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The 10 Best Camera Phones You Can Buy in 2021

the best camera phones you can buy in 2021

If you’re eager to dive into smartphone photography and you’re looking for the best camera phone on the market, you’ve come to the right place.

It can be difficult to decide which phone to buy when there are so many good options. In my opinion, it’s a matter of deciding which features you want to prioritize and ensuring a good balance with the rest of the specs.

For example, if you do a lot of selfies, then you’d want a phone with an excellent front camera. If you like night photography, then you should search for a phone that performs best in low-light conditions. Obviously, you’ll also need to take your budget into account.

On this list, I’ve included the best camera phones for different needs – from the best point-and-shoot camera phones to the best phones for post-processing, from the phone with the best performance overall to the best budget smartphone.

Let’s get started.

1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

When you buy a camera, you’ll want to be able to change lenses – and that’s the idea behind adding more cameras to a phone: it gives you a wider variety of focal lengths.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has an impressive four-camera setup on the back: A wide 26mm camera with 108 MP and an f/1.8 aperture; an ultra-wide 12 MP camera with a 13mm lens and an f/2.2 aperture; a 10 MP telephoto camera with an f/2.4 aperture and 3x optical zoom; and a 10 MP telephoto camera with an f/4.9 aperture and 10x optical zoom. (The front camera is 40 MP, with a 26mm field of view and an f/2.2 aperture.)

All in all, the S21 has a fantastic camera system. As for the display, it has a high-resolution 6.8-inch (17.3 cm) screen. It supports the use of any S Pen, including future releases and options from third-party manufacturers.

While the S21 doesn’t have a microSD slot, it does come with several different storage capacity options: 128 GB and 256 GB.

2. Huawei P40 Pro

Huawei P40 Pro

Some people are hesitant to buy Huawei phones because they don’t have Google Play services, but photographically speaking, the Huawei P40 Pro is one of the best camera phones on the market.

With the P40 Pro, the slogan “Visionary Photography” is more than a catchphrase; the phone is equipped with a Leica quad-camera, including an ultra-vision sensor that offers beautiful results in daylight and at night.

The P40 Pro features a 12 MP telephoto camera with 50x digital zoom and 5x optical zoom; a 40 MP, ultra-wide Cine Camera; a 12 MP telephoto camera with an f/3.4 aperture; and a 3D depth-sensing camera.

On the front, you’ll find a 32 MP camera with an aperture of f/2.2, plus a depth camera. As for the software perks, the P40 Pro incorporates an AI function that removes unwanted passersby from your picture.

The P40 Pro display is rounded and supports AI gesture control. You can share the screen with your laptop and download content just by touching both devices. And even with the beautiful display, it has excellent battery life.

So if you’re interested in leveling up your smartphone photography, the Huawei P40 Pro is a great pick.

3. iPhone 12 Pro Max

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Apple has made a point of staying on top of smartphone photography, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with its amazing camera system and quality display, is further proof. It features a 6.7-inch (17 cm) edge-to-edge Super Retina XDR display protected by a ceramic shield.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has three rear cameras, each offering 12 MP: an ultra-wide 13mm camera, a wide 26mm camera, and a 52mm telephoto camera. The front camera is 12 MP and packs TrueDepth technology (which captures 3D information and is useful for face ID).

The 12 Pro Max supports Apple ProRAW format, and it’s powered by a super-fast A14 Bionic chip. It also offers impressive battery life (so you don’t have to worry about your phone dying in the middle of a photoshoot!), and it’s water resistant up to 6 m (19.7 ft) for 30 minutes.

The iPhone 12 Pro is another excellent camera phone if you’re looking for something a little less pricey – and smaller – than the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The biggest downgrade is the camera sensor size (though the resolution remains the same).

4. Oppo Find X3 Pro

Oppo Find X3 Pro

The Oppo Find X3 Pro has a 50 MP ultra-wide camera with an aperture of f/2.2. And thanks to a large sensor, you get brighter pictures with better color depth, ideal for photographs in low light. A second camera packs 50 MP and an aperture of f/1.8.

The X3 Pro also has a microlens with a 60x magnification and an aperture of f/3, as well as a 13 MP telephoto camera with 5x hybrid optical zoom and 20x digital zoom. The smartphone features one of the best night modes in photography and video.

The Oppo Find X3 Pro includes a 6.7 in (17 cm) display that covers the full color gamut and offers 10-bit color depth. Its AI Scene Enhancement reads the scene and automatically shifts tones to fit.

5. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The potent Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is not only great for photography, but also for photo editing. With a 6.9 in (17.5 cm) edge display and an S Pen, you can do precise photo and video editing on the go. And for detail work, you can connect your desktop or TV as a second monitor.

The Note 20 Ultra packs a 12 MP ultra-wide camera, a 108 MP wide-angle camera, and a 12 MP telephoto camera. The latter features a 5x optical zoom and a 50x digital zoom. Plus, it has a laser AF sensor to improve focusing precision and speed.

