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Best camera phone 2021: our picks for the best smartphone cameras right now

Best camera phone
(Image credit: Apple, Huawei, Samsung)

If you’re looking for the best camera phone then you’ve got a lot of candidates, from the iPhone 12 range to the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and beyond, as photography is an area that smartphone makers keep improving on in the hope of standing out.

From more lenses to more megapixels, improved software, better zoom, greater low light performance and more, it seems as if almost every high-profile phone has something camera related to shout about.

But some smartphones are a lot better for photography than others, and some are also a lot better or worse than their specs list might suggest. That’s where we come in, as at TechRadar we test smartphone cameras extensively, taking pictures in the various modes and from the different lenses and sensors any device may have.

This helps us work out how each camera fares in the real world, and we’ve used that knowledge to make this list of the best camera phones.

There are a lot of excellent options available, and we’ve ranked them according to preference, but it’s worth reading our overview of each to get the complete picture. And make sure to check back often, as this guide is being constantly updated as new phones launch.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)

1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

A top tier smartphone, and it takes our best crown

Specifications
Release date: January 2021
Weight: 227g
Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.8-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3200
CPU: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100
RAM: 12GB / 16GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: 5,000mAh
Rear camera: 108MP + 10MP + 10MP + 12MP
Front camera: 40MP
Reasons to buy
+The best camera zoom+Mesmerizing design
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive at any level-No microSD card slot

While the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s camera didn’t quite deliver on its promise, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s very much does.

As with everything in the S21 Ultra, the camera is top-end, with a 108MP f/1.8 main snapper, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide one, and – in a move that’s pretty much unheard of on phones – two telephoto cameras. These are both 10MP, but one has an f/2.4 aperture and allows for 3x optical zoom, while the other has an f/4.9 aperture and allows for a massive 10x optical zoom.

And the results are as impressive as the numbers – so much so that we labeled this the best camera zoom on a phone in our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.

Non-zoomed shots look great too, though sometimes not as good as the best rivals. But coupled with a wealth of camera modes, including new additions like Director’s View (which lets you shoot video with both the front and rear cameras at the same time), along with a highly capable 40MP front-facing camera, this makes for a smartphone photographer’s dream.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

Huawei Mate 40 Pro

(Image credit: Huawei)

2. Huawei Mate 40 Pro

Almost the best camera phone money can buy

Specifications
Release date: November 2020
Weight: 212g
Dimensions: 162.9 x 75.5 x 9.1 mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.76-inch
CPU: Kirin 9000 5G
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 256/512GB
Battery: 4,400mAh
Rear camera: 50MP + 12MP + 20MP
Front camera: 13MP
Reasons to buy
+Great camera+Excellent design
Reasons to avoid
-Limited apps-Expensive

You might be surprised to see the Huawei Mate 40 Pro here – after all, it’s a phone that we only gave 3.5 stars to, and it’s nowhere near our best smartphone list. But the reason we can’t rank it higher in general is everything to do with its limited app situation (due to not having access to the Google Play Store) and nothing to do with its cameras.

In fact, its cameras are exceptional. It has a 50MP f/1.9 main camera, a 12MP f/3.4 periscope one (with 5x optical zoom), and a 20MP f/1.8 ultra-wide one.

While that’s not quite as many lenses as some rivals, it’s got all the most important kinds accounted for, and they all perform very well.

From portrait shots to wide landscapes, zoomed photos, and close up subjects, we found in our review that the Huawei Mate 40 Pro could cope brilliantly with just about every kind of photo. It even does a great job in low-light conditions.

And while our focus is the rear snappers, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro also has a decent setup on the front, with a 13MP f/2.4 camera joined by a time-of-flight (ToF) sensor for sensing depth.

There are loads of photography modes and tools available on the Huawei Mate 40 Pro as well, from a light painting feature to a dedicated moon photography mode.

