Best camera phones 2020 - buyer’s guide
Last updated: Feb 16, 2021 (Changelog)
The best camera phones are usually the best phones overall, and you'll mostly find flagships in this category - the likes of the latest Galaxies and iPhones typically deliver the highest image quality of the time. Huawei's top dogs have also been consistently great camera performers and that hasn't changed, but as of mid-2019, they do come with caveats when it comes to their software usability and future. Google Pixels have lost the leading position they once held though we still have one to recommend if you're after that Pixel look. Finally, there's also a camera phone to get if you're on a budget - non-flagships can take nice pictures too.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G
- Big-sensor main cam gathers a lot of light
- The two teles make for one of the most versatile zoom setups available
- Ultrawide cam now has AF
- Excellent selfies
- All-round great video recording, top-quality stabilization
- Unimpressive zoom action around the 2x mark
- Portraits can be better
- Output is slightly noisier than usual
The Galaxy S21 Ultra has it all - a huge sensor main cam, an autofocusing ultrawide (finally), and not one but two telephotos. It puts them to good use too and delivers results that outshine our previous Editors' choice - the Samsung's own Galaxy Note20 Ultra.
The main camera's 108MP Nonacell sensor bins pixels 9-to-1 producing wide dynamic range in both good light and at night and this latest generation also makes for sharper photos. The high-res imager also enables 8K video recording - not our favorite feature, bit it's there if you want to use it. What this sensor isn't spectacular at is short-range zoom - one of the few downsides of the S21 Ultra's camera system.
3x zoom and up, however, is where the S21 Ultra excels thanks to its pair of tele cams. Both modules put up a great performance at their native focal lengths and inbetween magnifications aren't too bad either. Going past the 10x level isn't out of the question, though 100x moon shots are perhaps best left for the marketing teams.
This Ultra's ultrawide is one better than all the others Samsung's put out to date. It's slightly sharper than before, but more importantly it adds autofocus, further extending its range of usability.
The 40MP selfie camera is also among the best ones we've seen - hardware is seemingly identical as on the S20 Ultra, but the processing a big leap in the right direction.
Now, rear-cam portraits aren't as good as we'd like - the 108MP cam isn't too good at zooming and zoomed in Portrait mode is what the S21 Ultra defaults to. We're also seeing a bit more noise across the board in the S21 Ultra's photos and video - not too bad, but uncharacteristic of Samsung's ways. Still, the good far outweighs the bad, so a well-deserved Editors' choice badge.Read full review
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G
- Big-sensor main cam gathers a lot of light, 9-to-1 binning helps with noise and HDR
- Telephoto camera with 5x optical zoom, Moon Shot available
- All-round video recording, 8K
- Huge camera bump
- Ultra wide cam lacks autofocus
The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra isn't just the best Galaxy or the best Note on the market. It also packs the absolute best Samsung camera and that triple arrangement on the back offers spectacular photos. The big sensor on the main camera gives it an advantage in challenging light. That telephoto offers a proper 5x optical zoom and excellent image quality, too.
Video turned out spectacular, too, even in the dark. The 8K capture capability (you'd best stick to daylight for that) is a welcome addition, even if footage is not quite amazing in quality nor do we know what to do with it at this point.
The ultrawide-angle cam lacks autofocus while competitors are now making AF-capable ultrawides that double as 'macro' shooters. We hoped for the Note to add AF on the ultrawide shooter, but that's a thing for the next generation we guess.
All in all, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra is an easy pick for the Best camera phone award. It offers a variety of cameras and shooting modes, and excels in quality. On top of that - it is one of the most powerful smartphones on the market with one of the greatest OLED screens, with an S-Pen at that. What's not to like?Read full review
Xiaomi Mi Note 10
- Very versatile 5-cam setup with 2 telephotos
- Main camera has a big, high-res sensor, similar to the Galaxy S20 Ultra
- Ultra wide cam has AF
- Most cameras for the money
- Midrange chipset (pretty powerful still)
- Unimpressive video recording
- No AF on the selfie cam
The Mi Note 10 from Xiaomi has just turned one year old, but it has aged very well. It still packs a ton of amazing camera hardware, including one of the most flexible camera setups. It premiered the biggest and highest-res sensor on the market when it launched - the 1/1.33" 108MP Samsung unit that produces nice 27MP shots day and night.
