The best camera phone is the Google Pixel 7 Pro. It's definitely a close call, but Google's latest phone just about beats Apple's iPhone 14 Pro in our head-to-head contest, having the edge some key categories and some amazing software tricks. The Pixel 7 Pro's pictures are eye-poppingly attractive, colorful, and instantly shareable, making it one of the best camera phones around. But if you're not a fan of Google's Pixel phones, there are other choices, including the best Apple phone, the best value phone, and the best cheap phone you can buy.
We're photography enthusiasts at Digital Trends, snapping thousands of photos every month, and we love to compare how different phone cameras perform. We push the cameras to the limit and do direct camera shootout comparisons with different phones. Why? Because we know it's an important feature for most buyers.
Google Pixel 7 Pro
Best camera phone
- Bold, striking design
- Gorgeous 120Hz screen
- Face unlock works well
- Fast and powerful performance
- Top-tier camera system
- Pixel features are unmatched
- Poor fingerprint sensor
- Tensor G2 runs hot
- Mediocre battery life
- Endless software bugs
Why should you buy this?: The Pixel 7 Pro might have some software issues, but it's an incredible camera phone regardless.
Who’s it for?: Anyone who wants a camera that produces consistently great point-and-shoot shots without the need for editing.
Why we picked the Google Pixel 7 Pro:
Google's Pixel line has varied in overall quality over the years, but it's consistently been one of the best camera phones you can buy. This year, the Google Pixel 7 Pro has proven, without a shadow of a doubt, it is the best camera phone you can buy.
The rear camera suite comprises a 50-megapixel main lens, a 12MP ultrawide lens, and a 48MP telephoto lens with a 5x optical zoom. It's a powerful setup, but the real magic actually comes from Google's software. The images it creates are simply incredible, and rarely (if ever) require further processing in an editing suite. Just tap the button, and you'll get a great image that's ripe for sharing.
That's not to say there's no reason to dive into the editing software, though, as Google has provided plenty of tools to really fine-tune your images. No content with balancing your contrast and saturation, Magic Eraser makes a return from the Pixel 6 Pro, and Google has also added Magic Unblur, which aims to unblur any blurry photos. Unlike the excellent Magic Eraser, Magic Unblur is a bit hit-and-miss, but it's still fun to test it out.
The optical zoom at 5x is also excellent, and you can even push the camera to 30x with Google's Super Res Zoom feature — and the images at 30x are actually good. They look a bit like a watercolor, but they're still impressive given the long range. The ultrawide lens also has a new trick this year — a macro mode. It kicks in automatically when you're close to a subject, and it also does a remarkably good job, whether you're taking pictures of individual grains of sand, or a close-up of a flower bud. There's a little distortion around the edges, but that's common in wide-angle lenses, so it's forgivable.
Perhaps the only downside is the 10.8MP selfie camera, which is a little uninspiring, even if it's broadly fine. A fixed focus means you can get some soft areas in places you might not with the iPhone 14 Pro, and there's no natural bokeh too. But that aside, the Pixel 7 Pro's camera is incredible, and the best you can get in a smartphone. It starts from $899.
Apple iPhone 14 Pro
Best Apple camera phone
- Camera improvements mean great photos
- Always-on display looks fantastic
- Powerful A16 Bionic processor
- Vibrant screen and clear speakers
- Long-term software support
- One-day battery life
- Modest charging speed
Why should you buy this?: The Apple iPhone 14 Pro is an amazing smartphone all-around, and that includes an excellent camera.
Who’s it for?: People who want an iPhone with a great camera.
Why we picked the iPhone 14 Pro:
No one could ever accuse Apple of over-doing it on camera specs, but iPhone cameras always still seem to come out as one of the strongest contenders of any particular smartphone generation. In the case of the iPhone 14 Pro, it's only a small improvement over the iPhone 13 Pro, but an improvement is an improvement, and this is the iPhone to buy if you want an Apple phone with an amazing camera.
