The smartphones featured here have the best camera performance among the dozens of devices in our cell phone ratings. They might not match the image quality of an SLR or even the top point-and-shoots, but they can produce great photos in many shooting situations. And you can't beat the best smartphone cameras for portability and sharing options.
These days, you can count on smartphones to have high-resolution sensors (12 megapixels or more) to produce sharp cropped or enlarged prints. They have optical image stabilizers to help minimize blurriness from a shaky hand. And they can capture spur-of-the-moment video with high-definition clarity, too.
One new trend is for phones to include two rear-mounted cameras (in addition to the selfie camera on the front). One camera handles most shots while the other works either as a zoom or a wide-angle lens. Some phones use both cameras working together to produce stylish effects such as a blurred background (what photographers call a bokeh effect).
This seems like a very promising development. So far, however, our testing indicates that secondary cameras don't do much to improve image or video quality overall. That’s why, for now, we only score the performance of the phones’ main cameras.
The images and videos the best smartphone cameras take are relatively large, up to 5 megabytes per still image and several hundred megabytes per minute for videos. If the smartphone you fancy accepts microSD memory cards, you’ve got it made. Cards with 64GB of storage are easy to install and cost as little as $20 at most retailers. If you're thinking of buying a phone that lacks this advantage, consider a model with at least 64GB of internal storage.
8 Best Smartphone Cameras
When we took an up-close look at our ratings, these eight phones rose to the top for camera quality. They appear in performance order, starting with the best performer in our testing:
- Motorola Moto Z Droid Force
- Samsung Galaxy S7; Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
- Sony Xperia XA Ultra
- Apple iPhone 7; iPhone 7 Plus
- Google Pixel, Pixel XL
Stunning Still Images
The Samsung Galaxies, Motorola, and Sony models aced our still-image-quality tests, which evaluate resolution, dynamic range, color accuracy, and visual noise. The Motorola excelled at taking low-light shots and delivered outstanding performance for dynamic range (the difference between the lightest light and darkest dark that can be seen in a photo). However, the dynamic range performance of the other cameras was underwhelming.
The Sony's 15.9-megapixel front-facing (or selfie) camera has about twice the resolution of its competitors in our test. That's enough to capture almost every nook and cranny of your hopefully smiling face.
All of these smartphones took videos good enough to upload to YouTube or Facebook. The Sony, Motorola, and both Samsungs took very good HD (1080p) video—the format most people use—under daylight, indoor, and low-light conditions. All of these smartphones, with the exception of the Sony, can record at a resolution high enough to feed an Ultra HD TV.
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