Choosing the best camera phone in 2019 is nearly like picking the top smartphone overall, now that photographic capability has become such an important feature in handsets, and smartphones with amazing cameras are popping up left, right and center from brands like Google, Huawei and Samsung.
The iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are Apple’s newest smartphones, and they’re clearly vying for top spot – but in 2019, when Apple’s competitors have overtaken it, and iPhone are no longer top dog for smartphone photography, where will they place in our rankings? We’ve got the handsets in for testing, and you can expect a verdict very soon.
Our testing is more thorough than simply looking at a specifications list, or picking whatever handset is newest – so much of a camera phone’s quality is determined by software optimization as much as sensor and lens power.
Want to know more about dual-cameras? Check out our video below.
Optical zoom vs digital zoom
Understand your camera phone’s close-up potential
The difference between optical and digital zoom is important to know when shopping for a new camera phone. It’s not the only tech category where these two kinds of camera zoom pop up, but they butt heads here like nowhere else.
At TechRadar we put all smartphone cameras through rigorous testing in different lighting conditions, scenarios, and subjects, to work out how each camera performs at different tasks.
Beyond the specs and capabilities of the camera itself, there are a number of aspects about the phone you’ll also want to consider. For example, getting a high-storage option or one that supports a microSD card will be helpful if you capture lots of 4K video, and battery size and screen quality help you in various ways too.
So to help you, we’ve compiled this list of the best camera phones, that we’ve tested extensively, to help you when it comes to choosing your next camera phone.
This list changes all the time – we’re currently testing the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10 Plus, as well as the aforementioned iPhone series, and later in 2019 we’ve got the Google Pixel 4, Huawei Mate 30 Pro and OnePlus 7T that could all find a place in this list.
1. Huawei P30 Pro
The best camera phones you can buy
Release date: March 2019 | Rear camera: 40MP + 20MP + 8MP + ToF | Front camera: 32MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.6, f/2.2, f/3.4 | Weight: 192g | Dimensions: 158 x 73.4 x 8.4mm | Battery size: 4,200mAh
The best camera phone in low-light
Mightiest telephoto capabilities
Has an ultra-wide lens, too
Google Pixel 3 is a very close rival
Not sold everywhere in the world
Touch detection can be off
The Huawei P30 Pro has been meticiously engineered to be the best cameras phone, narrowly passing the single-lens rear Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL cameras in terms of quality. How? Two ways: it’s the best low-light performer we’ve tested and its ‘periscope’ telephoto lens takes astounding optically zoomed-in shots at a distance.
There were a lot of cameras to test on this phone, including four on the back: a 40MP main lens, an 8MP telephoto lens, a 20MP ultra-wide lens, and then a ToF (time-of-flight) camera to sense depth for portrait photos.
The Huawei P30 Pro camera also uses an RYYB (red yellow yellow blue) sensor instead of the industry standard RGB (red green blue) sensor to capture more light, and it shows. The snaps we took for our review had more detail and less shadow than the competition, yet they didn’t look completely overexposed. It’s a fine balance that few phone manufacturers get right with their tiny cameras and limited software.
It’s all amazing for a smartphone, but not entirely perfect. We did notice some purple fringing in areas, and the camera software controls aren’t always responsive when switching between ultra-wide, 5x zoom, 10x zoom and digital 50x zoom. But the fact that you can get insanely close to objects with a 50x zoom and also shoot at night as if all of the lights were on really sets a new bar for camera phones in 2019.
Read our full review: Huawei P30 Pro
2. Google Pixel 3 / Google Pixel 3 XL
Photos with great colors with pure Android software
Release date: November 2018 | Rear camera: 12.2MP | Front camera: 8MP + 8MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.8 | Autofocus type: Phase detection | Weight: 148/184g | Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5mm | Battery size: 2,915/3,430mAh | Storage: 64/128GB
Great HDR and true-to-life color
Available in two sizes
Single lens = no wide-angle option
The Google Pixel 3 is the second best camera phone you can buy right now, and at times, offers better colors compared to even the Huawei P30 Pro. So if you prefer a pure Android software experience, don’t hesitate to consider this runner-up.