It has a triple-lens setup in the rear camera suite, including a 48MP main lens, a 12MP telephoto, and 12MP ultrawide-angle lens. The main lens is an upgrade over the previous generation, but otherwise, the hardware is basically the same. The telephoto lens has a 3x optical zoom, so clearly, Apple is waiting for at least one more generation before adding a periscope-style 5x zoom or greater.
But don't let that lower zoom put you off, as the iPhone 14 Pro produces exceptional images. It easily handles all sorts of lighting levels, taking vibrant and colorful stills in well-lit areas, and produces excellent results when the lights go down as well. Apple's editing software isn't quite as good as competitors (for instance, Samsung), but it still does a good job if you're happy to spend the time learning how to get the best results out of it.
If you want to really get the best out of your shots then you can use Apple's ProRaw format to control every aspect of the resulting photograph. Keep in mind those ProRaw images are storage hogs, though, with single images taking around 60MB. ProRes, Apple's high-resolution video mode, is even worse, with one minute of footage sitting at an estimated 1.7GB in size. That's a lot of storage, and a good reason to splurge for the 1TB model.
But even if you never dive into those modes (and many won't) you won't feel like you're missing out. Apple's iPhone 14 Pro is a triumph as a smartphone, and an exceptional camera phone as well. Prices start from $999.
Apple iPhone 14
Best cheap Apple camera phone
- Comfortable, high-end build
- OLED screen looks fantastic
- A15 chip performs great
- Good camera upgrades
- Dependable battery life
- Helpful safety features
- 60Hz display
- No telephoto camera
- eSIM might be a pain for some
Why should you buy this?: It's still an excellent iPhone with a camera to match, at a lower price.
Who’s it for?: Someone who wants a great iPhone camera, but doesn't want to pay almost $1,000.
Why we picked the iPhone 14:
As is rapidly becoming usual, the iPhone 14's limelight was stolen by the iPhone 14 Pro — but don't let the iPhone 14 linger in the shadows, as it too is an excellent smartphone with a very capable set of cameras. It has a 12MP wide-angle main lens with a 12MP ultrawide lens setup in the rear camera module, plus a 12MP selfie camera too.
The main lens really is a star. It's largely the same lens we saw in the iPhone 13, but don't let that put you off. It captures crisp and vivid images, packed with all the color and detail you need. It takes great lowlight stills, and for really dark images, the Night Mode kicks in, though that mode does soften the details quite a bit.
The 12MP ultrawide lens is also great, and unlike some other smartphones, images captured with it have largely the same color balance as the main lens. It can be jarring to see colors change between lenses, and the iPhone 14 avoids this excellently.
The selfie lens is the area that actually has seen tangible upgrades over the iPhone 13, thanks to the inclusion of autofocus. This may seem like a small addition, but the impact is huge. Details across all selfies are sharper, and the autofocus really helps to pick out the small details, like lines on your face, or even individual hairs. The large aperture also means there's a natural bokeh effect, even when you're not using Portrait mode. The iPhone 14 is a particularly great camera phone for selfies, and you're not missing out in this area by missing the Pro model.
While technically a downgrade from the iPhone 14 Pro, the iPhone 14 is a great phone on its own merits, with a great camera to boot. With prices starting at $799, it's also a strong way to save a couple of hundred dollars on your new iPhone.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4
Best versatile camera phone
- Usable cover screen
- Excellent multitasking features
- Inner screen is great for games and video
- Reliable and fun camera
- Water resistant and durable materials
- Heavy use kills the battery
- Slow charging
Why should you buy this?: Because it's on the bleeding edge of innovation and has some fun new camera features.
Who’s it for?: Someone who doesn't mind paying a lot of money for a camera phone with some new tricks.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4:
The camera probably isn't going to be at the forefront of your mind when you're considering the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, but there are some innovative new camera tricks here if you're interested in investigating the cutting-edge of smartphone camera tech.
