Cameras are an increasingly important part of smartphones and as specs start to level out they’re one of the main ways that manufacturers try to make their handsets stand out.
Whether it’s the high megapixel count of the Sony Xperia X, the dual-lens LG G5, the optical zoom in the iPhone 7 Plus, or any number of other things there are a lot of interesting and powerful smartphone cameras around and these are among the best.
If megapixel count is your number one priority then you won’t find a phone much better than the Sony Xperia X, which has a 23MP rear camera and a 13MP front-facing one, both of which are far higher spec than even most flagships.
The Xperia X also has a phase detection autofocus, which helps it focus faster, so you can fire off more shots.
Plus, like many Sony phones, it has a hardware camera key, so you don’t have to tap at the screen to take your photos.
The Sony Xperia X lacks the fancy features found on other phones in this list, but it’s cheaper, has a higher megapixel count and can take great shots.
Apple’s latest flagship was always likely to make our list, as the company has a history of making great smartphone cameras and the iPhone 7 is no exception.
Its 12MP camera can take detailed shots with accurate colours, and it’s further helped by optical image stabilisation, to counter camera shake, and a quad-LED flash, to light up even the darkest of scenes.
Other camera highlights include the ability to shoot 2160p video at 30fps, and a 7MP front-facing camera, for high-quality selfies and FaceTime calls.
HTC has a history of innovating on its cameras, with mixed results, but the HTC 10’s camera is surprisingly conventional, yet still the company’s best.
There’s a 12MP camera on the back, with optical image stabilisation, a laser autofocus (for speedy focusing), and a dual-LED flash (for more natural colours when shooting in low light).
A number of other smartphones have a similar setup, but the HTC 10 stands out from the crowd with detailed, high quality images, and a Pro mode which includes support for RAW files.
The bulk of the innovation actually comes from the front-facing camera though, which is just 5MP but has optical image stabilisation – a feature which is almost unheard of on front-facing smartphone cameras.
Huawei isn’t a big name in camera phones, but with a few more handsets like the Huawei P9 it might soon be.
The phone sports a dual-lens snapper, and was among the first smartphones to do so. Different phones do this for different reasons, but in the Huawei P9’s case you get a dual 12MP camera, with one colour lens and one monochrome one.
This means you can use the monochrome lens on its own to take true black and white shots, rather than simply having to use a black and white filter like other smartphones. Or you can combine the two lenses to let more light in, for improved image quality on colour shots.
The result is a strong, near unique camera phone, with its Leica branding just highlighting how serious Huawei is about making a high-quality camera.
With phase detection autofocus, a dual-LED flash and an 8MP front-facing camera too the Huawei P9’s camera skills are seriously impressive.
The LG G5 is another phone with a dual-lens camera, but it does things a little differently to the Huawei P9, as it has a standard 16MP camera and a wide-angle 8MP one, allowing you to choose the best fit for the shot you want to take.
There’s also optical image stabilisation to keep your photos sharp and a laser autofocus, so you can focus fast, plus an accomplished 8MP camera on the front.
The actual quality of the LG G5’s photos aren’t quite a match for some of the other cameras in this list, but they’re not far off, and being able to use a wide-angle lens is a big bonus.
The iPhone 7 Plus is yet another handset with a dual-lens camera, but its approach is once again different, combining two 12MP lenses – one telephoto and one wide-angle. So far so LG G5, albeit with a different megapixel count, but in Apple’s implementation the two lenses can be combined to allow for 2x optical zoom, so you can zoom in on a subject without sacrificing image quality.
That’s almost unheard of on smartphones, so it’s a big advantage and it’s not the only good thing about the camera on the iPhone 7 Plus. Like the standard iPhone 7, this handset also has phase detection autofocus, a quad-LED flash to light up dark scenes, and optical image stabilisation.
There’s also a 7MP camera on the front and strong video skills, with the option to record in 2160p at 30fps, or in slow motion.
There’s no fancy dual-lens here, but the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is still arguably the best camera phone money can buy (along with the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which conveniently have exactly the same camera).
A 12MP sensor is the star here, with phase detection autofocus and optical image stabilisation, just like many of its rivals. So why does the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge’s camera stand out? Simply in the quality of its images, which are richly detailed, bright and punchy.
Like the screen that displays them the colours tend towards vibrancy, making shots taken on Samsung’s flagship really stand out from the crowd, but they don’t go so far in that direction as to look unnatural.
It also has a large sensor, which comes in particularly handy when taking low-light shots, as these come out brilliantly well by smartphone standards, and its video skills are up there with the iPhone 7 Plus.
There you have it, the best camera phones on the market. It’s no coincidence that they’re mostly recent flagships, as companies tend to reserve their best cameras for high-end phones and create better ones every year, but this selection are a cut above the rest.
From the massive megapixel count on the Sony Xperia X, helping it edge into the list, to the high-quality cameras on the iPhone 7 and HTC 10, to the dual-lens marvels of the Huawei P9, LG G5 and iPhone 7 Plus, and in first place the brilliant all-round camera on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
All of these are great phones, and not just for their cameras, as you’ll see if you check out our full reviews, but if you just want the best shooter available it’s Samsung’s flagship – or if you prefer iOS the iPhone 7 Plus is a close second.
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