Best Camera Phones 2019: We have a new champion

What’s the best camera phone? Our roundup of the best camera phones should help you to make the right choice. Whether it’s the Google Pixel 3 from Google, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus or the iPhone XS, we’ve tested them all in a variety of conditions.

“How good is the camera?” is likely to be one of the most important questions you’ll ask yourself before you take the plunge and buy a new smartphone. And with good reason; you don’t want to be stuck with a duff snapper for 24 months.

How we test smartphone cameras

Putting a smartphone’s camera through its paces is a significant part of the review process here at Trusted Reviews, and each model listed below is top-class not only for taking photos but for the overall photography experience they offer.

But what makes a good phone camera? Well, it certainly isn’t just megapixel count – in fact, the majority of the devices in this list don’t feature more than 12 megapixels. More important are a wide aperture (around  f/1.8 or lower), and image stabilisation, be it optical or electronic (OIS or EIS). Other aspects such as a secondary lens for portrait photos and an impressive selfie camera will be more or less important depending on your requirements.

Huawei P30 Pro

1. Huawei P30 Pro

Best for versatility

Pros:

  • Fantastic photos
  • Multiple cameras and lenses
  • Battery life is fantastic
  • Clever extras, such as in-display fingerprint and reverse wireless charging

Cons:

  • Huawei’s software remains a weakness

The P30 Pro is the most multi-talented, versatile camera phone around and knocks the Google Pixel 3 off its perch as our new number one for smartphone snapping. You get the best zoom available on any phone, a handy new 16mm wide-angle lens, and a main f/1.6 28mm lens that’s backed up by a 40-megapixel sensor.

In extremely dark scenes, it trumps the Google Pixel 3’s ‘Night Sight’ mode, by either cranking up the ISO (in normal ‘photo’ mode) or by stacking several images in a longer exposure. This is limited to scenes where there’s no movement or bright lights, though, and in more common low light scenarios (concerts, bars, nighttime cityscapes) its performance doesn’t stand out quite as much.

For typical daylight shooting, the P30 Pro is a great all-rounder. It mostly handles scenes with mixed lighting well, despite sometimes clipping highlights in brighter areas, while the depth sensor helps it serve up the best virtual bokeh we’ve seen. Whether you’re shooting a flower in super-macro mode or a face in Portrait mode, it’ll reliably blur details both in front and behind your subject.

The standout feature, though, is its zoom. Its ‘periscope’ lens uses what’s known as folded optics to squeeze a 125mm lens with image stabilisation into the P30 Pro’s 8.4mm-thick body. While it’s not technically a zoom (there are no moving lens elements, so zooming between 24mm-125mm focal lengths involves some cropping), the images it produces from that extreme end of the range are the best you can get from a phone. Its ‘hybrid’ 10x zoom is also decent, though the results from there its 50x zoom are mostly unusable.

Pixel3XL

2. Google Pixel 3 & Pixel 3 XL

Best image processing and low light

Pros:

  • Fantastic, colourful display
  • The best camera on any phone
  • Slick version of Android
  • Much-improved design over last year’s Pixels

Cons:

  • Scratches easily
  • Some software bugs with the notch
  • Battery life not as good as similarly sized rivals

If Huawei’s camera hardware is at the top of its game in the smartphone space, Google’s machine learning and computational photography talents give the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL the edge in the image processing department.

Related: Pixel 3 Lite

Both phones feature the same single 12.2-megapixel main sensor with an f/1.8 aperture, 28mm lens, 1.4µm pixels, OIS and dual pixel PDAF (phase detection autofocus). In fact, the setup essentially reads the same as last year’s Pixels, which makes the improvements to image processing that Google has implemented this time around all the more important.

These phone’s excellent auto-HDR shooting is unrivalled when it comes to capturing detail, colour and a broad dynamic range in images, but new modes like Night Sight redefine what’s capable in the realm of low-light smartphone photography too. There’s also the matter of the Pixel’s dual front-facing cameras, which offer a secondary ultra-wide sensor so you can fit more in-frame without losing out on quality.

iPhone XS back in hand

3. iPhone XS & iPhone XS Max

Best for video

Pros:

  • Top-notch performance
  • Phenomenal cameras
  • Outstanding display
  • Attractive design

Cons:

  • Hard to spot some of Apple’s improvements
  • Starting price is far too high
  • No fast charger in-box
  • Scratches easily

Apple’s Smart HDR photography is nothing short of astounding and both the iPhone XS and XS Max have it. Similarly to the previous year’s iPhone X, these phones pack a pair of 12-megapixel sensors, both with OIS.