We'll spend a moment going over the specs, because there's some really interesting stuff here, including a whopping five lenses in total. Three of them are in the main rear camera module, which is comprised of a main 50MP wide lens, a 10MP telephoto lens with a 3x optical zoom, and a 12MP ultrawide lens with a 123-degree field of view. There's a selfie camera on the outside cover — 10MP — and there's a 4MP selfie camera on the internal display too.
That 4MP lens is a little bit special, though, as it's installed underneath the main display. Yes, there's no punch-hole for it, and it's beneath a functioning part of the display. It's futuristic, experimental, and fits the Z Fold 4's vibe perfectly. Unfortunately, it's not very good, but it's still cool, and it's awesome it exists. Expect to see these become commonplace eventually, even if the technology isn't quite there yet.
The 10MP camera on the cover screen is far better, but you might not even use that, due to another of the Z Fold 4's tricks. The cover screen can become a viewfinder while using the rear camera, allowing you to take selfies with the much stronger rear camera lenses. While the 10MP selfie lens works just fine, using it over the 50MP main wide-angle lens is a tough sell.
Overall, the Z Fold 4 takes excellent photos with most of its cameras (excluding the under-display selfie lens) and is a capable camera. It's not the match of the other flagship phones on this list, but it is a contender, and worth it just for the fun tricks. It's an expensive phone, though, with the price starting at an incredible $1,800. Those tricks definitely come at a cost, but it's an experience like no other.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Best feature-rich camera phone
- S Pen is convenient and highly accurate
- Versatile camera takes great photos
- The latest processor for power
- Long software support
- Beautiful high refresh rate screen
- Not very fast battery charging
- Large and heavy
Why should you buy this?: This powerful smartphone will last you for years.
Who’s it for?: If you seek a phone that produces shareable photos quickly, the S22 Ultra is excellent.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra:
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is one of the very best camera phones you can get, even though spec-wise, it's not a huge advance from its predecessor, the Galaxy S21 Ultra, or the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Upgraded 3x, 10x, and 30x zoom levels provide greater detail and more natural and accurate colors, but the main and wide-angle cameras offer similar results to earlier Samsung smartphone cameras.
The S22 Ultra's variety of high-quality optical zoom modes makes it hugely versatile, the main and wide cameras take beautiful photos with vibrant colors and excellent balance, and the newly updated portrait mode is stunning. The Camera app is simple and customizable, letting you quickly access the features you use most.
Single Take mode lets you concentrate on shooting the scene, not on what mode to use. You can shoot a video up to 15 seconds long, which can be extended by another five seconds if needed, and the phone’s AI generates multiple images and videos from it, which can be edited and shared. Samsung has consulted with Snapchat and Instagram to include its camera tools in their apps, so you can directly use the different cameras and modes without shooting in the S22 Ultra’s camera app.
Samsung's Pro mode for stills and video and a new Expert RAW app available for download provide control over the telephoto cameras, support HDR capture, and allow for lossless data files, ready for apps like Adobe Lightroom. The 108MP mode has gained some functionality with the Detail Enhancer, using AI to boost detail, sharpness, and color. The 108MP photos are huge at 12000 x 9000 pixels and 25MB, but the Detail Enhancer makes cropping easy.
Google Pixel 6a
Best value camera phone
- Compact, lightweight design
- IP67 water resistance
- Flagship-grade performance
- Excellent cameras
- Clean software
- Years of guaranteed updates
- Display is only 60Hz
- Tensor chip runs hot
- Lacking battery life
Why should you buy this?: It's a fantastic camera on a reasonably priced smartphone.
Who’s it for?: Someone who wants a great camera, but doesn't want to pay flagship prices.