We also like the fact that you get the choice of two handsets sizes, with both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL boasting the same camera setup. While most of the other handsets in our best camera phone round-up have at least two rear cameras, the Pixel devices come with just a single rear snapper.
These cameras are extremely powerful though, with an intuitive interface and AI smarts adapting fantastically to any scenario, be it beautiful vistas or low-light portraits.
What sets Google’s 12.2MP rear camera apart from the competition is its consistency. We got sharper, slightly brighter photos from the Pixel 3 and 3 XL versus the iPhone XS Max (overly warm color tones), Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (not always the best HDR) and Huawei P20 Pro (frequently over-sharpened).
Behind-the-scenes, Google’s dedicated Pixel Visual Core chip and machine-learning software are the magic that recognize what photos should look like and which shots you’ll actually want.
If there’s one thing Google knows how to do, it’s processing data and perfecting algorithms. Where it loses out, though is in its new Night Mode for long exposure shots. The Huawei P30 Pro is slightly better, even though Google does a good job as well. it’s also not as vertisible on the back, without an ultra-wide or a telephoto lens.
And let’s not forget, both phones also have dual front-facing cameras, giving you great portrait-mode selfies with beautifully blurred backgrounds.
3. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
A big display and a really good camera
Release date: March 2019 | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 16MP | Front camera: 10MP + 8MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.5, f/2.4, f/2.2 | Weight: 198g | Dimensions: 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8mm
Superb camera, even in low light
No HDR video recording
Not a huge step up from S9
The Galaxy S10 Plus, along with the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10e, debut cameras new to Samsung owners. In addition to an improved regular camera and a 2x optical telephoto lens on the S10 and S10 Plus, there’s also a 123-degree ultra-wide lens on the back of the trio of phones.
We found the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus to be extremely versatile and fun to shoot with. This is mainly down to its best-in-class camera software. It’s feature-packed with modes like Color Point. It’s a Live Focus (bokeh) mode that masks the background in grayscale, while letting your subject pop. You can change this in post (to become a blur or a swirling blur) and slide the intensity up and down. It’s our favorite new camera mode of 2019.
Where does it fall short? Samsung’s photos apply aggressive smoothing to mask noise in low-light, preventing it from topping the Google Pixel 3 and Huawei P30 Pro. You’re not going to get the very best shots next to those phones, but we’ve still consider them really good and the huge 6.4-inch display to be the best.
Note: the Samsung Galaxy S10e has the new ultra-wide lens, but lacks the telephoto lens, while the standard S10 lacks the dual-front facing camera of the Plus (though we didn’t see much difference between portrait selfies on the Plus and the normal S10).
Read our full review: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
4. Huawei Mate 20 Pro
When it comes to versatility, this is the best camera phone
Release date: November 2018 | Rear camera: 40MP + 20MP + 8MP | Front camera: 24MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.8, f/2.2, f/2.4 | Autofocus type: Phase detection | Weight: 189g | Dimensions: 157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6mm | Battery size: 4,200mAh | Storage: 128/256GB
Clever triple camera setup
Camera HDR could be better
Basic UI, complex nest of settings
With three rear cameras the Huawei Mate 20 Pro offers a highly versatile camera phone experience.
The P20 Pro ushered in this era of great Huawei cameras, and the Mate 20 Pro inherits its 40MP wide-angle f/1.8 lens and 8MP, f/2.4 3x telephoto with OIS and then builds on it further.
Rounding out that trio of rear-facing cameras is the new star, an ultra-wide 16MP, f/2.2 lens. It expands the Mate 20 Pro’s feature set, letting you take a wider array of photos from limited positions.
Even for casual shooting, it makes life easier when trying to fit a bunch of far-flung elements in the same photo.
The Mate 20 Pro’s overall low-light performance is superior to that of most other smartphones we tested, especially with its seconds-long-exposure Night Mode.
The phone’s 3x telephoto does a great job of snagging distant shots, and the hybrid 5x zoom adds a digital blend to give you a bit more reach. It’s not perfect, but in our comparative testing, it outdid some digital-only zooms like on the Google Pixel 3.
