The Best Camera Phones for 2021

From Selfies to Portraits

Your phone is the camera you always carry. And if you haven’t upgraded it in a few years, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much phone camera performance (particularly low-light image quality) has improved. In fact, we’ve pretty much reached the point that you can leave your old point-and-shoot at home as long as you’ve got a good camera phone in your pocket.

But not all phone cameras are created equal. We put every phone we review through a rigorous series of camera evaluations in our test lab to determine which are the best shooters on the market. We’ve gathered the top camera phones here. You’ll never have to worry about carrying a separate camera if you’ve got one of these in your pocket, and each is also a stellar smartphone in its own right.

One think we’re finding frustrating right now is that many of the best cameras are on smartphones that aren’t available in the US. There’s intense camera innovation going on from manufacturers like Huawei, Oppo, and Xiaomi, but for various reasons they don’t sell phones in the US and their phones don’t work very well on our networks.

In the US, the usual suspects of Apple, Google, and Samsung have the best cameras. Higher-end phones perform better, of course, but we’ve included a few less expensive phones on the list, notably the Google Pixel 4a, the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G, and the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G, which have the best cameras you’ll find in their price range.

The most important factor in any photo isn’t the camera—it’s the photographer. No matter what phone you have, following our camera expert Jim Fisher’s tips and tricks for camera phone photos can make your images better.

Pixel 4a how to take better pictures with your iPhone goes into detail.


How About Video?

In the era of TikTok and Instagram Stories, video is more important than ever. Here are some features to look for.

Optical image stabilization is always better than electronic or digital image stabilization, creating less jittery videos. Many high-end phones now use both, giving a Steadicam-like effect.

The corner of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, showing many camera lenseshow to get your images off your phone.

Slow motion can make for some exciting effects; while most phones can now capture up to 240fps (1/8 speed), some can go up to 960fps (1/32 speed). Keep an eye on how long a phone can capture slow-mo for, though, because it can be tricky to grab a scene if you only have 0.2 seconds of recording time. Many phones also have other video tricks like time lapse, hyperlapse, and video bokeh.


Do You Need a Standalone Camera?

For the ultimate in image quality, the best possible low-light performance, or killer optical zoom, you’ll still want a dedicated SLR or mirrorless camera. Our list of the Best Digital Cameras is a great place to start. And be sure to check out our Beyond-Basic Photography Tips.

If you don’t need to take professional shots, however, a top smartphone camera will suit you just fine, and you can’t go wrong with any of our picks here.

About Sascha Segan

January 25, 2021
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