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Best Smartphones For Photography

If you're looking for the best camera phones to capture high-quality images, have a look at our top smartphone recommendations for photographers which have all been reviewed and put to the test by ePHOTOzine.

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Best Smartphones

If you're looking for the best smartphone for photography, then you've come to the right place. 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. The photographic capabilities of smartphones have become such a massive selling feature, that many premium smartphones now support shooting "raw" images, so you can take complete control over image processing.

Some of the weaknesses of small sensor cameras have also been removed by the use of "computational photography" - for example, Auto HDR, combines images for improved dynamic range, "Bokeh mode" produces DSLR-like images with blurred backgrounds for portraits, and multi-shot night modes offer better low-light shots, with reduced noise. 

Here we highlight some of the best smartphones 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 reviews.

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Google Pixel 6
Overall Rating

Google Pixel 6

With the Google Pixel 5 launch, we were a little underwhelmed as the Pixel 5 didn't really offer enough to make it stand out from the busy flagship market. However, with the Google Pixel 6, it's a whole different game! With a design overall that's interesting and very different to other smartphones coupled with a brilliant camera and a standout price, we reckon Google is onto a winner with the Google Pixel 6. It's great at capturing true-to-life images no matter the light level and its portrait mode is brilliant, introducing out of focus backgrounds with just the right level of bokeh. There's no telephoto zoom and the built-in zoom is a bit poor so if you do want to capture images of subjects far away without moving your feet, you should look at the Pixel 6 Pro instead. It's also a pretty big smartphone with a great 6.4-inch screen so if you prefer smaller handsets, you might want to look at another Android smartphone or even the iPhone 13 mini. 

Overall, we really do like the Google Pixel 6. In fact, it'll be our go-to smartphone for capturing photos until something comes along that can beat it - 'Highly Recommended'. 

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G
Overall Rating

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G offers not only a 3x telephoto lens, but also a 10x telephoto lens. As long as you don't use the additional digital zoom, then results can be very good. It has a great 12mp ultra-wide camera, and an excellent 12/108mp main wide-angle camera. Images can look a little over-saturated on the phone's screen, but look good when viewed on a computer, and have a slight lean towards warm (rather than cool) colour reproduction, which will be preferred by many. We were impressed by the results, and apart from the Night mode which can have some issues, we'd say that the S21 Ultra produces some of the best looking photos we've seen on a smartphone. The added 10x telephoto zoom is the added icing on the cake.

One thing to be aware of, is the price, which is definitely high, and you'll most likely need to buy the more expensive version with 256/512GB storage if you want to record 8K/4K video, as there is no MicroSD slot, so no cheap way to expand your memory when you end up filling up the phone. If you do use the smartphone for video, then the Director's view, as well as the ability to record 4K 60fps video with any of the cameras, makes the S21 Ultra a great choice.

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Samsung Galaxy S21
Overall Rating

Samsung Galaxy S21

The Samsung Galaxy S21 is a premium smartphone without such a premium price that's also more compact than some of the other big smartphone names have to offer. Image/video quality is great with some cool camera features built-in that are fun to use and make capturing excellent images a doddle and the camera app is really easy to use. Single Take is fun and creative, as is the Director's View option even though it's questionable who'll use it apart from bloggers and up to 3X zoom captures pleasing images. It's a shame anything after this point loses detail but you can purchase the more expensive Galaxy S21 Ultra should you want a smartphone camera with a more impressive and useable zoom. We've mentioned the screen quality isn't as good as the Galaxy S20 but we also believe most won't notice a drop in quality, especially as the price is better, too. 

If you're a Galaxy S20 smartphone owner, you probably won't see too many drastic reasons to swap to the Galaxy S21, you'd be better going for the Plus or Ultra if you want a serious upgrade but that does mean you have to splash more cash. However, if you're switching from another brand and want to try a Samsung device, the Galaxy S21 is a good starting point. It's also a good choice for anyone who doesn't want a massive smartphone but still wants a reasonably sized screen. 

If you're looking for a new smartphone that has a reasonable price, looks great but isn't as big as other flagship smartphones are and has some great premium features, the Galaxy S21 would be a good choice.  

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Sony Xperia 1 III
Overall Rating

Sony Xperia 1 III

The Sony Xperia 1 III isn't a smartphone that will be a crowd-pleaser but for those who like the quirky shape, or have purchased Sony smartphones previously, it's a great choice as we have to say, we think it's the best Sony smartphone we've reviewed to date. The Sony Xperia 1 III offers a lot of premium smartphone features, it has a great screen, excellent battery life and a camera that's much improved when compared with past Sony Xperia smartphones and can stand its own against other premium smartphones. One slight snag is the price as it is expensive but it could be a great smartphone for someone who likes a smartphone that stands out from the crowd and has the cash to splash. 