It doesn't stop there, however, as the Mi Note 10 was the first phone with not one but two telephoto cameras, offering 2x and 5x magnification. On top of that, its ultra wide-angle cam has AF capability - it's only recently that makers are starting to catch up on that. And then there's an extra module just for close-ups - just 2MP, admittedly, but useful still.
Mind you, our raving about the Mi Note 10's camera prowess mostly applies to still images - we're not as excited about the video quality, which exhibits different flaws in different modes and resolutions. The (upper-) midrange chipset may not be an issue if you only care about cameras and that's okay, but back when we were reviewing it, we couldn't help but wonder if a top-end SoC could have helped with video or the occasional stutters when processing 108MP shots.
We finally got our answer with the release of the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro 5G, which has the same camera hardware but comes with a flagship Snapdragon 865 and the corresponding high-end image signal processor. Besides the improved processing capabilities, the chipset has also enabled 8K video recording. Unfortunately, this phone is twice as expensive and has essentially the same imaging hardware, so it's hard to recommend for its cameras alone.Read full review
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
- Some of the most advanced auto HDR, Deep Fusion, Night Mode and whatnot
- Most versatile capture on the market, best stabilization
- Just 2.5x on the long end
- Over-processed photos
- No AF on the selfie cam
- No AF on the ultra wide cam
The iPhone 12 Pro Max would be our top pick for video capture as it can record at all sorts of resolutions at all sorts of frame rates with its three cams and even do it simultaneously. It can even do this in Dolby Vision format. How cool is that?! It also boasts one of the smoothest video stabilization systems you can find in a phone no matter if it's just EIS, OIS+EIS or IBIS+EIS, and the videos too can benefit from Apple's HDR ensuring class-leading dynamic range.
The Night Mode has been expanded and it now works on the ultrawide and selfie cameras, too. You can also use it in Portrait Mode. We are not thrilled about the image processing, or shall we say over-processing, but that could be avoided of perfect quality is a must and you have the skills to work with RAW.
Some other beefs we have with the iPhone include the lack of autofocus on the selfie cam and the ultra wide. Then there's the 2.5x optical zoom, bested by quite a few competing offerings by now. And you get no charger and no headphones, let's not forget that. Still, the iPhone remains one of the most competent camera phones around.Read full review
OnePlus 8 Pro
- Excellent quality from the camera, packs unusually large 48MP sensor
- 3x tele offers more reach than the mainstream 2x
- AF on the ultra wide cam
- Selfie camera is not on a po-up module
- Pure-bread flagship with S865 and 120hz 1440p HDR10+ OLED
- No AF on the selfie cam
The OnePlus 8 Pro comes to replace our previous recommendation for the 7T. The 8 Pro flagship is top-notch across all specs - from the high-res 120Hz OLED with 1B colors, through the recent Snapdragon 865 chip, and of course, the high-end quad-camera on the back.
The main camera of the OnePlus 8 Pro packs uses a large 1/1.43" 48MP sensor with omnidirectional-PDAF, Laser-AF, and OIS. But the snapper isn't just jam-packed with tech, it also delivers amazing photos and videos day and night. Then the 8 Pro also tempts with a 3x zoom telephoto, which may be shorter than the 5x periscopes that came out this year, but it still reaches further than the recent iPhones. Finally, the 8 Pro's ultrawide angle cam has autofocus, adding close-ups to the list of things the OP can do and the Galaxy and the iPhone can't.
