, just like the iPhone, impresses thanks to fantastic image stabilization and the ability to capture up to 4K resolution at 60fps. It can also shoot full-resolution video across all its cameras, and a world-first, the S10 Plus supports HDR10+ video capture.
This prevents highlights from being overexposed, while also pulling out more detail from shadows. While still a work in progress, it’s exciting to see manufacturers other than just Sony experimenting with HDR video.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review
7. Oppo Reno 10X Zoom
A sensational zoom for a camera phone
Release date: June 2019 | Main camera: 48MP (f/1.7) | Telephoto: 13MP (f/3.0) | Ultra-wide: 8MP (f/2.2) | OIS: Yes | Front camera: 16MP | Weight: 210g | Dimensions: 162 x 77.2 x 9.3mm | Battery size: 4,065mAh | Max video quality: 4K 60fps | Storage: 128GB / 256GB | Memory card slot: Yes
The Oppo Reno 10X Zoom is the third smartphone in our list to feature a periscope camera that shoots with a roughly 5x optical zoom. Its main camera captures detailed stills at 12MP by default, but that can be bumped up to 48MP when the light is right. Additionally, there’s an ultra-wide camera which snaps with a 16mm focal length.
This versatility when it comes to shooting with phones packing big optical zooms can’t be overstated. Ideal for concerts and sports events, the Reno can grab 20 burst shots close-up, so you can make sure you grab that decisive moment, and bin the pictures that don’t make the cut.
The Reno 10X Zoom was lacking a few features when it launched; you couldn’t shoot video with the ultra-wide or zoom cameras for example. In addition, photography enthusiasts would have felt the absence of RAW capture.
That said, there’s a competent pro mode for manual shooting, and a night mode too, which helps keep it competitive, even if it can’t topple the likes of the P30 Pro.
Read our full Oppo Reno 10X Zoom review
8. OnePlus 7T Pro
Excellent imaging and across-the-board value
Release date: October 2019 | Main camera: 48MP (f/1.6) | Telephoto: 8MP (f/2.4) | Ultra-wide: 16MP (f/1.6) | OIS: Yes | Front camera: 16MP | Weight: 206g | Dimensions: 162.6 x 75.9 x 8.8mm | Battery size: 4,085mAh | Max video quality: 4K 60fps | Storage: 256GB | Memory card slot: No
The OnePlus 7T Pro’s triple camera array features a primary 48MP half-inch sensor and a wide f/1.6 lens. This is the same sensor as found in the Oppo Reno 10X Zoom, and indeed the OnePlus 7 Pro. There’s also an 8MP telephoto camera that packs a roughly 3x zoom - more than most of the competition, plus a 16MP ultra-wide camera that shoots with a 117-degree field of view.
Shooting modes are plentiful, and OnePlus has also included a new action cam-esque super steady mode. This drops the resolution down to 1080p and reduces low-light performance, but locks footage for some of the steadiest video capture we’ve ever seen from a smartphone.
The 7T Pro’s primary and telephoto lenses both feature OIS, and there’s a new Super Macro mode on the ultra-wide camera too. This enables focus as close as 2.5cm from an object, which grabs stunning levels of detail and incredibly shallow depth of field.
While the low light performance can’t quite topple the top dogs in our list, given the OnePlus 7T Pro’s price, it’s unequivocally great value for money across-the-board, especially when you factor in all the other fancy specs it packs.
Read our full OnePlus 7T Pro review
9. Sony Xperia 5
The best for filmmakers and videographers
Release date: October 2019 | Main camera: 12MP (f/1.6) | Telephoto: 12MP (f/2.4) | Ultra-wide: 12MP (f/2.4) | OIS: Yes | Front camera: 8MP | Weight: 164g | Dimensions: 158 x 68 x 8.2mm | Battery size: 3,140mAh | Max video quality: 4K 30fps | Storage: 128GB | Memory card slot: Yes
If you’re a videographer, or a wannabe videographer who fancies a phone with pro-grade video recording controls, then the Sony Xperia 5 is the only choice for you.
Sure, other phones like the P30 Pro have manual video capture, but the Xperia 5 takes it to another level, introducing smart features like rack focus, so at the press of a button you can pan between two focal points you set yourself.
The Xperia 5 even lets you change the video camera’s shutter angle, shoot in 21:9 aspect ratio, and capture footage with a beautifully flat color profile that’s perfect for color grading in pro apps like DaVinci Resolve.
All this pro video capture is done in the Cinema Pro app, but even the standard camera app shoots brilliant footage, with 4K HDR recording that’s very nicely stabilized.
We’ve been harping on about video, but the Sony Xperia 5 is a competent stills smartphone too thanks to its wide, ultra-wide and telephoto cameras, and its realistic night mode which doesn’t artificially brighten things up as much as the competition.
Where it drops the ball, and the reason it isn’t higher on our list, is dynamic range - it can struggle with bright spots, but irrespective, it’s definitely Sony’s finest camera phone to date, and a top choice for filmmakers.
Read our full Sony Xperia 5 review
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