While some people place performance, value for money or battery life above all else when choosing a new phone, for many it's a device's camera setup that defines whether it's worthing picking up or leaving well alone.
There's an inherent issue in knowing just how good a phone's camera setup actually is before buying one. Looking beyond a device's own marketing, there's little to guarantee that you're getting a pixel-perfect snapper without actually testing it out extensively beforehand.
There's also the matter of what you might intend to use your phone's camera for: are you looking for a great stills camera, a top-quality pocket video camera or a device that spits out the sharpest selfies possible? Depending on the use case, some phone cameras are better suited to certain tasks than others.
That's where our rundown of the best cameras phones available right now comes in. We've run every phone in this shortlist through its paces, covering everything from performance and versatility to, of course, camera quality and ability.
You can click through on any of the entries below to read our full reviews of each device and read a full breakdown of each's photographic capabilities, along with camera samples taken from each.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra - Most versatile
The camera module on the back of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is huge and imposing, but luckily also comes with the skills to back up its bold design; a stark contrast to the disappointing snappers on last year's Galaxy S20 Ultra.
The system Samsung's used is arguably the best there is right now, save for perhaps the Oppo Find X3 Pro's; with an updated 108Mp main shooter, backed up by a 12Mp ultrawide and two telephoto lenses at 3x and 10x magnification, respectively.
A laser autofocus system, similar to the one Samsung first implemented on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, delivers impressively fast focusing and the quality of both stills and video are impressive across the S21 Ultra's entire zoom range, affording you unmatched versatility from a single smartphone camera.
As with the other entries in the Galaxy S21 series, ease of use and a bevvy of fun features elevate the hardware, while selfie fans will appreciate the whopping 40Mp front-facing sensor.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
iPhone 12 Pro Max - Best for video
The biggest and most bombastic of Apple's newest iPhone 12 devices, the 12 Pro Max sports what appears to be a similar three-sensor setup to its 2019 predecessor, however, it boasts a wealth of new technologies, including the odd industry first.
The sensor-shift OIS (optical image stabilisation) system is the camera's biggest talking point (it's also unique to the 12 Pro Max) and helps elevate Apple's already exceptional night mode shooting with even less noise and sharper results than before.
The three 12Mp sensors (a main, 120° ultrawide and 2.5x optical zoom telephoto) shoot with a pleasing consistency and confidence that isn't really seen on rival smartphone cameras.
There's also a superb 3D LiDAR system, lifted from the iPad Pro, that guarantees fast, accurate autofocus - even in low light - along with the phone's ability to offer native 10-bit Dolby Vision video capture, another world first (in conjunction with the standard iPhone 12 Pro). Apple's new ProRAW image standard, plus its latest take on Deep Fusion and Smart HDR 3 also feature to great effect.
So long as you can handle the phone's pronounced lens flare quirks (made most obvious by point light sources when shooting in low light) there's a lot to love about the photographic offering made by the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max review
Oppo Find X3 Pro - Most unique
Oppo has taken a markedly different approach with its 2021 flagship, compared to its predecessor, where the camera setup is concerned.
While most rear camera modules round out the experience with a hefty telephoto snapper, the Find X3 Pro only boasts a 2x optical zoom module, with the most unusual entry being what the company has dubbed a 'microlens' camera, that can take shots at up to 60x magnification - complete with its own ring light for a truly unique perspective on things.
As for more general shooting, a pair of 1/1.56" 50Mp sensors reside behind the main and ultrawide lenses on the back of the X3 Pro and boast superb colour consistency, fast autofocus, even in low light, and exceptional image quality that's hard to beat.
Read our full Oppo Find X3 Pro review
ZTE Axon 30 Ultra - Best newcomer
ZTE has remerged from relative obscurity with the impressive Axon 30 Ultra.
Not only does this phone boast flagship-class internals at a competitive price, it's one of the only handsets to sport three 64Mp lenses (regular, ultrawide, and 2x zoom), along with an 8Mp 5x periscopic lens.
Other highlights include a Snapdragon 888 chipset, 144Hz AMOLED display (meaning it's also great for gaming), and a 65W fast charging-compatible 4600mAh battery.
You'll have to live without luxuries like wireless charging or a water-resistance rating, and make do with the mediocre MyOS software, but if you can, the Axon 30 Ultra delivers an awful lot of performance per pound.
Read our full ZTE Axon 30 Ultra review
Oppo Find X2 Pro - Superb for stills
A year on from its launch and the Oppo Find X2 Pro is still one of the best when it comes to smartphone stills photography.