We are not fans of the fixed-focus selfie cameras and we will never be. It's 2020 already and manufacturers need to do better.Read full review
Huawei P30 Pro
- Great 10MP photos from the main camera, day and night
- 5x periscope tele remains among the longest around
- AF on the ultrawide cam
- About half the price of the recent P40 Pro
- Has Google Mobile Services support, unlike recent P40 Pro
- No AF on the selfie cam
- Video recording isn't competitive
A year and a half old, the Huawei P30 Pro remains relevant, whether it's the New Edition (faster and doubled storage) or the original. Packing a 5x periscope telephoto, it was one of the pioneers of such long teles and is still one of the longest zooms on the market. Its ultrawide-angle cam has autofocus too, adding points for versatility, plus it saves some great shots. And we can only praise its main camera quality, of course.
The P30 Pro, as most Huaweis until the P40 Pro, isn't quite as capable in video recording, though. Additionally, last year's Pro is missing autofocus on the selfie shooter. But at half the price of a P40 Pro we figure the tradeoffs are well worth it. Plus, the P30 Pro comes from a time when Huawei phones still had proper Google backing. It was also updated to Android 10, which is nice.Read full review
Asus Zenfone 7 Pro ZS671KS
- 256GB 8GB RAM $ 809.99
- Unique motorized camera assembly
- Versatile triple camera with great photo and video quality
- The main camera is your selfie camera, too!
- Powerhouse chipset, great battery life
- Heavier than most, thick too
- The motorized camera may not be everyone's cup of tea
The Zenfone 7 Pro is easily recognizable for its motorized Flip Camera. And the rotating piece is no gimmick - on the contrary - it's offers a flagship camera quality, plus it makes for the most capable selfie cam on the market. Not having a cutout on the display is a nice bonus, too.
The triple main/selfie camera has a high-res64MP primary shooter with OIS, a 12MP ultrawide snapper with large pixels and autofocus, while its 8MP 3x tele offers one of the sharpest photos we've seen. The video capturing is lacking either. Overall, this Zenfone not only offers excellent main, but also selfie camera experience.
You may be able to find the non-Pro version in some markets on a more attractive price. It lacks OIS on the main camera and has the non-plus Snapdragon 865. But the Zenfone 7 availability is limited to one or two markets and the imports don't make it an easy choice over the Pro after all taxes are paid.Read full review
Niche (editors') choice
Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra
- The best smartphone camera on the market quality-wise
- The most versatile camera on the market
- Excellent video recording across three cameras
- One of the best flagships, too
- Extremely limited availability
- Mediocre selfies, no AF
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra would have been our top pick for this category as it offers the best smartphone camera on the market. Period. Unfortunately, Xiaomi is selling the Ultra only in China via official channels. The rest of the world needs to rely on imports and then comes the enabling of Google's Services (it's no Huawei-like hassle, though).
The Mi 10 Ultra has four cameras on its back - a 48MP primary with a 1/1.32" large sensor, all kinds of AF techs and OIS. Then there is another 48MP sensor with 120mm lens for 5x optical zoom. Third is the 12MP cam with 1.4µm large sensor pixels for and 50mm lens for 2x optically zoomed portraits. And finally, there is a 20MP snapper with 12mm ultrawide lens and AF for both panoramic shots and closeups. Indeed, one of the most versatile setups to date. And the best news - the photo quality is outstanding across the board, day and night.
But the Ultra is also one very capable camcorder, too. It can shoot 8K videos with its main and 5x cameras, and it excels in 4K video quality with all three available snappers (it can't use the 2x tele for videos).
Xiaomi hasn't stepped up its selfie game and the 20MP front cam is a mediocre performer, though.Read full review
Google Pixel 4a 5G
- 128GB 6GB RAM $ 499.00
- Photos have that 'pixel look'
- Ultrawide cam instead of telephoto
- Yet, 2x zoom is available via Google's Smart Zoom
- Competitors have caught up with the computational photography
- Super Zoom is better than digital zoom, but is no optical zoom
- Still no AF on the selfie cam
- Not that cheap
Then there's the new Pixel 4a 5G, which we chose instead of Pixel 5 for having the same camera but on a cheaper price. Some time ago the Pixels were a straight-up recommendation when it comes to taking photos on the phone, but that's no more. The competition has already caught up with Google's computational photography and the Pixels are beginning to look underequipped. See, this year Google added the user-requested ultrawide camera, but it came at the place of the telephoto shooter.