Read our full Huawei Mate 40 Pro review

iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

3. iPhone 12 Pro Max

The best iPhone camera around

Specifications
Weight: 228g
Dimensions: 160.8mm x 78.1mm x 7.4mm
OS: iOS 14
Screen size: 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1284 x 2778
CPU: A14 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: Unknown
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Reasons to buy
+Long battery life+Powerful rear camera
Reasons to avoid
-Feels too large-Very, very expensive

The iPhone 12 Pro Max isn’t the best smartphone, but it is very close to being the best camera phone. It includes a 12MP f/1.6 main snapper, a 12MP f/2.2 telephoto one (with 2.5x optical zoom), a 12MP f/2.4 ultra-wide one, and even a LiDAR scanner, which enables Night Mode portraits.

In fact night – and low light in general – is something the iPhone 12 Pro Max has far less issue with than most smartphones, thanks in part to a large sensor that can take in a lot of light. Night Mode is also usable with both the main and ultra-wide sensor, so you’re not limited in the types of photos you can take at night.

Smart HDR 3 meanwhile is a new feature for the range which combines multiple exposures to create the best picture possible – which is something that can benefit your shots no matter what the light is like.

The onboard editing options are great too, and with Dolby Vision supported for videos it’s not just stills that the iPhone 12 Pro Max excels at.

All in all it’s an excellent setup, with every lens performing well. This is only a slightly better camera phone than the iPhone 12 Pro, but it still has the edge, making it the best iPhone for photography.

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max review

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)

4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

A great camera phone with an excellent zoom lens

Specifications
Release date: August 2020
Weight: 208g
Dimensions: 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.9-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3088
CPU: Snapdragon 865 Plus / Exynos 990
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 128/256/512GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 108MP, 12MP, 12MP
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Useful S Pen features+Great-looking screen
Reasons to avoid
-Slow charging-Ultra-expensive

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a high-spec camera, but it’s the telephoto camera that really stands out. This is a 12MP f/3.0 snapper with 5x optical zoom and 50x digital zoom.

Both of those specs are impressive, and while the S20 Ultra offers 100x digital zoom, that was little more than a gimmick, with the Note 20 Ultra actually bettering that snapper thanks to a wider aperture and larger pixels.

And while the telephoto camera is the highlight, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s 108MP f/1.8 main camera and 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide one also perform well.

The Note 20 Ultra’s camera is also incredibly easy and fun to use, and it benefits from extras like 8K video and Single Take mode, which takes a bunch of photos and videos at the same time using the various lenses and modes, to increase the chance of you capturing something good.

Low-light photos aren’t quite as detailed as some of the competition, such as the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but otherwise this is an exceptional camera setup.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review

Huawei P40 Pro

(Image credit: Huawei)

5. Huawei P40 Pro

The P40 Pro has superb cameras, but it’s not the best phone

Specifications
Release date: April 2020
Main camera: 50MP (f/1.9)
Telephoto: 12MP (f/3.4)
Ultra-wide: 40MP (f/1.8)
OIS: Yes
Front camera: 32MP
Weight: 209g
Dimensions: 158.2 x 72.6 x 9mm
Battery size: 4,200mAh
Max video quality: 4K 60fps
Storage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB
Memory card slot: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Phenomenal battery life+Brilliant cameras
Reasons to avoid
-Frustratingly limited software-Big camera bump

The Huawei P40 Pro is one of the best camera phones you can buy for under $1,000 / £900, it’s that simple. In fact, for a certain type of photographer - one who values a telephoto camera - it’s just the best camera phone around, period. 

Recommending it comes with its own set of caveats given the Huawei/Google situation though. That’s why despite its extensive list of stellar features, you definitely need to read our P40 Pro review before picking one up. Irrespective of its software limitations though, its camera will knock your socks off.

The P40 Pro’s Leica-branded imaging system is spearheaded by a brand new 50MP sensor, which uses RYYB (red yellow yellow blue) sub-pixel formation, like the 40MP P30 Pro before it. Huawei claims this makes its cameras better able to handle dark scenes like a champion, and we can attest to the fact the P40 Pro absolutely can. 

The main camera’s lens is a pretty standard f/1.9 aperture on paper, but with a huge sensor size (for a smartphone) and OIS, combined with Huawei’s mighty electronic image stabilization, it’s still a low light star. This phone can pretty much see in the dark, even in automatic mode - something no other non-Huawei phones can do.

