Today we’re taking a look at the best camera phones of the year. Unless you’re a professional photographer, you probably don’t need an overpriced digital camera in your bag of tricks. Smartphone photography has taken over. Whether you’re snapping stills of sunsets, using Snapchat, or taking videos, you need the best camera phone to make it happen. Our pick for this honor is the shiny new iPhone 13 Pro Max. It has 3x optical zoom and 15x digital zoom on the rear, plus a 12MP front camera. It takes spectacular photos day or night, and it’s overflowing in Apple sleekness. The iPhone 13 Pro Max isn’t the only camera phone we favor this year. These are the five that have risen to the top of the pack.
Best overall: iPhone 13 Pro Max
Source: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore
The brand-spankin’ new iPhone 13 Pro Max is Apple’s latest iteration and we think it’s incredible. While its smaller brother, the iPhone 13, is an outstanding device, we’re fans of increased telephoto reach and faster shutter in the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Packing a 12MP sensor on the back, the iPhone 13 Pro Max has three lenses: an ultra-wide, a telephoto, and a wide-angle. Theoretically, this means that no photo opportunity will be wasted. The included LiDAR scanner senses depth more accurately than earlier iPhones and gives you better low-light focus and improved night portraits. And, of course, you can record HDR video or 4K. For selfies, there’s a 12MP front camera.
The iPhone 13 Pro Max rocks computational photography better than the competition, especially in low light. And we love Photographic Styles, Apple’s new live filters, and Cinematic mode. The latter dynamically shifts focus, so your video output is top-notch.
The only downside is the size, weight, and price. It’s bulky, but if you’ve picked up the iPhone 12 Pro Max before, you already knew that. For your money, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the best iPhone on the market, though your pocketbook may not agree.
- Three cameras
- Excellent dynamic range
iPhone 13 Pro Max – Multiple colorways
Apple’s big (but not too big) winner
Apple outshoots the competition with 12MPs and three cameras that push out max dynamic range and sharpness.
Best value: Google Pixel 5a
Google’s Pixel 5a is a mid-tier phone with impressive specs and a lower-than-average price point. Google has refined its popular Pixel lineup and Android is finally moving forward in a logical direction, so this isn’t a phone you need to settle for when funds are tight. It holds its own well.
There’s a 12.2MP camera on the back and an 8MP front-facing camera. With the 5a, Google has added a 16MP ultra-wide lens for landscape shots. Compared to the Pixel 4a, colors are more natural-looking and portraits run a little warmer with the 5a, both of which are a good thing.
Google Night Sight is included with the 5a, allowing the new model to shoot incredibly detailed shots after dark. My only complaint is that this phone is difficult to acquire. Whether due to the chip shortage or Google not anticipating much desire, the 5a is only available at a few select retailers, and it tends to sell out quickly. If you’re in the market for an affordable phone with a class-leading camera, the Google Pixel 5a is the best camera phone for you.
- 16MP ultra-wide lens
- Optical image stability
- Excellent night photography
Google Pixel 5a – Multiple colorways
Big specs, small price
Google’s budget-friendly Pixel 5a is hard to find but has a capable camera that does well with photos and videos.
Best zoom: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
The new Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra gets the nod for having the most impressive zoom. The 100x Space Zoom gives remarkable power and clarity from long distances and it’s leading the market in this department. You can take pictures from 300 feet away and they’ll come out looking like you were standing a mere three feet from your subject matter. If you need a big, powerful zoom, this is the best camera phone for you.
You’ll also get Nightography software to help you capture breathtaking shots after dark and the video is brilliant as well without a flash and in low light. The primary back-facing camera has a 108MP camera and delivers 8K video. On paper, those are impressive specs. In practice, though, it’s more of a numbers game. Telephoto images are indeed brag-worthy. If you peek under the hood, though, you’ll find the previous-generation S21 Ultra had nearly the same camera specs. While we’re nitpicking, the S21 Ultra had a stronger battery life than its big brother. The S22 does gain faster charging, though, so that’s a bit of a wash.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is at the top of the list of best Android devices this year and it’s earned that honor. Design-wise, it has a squarish frame this time around, making it look more like the Note. It even comes with an S Pen. With its IP68 waterproof rating, a 100x zoom, and 5G, this is a future-proof phone with a high-powered sensor that will be a hit for photographers of any skill level.