Google promised that its new Super Zoom based on AI will make up for the missing telephoto - we were talking about the king of the computational photography after all. Well, the zoomed photos are surely better than the typical crop and upscale, but they are not on par with any optically zoomed ones. It seems that Google's computational magic is finally running out of steam.
Still, we are putting this Pixel as a niche choice, as the Pixel series have enough following across the globe, plus Google's software support is quite a valuable thing for the fans craving for the latest Android versions.
We don't have a full review of the Pixel 4a 5G, but the Pixel 5 has the same camera and you can see what to expect by checking out our Pixel 5 camera review.Read camera review
Huawei P40 Pro
- All-round great performance from all cameras across most conditions
- One of the best 5x periscopes out there
- Top-class selfies, properly good selfie portraits too thanks to ToF module
- Great video quality at 30fps across the board, excellent stabilization
- Night mode for photos isn't a big leap forward
- 4K60 videos are disappointing
- No Google Mobile Services support
The P40 Pro from Huawei may not have Google's blessing but that doesn't mean it's not a top-class camera phone. A 5x zoom periscope telephoto next to big-sensor main and ultra wide-angle modules make up an impressive specsheet, but more importantly, it delivers the goods. Add to that the competent selfie shooter with a ToF sidekick for portraits and it's hard to find fault with the P40 Pro's imaging department (the byproduct that is the huge pill-shaped cutout in the display doesn't count).
Not always the case on Huaweis, the P40 Pro can also shoot excellent video - that is, if you stay away from the 4K60 mode, which is a letdown. Stabilization in 30fps modes is top-notch, though.
The reason we have some reservations about recommending this phone whole-heartedly is the lack of Google services integration. Sure, it doesn't have to do anything with camera performance, but as things stand, we feel this phone is not for everyone. This is also one of the reasons why we still keep the Huawei P30 Pro on this recommendation list as well.Read full review
Realme 7 Pro
- Versatile camera setup on the back
- High-res selfie
- AMOLED screen, stereo speakers, 65W charging
- Poor video capturing quality, but EIS is available
The Realme 6 Pro stood here for the past few months as our Value preposition for its multiple-camera setups on both ends and various video capturing options. We are now replacing it with the newer Realme 7 Pro model - it lacks a dedicated telephoto shooter, yes, but it makes up for that with a large 64MP sensor that's quite competent at making good 2x zoom photos. The daylight and low-light photo quality is superior on the 7 Pro, too.
The Realme 7 Pro also impresses with a more-compact body with water-repellant coating, stereo speakers and a bright AMOLED screen. It has one of the fastest charging solutions around, too - 65W SuperDart Charge.
The Realme 7 Pro is quite cheap and yet it offers a lot for its money - from great screen, chipset, speakers and battery life and charging, to excellent photos in three different FoVs. The videos aren't that great because of the forced EIS, but not everything can be perfect, can it?Read full review
Most recent updates
Feb 16, 2021: Replaced the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra with the Galaxy S21 Ultra as our Editor's choice.
Jan 05, 2021: Replaced the Realme 6 Pro with Realme 7 Pro.
Nov 27, 2020: Replaced the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra with the Galaxy Note20 Ultra as our Editor's choice. Replaced Apple iPhone 11 Pro with 12 Pro Max. Replaced OnePlus 7T Pro with OnePlus 8 Pro. Replaced the Pixel 4 XL with Pixel 4a 5G as the former is no longer on sale. Added the Zenfone 7 Pro, Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra, and Huawei P40 Pro.
Best phones by category
After the recent updates, S21U actually takes better photos
- 30 Mar 2021
why did they put the S21U on top of the list, the N20U takes WAY better photos in comparison
- 20 Feb 2021
What!!! GSMArena , you replaced Realme 6 Pro with Realme 7 Pro , The 6 Pro had a telephoto camera with much better zoom clarity ( Actually no justification to drop 2x zoom module ) then 7 Pro dedicated 64Mp. ( Provided you have 8Mp telephoto ) but th...
- 21 Jan 2021