There’s also a 40MP f/1.8 ultra-wide camera, a 12MP telephoto camera that’s capable of 5x optical zoom or 50x digital zoom, and a time-of-flight (ToF) sensor for creating bokeh effects.

Photos taken on the P40 Pro are high on detail and low on noise. Unlike Samsung, Huawei’s photos don’t look overly sharpened, and while they aren’t as natural and neutral as those taken on the Oppo Find X2 Pro, many will prefer Huawei’s comparatively punchy style.

As far as zoom goes, while the P40 Pro may not get quite as close as the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the phone costs a lot less, and more importantly, delivers more consistent image quality across its cameras. 

The rest of the phone’s hardware is top-tier, it looks a treat and has plenty of power, so if (and only if) you’re comfortable with the Google-free software experience, the P40 Pro packs plenty to love.

Read our full Huawei P40 Pro review

iPhone 12 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

6. iPhone 12 Pro

Almost as good for photography as the iPhone 12 Pro Max

Specifications
Weight: 189g
Dimensions: 146.7mm x 71.5mm x 7.4 mm
OS: iOS 14
Screen size: 6.1-inch
Resolution: 1170 x 2532
CPU: A14 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: Unknown
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Reasons to buy
+Varied color choices +Clear and vibrant screen 
Reasons to avoid
-No charging block in box -5G still an expensive luxury 

At first glance the cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro look much the same as those on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and it’s true that they’re not much different, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max does have the edge, thanks to a larger sensor on the main snapper, and improved zoom on the telephoto.

Still, the iPhone 12 Pro comes very close to matching it, and at a lower price. It has a 12MP f/1.6 main snapper with OIS, a 12MP f/2.0 telephoto camera with OIS and 2x optical zoom, and a 12MP f/2.4 ultra-wide camera. Like its larger sibling it also has a LiDAR scanner, which can be used to power augmented reality experiences and take Night Mode portrait shots.

As with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, Night Mode in general is really impressive here, allowing you to take bright, detailed shots where other phones would struggle, and you can use Night Mode with both the main and ultra-wide lenses.

The 12MP selfie camera also performs well, and there are handy features like Dolby Vision for video, and Smart HDR 3 for improved image processing.

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro review

Google Pixel 5

(Image credit: Google)

7. Google Pixel 5

A great mix of cameras and editing tools

Specifications
Release date: October 2020
Weight: 151g
Dimensions: 144.7mm x 70.4mm x 8mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6-inch
Resolution: 2340 x 1080
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4000mAh
Rear camera: 16MP + 12MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Camera software is better than ever +Metal case is refreshing change from glass 
Reasons to avoid
-No telephoto -Middling night photography 

The Google Pixel 5 isn’t a camera phone that wows with numbers. There are only two rear lenses for a start, giving you the choice of a 12.2MP f/1.7 main camera and a 16MP f.2.2 ultra-wide one. That also notably leaves the Pixel 5 without a dedicated telephoto lens.

However, we found that – particularly in good light – the Pixel 5 was capable of capturing crisp images with a strong color palette, and while low light performance is a step down, it still manages to capture accurate colors.

The ultra-wide lens also creates less distortion at the edge of images than many other ultra-wide options, and the Google Pixel 5 has a decent range of photo editing tools built in. Software features like Portrait Light also help the phone – letting you convincingly brighten faces and other subjects.

Read our full Google Pixel 5 review

Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Samsung)

8. Samsung Galaxy S21 / S21 Plus

Not the best of the S series, but nevertheless great

Specifications
Release date: January 2021
Weight: 169g/200g
Dimensions: 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm / 161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.2-inch / 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2400
CPU: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 4,000mAh / 4,800mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 64MP + 12MP
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic, versatile camera+Cheaper than the Galaxy S20
Reasons to avoid
-No microSD support-Screen isn’t the best

The Samsung Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus have a different camera configuration to the S21 Ultra, hence these phones ranking lower in this list, but it’s still a very impressive setup on each handset.

There’s a 12MP f/1.8 main camera, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide one, and a 64MP f/2.0 telephoto, making for a setup that’s basically the same as the Samsung Galaxy S20's – but that phone’s cameras still impress, and there are software improvements here.