You get multiple shooting modes such as Food, Night, Hyperlapse, and some extra features like Motion Photos and AR Doodle. In the Single Take mode, you can capture a scene from different angles, formats, and styles with one touch of the shutter.

You can record 8K video and extract any frame as a 33 MP image. The front 10 MP camera has a 26mm lens and an f/2.2 aperture.

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, there’s also the Galaxy Note 20. It’s slightly smaller (6.7 in/17 cm display) and the camera array is different, but the smartphone is still top-notch.

6. Sony Xperia 1 II

Sony Xperia 1 II smartphone

The Sony Xperia 1 II is an excellent smartphone for both photography and videography. For one, it uses the same technology as the Sony Alpha cameras to capture up to 20 frames per second; it also supports Real-Time Eye AF for people and animals.

Battery life is highly improved from its predecessor, so you can enjoy the 4K display without concerns. The screen has a 21:9 ratio, a feature that appeals to those who frequently stream video.

The Xperia 1 II includes three rear 12 MP cameras with different Zeiss lenses: a 24mm wide-angle lens, an ultra-wide 16mm lens, and a 70mm telephoto lens. (The front camera packs 8 MP.)

The smartphone comes with 256 MB of storage and a microSD slot for storage expansion. If you’re a creator who toggles between photography and video, the Sony Xperia 1 II is the best camera phone available.

7. Google Pixel 5

the best budget phone camera Google Pixel 5

In a world where phones keep getting bigger and heavier, the Google Pixel 5 is a refreshing change of pace.

Its design might seem basic compared to its competitors, but it’s lighter and more comfortable to use while still delivering high-quality pictures. Sure, the 6 in (15.2 cm) display might be on the small side, but it comes with great battery life, plus a 90 Hz refresh rate and HDR10+ with three color profiles to choose from.

You get two cameras: a 12.2 MP wide-angle camera with an f/1.7 aperture and a 16 MP ultra-wide camera with an f/2.2 aperture. Unfortunately, the native camera app doesn’t offer Manual mode, but you can adjust the highlights and shadows using sliders. And the Pixel 5 supports HDR but is a little slow when processing it.

The front camera offers 8 MP and an f/2 aperture. In Portrait mode, you can capture subjects with beautifully blurred backgrounds (and you can also add this effect at a later time!).

8. OnePlus 8 Pro

OnePlus 8 Pro

Looking for a smartphone camera that’s both powerful and versatile? The OnePlus 8 Pro is a stellar option.

Battery life is extremely good – it can last for over a day with heavy use (and over two days with light use). Impressively, this doesn’t come at the expense of the display; it’s bright enough to be used in direct sunlight and features accurate colors. Also, the recharging time is quite fast.

The main camera has a 48 MP sensor with great dynamic range and an f/1.8 aperture. You also get an 8 MP telephoto camera, plus a 48 MP ultra-wide camera with excellent macro capabilities.

The front camera is 16 MP, and while the later-released OnePlus 8T may have more cameras, the overall performance of the OnePlus 8 Pro is better.

9. Google Pixel 4A

Google Pixel 4A

If you’re not ready to invest in the pricier options from this list, don’t worry – there are some good choices that are also budget-friendly, such as the Google Pixel 4A.

What makes this smartphone special? For one, while you only get a single rear camera, it’s surprisingly great. It packs 12.2 MP, and images are far better than you would expect from reading its specs. The front camera is 8 MP and uses an f/2 aperture.

The Pixel 4A has many of the features on higher-end Google phones, including Live HDR+ (which lets you preview the HDR effect before you take the picture). The display is 5.81 in (14.8 cm) and full HD for a bright picture with realistic colors.

Storage is only 128 GB and the battery life isn’t great – but at such a low price, the 4A remains appealing.

10. iPhone SE

iPhone SE best budget iPhone for photography

For Apple fans after a budget smartphone, the iPhone SE is equipped with a 12 MP, 28mm rear camera and a 7 MP front camera, perfect for spur-of-the-moment shots, portraits, and more.

The SE combines the camera from the iPhone 8 with the software of the iPhone 11. As a result, you get great photographs, plus videos with image stabilization.

The iPhone SE also packs a 4.7 in (11.9 in) HD Retina screen; paired with the A13 Bionic chip, you can expect great battery life. And you still get Portrait mode, including a slider to manually control the blurred background (you also get Portrait Lighting!).

This is the most affordable iOS smartphone yet, and the quality is what you’d expect from a standard iPhone. Yes, the SE has fewer cameras and features, but it offers great value for money.

Best camera phone: conclusion

As you can see, there are many wonderful camera phone options – all of which allow you to capture professional-quality smartphone photography.

So it’s not so much about finding the best camera phone as finding the one that best fits your needs and means.

Now over to you:

Do you have any questions? Which camera phone do you like the best? Which one will you buy? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Ana Mireles
Ana Mireles

is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here.

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