Thanks to remarkable advances in technology, your phone isn’t just for the random selfie or quick snap. In fact, phone cameras are good enough now to serve as backups to your “real” cameras. Better yet, smartphones can serve as your main camera.
With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the top five smartphones for photographers. Plus, we’ve got a quick guide on what to look for to make sure you’re getting the ultimate in performance and photo quality.
One of the first things you want to check is the memory. High-quality photos (and especially videos) take a lot of space, and you want to make sure your new phone can handle it like a champ.
You’ll pay more for more memory, but unless you’re faithful about consistently uploading your images to the cloud, you’re going to need it.
A decade ago, it would have been absurd to talk about the aperture in a smartphone camera, but that’s not the case anymore! After memory, the aperture is the most important thing you should look for. Choose a camera with a wide aperture to get better images even in low-light conditions.
Do your research carefully to make sure both lenses (front and back) have great specs. The last thing you want is to have a great rear-facing camera and a poor front-facing one. Let’s face; selfies are an important part of a photographer’s repertoire!
The quality of video your smartphone can produce is almost as important these days as the still images it can take. Compare your phone’s video capture resolution and it's frame rate to get the best option and don’t forget to pay attention to special features.
Now that you know what to prioritize let’s jump into our reviews. We’ve researched customer testimonials, expert feedback, and data across the internet to bring you honest, accurate reviews.
Best Android Camera: Google Pixel 2 and Google Pixel 2 XL
Portrait shots (including selfies!) are a highlight for this phone so its a no-brainer for Android lovers who want an alternative to the iPhone and the Galaxy Note. Even better, this isn’t limited to the back camera! Plus, you’ll appreciate how well it handles low light situations.
Things we don’t like about the Pixel: it lacks a headphone socket, and we do wish (especially for photographers) that there was more manual control over the camera app (ISO speed settings and raw shooting, for example). The waterproof body and excellent image stabilization, however, make up for these cons.
Finally, Google’s integrated its Pixel Visual Core, a sub-processor that ups the HDR+ game, taking your images to the next level. If you’re a photographer, you need this phone!
Best Apple Camera: iPhone X
- An all‑new 5.8‑inch Super Retina screen with all-screen OLED Multi-Touch display
- 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras with Dual optical image stabilization
- Wireless Qi charging
We can’t have a conversation about great smartphone cameras without discussing the iPhone X. If you want all the image beauty offered in the Google Pixel but would prefer it in an Apple product, this is your best bet. It’s truly a flagship offering, with a zoom that allows you to get 2x closer to your subject.
You get not one but two rear lenses (one is a 12-MP wide-angle, and the other is a 12-MP telephoto) that keep your image sharp and clear even while it’s zoomed in all the way. Plus, the rear cameras offer some terrific support for the iPhone’s infamous Portrait Mode, including a blur effect and additional lighting.
Here’s a special note on the front-facing camera: its 7-megapixel camera has a f/2.2 aperture so you can use Apple’s Portrait Mode to get that lovely bokeh effect we all love.
Also in the front, you’ll enjoy Apple’s TrueDepth camera, for depth, lighting, and blurring effects in your selfies. Combined with its beautiful OLED screen and the images are going to pop off that phone! Just like with the Pixel, you’ll get two 12MP sensors (one is a telephoto), so optical stability is premium.
Like most flagship phones these days, the iPhone X comes sans headphone jack, but it’s relatively well sized and resistant to water and dust. It’s not the best camera phone out there, but it does sit at the top of our list.
Best Alternative to Google and Apple: Huawei Mate 10 Pro
- The HUAWEI FullView Display is a stunning new 6-inch screen with an 18:9 display ratio, barely-there bezel and HDR10...
- With 2X the speed of 4G LTE, Huawei Mate 10 Pro gives you the ultimate gigabit LTE experience capable of speeds up to 1...
- With a large 4000 mAh battery coupled with smart battery management that learns from user behaviors, power-waste is...
If you want something that’s a little less popular than a Google or Apple phone, we recommend the Mate from Huawei. It’s a beautiful, flagship phone that often costs less than it’s more on-brand predecessors, but it’s just as capable where it counts.
It comes with a dual Leica f/1.6 camera that includes both black and white and color sensors as well as a beautifully fast processor with artificial intelligence to help bolster your camera skills. These come in handy when you’re taking selfies, as the phone will know what to focus on automatically. Just aim and shoot.
Its dual lenses are the equivalents of 27mm and 35mm lenses and, just like the other phones we’ve discussed today, your 12MP camera offers terrific optical image stabilization.
Video on the Mate is especially worth mentioning, as you’ll be able to record 4k UHD video at 120fps in Full HD. Not shabby for a smartphone!
We do have to mention that, out of all the cameras we’ve already mentioned, the Mate performs the weakest when it comes to standard lighting. Casual users will find this frustrating, but most professional photographers won’t have a problem and will, in fact, love this phone’s low light performance.
Finally, we can’t end this review without mentioning the Mate’s fantastic battery life--a whopping two days! This phone makes photography a breeze.
Best Mid-Priced Camera: Samsung Galaxy S8
- Infinity Display: a bezel-less, full-frontal, edge-to-edge screen. Default resolution is Full HD+ and can be changed to...
- Camera resolution - Front: 8 MP AF, Rear: 12 MP OIS AF
- Memory: Internal Memory 64 GB, RAM 4GB
Samsung has managed to find its niche at the front of the smartphone camera crowd, thanks to a great combination of software and technology. The Galaxy S8 is no exception, earning a place for itself in an already stellar line-up.
The technical details first: you’ll enjoy the 12MP rear camera thanks to its f/1.7 aperture. You’ll also appreciate the dual pixel technology on that rear camera as well as the 8MP front-facing camera that comes with autofocus for better self-portraits.
4K video is not a problem whatsoever on the Galaxy S8, and we adore the fact that the entire phone is submersible up to 1.5 meters for up to half an hour! Combined with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 and you won’t need to worry about damaging your phone when you’re going for the perfect shot.
We also have high praise for the fact that you can move your camera into manual mode. When you’re there, you’ll be able to select ISO speeds all the way from IS050 to ISO800.
It’s not a perfect phone; it isn’t as long-lasting as, say, the Mate, or as easy to use in selfie mode as the iPhone, but it’s a good phone with a great camera, and worth checking out!
Best Budget Option: Asus ZenFone 3 Zoom
Is it possible to get a photographer-worthy camera phone for under $300? We say, yes! The ZenFone 3 Zoom from Asus is not as well-known as some of its massively-sized counterparts (looking at you, Google Pixel), but it’s still an excellent phone with a great camera. If you don’t want to give away your right arm to get a great camera, it’s a fine option.
Just like the other cameras we’ve reviewed so far, you’ll get dual 12MP rear cameras, which means you can zoom all the way to 2.3x. You’ll also enjoy extra features like a sensor that’s just for color correction and optical image stabilization (to take proper advantage of that zoom!).
Call us vain, but we’re in love with all the beauty modes the selfie camera comes with, and thanks to a delightful sixteen-hour battery life, we can take all the selfies we need.
Does this phone have all the bells and whistles that the Mate, Pixel, Galaxy, or iPhone come with? No, but at a much, much lower price, we’re still impressed by the camera here.
Five great phones for five great reasons; will you choose the budget-friendly Asus, the flagship Google Pixel or iPhone X, the mid-priced Galaxy S8, or the little-known Huawei Mate? Comment and let us know below!