Smartphone technology just keeps getting better. And while we certainly can’t complain about the advancements in technology, it’s harder than ever to choose the perfect phone. If you’re planning to update to a new phone this year, we’ve got a few suggestions. Whether you’re looking to level-up your photography game or shoot more videos, there’s a phone for you. Here are our picks for the best camera phones in 2021.
The top 10 best camera phones right now
All camera phones are not created equal. In fact, if you were to ask 100 people which phone takes the best photos, you’d probably get dozens of answers. But don’t worry — we can help make your decision a little easier. We’ve narrowed down your choices to the top 10 phone cameras for 2021:
- iPhone 12 Pro Max: Best smartphone camera overall
- Motorola Moto G8 Power: Best budget camera phone
- Huawei Mate 40 Pro: Best selfie camera phone
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Highest-megapixel camera phone
- iPhone SE (2020): Best mid-range camera phone
- Google Pixel 5: Best low-light camera phone
- Sony Xperia 1 II: Best video camera phone
- Samsung Galaxy Note 10+: Best wide-angle camera phone
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Best camera phone with optical zoom
- Google Pixel 4A: Best camera phone for beginners
1. Best smartphone camera overall: iPhone 12 Pro Max
If you’re already a fan of Apple products, you will love the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which has the most impressive imaging capabilities on an iPhone yet. And if you’re on the fence about switching from Android to iOS, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the perfect introductory model. A nice trifecta of lenses is included: the primary wide-angle 26 mm lens with 12-megapixels and f/1.6 aperture, a 13 mm ultra-wide with 12-megapixels, and a 65 mm telephoto lens, also with 12-megapixels.
This phone’s image quality is excellent overall — the best in all of the iPhone 12 lineup. The autofocus is speedy and accurate, and the detail is high in all shooting conditions. With iPhone 12 Pro Max, you can shoot 4K video at 24, 30, or 60 frames per second. The video performance is also fantastic, with vibrant color, effective stabilization, and a wide dynamic range. If you want something that can handle all types of shooting conditions for photography and filmmaking, look no further than the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
2. Best budget camera phone: Motorola Moto G8 Power
If your goal is to take great photos without breaking the bank, you can’t go wrong with the Motorola Moto G8 Power. Motorolla is well known for its high-quality budget phones, and the Moto G8 Power includes a sturdy, versatile camera, a long-lasting battery, and 64GB of storage for under $200.
As for the camera, you’ll enjoy a 16-megapixel primary rear-facing camera, as well as an 8-megapixel zoom and ultra-wide. Even the front camera is an impressive 16 megapixels. Budget-conscious photographers will be impressed with the photo quality of the Moto G8, the only downside being the somewhat lackluster quality of photos taken in low light.
3. Best selfie camera phone: Huawei Mate 40 Pro
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro carries a powerhouse of a camera that excels in all types of shooting conditions. If we had to pick one feature that places it above the competition, it would be the stellar front-facing camera, with an impressive 13-megapixel f/2.4 aperture camera with an 18 mm-equivalent focal length. The powerful sensor is coupled to a fixed-focus lens with a gorgeous bokeh mode.
Selfies taken with the Huawei Mate 40 Pro are top-notch, but the rear camera is even more impressive. Its triple-camera setup includes a primary 50-megapixel camera, a 20-megapixel ultra-wide lens, and a 12-megapixel zoom. Unfortunately, Huawei has limited availability in the United States, and this phone doesn’t support Google apps. Otherwise, this would be one of the top phones on our list.
4. Highest-megapixel camera phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
If you want the best camera specs and features, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra may be just what you’re looking for. With a whopping 108-megapixel sensor on the main camera, the S21 also comes with three additional cameras: one ultra-wide and two telephoto lenses. Plus, a new focus enhancer tool helps your camera focus quickly for precision in all types of lighting.
The photo quality on the S21 Ultra is excellent, with pristine detail and a wide dynamic range even at night. For selfies, there’s a 40-megapixel front camera, and you can shoot video in 4K and 8K.
5. Best mid-range camera phone: iPhone SE (2020)
In April 2020, the iPhone SE (2020) launched as a second-generation update of the wildly popular — and cheaper — iPhone SE. The rear camera offers a single 12-megapixel sensor linked to an f/1.8-aperture lens, which takes high-quality, no-fuss photos. The iPhone SE also offers a 5x digital zoom, plus Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and depth control.
Outdoor and indoor shots taken in natural lighting on this phone are exceptional, but low-light photography is a bit of a struggle. Still, this is a fantastic buy for iPhone users who appreciate a small phone at a lower price point.
6. Best low-light camera phone: Google Pixel 5
If you tend to take more photos after dark, you need a camera that can excel in those tricky conditions. The Google Pixel 5 features a dual-camera setup with a wide and ultra-wide lens. The wide lens is best for low-light photography, with an f/1.7 aperture to maximize the amount of light that hits the sensor. The flash also performs well when taking portraits at night. But because the Pixel 5 doesn’t include an optical zoom lens, we recommend moving closer when photographing distant subjects.
7. Best video camera phone: Sony Xperia 1 II
The new Sony Xperia 1 II isn’t geared toward the everyday smartphone user. Instead, it hopes to attract the pro-level photographer and videographers who want a powerful and high-tech camera that fits in their pockets. Its three rear-facing lenses (wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto) all include a 12-megapixel sensor.
For shooting video, the Sony Xperia includes a physical shutter button, a powerful, impressively detailed video app called Cinema Pro, and the ability to shoot high-resolution 4K video.
8. Best wide-angle camera phone: Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ is a solid performer for indoor and outdoor photography, but it really excels at capturing vast scenes with its ultra-wide-angle lens. This lens boasts a 16-megapixel sensor with a fixed f/2.2 aperture, perfect for a variety of shooting conditions, including low light. Exposure, color, and detail are excellent across the frame, and distortion is minimal. All in all, this is a great camera. But it truly excels when shooting landscapes, architecture, and other wide scenes.
9. Best camera phone with optical zoom: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
If getting up close and personal is important to you, you need a powerful optical zoom. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra delivers with a 12-megapixel telephoto lens at 120 mm for 5x optical zoom shots. Two additional lenses include the 108-megapixel primary lens and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens.
Additional standout features include vivid color rendering, lightning-fast autofocus, and beautifully accurate exposure. This is a serious contender for anyone who wants professional-quality zoomed-in photos in a small package.
10. Best smartphone camera for beginners: Google Pixel 4A
If you’re looking for an affordable camera phone that takes beautiful photos right out of the box, check out the Google Pixel 4A, featuring just one wide-angle lens at 12.2 megapixels. The standard/wide 27 mm-equivalent lens features a large f/1.7 aperture with optical image stabilization. As an easy-to-use single-lens camera without much experience required, the Google Pixel 4A offers excellent performance in all areas except its below-average digital zoom.
Ready to advance your smartphone photography with a new device in 2021? These top 10 contenders will provide you with unlimited opportunities available at every price point.