THE gap between the best camera phones and DSLRs is shrinking every year.
Thanks to advancements in hardware and software, you can take professional-looking, full-HD shots in an instant without having to learn complicated settings or controls.
Sure, if you want to stay at the cutting edge of photography, the best DSLRs are still the way to go.
But if you're not a pro and you're more interested in taking great selfies and cataloguing your holidays, then a top-rated camera phone should have more than enough tech to keep your Instagram looking good.
We've rounded up the best camera phones in 2021 below:
1. iPhone 12
- iPhone 12, £729 (SIM-free) from Amazon – buy here
- 100GB data, £38 a month (£0 upfront) on Three – buy here
The iPhone 12 is one of the most popular phones and camera phones on the market right now, and it's the handset's ability to perform well across the board, its price and its undeniable style which got it there.
Its camera phone credentials are a huge part of the rave reception of course: it's missing one or two options of iPhone 12 Pro, but it takes a mean shot and will deliver for all but the most demanding mobile photographers.
12-megapixel dual-rear Wide and Ultra-Wide cameras will cover the bases for many, cramming loads of detail into the shot – if you really want a third Telephoto camera you'll need to look to the Pro (and £250 more).
Likewise, if you demand dual optical image stabilisation: the iPhone 12 doesn't have that, but it does still stabilise shots for clearer photos, and with great results
In common with the Pro, it has a night mode and six great lighting options.
The iPhone 12's own tech includes a 2x optical zoom and up to 5x digital zoom, and it can shoot 4K video on both its rear cameras and its front-facing camera.
In short: as a camera phone the iPhone 12 has loads going for it for the price – whether you're after Insta-worthy pics, documenting holidays or recording life events, it's our top option.
Verdict: Best all-round camera phone.
2. iPhone 12 Pro Max
- iPhone 12 Pro Max, £1,084.97 (SIM-free) from Amazon – buy here
- 100GB data, £59 a month (£0 upfront) on Three – buy here
Apple makes a habit of being at the forefront of camera phone technology, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max is no different.
In fact, the Pro Max is the first iPhone with a wide camera featuring sensor-shift optical image stabilisation capabilities, for remarkably stable footage.
The most striking difference to the entry iPhone 12? The Pro Max's three, not two, rear-cameras: 12-megapixel Ultra Wide, Wide and Telephoto options (the iPhone 12 doesn't have the last one).
The three options make this a fantastic camera phone for 2021; the Wide and Ultra Wide great for capturing maximum detail in a picture, the Telephoto for capturing shots at a distance.
Like the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has next-gen High Dynamic Range to make photos more vivid, ample zoom options, six high-quality lighting effects and a great night mode.
So if you demand the sharpest shots possible, and also want to utilise a Telephoto lens, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best camera mobile phone out there.
Not forgetting its 4K video recording capability and a 12-megapixel front camera with 4K video and video stabilisation.
Verdict: Best featured camera phone
3. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, £1,149 from Amazon – buy here
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, 100GB 5G data, £57 a month (£0 upfront) with Three – buy here
The latest addition to the Galaxy family, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra packs in some impressive specs.
The camera compartment is no exception, with the Galaxy S21 Ultra featuring a main 108MP camera with 100x zoom.
Samsung's flagship device truly shines in zoom capabilities, which are among the best you can find in a smartphone.
The three additional lenses on the device are respectively a 12MP ultra-wide camera and two 10MP telephoto cameras.
The S21 Ultra also has a time-of-flight sensor designed to gather depth information for the blurry background mode and sharp foreground Live Focus stills, as well as for video recording.
The only minor downside of this great smartphone's camera compartment is that Samsung is a little heavy on photo processing, sometimes giving images a bit of an unnatural punch.
Still, with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra you're not just buying a camera phone, but an all-rounder with truly top specs in every possible sense.
This smartphone is not only the best Android camera phone but possibly the best Android phone you can get.
Considering this, the price does not look that prohibitive anymore.
Verdict: Best Android camera phone
4. Google Pixel 5 5G
- Google Pixel 5, £665 from Amazon – buy here
- Google Pixel 5 5G, 30GB data, £43 a month (£29 upfront) with Three – buy here
Google’s Pixel phones have consistently pushed the boundaries of what we might consider a good camera phone, and the Pixel 5 is no exception.
The Pixel 5 is a fantastic snapper because Google has fine-tuned the hardware to work near-on flawlessly with its software.
The main camera is a 12.2-megapixel wide-angle lens, paired with a new 16-megapixel ultrawide lens.
When it comes to software, Google has a number of fantastic features on the Pixel 5, including: 'Astrophotography', Dual Exposure, Night Sight, Top Shot, Super Zoom, Group Selfie and Photobooth modes.