The Sony Xperia 1 III is the best Sony smartphone we've reviewed to date with it offering great image quality, a lovely display and a decent battery. In fact, Sony bill it as the 'next level of Xperia' and we have to say, we most certainly agree. 

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Sony Xperia 5 III
Overall Rating

Sony Xperia 5 III

Similarly to the Sony Xperia 5 II and Sony Xperia I II relationship, the Sony Xperia 5 III shares similarities with the Sony Xperia 1 III but it's offered at a much better price point and it's more compact, too. Its performance is comparable to the much more expensive Sony Xperia 1 III with almost equal photo-taking abilities as well so if you are looking for premium tech that's not priced at over £1000, the Xperia 5 III could be for you.

The longer/taller body size and screen, which hasn't changed in terms of design for some time now, won't be for everyone but it is useful for watching films/tv shows and for viewing images. There are also omissions such as no wireless charging which some would probably expect to see on a smartphone at this price point.

However, its smaller size, decent camera and Pro Mode that if you have the patience to learn how to use correctly will reward you with even better-looking photos make the Sony Xperia 5 III a smartphone that's worth considering. 

If you're looking for a smaller Sony Xperia smartphone with a great display that captures true to life images, you should put the Xperia 5 III on your list. 

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OnePlus 9 Pro
Overall Rating

OnePlus 9 Pro 

The OnePlus 9 Pro is every inch the flagship smartphone at a price that's a bit more reasonable than the likes of Apple and Samsung offer. With each release, OnePlus smartphones seem to get better and the OnePlus certainly has the best camera to date. In fact, it's one of the best cameras we've seen on a smartphone at this price point.

Image quality is superb with great colour reproduction, sharpness and excellent dynamic range. In fact, it's hard to find fault with the majority of the images we captured with the OnePlus 9 Pro. The main camera does perform slightly better than the ultra-wide and telephoto lens but they're not terrible by any means. Plus, the monochrome camera produces great monochrome images with great contrast and the macro option produces shots with plenty of detail, too. We didn't really experience any problems with clipping when using portrait mode and the fact that you get usable stills from 8K video footage is just another added bonus. It's a shame, still, that digital zoom is a bit disappointing but it's great to see OIS built into the telephoto lens where it's, generally, benefited.

As a tool for photography, the OnePlus 9 Pro has really impressed us. Plus, combine this with its looks and power capabilities and you have a smartphone that's really easy to 'Highly Recommend'.

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Apple iPhone 12 Pro / 12 Pro Max
Overall Rating

Apple iPhone 12 Pro / 12 Pro Max

There are lots to like about the Apple iPhone 12 Pro / Max smartphones including how simple they are to use, 5G connectivity, 4K video and excellent image quality. 

Whether you want to go for the larger model or the smaller one is almost entirely down to personal preference. There will be plenty who opt for the smaller one as it fits more neatly in your pocket (and your hand), while those who want the best viewing experience (or perhaps have larger hands) have the option of plumping for the bigger model.

Although there are some on-paper differences between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s cameras, in reality, the results are very hard to distinguish between - so the decision will almost certainly come down to which screen size you prefer, how much you want to spend - and perhaps if you crave that (slightly) longer telephoto lens.

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Google Pixel 4a 5G
Overall Rating

Google Pixel 4a 5G

If you don't want to pay the asking price for the newer Google Pixel 6 range then the Google Pixel 4a 5G could be a good choice for you as it's definitely less expensive and it's even chapter than the Pixel 5 which is shares the same cameras and other technology with while offering 5G connection. It also has a larger display than you find on the Pixel 5, it looks great and has a brilliant price point. In fact, you could say it's premium without the price tag. 

Most of the images we captured showed accurate colours, good exposure levels and weren't oversaturated which was great to see and Google's Portrait mode technology as it does a brilliant job at introducing bokeh to images that looks realistic.

We're a fan of the Google Pixel 4a 5G and we think you will be too. 

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Vivo X51 5G
Overall Rating

Vivo X51 5G 

The Vivo X51 5G is a mid-range smartphone with plenty of punch and in an ever-growing popular part of the smartphone market, this is exactly what a manufacturer needs to do to stand out from the crowd. The 'gimbal' camera is certainly a talking point and even though image quality could be better, on occasion, shots are steady, low light performance is good and so is the quality of video captured. Is it the best camera found in a smartphone? No, it's not, but at under £800, you wouldn't really expect it to be but it does have a great display, lots of storage and a smart-looking design. Vivo has also brought something new to the table in terms of its 'gimbal' camera which makes a refreshing change as, for a while now, the mid-range smartphone market has all looked a bit samey. 

It's rare that you find a smartphone where all of the built-in cameras are actually useful but on the Vivo X51 5G they are. Yes, there are some focusing issues and colour accuracy could be better but this isn't the case for every shot so it's something you can live with. Low light performance is also good and the choice of zoom options makes it a more usable smartphone. 