Why we picked the Google Pixel 6a:
Not everyone wants or needs a big, powerful, and (above all else) expensive flagship smartphone — but those people don't have to live with a sub-standard camera as a result. The flagship Pixel 7 Pro's high standards have passed down the line to its midrange cousin, the Pixel 6a. A half the price of the Apple iPhone 14 Pro, you get a smartphone that's just as capable and packed with the same software tricks that make all the Pixel phones incredible shooters.
The paper specs don't seem that impressive — and that's because they aren't. The Pixel 6a has the same 12.2MP main lens used on Pixel phones from the original Pixel, all the way up to the Pixel 5, though it is joined by a 12MP ultrawide lens, and has optical image stabilization (OIS) and phase detection autofocus. But Google's experience with this humble lens really shows, and the Pixel 6a is an extremely reliable camera phone in pretty much any situation.
Like the Pixel 7 Pro, the Pixel 6a excels as a camera that can handle a range of situations and adapt to them to produce a photo that doesn't need further tweaking. Despite its relatively low-end hardware, the Pixel 6a captures strong details with vibrant colors. It also isn't particularly phased by strong contrasts or challenging lighting conditions. It does struggle a little bit with low light environments, and while Google's Night Sight mode is still excellent, photos in this mode on the Pixel 6a do tend to come with very soft details. Still, it can effectively see in the dark, and that's very impressive for a phone of this price.
The key here is Google managed, yet again, to make a camera app that's simply good for snap-and-go, and shots that rarely need touching up. Of course, like the Pixel 7 Pro, the Pixel 6a has a bunch of software tricks up its sleeve. Magic Eraser is supported here, and so are the now mainstays of Portrait mode, Photo Sphere, and Real Tone. It even has a flagship processor, so processing those images won't necessarily take longer than on its more advanced siblings. The Pixel 6a is an excellent camera phone, and a very solid choice if you're looking to save some money. And save money you will since it starts at just $450.
Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
Best runner-up value camera phone
- Pretty design
- IP67 water-resistance
- Camera is great for social media
- Vibrant screen
- Two-day battery life
- Performance can be sluggish
- Not an upgrade to the A52 and A52S
Why should you buy this?: It's a safe and solid camera phone that doesn't break the bank.
Who’s it for?: Someone who loves Samsung phones and a bargain.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G:
The realistic options for good camera phones do, unfortunately, drop away once you start heading into the lower price ranges — so we've added not one, but two great options in the $450 range. The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G is a continuation of Samsung's ambitions in the midrange arena, and while it's not a huge departure from what came before, it's still worth your attention for its versatile and capable camera.
There's a 32MP selfie camera around the front, which is startling enough, but it's the rear camera module that really captured our attention. There's a 64MP main lens with optical image stabilization, a 12MP wide-angle lens with a 123-degree field of view, and a pair of 5MP lenses that measure depth and offer macro capabilities. That's an extremely versatile range of camera lenses, and it's much more than we typically see at this price.
The result is a camera that takes some good photos in the right lighting conditions. Samsung's customary oversaturation is definitely present, and that means greens, blues, and reds are guaranteed to pop. It's not realistic, and some won't like that, but it does produce pictures that look amazing on social media.
Unfortunately, it does struggle with more challenging lighting conditions. Images taken with overcast skies and low sunlight were poor, which is a disappointment. In addition, there's a zoom available, but it's purely digital, so quality does suffer as a result.
But even with those setbacks in mind, the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G has a lot to offer the right person as a good camera phone. Prices start at $450, which puts it in strong competition with the Pixel 6a. It doesn't match up to the Google phone in pure camera quality, though, so this should be an option for those who can't buy the Pixel, or who are Samsung diehards.
There are a lot of technical specifications related to the cameras in our smartphones, so here’s a quick crash course to explain the basics.
The megapixel rating relates to detail. In simple terms: The higher the megapixel count, the more detail you’ll see in the picture. For a long time, the smartphone camera specs race focused on megapixel count, but there’s more to capturing a great photo than detail. It’s also worth noting that many cameras do not capture at the maximum megapixel settings by default, because it’s often more detail than you need. Most manufacturers are now working to improve other aspects of their cameras.
