Cameras in smartphones have come a long way over the last few years, with a number of features that have greatly improved the quality of images produced by smartphones, including optical image stabilisation (OIS), larger sensors, bright lenses, and even optical zoom making them even better for photography.
Here we highlight some of the best camera phones we’ve reviewed, up until now, and what makes them unique so you can make a more informed purchase next time you upgrade / buy a new smartphone. You’ll also find more in-depth comments on each of the smartphones featured in our top ten over in reviews plus, take a look at our technique and feature sections where you’ll find a range of articles, including our 8 DIY smartphone photography tricks you must try feature and our food photography basics, that’ll have you snapping top smartphones shots in no-time.
1. Sony Xperia Z5 Compact
The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact features a 23-megapixel f/2.3 camera on the back and a 5-megapixel front ‘selfie’ camera, plus the Z5 is also capable of capturing 4K video (at UHD resolution) which makes it ideal for those who are interested in video as well as photography. In terms of size, the phone is 5 inches tall and 2.55 inches across from edge-to-edge and it’s waterproof as well as dustproof. Battery life lasts up to 2 days and overall, the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is a great choice for someone passionate about phoneography but conscious about phone size, thanks to the smaller 4.6inch screen. The smartphone has an ISO range up to ISO12800, manual controls, plus a dedicated shutter release button.
2. Moto X Play
The Moto X Play is positioned between the Moto G and Moto X Style as a mid-range model in Motorola’s current smartphone range. The X Play has a 21Mp rear f/2.0 camera and 5Mp front-facing camera and is fronted by a large 5.5-inch display. Images from the X Play’s 21Mp sensor are vibrant, well-exposed and have plenty of dynamic range. If the camera detects a high contrast scene, the automatic HDR mode makes a noticeable difference to highlight and shadow intensity, whilst also boosting colour vibrancy. The effect is very noticeable, although in some instances it can look a little too intense. Things are less impressive in low light, where noise becomes more obvious as the camera requires higher ISO sensitivities to compensate for the lack of image stabilisation, and the lack of control over ISO settings disappoints. Storage can be expanded with the MicroSD card slot.
3. Samsung Galaxy S6
The Samsung Galaxy S6 features a 16.0Mp camera with true optical image stabilisation and a maximum aperture of f/1.9. There’s a front-facing 5Mp camera and the S6 can record Ultra HD video at 3840 x 2160. In good light, the Galaxy S6’s image quality is nothing short of miraculous. Colour reproduction and exposure metering are also first class and the camera produces beautifully vibrant and accurately exposed results. Low light performance is less convincing, with an ISO range of ISO100 to ISO800, but there is an excellent auto HDR feature built-in. The Galaxy S6 is not waterproof, like the S5, and it doesn’t feature a MicroSD card slot, so storage can’t be expanded.
4. Moto G (3rd Generation)
The third generation of the Moto G features a 13Mp 1/3-inch back-illuminated image sensor, 28mm-equivalent lens, f/2.0 with 4x digital zoom and a 5.0-inch IPS LCD screen. The fixed focal length, 28mm equivalent lens produces distortion-free images, while corner sharpness is almost a match for the centre of frame, although there are limited controls with the built-in camera app. The front-facing selfie camera generates good enough image quality for social media sharing or 6×4 prints, but when viewed any larger, the lack of fine detail is clear to see. Panoramas are a little disappointing but video, captured at 1920×1080, is well detailed, vibrant and well exposed. The Moto G is one of the cheapest waterproof smartphones available, and storage can be expanded with a MicroSD card.
5. HTC 10
Sporting a 12Mp camera and 4K video, the HTC 10 sits at the top of the range in the HTC smartphone lineup. On the front you’ll find a 5.2-inch screen with a QuadHD resolution. Designed to have better than usual low-light performance, the camera has a 12Mp sensor for better low light performance, as well as a bright f/1.8 lens with optical image stabilisation, and an ISO range of ISO100 to ISO3200. Even the front selfie camera has optical image stabilisation! The app itself is as clear, responsive and easy to use. Plenty of manual control is provided in Pro mode which is accessed via the mode icon located alongside the shutter release icon. Detail and colour reproduction in shots are good and overall, it’s capable of producing natural-looking images. HDR capture does a decent job of boosting dynamic range and even its low light performance is commendable. A MicroSD card slot gives expansion options to store more photos and video.