The main sensor sports a 26mm focal length and an f/1.8 aperture while the secondary lens features a narrower f/2.4 aperture and a 52mm focal length – this gives the XS and the XS Max 2x lossless optical zoom. You can also expect the best low light performance of any iPhone and thanks to the front-facing sensor Animoji and Memoji support.

samsunggalaxys10plus

4. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

Best for versatility

Pros:

  • Great performance
  • Nice tri-camera arrangement
  • The best display on any phone

Cons:

  • One UI still lacks the style of other Android skins

Samsung’s latest flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, packs three cameras on the back and another two on the front. If you love having a versatile camera in your pocket then this could very well be the one to plump for.

Headlining the camera array is a 12-megapixel main sensor, which, like the older S9, can switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture depending on the kind of light you are shooting in. While most pictures are very detailed and colourful, you certainly get more contrast and dynamic range from the Pixel 3 or even iPhone XS.

Those other two rear sensors comprise of a 16-megapixel ultrawide that’s great for cramming loads of stuff into shot and a 12-megapixel 2x tele for getting closer to the subject. Of course there’s also plenty of additional modes including the now super-common Live Focus for adding extra depth-of-field.

A new stabilisation mode improves the video – which can be shot up to 4K60fps – and the second camera on the front lets you add depth effects to your selfies. There’s a fully-featured Pro mode here, too.

Camera aside, you’ve got the top-drawer internals of a 2019 flagship: latest Qualcomm or Exynos chipset (region depending), 8GB RAM and a glorious 6.4-inch quad-HD+  display.

4. Honor View 20

Most cutting-edge

Pros:

  • New screen design looks great and deals with the notch issue
  • Good battery life and very fast charging
  • Very capable camera
  • A headphone jack

Cons:

  • No wireless charging or IP rating
  • Strange performance quirks
  • Software still needs work

Honor kicked off 2019 with a bang, launching its new flagship, the View 20. The phone packs in plenty of big internals, like a powerful 7nm Kirin 980 chipset and a whopping 4000mAh battery, complete with the company’s SuperCharge (22.5W) fast-charging technology. But it’s its cameras that are the real headline feature.

On the front, you’ll find one of the first examples of a punch hole display. The View 20’s 6.4-inch screen sports an impressive screen-to-body ratio without the need for the notch, made possible by the fact that its 25-megapixel front-facer is set within the boundary of pixels that make up its LCD.

As for the camera itself, you can snap stills at its native resolution and you’ve got a wealth of features to toy with; from auto-HDR to AR (augmented reality) shooting, virtual lighting, in-depth beauty tools, AI enhancement and more.

Flip the phone over and the 20’s primary 48-megapixel sensor is what sticks out. The phone defaults to using pixel binning to shoot impressively sharp 12-megapixel stills but you can also capture stills at the full megapixel count with support from the phone’s AI vision mechanics to render stunning levels of fine details.

There’s also the matter of its secondary 3D ToF (time of flight) camera, which gathers depth data for Portrait Mode but can also be used for AR experiences too.

Xiaomi Mi 9 front angled top left

5. Xiaomi Mi 9

Best value for Android

Pros:

  • Excellent, versatile tri-camera
  • 2x optical zoom
  • Ultra wide-angle option
  • Shoots 4K at 60fps

Cons:

  • Occasionally temperamental fingerprint sensor
  • MIUI Android skin not for everyone

The Xiaomi Mi 9 offers incredible value for money and one of the main reasons is its camera – a triple-camera setup with a 48-megapixel f/1.75 main snapper is the kind of thing you’d have only found on a high-end flagship until recently, but now it’s on a sub-£500 handset.

It’s not just about specs and big numbers either – the cameras all perform well, and together give you great shooting versatility. Pixel binning means that main 48-megapixel camera takes 12-megapixel snaps by default, with that extra resolution going towards noise reduction and stabilisation. If you want to use the cropping potential of that 48-megapixel sensor, though, that’s an option too.

That camera is flanked by a 12-megapixel telephoto sensor that gives you 2x lossless optical zoom (this is also the lens surrounded by that holographic ‘halo ring’) and a 16-megapixel ultra wide-angle sensor for architectural shots.