With the Astrophotography mode, the Pixel 5 lets you take long exposure shots of up to four minutes. And, given its name, this is designed to help you take better snaps of the night sky, the stars and the Moon, for example.
Dual Exposure lets you separate the highlights and shadows in both the background and foreground of an image.
Night Sight uses Google’s AI to take brilliant photos in low light without a flash, and Top Shot lets you take multiple snaps each time you press the camera button to help you find the best one.
Verdict: Second-best Android camera phone
5. Huawei P40 Pro+
- Huawei P40 Pro+, £1,299.99 from Amazon – buy here
When Huawei launched its Mate 20 Pro, it was the world’s first smartphone to have a triple camera set up. A few manufacturers followed but and the Mate 30 Pro jumped to quad-camera.
Now, the P40 Pro and Pro+ build on their predecessor to deliver yet another excellent camera phone in collaboration with Leica.
Leica is a renowned name when it comes to photography, and the company has a long-standing partnership with Huawei.
Just like the P40 Pro, the P40 Pro+'s setup consists of a main 50MP camera with f/1.9 aperture and an ultra-wide 40MP lens.
However, the P40 Pro+ has two telephoto lenses (as opposed to one in the Pro): one at 3x zoom, and another periscope module at an incredible 10x.
All that tech on board makes the P40 Pro+ a great all-rounder camera phone: it handles most settings and has a solid night mode as well.
But it's also an all-rounder which features the greatest zoom reach of any smartphone currently on the market.
Sure, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 100x zoom, but anything shot over 10x starts losing detail in smartphone photography, and in a zoom battle up to 50x, the Pro+ still wins (even if by not a large margin.)
Little note here, Huawei is not supported by Google anymore, so if you get the P40 Pro+ you'll have to learn to use Android without Google apps, which can be a little gimmicky.
Verdict: Best camera phone zoom
6. Xiaomi Mi 11 5G
- Xiaomi Mi 11 5G, £749 from Amazon – buy here
A less well-known name in the UK, Xiaomi is a Chinese manufacturer making a name for itself by offering great features at great prices.
And that's exactly where the Xiaomi Mi 11 5G falls when it comes to camera mobile phones – at around half the price of an iPhone 12 Pro Max.
In fact, the 108MP main camera of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G firstly debuted in the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 (the Mi 11's predecessor), defining a new generation of camera smartphones.
Overall, the Xiaomi Mi 11 5G is a solid smartphone, packing in a three-camera set-up.
Aside from the 108-megapixel main camera, the phone has a 13MP 123° ultra-wide-angle camera and a 5MP telemacro camera.
To complete the Xiaomi Mi 11 5G's photo compartment, the device has a 20-megapixel front-facing camera.
Unfortunately, the Mi 11 5G does not offer a telephoto lens, but on the other hand, its main camera features 8K video shooting capabilities, which is great to see in a smartphone.
Xiaomi handsets perform well as camera phones, especially at their price, and the Xiaomi Mi 11 5G's main camera is one of the best you can find in a smartphone.
However, the device's other cameras are unfortunately not quite as good.
Verdict: Best value Android camera phone
7. iPhone SE (2020)
- iPhone SE (2020), £399 from Amazon – buy here
- iPhone SE (2020), 100GB data, £24 a month (£29.99 upfront) on Three – buy here
iPhones aren't known for being affordable, but if you want to save money and absolutely want an iOS camera phone the iPhone SE (2020) is our pick.
The iPhone SE shares a lot of features with the iPhone 11 Pro, including the super-fast Apple A13 Bionic processor, and its camera credentials are solid.
Its single 12-megapixel wide-angle lens delivers high-quality shots, although as it only has one lens there's no zoom functionality.
Still, it offers exceptional all-round performance: solid in low-light shooting and in balancing bright light and dark areas in scenes.
Featuring iOS' latest updates, the iPhone SE's software makes it a great choice too, particularly with how it uses Portrait Mode.
Of course, the iPhone SE also comes with a 7-megapixel front camera, and image stabilization for 4K 60fps video – completing the package for the best value iOS camera phone currently available.
Verdict: Best value iOS camera phone
8. Sony Xperia 1 II
- Sony Xperia 1 II, £1,099.99 from Amazon – buy here
- Sony Xperia 1 II, 20GB data, £38.50 a month (£20 upfront) on O2 – buy here
While most of the handsets in this list have great lenses and stabilisation options for video making, the Sony Xperia 1 II takes things one steps further.
The smartphone is capable of shooting footage at up to 21:9 for cinema-style capture and has a series of features that allow for manual adjustment of shooting settings.
The Sony Xperia 1 II also has a flat colour profile that allows video producers to edit footage in post-production more comfortably.
