When you’re looking to upgrade to a newer phone model, comparing all the details and specs is the way to go. Each year brings the latest and greatest in smartphone technology, and advancements happen so quickly that it can be difficult to keep up. Now, smartphones have an unbelievable amount of power and processing capability. One of the most impressive and consistent areas of improvement is in the cameras.
In a world so focused on media and documenting memories, having a brilliant camera in your pocket is essential. Smartphone manufacturers are constantly trying to create the best quality compact lens on the market, so competition is high. But with so many stunning options out there, how can you tell which device has the best camera?
This guide will help you compare the fine details of the top contenders. You’ll be able to see the technical features for the best smartphone cameras side by side, so you can make an informed decision when you’re looking to upgrade.
Why Is it Important?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional photographer or a novice — anyone can tell whether the quality of a photo is up to par with their expectations. Cameras perform very differently based on their features and technical capabilities. Not every function may be something you need, but you might find some of them helpful depending on your uses. Even if you don’t know too much about the significance of technical camera specs, you should still know what you’re buying.
One of the best conveniences of having a high-quality camera phone is that it can eliminate the need to carry around a separate point-and-shoot or DSLR. No more worrying about camera bags, straps, adjustments, settings or having to teach strangers how to take a snapshot of you and your friends. Nowadays, many smartphone camera systems help the everyday user get results that are on par with or better than what they’d get with a DSLR.
Most smartphone cameras are incredibly advanced — so much so that they can sense lighting and translate it to exposure settings in seconds, or detect shaking and stabilize the image for you. The intuitive nature of the software will do half the work for you, so you don’t have to struggle or end up with a low-quality shot. In more recent upgrades, manufacturers have even been bringing up front-facing lenses to compete with traditional cameras.
If you’re not setting up professional shoots, most of your picture-taking will likely be relatively impromptu. Some of the most memorable pictures are of candid moments or taken on a whim. Having a top-notch camera phone in your pocket allows you to capture all of them, wherever your travels take you. The better the camera, the better those photos will turn out.
There’s nothing worse than trying to take a picture only to realize your camera won’t pick it up. Whether the issue is dim lighting, distance, sun glare or motion, newer tech is addressing all of the common issues smartphone photographers face — and adding in extra features you wouldn’t have imagined. If you want to find the best camera phone in 2019, it’s time to do some comparison shopping.
Phone Features to Consider for a Great Camera
When the top phone companies are looking to compete with their contemporaries, they focus on improving the current top model. If they can’t beat out their peers purely on lens quality or processing capability, they’ll turn to features. These are the major differences between the most technically advanced phones, and what you should be looking into.
To find which phone has the best camera, you’ll have to compare specifics. Even if you aren’t quite sure what the significance of a certain measurement or element is, a quick search can tell you why it matters and what the best choice is. Depending on your uses, you may not need all of the top tech, but many of the features are helpful upgrades, especially for a novice or casual smartphone-ographer.
Some of the details you should consider include:
One of the most crucial parts of capturing high-quality images is resolution. Generally, the higher the number of pixels per inch (ppi), the higher the resolution and the cleaner every line will appear. Most of the newest smartphone cameras have a high enough resolution that the eye can’t discern between them, but there is certainly a noticeable difference between older models and the latest releases.
A high ppi comes especially in handy when it comes to zoom and photo editing. Larger pixels may become more visible as you blow up an image or attempt to take a zoomed-in photo. The better the resolution, the larger you can expand a photo and the closer in you can zoom without compromising clarity. The measure of megapixels (MP) a camera has is how many pixels are on the sensor itself. Image processing involves many different parts, but manufacturers tend to use megapixels to compare quality. Some makers, like Samsung, offer incredibly high MP cameras, but most do just fine with a standard 12 MP camera.
With older camera phones, trying to zoom in while taking a photo or after in editing could greatly decrease the overall quality. The image becomes grainy and the contrast suffers, sometimes so drastically that you can almost see the edges of the pixels. If you try to zoom in while taking a video, there’s a chance you won’t even be able to make out what’s in the picture. It’s more than a nuisance — it may prevent you from getting an amazing shot.