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OnePlus Nord 2 5G
Overall Rating

OnePlus Nord 2 5G 

The OnePlus Nord 2 5G is OnePlus' flagship smartphone without the flagship price and that's what we love about OnePlus - they're always wanting to keep the premium smartphone manufacturers with their big prices on their toes. The OnePlus Nord 2 5G looks great, it has a lovely screen and there are some interesting features built in that make the camera capable of capturing great photos. The problem is, though, the photos weren't spot-on every time as AI/HDR seems to enjoy overcooking and over-processing images. Having said that, this didn't happen every time we hit the shutter button and we did like the slightly exaggerated look HDR gives shots when capturing neon shop signs, for example, so sometimes the overcooking did work. When the AI worked well, it did help balance scenes giving good dynamic range and allowing detail to stand out. 

2X and 5X zoom aren't that great but the wide and ultra-wide lenses do produce decent shots and panorama mode is great. There are plenty of digital filters built-in and the bokeh captured in images shot with the portrait mode is lovely. You only have to look at the night shots of the lights to see just how beautiful the bokeh can be and talking of night mode, it's impressive, giving more detail and stopping shake spoiling shots. The autofocus works impressively well, too

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Xiaomi 11T
Overall Rating

Xiaomi 11T

The Xiaomi 11T is a good mid-range smartphone that can produce decent images (the bokeh is superb!), has a great battery and looks great. In fact, if we had to use one word to describe the Xiaomi 11T it would be 'reliable' but this might not be exciting enough to make some people part with their cash.

We were generally impressed with the camera built into the Xiaomi 11T with good dynamic range, colour balance and sharpness in most images. However, there was the odd occasion where greens were overcooked and if light levels weren't quite right, the smartphone had a tendency to over sharpen shots. The built-in night mode performed well, adding more detail to images captured in low light and the portrait mode (which we used on a variety of subjects when wanting to introduce bokeh) is simply excellent. Bokeh looks natural and there's no clipping insight. The close-up mode works well, too.

If you're looking for a reasonably priced smartphone that will capture good images, not lose power after a few hours of use and is built well then the Xiaomi 11T should be on your list. 

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Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro
Overall Rating

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro

Xiaomi bills the Redmi Note 10 Pro as a 'mid-range king in mobile photography' and we can see why as image quality is generally good with all of the cameras performing well under most conditions. Colours are accurate, detail is sharp and there are some clever tools built in that help make your images better, too, including HDR and AI.

It's one of the most accurate when it comes to true colour reproduction which has to be applauded. Some might say they're a little on the dull side but we don't think so; we just think we've all got used to seeing overcooked images so when something is more true to life, it doesn't look accurate when actually it is. Plus, you can always brighten your shots in post if you really want to. 

If 'value for money' is key when you're purchasing a smartphone then the Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro should be on your list as you get a lot of features for your cash.

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Google Pixel 4a
Overall Rating

Google Pixel 4a 

The Google Pixel 4a is an inexpensive smartphone with a camera that's ideal for 'point-and-click' photographers who aren't too fussed about multiple cameras and lots of options. However, if you're going to be doing more than just sharing images on social media, you might want to see what else Google, or another brand, has to offer as detail does fall off quickly when you start adjusting the zoom (even just a little bit). The low light mode is pretty good, though, and colour accuracy is pretty much spot on. 

Those looking for a basic, compact smartphone with a modern clean design that has a camera they can simply press the shutter button on to produce a decent photo for sharing on social media will find the Google Pixel 4a appealing. In conclusion, if you're into affordable prices and no-frills, the Google Pixel 4a could be for you.

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Comments


dancin 18 United Kingdom
30 Jan 2019 10:36PM
The ratings given in the group give 12 of the 15 the same 4 and half stars each. No much of an in depth analysis If they were tested as a photographer I am sure there would be some variation. May we assume that the first one in the review is the top choice.
ChrisV 15 2.3k 26 United Kingdom
2 Oct 2020 7:02PM
It seems to be simply a compendium of the phones you happen to have previously reviewed rather than what’s on the market.

The two Apple phones for example are two and three generations old respectively - and the X wasn’t even the top model (or the best ‘camera features’) when it was new.

I’m not really sure what the point of this article is - it may tempt a few phone users to click, but it’s hardly a decent - let alone comprehensive - buyers’ guide.
16 Feb 2022 12:14PM
No Huawei? My P30 Pro is incredibly good, and I say this as a semi-pro photographer. Low light performance is good, and daylight images excellent.295061_1645013643.jpg
2 Mar 2022 1:47PM
@MarcLeSparc

Clue is in the text: 'which have all been reviewed and put to the test by ePHOTOzine'

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