On its back you'll find a 48Mp f/1.7 main camera (powered by a custom IMX689 Sony sensor), capable of taking shots with 12-bit colour depth; that's more than can even be displayed on-screen.
It’s joined by a secondary 48Mp f/2.2 (IMX586) 120° ultrawide sensor and a 13Mp f/3.0 5x periscopic zoom lens capable of up to 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid and 30x digital.
The main sensor achieves outstanding detail, with shots that offer bright, vivid colours and outstanding dynamic range. The X2 Pro will also offer more true-to-life photography than many of its rivals, which have a tendency to over-process.
Those secondary sensors aren't quite as capable but still offering a pleasing consistency and deliver where they're needed. Aside from a tendency to overblow light sources, low light shooting on the X2 Pro is also top-notch.
Read our full Oppo Find X2 Pro review
Google Pixel 5 - Most compact
Google's first 5G flagship walks a different path to its predecessors, showcasing Android 11 to the best of its abilities but also shedding the more experimental features of previous generations and opting for more conservative hardware at the same time.
Its incredibly compact design, actually usable battery life and clean user experience are supported by a set of superb - and now more feature-rich - cameras.
The Pixel 5 may still rely on old imaging hardware but that doesn't detract from Google's ever-improving computational algorithms, which are in full effect here.
The main 12.2Mp sensor is accompanied by a new 16Mp 107° ultrawide sensor, while on the features side Google has expanded standouts like Night Sight to work across all of the Pixel 5's various sensors, automatically.
Virtual portrait lighting and a multitude of new specialised video stabilisation options round out a superb imaging experience set into an impressively compact form factor.
Read our full Google Pixel 5 review
Xiaomi Mi 11 - Great main camera
Xiaomi's current flagship (at least until the Mi 11 Pro and Ultra arrive in China and globally, respectively) serves as the perfect foil to Samsung's base Galaxy S21.
It may not have the most capable camera system of any Android phone currently out there but there's no denying that the 108Mp 1/1.33in sensor that leads its photographic setup is undeniably strong.
The 27Mp stills it produces are accurately coloured, packed with detail and it takes great low light/night time photos to boot. If all you need is a solid main snapper, the Mi 11 might save you some money. However, if it's versatility you're after, the other sensors on the 11 don't quite measure up by comparison.
Read our full Xiaomi Mi 11 review
Samsung Galaxy S21+ - Great for ease of use
All the benefits of the standard Galaxy S21's camera system but with the added bonus of a larger display (or in this case, viewfinder) and a larger battery - making it easier to get the shot, while also being able to shoot for longer.
Don't be put off by Samsung's unusual interpretation of a telephoto snapper - a 64Mp tele sensor that effectively relies on AI-enhanced all-digital zoom - results are rather impressive.
There's also a pleasing consistency between the phone's 12Mp main and ultrawide snappers, as well as an assortment of creative shootings modes and a rich but easy-to-use control scheme.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review
Google Pixel 4a - Most affordable
Google's most affordable Pixel of the moment also happens to boast one of the best main cameras on the market.
Like the Pixel 5, it's its computational smarts that result in such good image quality but dual-pixel phase detection autofocus and OIS don't go amiss either.
Live HDR+ means you benefit from a more realistic look at your final shots before capture and it even posts an astrophotography mode - all rare and powerful features for a phone at the Pixel 4a's price point.
Read our full Google Pixel 4a review
Vivo X60 Pro - Great for video
Knocking the Huawei Mate 40 Pro off its spot thanks to support for Google services (something still lacking on Huawei's phones), the Vivo X60 Pro excels in numerous areas, including its camera.
So long as you're not after a top-tier phone that packs in every feature possible - such as wireless charging - the Snapdragon 870-powered Vivo X60 Pro is a beautifully crafted handset with a great design, solid performance and capable optics.
The gimbal stabilisation on the phone's main camera makes it ideal for those who shoot a lot of video, while the 120Hz curved AMOLED display is a joy to view content on too - even if it is only Full HD+ resolution.
Read our full Vivo X60 Pro review
How we test phone cameras
Rather than using controlled conditions and attempting to compare cameras scientifically, we put each of these smartphone snappers to the test in real-world scenarios.
We drill down to test out manual controls, may alter still or recording resolution to draw comparisons and make sure to test any specialist or dedicated features or settings a particular device boasts too.