There’s a host of other features in the camera app on the Mate 20 Pro too, allowing you to really fine tune and tinker with the photography experience.
Read our full review: Huawei Mate 20 Pro
5. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Great low-light performance and remote snapping skills
Release date: August 2018 | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.5-f/2.4 | Autofocus type: Phase detection | Weight: 201g | Dimensions: 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8mm | Battery size: 4,000mAh | Storage: 128/512GB
Superb camera, even in low light
No HDR video recording
Not a huge step up from S9
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 builds on the strong camera offering of the Galaxy S9 Plus, with a number of small enhancements making it even better.
The result is a handset which is comfortable shooting in any scenario, including in low light, for some truly impressive shots.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera identifies and adapts to various subjects with a new scene-optimizer feature. It adjusts the white balance and color based on 20 subjects as varied as sunsets, flowers, food, birds, text and so forth.
Compared to even the six-month-old S9 Plus, the Note 9 camera captures more detail, but you’ll have to squint to see the differences.
As this is a Note device, you get Samsung’s S Pen stylus included with the handset, and you can use the button on this as a remote shutter key.
It means you can set the Galaxy Note 9 down on a surface and walk away from it and still snap a shot using the S Pen. It’s a relatively minor perk, but one we enjoy using.
One slight mark against the Note 9 is its lack of HDR video recording, but for many this won’t be an issue.
Read our full review: Samsung Galaxy Note 9
6. iPhone XS / iPhone XS Max
Simplicity and smarts for a stress-free experience
Release date: September 2018 | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 7MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.8, f/2.4 | Autofocus type: Phase detection | Weight: 177/208g | Dimensions: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm/157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm | Battery size: 2,658/3,174mAh | Storage: 64/256/512GB
Available in two sizes
Very easy to use
Apple’s latest iPhone duo boast powerful dual rear cameras, but it’s not just the specs that appeal about the firm’s mobile photography experience – it’s also the ease of use of their smartphone snappers.
The iPhone camera app is well known for being a simple, clutter-free interface, focused on taking great snaps every time with minimal controls, modes and settings for the user to worry about.
It means that you don’t quite get the same breath of shooting options as you do on the likes of the Samsungs and Huaweis, but the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max boast Apple’s best smartphone snappers to date, with improvements to their low-light capabilities.
If you want a phone to pull out and take a quick snap with minimum effort, the new iPhones are some of the best camera phones around.
Apple has popularized the blurred background Bokeh effect, and Portrait Mode is one of the best implementations of the technology we’ve used on a smartphone, with a range of studio lighting effects adding extra pizzazz to your compositions.
Both the iPhone XS and XS Max have exactly the same dual 12MP rear cameras, with the only differences between the two being screen size, battery size and their physical size.
The 6.5-inch display on the iPhone XS Max gives you a huge viewfinder when it comes to snapping photos, but it comes with an equally huge price tag, with the still-expensive iPhone XS producing the same results in a smaller form factor.
7. Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
The Galaxy S9 Plus is still a top camera phone
Release date: March 2018 | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.5-2.4, f/2.4 | Autofocus type: Phase detection | Weight: 189g | Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5mm | Battery size: 3,500mAh | Storage: 64/128/256GB + microSD
Impressive low-light camera
Fantastic all-round package
AR Emoji is overrated
Earlier this year the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus was our best camera phone pick, fusing an excellent all-round smartphone experience with a highly accomplished photography offering.
As you can see, it’s now be usurped by a number of new camera phone releases, but it’s still a fantastic offering which has now dropped in price since launch.
Round the back you get two cameras, with the main 12MP sensor joined by a secondary 12MP sensor directly below it.
The main sensor is rather special, as it has a world’s-first-on-a-phone f/1.5 aperture, meaning that it performs fantastically well in low light.
That’s not all this sensor has up its sleeve though, as it also features Samsung’s Dual Aperture Technology, allowing it to move from f/1.5 (for low light) to f/2.4 (reduces overexposure in bright scenes).
Meanwhile the second camera allows you to take bokeh-rich photos, with parts of the image blurred while other parts are in focus.
This is all wrapped up into an easy-to-use camera app with an automatic mode which takes care of most of the technological trickery, meaning all you have to do is point and shoot for a great snap.