Sensor size is another thing to consider, as it turns out that all megapixels are not created equal. HTC coined the term “ultrapixel” to draw attention to the fact that it had bigger megapixels than some competing camera phones, so even with a 4-megapixel camera, it could potentially get better results than an 8-megapixel camera with smaller pixels. They’re measured in micrometers and bigger is theoretically better at capturing light. For example, the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s main lens has a 2.44 µm pixel size.
Optical image stabilization (OIS)
Optical image stabilization (OIS) helps to keep the camera steady, so if your hands are shaking, it will be less noticeable on a camera phone that has OIS support. It’s compensating for the movement in your hands.
High dynamic range (HDR)
High dynamic range (HDR) is a technique whereby the camera takes multiple shots of the same subject in different exposures and then combines them in post-processing to create one single shot, which is usually brighter and more detailed than a non-HDR shot. It requires some processing power, so you’ll find it might be a bit slow on budget devices like the Galaxy A53 5G, but it’s always desirable if you want the best possible photos.
For video recording, you want to look at two things: Resolution and the frames per second (fps).
The resolution is simply how much detail is captured. For 4K video, it’s 3840 x 2160 pixels. For Full HD it’s 1920 x 1080 pixels. Bigger is often better, but keep in mind you need a 4K TV or monitor to see the benefit, and 4K and 8K videos take up a lot of space on your phone’s hard drive, so it’s good to not keep it on 4K by default.
Frames per second (fps)
When you see a high frame rate, such as the iPhone’s ability to shoot Full HD at 120 fps, that means you can create slow-motion movies. You can slow the footage down to show detailed moments that would be a blur at a lower frame rate.
The fact that we all have smartphones in our pockets all day, every day, has led to an explosion in photography. We snap and share more photos than ever before and the smartphone has played a major role in the reinvention of digital photography.
It used to be that you’d expect two lenses on your phone — one at the front and one at the back. However, now it’s not uncommon to come across phones with multiple lenses on either side.
The truth is that the best smartphone cameras still fall way short of the best DSLR cameras when it comes to most shots. However, that gap is shrinking, but DSLRs still have an edge.
However, a high megapixel count isn’t the only determiner of a good camera, and that’s shown to great effect by several of our picks. If you had a 48-megapixel camera with pixel binning, for example, your output would be a 12-megapixel photo, but it would be far better than anything a regular 12-megapixel camera could produce.
It is technically possible, but it’s not very likely. While people occasionally find ways to exploit vulnerabilities in phone software, it’s usually necessary to trick you into downloading malware or to physically get a hold of your phone and install malware on it to access your phone’s camera. The best way to reduce the threat is to stick to the official app stores for app downloads and secure your phone with other measures, such as your fingerprint or a PIN. If your phone is acting strangely and you see activity in the call log or camera gallery that wasn’t you, then you may have a malware problem.
Here at Digital Trends, we’re always holding a game controller, camera, smartphone, or some other tech device for the majority of our workday. Not having something in our hands is an infrequent occurrence. When we experiment with smartphones, it usually takes us about a week to complete.
We view this amount of time as an appropriate duration that’s long enough to allow for proper testing. We examine each phone’s endurance and performance in typical conditions.
It’s not a secret that we are constantly using our smartphones. They are always a hand’s reach away. We love using the camera, whether for recreational use, artistic hobbies, or professional business purposes. A surefire way to assess these cameras is to travel to as many locations as possible and take as many pictures, and record as many videos as you can.
You won’t get an accurate idea of how quality varies between different models unless you test them out and compare them with each other. It’s hard to determine our favorite camera, so sometimes we simply leave it up for discussion. Many times these discussions lead to intense photo shooting competitions and more observation.
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