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Comparing the 8 Best Smartphone Cameras in 2021

You don’t always have to use a DSLR or mirrorless camera to take exceptional photos. Today, smartphones are equipped with amazing high-resolution cameras. With one of the best smartphone cameras in 2021, you have a highly portable device that you can use to capture professional images and video wherever you go.

A smartphone also has the benefit of being much more than a camera – it is a useful tool for daily usage.

In this guide, we have picked 8 of the best smartphone cameras in 2021 for your consideration!

1. Apple iPhone 12 Pro

Best Apple camera

Has a fantastic triple front camera block with both wide-angle and telephoto capabilities.

A great variety of camera options
LiDAR scanner for low-light photography
Can shoot in full RAW mode
Doesn’t have amazing telephoto capabilities
  • Rear Camera – 12MP, 12MP, 12MP
  • Front Camera – 12MP
  • Storage – 128 – 512GB available

For Apple enthusiasts, the Apple iPhone 12 Pro is the best smartphone camera on the market. This smartphone currently offers one of the best camera setups for Apple phones. It has a triple camera unit on the rear. This includes a wide-angle f/1.6 camera, an ultra-wide-angle f/2.4 camera, and an f/2 telephoto lens. Aside from this, the front camera is also of excellent quality – although it only offers 12MP resolution, it is a TrueDepth camera for better image quality.

The iPhone 12 Pro also has several upgrades specifically for photography. For example, it has a LiDAR scanner which means the cameras excel in low-light situations. You can also shoot photos using the Apple ProRAW format. This is Apple’s proprietary RAW format and means you can process your images in much greater detail using RAW editing software.

New Apple iPhone 12 Pro (128GB, Graphite) [Locked] + Carrier Subscription
Apple iPhone 12 Pro

You can get this smartphone in a basic 128GB version or opt for larger storage at 256GB or 512GB. The quality of the smartphone itself is also fantastic and it looks great.

2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Best overall camera quality

Exceptional image quality from four rear cameras and two front cameras.

Excellent telephoto camera
High-quality 12MP ultra-wide-angle camera
Brilliant screen quality and resolution
Relatively expensive
  • Rear Camera – 108MP, 10MP, 10MP, 12MP
  • Front Camera – 40MP
  • Storage – 128 – 512GB available

The best Samsung smartphone camera currently available is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. This smartphone is a beast and features four rear cameras and a 40MP front camera. The rear cameras include a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle lens, an immense 108MP f/1.8 main lens, and two telephoto lenses.

For telephoto photography, this is a great choice as it offers one lens with 3x optical zoom, and another with a massive 10x optical zoom. This means you can easily take high-quality wildlife shots. We also like the style of this smartphone and its ease of use – it looks great and the camera app is easy to understand.

SAMSUNG Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Factory Unlocked Android Cell Phone 128GB US Version...
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

In terms of storage, the minimum is 128GB but there is a 512GB option available – perfect for serious smartphone photographers. For ultimate photo quality, the S21 Ultra is one of the best smartphone cameras in 2021.

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3. Google Pixel 5

Brilliant battery life

The Pixel 5 is easy to use, has a great battery life, and a powerful rear camera block.

Fantastic battery life
Fast wireless charging
A superb range of cameras
Limited telephoto options
  • Rear Camera – 12MP, 16MP
  • Front Camera – 8MP
  • Storage – 128GB

The Google Pixel phone has seen several iterations and it is known for its excellent performance and brilliant battery life. The Google Pixel 5 is no exception. This phone will last forever and features ultra-fast wireless charging.

Aside from that, it also has an upgraded camera stack. The rear block has two cameras – a 12.2MP f/1.7 wide-angle camera, and a 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle camera. Whilst this may not be as in-depth as some other cameras, the quality is still fantastic. It also has a decent 8MP front camera at f/2.

Google Pixel 5 - 5G Android Phone - Water Resistant - Unlocked Smartphone with Night...
Google Pixel 5

The only downside is the lack of a high-quality telephoto lens. As a result, this smartphone will primarily be useful for landscapes, street photography, portraits, and other wide-angle photography. As a smartphone, it also performs fantastically and has amazing software.