Low light shooting falls a little short of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and we’d still go for the iPhone XS if you’re mainly looking for a video shooter, but otherwise this is an excellent camera phone for the price.

iPhoneXR

6. iPhone XR

Best value for iOS

Pros:

  • Great battery life
  • XS features for less money
  • Fantastic performance
  • Very capable camera

Cons:

  • No fast charger included
  • Will be too large for some

The ‘affordable’ 2018 iPhone actually shares a whole host of functionality with its more premium siblings, including the superb Apple A12 Bionic processor and its primary 12-megapixel camera. While it doesn’t boast the secondary sensors and thus lossless zoom of this year’s ‘S’ models, it still competes in practically every other way, ranging from raw image fidelity to video recording versatility.

Apple’s even gone so far as to implement Portrait Mode despite the XR’s single rear sensor, and the images it produces make it a tempting choice for iOS fans who don’t want to pay upwards of £1000/$1000 to enjoy such features. Having Animoji, Memoji and Portrait Mode as part of the phone’s front-facing camera setup is all appreciated too.

Related: What’s the best iPhone?

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 back

7. Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Feature rich

Pros:

  • Battery lasts the day, comfortably
  • Fantastic, huge display with no notch
  • S Pen remains unique
  • Samsung’s software has a number of handy features

Cons:

  • The overall design of the S9 Plus is better
  • Bixby button is an annoyance

Offering an updated take on the dual sensor setup that we first saw on the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus during the first half of 2018, the Note 9 packs in 2x lossless zoom, a portrait mode and a physical aperture that can automatically switch from f/2.4 out to f/1.5 in low light scenarios.

Related: Sony Xperia XZ4

The Note does a great job of capturing detail and takes natural but well expose low-light imagery. What’s more, you can enjoy a wealth of pre-loaded filters, powerful editing tools and thanks to this phablet’s new Bluetooth connected S Pen stylus, you can trigger the shutter by using it as a remote control.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro review hero

8. Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro

Best on a budget

Pros:

  • Customisable software
  • Eye-catching design
  • Excellent camera
  • Nice screen

Cons:

  • Poorly optimised performance
  • Underwhelming battery life
  • No wireless charging
  • Big notch

Relative newcomer to a number of global markets including the UK, Chinese tech giant Xiaomi is making a splash with its enhanced flagship, the Mi 8 Pro. Not only is the phone eye-catching in its own right, but it also takes some superb photos, far better than the £499 price would have you believe.

Related: MWC 2019

Another dual 12-megapixel setup with 2x lossless zoom plus AI scene recognition and enhancement, the Mi 8 Pro is great at reading what it is you’re trying to capture to adjust settings accordingly. It demonstrates impressive dynamic range and natural looking image stability when you film in Full HD at up to 240fps or 4K at up to 30fps.

Related: Best mid-range phones

OnePlus 6T Thunder Purple camera closeup

9. OnePlus 6T

Best for ease-of-use

Pros:

  • New fingerprint sensor feels cutting-edge
  • Up-to-date, versatile OS
  • Fast Charge is still great
  • Sleek, premium design
  • Great performance
  • Great battery life

Cons:

  • Camera’s Nightscape mode needs work
  • Another headphone jack bites the dust
  • Fingerprint sensor needs refinement
  • Poor audio capabilities

A great alternative to the Xiaomi, the OnePlus 6T boasts a respectable pair of primary cameras, fronted by a 16-megapixel sensor with a pleasingly-wide f/1.7 aperture, OIS and PDAF. Not for lossless zoom but for gaining added detail and depth data, it’s accompanied by a 20-megapixel sensor as well.

After some tweaks made to OnePlus’ camera profile between the 6T and its predecessor, the OnePlus 6, the phone takes some excellent HDR imagery and offers 480fps slow-motion video capture. It also sports a pleasing Portrait Mode and the 16-megapixel front camera sits within one of the most attractive and least obtrusive display notches out there.

Google Pixel 2 handheld back camera black and white

10. Google Pixel 2 & Pixel 2 XL

The affordable Pixel 3 alternative

Pros:

  • Truly amazing camera
  • The best version of Android
  • Nice display

Cons:

  • Boring design
  • Huge bezel

A single 12.2-megapixel main sensor toting an f/1.8 aperture, 28mm lens, 1.4µm pixels, OIS and dual pixel PDAF – everything you get on 2018’s Pixel phones also features on the back of both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.

That’s a great start but these devices also benefit from Google’s machine learning-powered smarts, not to mention some new features, like the mind-blowing Night Sight, which have trickled down from the Pixel 3 series to grace the company’s previous handsets too. With a lowered price tag, this might be one of the best bargains in the smartphone photography space right now.

Still not sure? Check out our guides to the following:

Think we’ve missed out on one of the great smartphone snappers of the year? Let us know over on Facebook or Twitter @TrustedReviews

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