6. Huawei P9
The standout feature on the Huawei P9 is most definitely its camera as it features 2x f/2.2 lenses. The phone also has a 5.2inch screen and is capable of recording FullHD video. The P9 looks great and for the most part, performs really well. The camera produces great results and it’s actually bursting with features (once you find them). Those who use their smartphones for taking photos regularly, particularly selfies, will find the auto mode really easy to use and will be more than happy with the shots it produces. Plus, if you do want to dabble with a bit of manual photography, there are the options to do so, including an ISO range from ISO100 to ISO3200. You can expand the storage with a MicroSD card.
7. Huawei P8
The Huawei P8 features a slim metal body, large 5.2inch fullHD screen and a 13-megapixel camera with a bright f/2.0 lens. The phone also has a number of advanced photography features including a light painting mode and optical image stabilisation. Image quality is reasonably good, but not as sharp or as detailed as competitor phones but for those who don’t want to spend as much money, but still want a premium smartphone camera, then P8 is well suited. The camera has a Sony sensor designed for better low light performance, and an ISO range from ISO64 to ISO1600, and the storage can be expanded with a MicroSD card.
8. Samsung Galaxy S5
The Galaxy S5 will shoot at an impressive six frames-per-second for a 30-second burst and it’s got enough oomph to record 4K, Ultra HD video. The S5 is also certified dustproof as well as waterproof to a 1-meter depth and is available with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, which can be expanded with a MicroSD card. As for its picture-taking capabilities, the S5 sports a fixed, 31mm-equivalent f/2.2 lens and features digital image stabilisation. The Galaxy S5 captures good levels of detail from both close range and distant subjects at ISO400 and below, with the maximum ISO speed ISO800. It also maintains impressively low levels of detail smoothing and image noise at higher sensitivities. Colour reproduction is accurate and matrix metering reliably produces well-exposed shots with decent dynamic range.
9. BQ Aquaris X5
The BQ Aquaris X5 is a really smart looking phone that’s a decent size and available in a range of colours. The screen on the X5 is an impressive size and offers a decent resolution but it is constructed from Dragontail glass which some say isn’t as good as Gorilla Glass found on smartphones which sit higher up the cost ladder. There are two cameras on the BQ Aquaris X5: 5MP selfie camera and a 13Mp (f/2.0) back camera that’s powered by a Sony sensor, with both the front and rear cameras featuring an LED flash, and an ISO range of ISO100 to ISO1600. For its price point, the X5 offers an impressive list of camera features and is capable of producing some great shots. Although, photographers may find the purple fringing and the phone’s occasional inability to cope with wide dynamic ranges annoying but for most people, its selfie capturing capabilities along with its mostly good performance when capturing other types of shots will be enough. The smartphone memory can be expanded with a MicroSD card.
10. Sony Xperia Z5
The Sony Xperia Z5 features a 23-megapixel 1/2.3inch Exmor RS sensor, fixed 24mm-equivalent f/2 lens, 5.2-inch touch-screen and loads of features including HDR and panoramic shooting. Image quality from the Z5’s 1/2.3-inch sensor is on a par with that of a decent compact camera equipped with the same size sensor, and an ISO range that goes up to ISO12800. Faithful colour reproduction and good dynamic range produce vibrant, well-exposed images. Detail captured in close-range subjects is also impressive, but when it comes to shooting more distance scenes like landscapes, Sony’s aggressive noise reduction processing smears some fine detail and produces a slightly painterly appearance when viewing shots at 100% image size. The front-facing selfie camera produces acceptable results, though fine detail is lacking. Video captured at 3840×2160 (UHD) is highly detailed and well-exposed.
Also available is the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium, with the same camera and shooting features, but with a larger 5.5inch 4K display. Both smartphones support MicroSD cards.