4. OnePlus 8 Pro

Uses an advanced Sony sensor

This smartphone has a high-quality 48MP wide-angle camera with a max aperture of f/1.78

High-quality screen
Uses the Sony IMX 689 sensor
Animal tracking for autofocus
Lacks a high-power telephoto camera
  • Rear Camera – 48MP, 48MP, 5MP
  • Front Camera – 16MP
  • Storage – 128 or 256GB available

If you want something different from an Apple or Samsung phone, why not consider the OnePlus 8 Pro? This smartphone has one of the best screen displays available and looks amazing. It also has a quality camera array with three rear cameras and one front camera. The front camera is 16MP but what we really like are the three rear cameras.

These include a 48MP f/1.8 main camera, an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto, and a brilliant 48MP f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle camera. The telephoto lens is limited, and this is not the best smartphone for zoom photography. However, for wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle shots, this smartphone really excels.

OnePlus 8 Pro 5G iN2020 256GB 12GB RAM (GSM Only, No CDMA) - Ultramarine Blue
OnePlus 8 Pro

We also like the tracking this smartphone offers. If you have pets or want to shoot wildlife photography, the camera has an intelligent tracking system for animals that will keep your photos sharp and in focus.

5. Sony Xperia 1 II

Best for videography

This smartphone can shoot video at a cinema aspect of 21:9 and has manual control.

Great range of video features
High-quality screen
Small and stylish
Limited telephoto capabilities
  • Rear Camera – 12MP, 12MP, 12MP
  • Front Camera – 8MP
  • Storage – 128GB

If you want a smartphone for videography, the Sony Xperia 1 II is the best choice. This smartphone may not be exceptional for pure photography, but it excels at recording video. First up, it can record at a 21:9 aspect ratio which is great for creating cinema-style footage.

Sony Xperia 1 II Unlocked Smartphone
Sony Xperia 1 II

It also offers full manual controls for those who want complete control over their footage and recording. Finally, it is capable of recording in 4K HD, and this is complemented by the fantastic screen quality. The smartphone itself is also powerful and you will find it enjoyable and easy to use.

6. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Fantastic telephoto capabilities

This powerful smartphone has a brilliant telephoto lens with a 50x digital zoom.

Powerful processor and OS
Has a great 50x digital zoom
High-quality 108MP main camera
Larger and heavier
  • Rear Camera – 108MP, 12MP, 12MP
  • Front Camera – 10MP
  • Storage – 128 – 512GB available

The Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone offers something different and is incredibly popular. This model of smartphone is larger and bulkier than other models, and it comes with a stylus pen too. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the latest version and it has a stack of features and processing power.

For photography, the smartphone has three rear cameras and a 10MP front camera. The rear cameras are a 108MP f/1.8, 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle, and a 12MP f/3 with both a 50x digital zoom and a 5x optical zoom. As a result, this is one of the best smartphone cameras in 2021 due to its versatility. Regardless of what type of photos you want to take – the Note 20 Ultra can handle it.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Factory Unlocked Android Cell Phone 128GB US Version...
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The only consideration is the size and cost. This smartphone is more expensive, and it is larger and heavier than most traditional smartphones.

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7. Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G

Capable of 8K video

An older smartphone that still packs a punch for photography and video recording.

Powerful 108MP main camera
100x zoom on the telephoto camera
8K video recording
Has been known to have battery issues
  • Rear Camera – 108MP, 12MP, 48MP
  • Front Camera – 40MP
  • Storage – 128 – 512GB available

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
is an older model, but it is still a fantastic smartphone for photography. It has a stacked photo block on the rear with three cameras. This includes a 108MP f/1.8 primary camera, an ultra-wide-angle 12MP camera at f/2.2, and a telephoto camera at 48MP f/3.5. The front camera is also of excellent quality at 40MP f/2.2.

These cameras are incredibly versatile and allow you to deal with many different photographic situations and compositions. The quality and sharpness of the RAW images are also superb. We also like that this smartphone is capable of recording in 8K – however, the questionable battery life could limit the usefulness of this feature.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G Factory Unlocked New Android Cell Phone US Version, 128GB...
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G

This smartphone is also 5G compatible, has fantastic hardware, and looks superb. You can also get up to 512GB of storage if you intend to take large amounts of photos.