The device comes with the Cinematography Pro app pre-installed, which allows for additional shooting options.
In terms of front cameras, the handset has three, respectively a main 12MP (f/1.6) camera, a 12MP (f/2.4) zoom lens and a 12MP (f/2.4) ultra-wide one.
Image stabilisation and auto-focus are also pretty good here, although if you're serious about video-making you should still probably get a gimbal.
All in all, the Sony Xperia 1 II is an excellent smartphone, but it is also quite pricey when compared with other flagships and their technical specs.
Ultimately, it boils down to what you're looking for in your next smartphone.
If making videos is your priority, then the Sony Xperia 1 II could be the right device for you.
Verdict: Best camera mobile phone for video making
9. OnePlus 9 Pro
- OnePlus 9 Pro, £929 from Amazon – buy here
- OnePlus 9 Pro, Unlimited data, £49 a month (£29 upfront) on Three – buy here
The OnePlus 9 Pro represents the first result of the company's new partnership with camera manufacturer Hasselblad, and it shows.
The handset's primary camera is a 48MP device with an f/1.8 aperture lens, but the OnePlus 9 Pro also features a 3x telephoto camera with 8MP resolution, a 50MP ultra-wide camera, and a dedicated 2MP monochrome camera.
Add in an exceptional level of detail captured through the ultra-wide camera, and a rock-solid stabilisation feature for videos and you have one of the best all-rounder camera phones of 2021.
The OnePlus 9 Pro cannot compete with other flagships in terms of zoom cameras, but at this price, it is a more than valid all-rounder option.
And it has 5G too.
Verdict: A great, 5G Android all-rounder for mobile photography
10. Samsung Galaxy S20 5G
- Samsung Galaxy S20 5G, £749 from Amazon – buy here
- Samsung Galaxy S20 5G, 100 data, £51 a month (£10 upfront) on EE – buy here
One of the best 5G phones currently on the market, the Samsung Galaxy S20 is a solid handset with top-notch camera features.
The smartphone's rear camera set comprises three cameras: a 12MP ultrawide camera, a telephoto 64 MP camera, and a wide-angle 12 MP module.
As for the front-facing cameras, the Samsung Galaxy S20 5G has a single 10MP sensor camera.
Like most of the newest Samsung phones, the Galaxy S20 5G does not lack in providing various shooting modes.
In fact, you will be able to choose from the following: Automatic, Video, Live Focus, Live Focus Video, Pro, Food, Night, Instagram, Slow Motion, Super Slow-mo, and Hyperlapse.
The quality of both photos and videos is excellent here, with the default, front-camera 12MP images being clear and detailed under most light conditions.
The 3D depth effects captured by the ToF sensor are interesting too.
Moreover, both front and rear cameras can shoot in 4K, which is not very common, as most manufacturers deem 4K in the selfie camera to be over-kill.
11. Google Pixel 4A 5G
- Google Pixel 4A 5G, £489.92 from Amazon – buy here
- Google Pixel 4A 5G, 100GB data, £41 a month (£0 upfront) on EE – buy here
A mid-range phone in many ways, the Google Pixel 4A 5G has a camera compartment that rivals the best.
Featuring a primary 12.2MP Sony IMX363 sensor and an 8MP ultra-wide lens, the Google Pixel 4a 5G's camera compartment is almost identical to the one in the Pixel 5.
That being said, the forte of the Google Pixel 4A 5G's cameras is undoubtedly their AI capabilities.
From Night Sight to dancing AR cartoons, Top Shot, and Time-lapse modes, the Google Pixel 3A performs solidly in a variety of scenarios.
The Pixel 4A 5G is a mid-range phone, however, and as such, it had to sacrifice some features to keep the price down.
Apart from the processing speed, which does not hold its own again latest handsets, the Pixel 4A 5G does not have a manual or pro photo mode.
You can always install a third-party app for that, and some of them are really good, but from its specs and price, it looks like Google designed this phone to be used as a point-and-shoot type of camera phone.
And to be honest, it is quite good at that.
Which is the best camera phone to buy?
It’s no longer just about the number of megapixels a sensor has, Google, Apple, Huawei and Samsung are all pushing the boundaries of the photos you can take with multiple lenses, panoramic options and front-facing cameras.
In terms of quality (and value) the Google Pixel 5 is a great option, offering a wide range of possibilities at nearly half the price of premium options.
What phone has the best camera in 2021?
Huawei's P40 Pro+ is a strong contender in 2021, thanks to the sheer quality of its Leica lenses, but there's some stiff competition.
Apple keeps improving and the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are clear competitors.
Choose from any of the phones listed above though, and you'll have a very good camera phone on your hands.
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