Newer phones have improved upon the zoom feature with optic hardware and software, depending on the manufacturer. With better features, you’ll have a cleaner photo as you take it and if you decide to crop or edit it later.
3. Low Light
Have you ever tried to take a picture in dark or dim conditions just to have nothing show up? It’s a problem nearly every smartphone owner has faced at one point or another. In the last few years, smartphone manufacturers have made huge strides in low-light photography so you can take clear and well-lit shots even in a dim environment.
The newest tech will allow you to capture more detail in the dark without your picture turning out too shadowy or grainy to make out the subject. It reduces the blur from lights and provides a clearer definition than older models. Image processing, laser scanners and aperture, which is written as ƒ/number, can all make a difference.
Cameras have wider or narrower lens apertures that dictate how well they perform in bright or dark spaces. Wider lenses — those with lower f-stop numbers — allow more light through the lens, meaning clearer photos in dim lighting. Narrower lenses — higher f-stop numbers — are better suited for brighter lighting. It works similarly to your irises.
But, aperture also affects depth of field. Wider apertures create shallower images, while the narrow varieties give you more depth. Lower numbers will provide a bokeh effect, or portrait mode, blurring the background and focusing in on the closest subject.
Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) scanners are a newer technology that improves depth by measuring how quickly light bounces off a scene. Apple uses LiDAR to achieve strong low-light results.
4. Front-Facing Camera
Selfie culture has taken the world by storm. Almost every phone has a front-facing camera to allow you to take photos of you and your friends — no more asking for a stranger to take the shot, no more turning the phone around and guessing. With the latest upgrades, some front-facing lenses have caught up to the quality and range of the rear cameras.
Selfies used to be dull and flat, sometimes even warping the image slightly because of the lack of depth. But depth has recently become a huge point of competition for manufacturers, in both rear and front lenses. So has providing wider angles to allow you to capture more in a single photo.
Whether you’re an aspiring filmmaker, a serial vacation documenter or you just enjoy taking casual videos of your friends and family, you should have the best recording quality possible. Having a great camera for still photos doesn’t always mean the lens will perform the same in terms of videos. There are a few elements that help specifically with capturing videos, such as image stabilization and frame rate, or frames per second (fps).
Most of the latest models have advanced to 4K quality — some even offer 8K — though you have to be mindful of it, as they’ll automatically film in a lower definition if you don’t switch the setting. The reasoning behind this is that 4K video takes up a massive amount of storage space, and depending on how much your phone holds, you could run out of room.
6. Multiple Lenses
In the latest releases, you’ll see more models that feature multiple rear camera lenses on a single side. Most phones include at least two, while certain devices have up to five on the back. Some have dual selfie lenses as well. You may wonder if more lenses are necessary — or even helpful. Well, the answer is maybe.
Dual lenses aren’t all created equal — that is, they don’t all have the same functionality. In most cases, they are meant to improve the depth of your images or use multiple sizes of apertures to perform better in both high and low lighting. On the other hand, some of them only allow you to switch the angle from standard to wide, without improving upon the depth of field or low-light detail.
If you’re looking for the camera phones that’ll give you the most options stylistically or those that will capture more in a single image, multiple lenses might be for you. However, Google has rivaled — potentially even surpassed — these hardware updates with software alone.
Not everyone has the money to buy the latest, most technically advanced smartphones. As the features have improved and given camera phones more functionality than ever before, the prices have also increased. Unfortunately, for the most part, better tech does mean more money.
However, once you know what the best tech out there is, it’s much easier to pick out the best option in your budget range. The differences between the top-performing phones are slim now that competitors have mostly caught up to one another in terms of tech offerings. But, there will always be a difference in price. For most consumers, that is a key concern when deciding on a new phone.
If you want the best camera, you’ll be looking at some of the pricier phones on the market. But remember that you can always buy used and save a significant amount of money.
So Which Phone Has the Best Camera?
With so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to decide on a camera phone. Ultimately, once you know what the top models are, the differences will be minor between them, but some of the features may be preferable or unnecessary to you. While specs will tell you which models reign supreme in quality, deciding on what is best for your needs and budget is up to you. There is no one right answer.