Those improvements include things like new modes for Single Take. This mode lets the phone take a variety of photos and videos using all three cameras with a single button press, and now it includes a slow-mo option.

There’s also now a Director’s View mode, which lets you shoot with the front and rear cameras at the same time.

So you have a lot more options for your photographer’s toolkit, and away from the new features the core camera experience is still great, whichever lens you’re using – though the 3x hybrid optical zoom here is no match for the 10x offered by the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review and Galaxy S21 Plus review

OnePlus 8 Pro

(Image credit: OnePlus)

9. OnePlus 8 Pro

The most accomplished OnePlus ever, but also the priciest

Specifications
Release date: April 2020
Main camera: 48MP (f/1.8)
Telephoto: 8MP (f/2.4)
Ultra wide: 48MP (f/2.2)
Depth: 5MP (f/2.4)
OIS: Yes
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.5
Weight: 199g
Dimensions: 165.3 x 74.4 x 8.5 mm
Battery size: 4,510mAh
Max video quality: 4K 60fps
Storage: 128GB / 256GB
Memory card slot: No
Reasons to buy
+One of the best displays around+The best camera from OnePlus
Reasons to avoid
-Most expensive OnePlus yet-Sizable rear camera bump

OnePlus has stepped up its game when it comes to smartphone cameras, bringing the OnePlus 8 Pro closer than ever to the best of the rest thanks to the fact it’s powered by Sony’s new 12-bit IMX689 sensor. With a large 1/1.4” size and 1.12-micron pixels, the OnePlus 8 Pro’s main camera can capture stunning bokeh and clear as day photos, even in middling light. 

It isn’t just the sensor that’s specced out on the new OnePlus’s main snapper - thanks to phase detection autofocus and laser autofocus, not to mention OIS, it locks on quickly and keeps things steady across photography and video. 

Unlike periscope zoom cameras, the OnePlus 8 Pro can’t compete when it comes to getting up close and personal to subjects from a distance. That said, its 8MP, f/2.4, telephoto camera packs a 3x optical zoom and OIS, so betters the iPhone 11 Pro’s max focal length. 

The real boon when it comes to improvements on the OnePlus 8 Pro has got to be that 48 MP, GoPro-esque ultra-wide camera though. With a huge pixel count for an ultra-wide, an open f/2.2 aperture to let in plenty of light and a, 14mm (116°) angle of view, it gets plenty in frame and grabs more resolution than virtually any other ultra-wide camera around.

Finally, OnePlus’s 12MP color filter camera. This bizarre addition captures a twisted take on reality, giving standard colors a neon, almost metalic screen-printed finish. 

Just like the OnePlus 7 Pro before it, video can be captured with a Super Stable video mode at up to Full HD, or in standard mode at up to 4K resolution. Is it the best camera phone you can buy? It’s definitely up there - but it can’t stack up to some other flagships. That said, as a package, it could be the best value across-the-board flagship around. 

Read our full OnePlus 8 Pro review

iPhone 12

(Image credit: Future)

10. iPhone 12 / iPhone 12 mini

The best Apple iPhone bang for your buck

Specifications
Weight: 164g / 135g
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm / 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.4mm
OS: iOS 14
Screen size: 6.1-inch / 5.4-inch
Resolution: 1170 x 2532 / 1080 x 2340
CPU: A14 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB
Battery: 2,815mAh / 2,227mAh
Rear camera: 12MP+12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Reasons to buy
+Colorful OLED display +Future-proofed with 5G  
Reasons to avoid
-Cameras are similar to last year -Battery life only okay 

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini offer identical camera experiences, and are both a significant step down on that front from the Pro models.

These two lose the telephoto lens and LiDAR scanner, offering just a 12MP f/1.6 main camera and a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide one on the back, with a 12MP f/2.2 snapper on the front as well.

All three cameras perform well and - as with the rest of the iPhone 12 range - these two outperform most handsets in low light environments too – and that’s true no matter which lens you’re using, as Night Mode works across all of them.

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini also benefit from Smart HDR 3, which uses AI to optimize images, while for video you can take advantage of Dolby Vision, which should give your clips more pop.

Read our full iPhone 12 review and iPhone 12 mini review

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