8. Apple iPhone 12

A great budget Apple option

Features a 12MP wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle rear lens with a 5x digital zoom.

Has a ceramic shield screen
Up to 5x digital zoom
Front-facing camera has advanced shooting modes
Limited telephoto capabilities
  • Rear Camera – 12MP, 12MP
  • Front Camera – 12MP
  • Storage – 64 – 256GB available

If you don’t want to pay the price tag of the iPhone 12 Pro, you can opt for the Apple iPhone 12 instead. This is still a powerful smartphone and has one of the best smartphone cameras in 2021. The rear unit features two cameras – a 12MP f/2.4, and a 12MP f/1.6. We also love the front-facing camera which is 12MP and allows shooting in Apple’s night mode and deep fusion modes.

New Apple iPhone 12 (64GB, Blue) [Locked] + Carrier Subscription
Apple iPhone 12

You can also take advantage of Apple’s amazing photography and video features. For example, this phone can utilize the night mode time-lapse feature. The phone itself is also durable and has an upgraded screen with a ceramic shield for extra protection.

How to Pick the Perfect Smartphone Camera in 2021

As you can see, there is a great selection of smartphone cameras to choose from. But which one is right for you? Unlike a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you have to consider much more than just the camera. After all, we use smartphones throughout our daily lives. However, if we are looking purely at the camera, you should consider the following:

Front & Rear Camera Specs

Most importantly, what specs are the cameras? Most smartphones today have front and rear cameras. Also, the rear camera is usually a block containing several different lenses. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has two telephoto cameras, the main camera, and an ultra-wide-angle camera.

You should look at the resolution of the cameras for the RAW image quality. You also want to consider the apertures offered and the optical and digital zoom capabilities of the cameras. These features all dictate the basic image quality, and what type of photos the camera will excel at taking.

Storage

Consideration must also be given to storage. Most smartphones today have a range of storage options and we would expect the minimum to be 64GB. If you intend to take a large number of photos, you need decent storage – especially if the photos are in RAW format or saved as high-resolution images.

Some smartphones also allow you to add external memory cards to boost storage capacity. Think about how often you intend to use the camera, and what storage you feel is ideal. You can then look at what different storage capacities smartphones offer. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has three options ranging from 128GB to 512GB.

Operating System

The operating system of the smartphone is also important. This doesn’t have as much impact on the photography, but it will affect how you can use the phone and what you can do with it. The major operating systems are Android and iOS – most people have a preference as to which they prefer.

Consider what operating system you are comfortable with, and which you would prefer to use.

Additional Photography Features

You should also look at the camera app of the smartphone and what features it has. Smartphone photography has become incredibly advanced. You can now do much of what you can on a DSLR camera like creating HDR photos, panoramas, and 360-degree video, for example.

Some of the best smartphone cameras in 2021 have much more in-depth camera apps with more features. What you choose really depends on how you intend to use the camera and what type of photos and videos you envision creating.

Which Smartphone Is Right for You?

We hope you have found this guide on the best smartphone cameras in 2021 beneficial. Smartphone camera technology has improved vastly and you can easily get a smartphone with a DSLR-like quality camera.

For professional photos, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra are brilliant choices. Alternatively, if you want to specialize in videography, the Sony Xperia 1 II is a brilliant option. For those who have a smaller budget, the Apple iPhone 12 and the OnePlus 8 Pro are excellent budget options.

FAQs

Can you get lens attachments for smartphone cameras?

Yes, you can find a range of specialized lenses like macro and telephoto zoom lenses that clip over a smartphone camera.

Are smartphone cameras better than DSLR and mirrorless cameras?

In terms of pure resolution and image quality, smartphone cameras are now on par with (and in some instances better than) DSLR cameras. For other features, which is better depends on your circumstance and usage.

Can you use a smartphone just as a camera?

Yes. The camera application and camera function are not usually tied-in to the smartphone contract or SIM card. Therefore, if the contract expires on your smartphone, you should still be able to use it as a camera.

Author

  • Paul loves traveling and photography. He is also a Lightroom and Photoshop expert and likes to test new photo software, apps, and gear. Paul frequently shares his travel photography tips on his travel blog and writes for known photography publications.


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