Considering the top performers for each category, there are three clear frontrunners for best camera phone. It comes as no surprise that Google, Samsung and Apple are in the lead in terms of tech. You’ll find the best quality cameras and features in these smartphones:
1. Google Pixel 6 Pro
Google devices constantly top lists for the best camera phones, and the Pixel 6 Pro is no exception. This photography powerhouse knocks low-light out of the park and has specs that go toe-to-toe with other flagships, like the iPhone. Here’s how they stack up:
- Resolution: The Pixel 6 Pro has three rear lenses. The main camera has a whopping 50 MP. The telephoto lens follows closely behind at 48 MP, while the ultrawide lens offers 12 MP. Although resolution is just one part of the equation, the Pixel 6 is a solid performer.
- Zoom: The telephoto lens on the Pixel 6 is great for faraway shots, with 4x optical zoom and 20x digital zoom. Google’s Super Res Zoom technology helps capture plenty of detail, even from a distance.
- Low light: Google has taken low light to the next level. In addition to its Night Sight mode, which offers excellent, clear shots in the dark, the Pixel 6 even has an astrophotography mode for taking fantastic pictures of the night sky. The main camera lets in 150% more light than the Pixel 5 and features an impressive ƒ/1.85 aperture.
- Front-facing: The 11.1 MP front-facing camera has a unique 94-degree field of view to help you fit everyone in the frame in ultrawide selfies.
- Video: The Pixel 6 Pro can capture video in 1080p at 30 or 60 fps on both the front and rear cameras. The rear camera can also record in 4K at 60 fps.
- Multiple lenses: Like its competitors, this phone features several cameras, including a telephoto and an ultrawide lens so you can get the best shot in every environment.
- Budget: Among our top three, the Pixel 6 Pro is the cheapest, coming in at $799. If you’re willing to forego the telephoto lens and the 4K front camera capabilities, you could get the standard Pixel 6 at $599. It still offers Google’s exceptional software and most of the same features.
Along with these excellent specs, the Pixel 6 Pro has some impressive power under the hood. With the introduction of Google Tensor, the Pixel phones apply advanced machine learning to their image processing. It powers features like Live HDR+, tone mapping, video stabilization, low-light video and the auto-focus engine.
2. Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Samsung’s main lineup has some eye-catching specs — like a four-lens setup and a 108 MP camera — and solid software to boot. Here’s a look at the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra’s features:
- Resolution: The main lens of the S22 Ultra has the highest resolution you’ll find from major phone manufacturers at 108 MP. In addition, you get a 12 MP ultrawide lens and two 10 MP telephoto lenses. Samsung also boasts its biggest pixel sensor yet for capturing more detail.
- Zoom: Those two telephoto lenses give you 3x optical zoom and 10x optical zoom for clear distance shots. Artificial intelligence also powers Super Resolution Zoom, which can zoom in as much as 100x without much trouble!
- Low light: With a main-lens aperture as low as ƒ/1.8 and Samsung’s Super Night Solution software, you can expect clear, bright photos even at night. The system offers exceptional noise-reduction and even offers Portrait mode at night.
- Front-facing: The front-facing camera offers an industry-leading 40 MP for high-quality photos from either side of the phone.
- Video: The S22 Ultra can support a range of video recording settings, including an impressive 8K video at 24 fps, 4K video at 60 fps, 1080p at 60 fps and 720p at 30 fps. You also get options for a highly stabilized shooting mode called Super Steady, as well as Slow Motion and Hyperlapse. You can zoom in up to 20x on your video.
- Multiple lenses: That impressive quad-camera setup offers a lot of options. You’ll get an ƒ/2.2 ultrawide camera, an ƒ/1.8 main wide-angle camera, an ƒ/4.9 telephoto camera and another telephoto lens at ƒ/2.4. While shooting video, you can even use Director’s View, which allows you to use all four cameras at once for a variety of angles.
- Budget: The S22 Ultra is the most expensive option. Its retail price starts at $1,199.99. If you want something cheaper, you could opt for the S22 or the S22+, but you’ll miss out on the 10x zoom from the second telephoto lens. You’ll also trade the 40 MP front camera for a 10 MP camera and the 100x Super Resolution Zoom for a 30x option.