Read our full review: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
8. Huawei P20 Pro
Release date: April 2018 | Rear camera: 40MP + 20MP + 8MP | Front camera: 24MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.8, f/1.6, f/2.4 | Autofocus type: Phase detection and laser | Weight: 180g | Dimensions: 155 x 73.9 x 7.8mm | Battery size: 4,000mAh | Storage: 128GB
Clever triple-camera setup
Great battery life
No 3.5mm jack or wireless charging
Display not as sharp as Samsung
The Huawei P20 Pro marked a significant shift for the Chinese firm, as it offers up one of best camera phone experiences on the market.
It may have been superseded by the newer Mate 20 Pro, but take nothing away from the P20 Pro, this is still a top camera phone.
Its party piece is the triple camera setup on its rear. The three cameras have a combined megapixel count of a staggering 68MP. Chuck the 24MP front facing camera into the mix as well and the phone has a total count of 92MP.
Megapixels only get you so far, but the good news here is that the Huawei P20 Pro backs up its MP count with a strong suit of camera features.
The main 40MP camera is backed up by a 20MP black and white sensor that helps with image processing, including decreasing noise and improving dynamic range – although as default the P20 Pro shoots at 10MP.
The third rear camera has a 3x ‘zoom’ lens and an 8MP sensor, letting you zoom into a scene without using digital zoom – which means there’s very little decrease in image quality when used.
Read our full review: Huawei P20 Pro
9. Samsung Galaxy S9
One camera, two apertures
Release date: March 2018 | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP | OIS: Yes | Rear camera aperture: f/1.5-2.4 | Autofocus type: Phase detection | Weight: 163g | Dimensions: 147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5mm | Battery size: 3,000mAh | Storage: 64/128/256GB + microSD
The most powerful Android phone
Camera great in low-light
Design is identical to S8
Some camera snaps lack vibrancy
You may be wondering how the Galaxy S9 is as far down as it is considering its bigger brother is above it.
The reason is that, unlike the iPhone XS/XS Max and Google Pixel 3/3 XL which have identical cameras, Samsung gave the S9 Plus more photography prowess.
The Galaxy S9 is still a top camera phone though, with its powerful 12MP rear snapper (there’s just one on the back of this phone) an advancement on the excellent sensor found on its predecessor.
Samsung has improved the camera’s low-light capabilities on the Galaxy S9 with an industry leading f/1.5 aperture, and it’s added super slo-mo, 960fps video recording to the mix as well.
The camera is even smarter though as, like the S9 Plus, it boasts Samsung’s Dual-Aperture Technology, allowing it to automatically switch between f/1.5 in low-light settings, to f/2.4 in bright scenes.
The result? An easy to use camera, with an auto mode which, nine times out of ten, delivers a great photo with very little effort.
Read our full review: Samsung Galaxy S9
10 Sony Xperia XZ3
The best camera phone for video recording
Release date: October 2018 | Rear camera: 19MP | Front camera: 13MP | OIS: No | Rear camera aperture: f/2.0 | Autofocus type: Phase detection and laser | Weight: 193g | Dimensions: 158 x 73 x 9.9mm | Battery size: 3,300mAh | Storage: 64GB + microSD
4K HDR video is excellent
Feels and looks premium
Poor fingerprint placement
The Sony Xperia XZ3 is the best camera phone from the Japanese firm to date, with its single 19MP rear snapper proving a powerful photography option.
The user interface has been streamlined for starters, so there’s less swiping to get to the various modes and frequently accessed settings are always shown on-screen, so there’s minimal fiddling around when prepping your shot.
In good light, detail is strong, and a nice amount of background blur can be achieved without calling on any bokeh modes.
Where the Xperia XZ3 camera excels though is video. The digital stabilization works well in good light in particular, and the 4K HDR footage you can capture is simply breath-taking.
Sony is also still the only manufacturer whose phone cameras are able to capture 960fps Full HD slow motion, with the competition capping out at 720p. It’s totally unusable in medium to low light, but it’s a nice feature to have when you’re outdoors on a sunny day.
Read our full review: Sony Xperia XZ3