Samsung has backed these cameras with powerful software with features like Photo Assist to help you take better pictures, Scene Optimizer to find the ideal settings for your shot and sophisticated video stabilization.
3. iPhone 13 and 13 Pro
And last but certainly not least is the iPhone 13. Apple has always had an amazing track record as the top dog of smartphone photography, and for many, the latest lineup leads the pack for which iPhone has the best camera quality. While the hardware might not seem as impressive as other options, Apple more than makes up for it through stellar software. Here’s what it brings to the table:
- Resolution: Apple’s cameras offer 12 MP across the board, which might not sound like much compared to the 40 MP and 108 MP options we’ve discussed. However, you typically don’t need more than 12 MP because of how image processing works — and Apple excels in that category.
- Zoom: With the iPhone 13 Pro, you’ll get 3x optical zoom in and 2x optical zoom out, along with 15x digital zoom.
- Low light: Apple also brought out the big guns for low-light photography. It boasts a Wide camera that captures up to 2.2x more light and an Ultra Wide camera that brings in 92% more light. The Pro also leverages an advanced LiDAR scanner for portraits in Night mode.
- Front-facing: Currently, this iPhone offers the best camera for selfies with a 12-MP front-facing camera and an ƒ/2.2 aperture for crisp and clear results.
- Video: With this latest lineup, Apple offers a range of professional videography tools. For example, Cinematic mode offers a shallower depth of field and advanced control options. On the Pro, you’ll also get Macro video and ProRes recording options. You can record in 4K, 1080p or HDR at framerates from 24-60 fps.
- Multiple lenses: The Pro sports a triple-lens system with Telephoto, Wide and Ultra Wide cameras, while the standard 13 has just Wide and Ultra Wide cameras.
- Budget: Surprisingly, the iPhone is a bit cheaper than the Galaxy phones. The retail price for the Pro starts at $999, while the standard 13 starts at $799.
You’ll get a few extra perks through the iPhone 13 Pro, but the standard model still offers excellent photography features. The entire lineup consists of the iPhone 13 mini, the iPhone 13, the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The Pro and Pro Max offer the best camera systems, while the 13 mini and 13 lack a telephoto lens, a LiDAR scanner and higher zoom capabilities. You also won’t be able to use Macro photography, portraits in Night Mode or Apple ProRAW and ProRes formatting.
Wondering which older iPhone has the best camera? The designs have been pretty similar since the iPhone 11, which introduced the dual camera setup for the standard phones and the triple-camera setup for the Pro models, so you can go a few years back without missing out on too many features.
Although iPhones might be expensive, many people find they offer the most professional results. If you want a stellar camera system without a steep price tag, consider buying used or refurbished. You can save big on your next device and get excellent photography results at the same time.
You might know that Apple generally releases a new iPhone lineup in the fall. It’s worth questioning whether you should wait to buy that or go for the 13. We won’t know for sure until it’s released, but according to the rumors, changes should be relatively minor. We may see 8K footage capabilities and a new “periscope” lens that could increase optical zoom capabilities. Again, though, these are just rumors. If you’re looking for a better camera, we recommend buying now so you can start taking great photos sooner rather than later.
Shop Refurbished Smartphones With Gazelle
Looking for a better way to buy the latest tech? With Gazelle, you have access to the best camera phones for a fraction of the price of their brand new contemporaries.
Our site makes it easy to browse for and purchase the device you need quickly and safely. There are no contracts to sign or strings attached, and we offer a 30-day return policy to ensure you’ve picked the perfect phone for you. We make sure every trade-in phone is clean of data before selling for the safety of the prior owners.
By purchasing a pre-owned phone, you’re saving money while helping us save the environment. At Gazelle, we refurbish any useable devices and recycle broken ones, keeping harmful chemicals and materials out of landfills. If you have an old device you want to recycle as you decide on a newer model, we may even be able to offer you cash to use towards your purchase. Get a better camera today and shop our smartphones, or check out our trade-in process for more information.