- 100x zoom
- 8K video
- Good night performance
- Battery life isn’t as good as the S21
- Less RAM than S21
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Smartphone
Zoom in on anything
The battery life takes a hit from the last generation Galaxy, but the zoom, S Pen, and 8K video are incredible.
Best mid-range: iPhone 13
If you’re ready to jump up to 5G but don’t need all the extras in the iPhone Pro or iPhone Pro Max, we think the iPhone 13 will be an instant hit for you. It has the same A15 chip as the pricey iPhone 13 models, minus adaptive refresh and telephoto, but it rings up a few hundred cheaper. And bonus: you can get it in pink.
The iPhone 13 gives you 12MPs on the front-facing camera and dual 12MP cameras on the rear. The dual cameras on the back snap photos in wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle. There’s no telephoto lens on this model but you can zoom in at 5x. Dolby HDR video is capped at 30fps, about half that of the iPhone 13 Pro. The selfie cam can do Night mode and Deep Fusion, high-end features first introduced in the iPhone 11. The iPhone 13 shines and outperforms even the iPhone 12 Pro in low light and bright sun, so there’s no reason not to upgrade to the latest and greatest.
This model is compatible with MagSafe charging, so you don’t have to fiddle with charging cables if you prefer not to. There are tons of high-quality iPhone 13 cases that support MagSafe. Overall, the iPhone 13 is a capable phone suitable for those who take portraits, landscape photos, and selfies and want a high-end phone at mid-range pricing.
- Superb Night mode and Deep Fusion
- 5x zoom
- MagSafe compatible
iPhone 13 – Multiple colorways
Everything you need in a camera phone
It’s missing a telephoto, but it’s every bit a powerful iPhone with 12MP sensors and 5x zoom.
Best pocketability: iPhone 13 mini
If you’re among the growing number of smartphone users who don’t think bigger is always better, you’re going to love the iPhone 13 mini. It has near-identical features to the well-regarded iPhone 13 but in a smaller form factor.
The iPhone 13 mini has the same super-smooth wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses as the iPhone 13, TrueDepth, and video specs. Battery life isn’t as robust as the iPhone 13, but that’s expected with the smaller battery. You’ll still get more than enough hours of video playback and talk time from the iPhone 13 mini and it will last through an entire day. The A15 chip, zoom, sensor-shift, and Super Retina XDR display all mirror the full-size iPhone 13.
With a 5.4-inch display, the iPhone 13 mini is one of the best camera phones out there for those who don’t want to carry a phone as heavy as a brick around all day but still want a capable camera. If you’re a fan of iOS and prefer a pocketable phone, you want the iPhone 13 mini. And don’t forget to grab one of the best iPhone 13 mini cases while you’re at it.
- Small enough to tuck in a pocket
- Similar specs to the iPhone 13
- Super Retina XDR display
- Solid camera
- Shorter battery life than iPhone 13
iPhone 13 mini – Multiple colorways
Good things come in small packages
The iPhone 13 mini is an eye-catching pocketable camera phone that just works.
If you’re not really into the best digital cameras, choosing the right smartphone with a great camera is the next best thing. Choosing this camera phone can be challenging, particularly if you’re not tied to an operating system. Our top pick, the iPhone 13 Pro Max, is overflowing with top-level features like three cameras, LiDAR, and 5G.
Casual and professional photographers will appreciate the ultra-wide lens, wide-angle lens, and telephoto. In combination with a LiDAR scanner, the iPhone 13 Pro Max senses depth accurately, giving you faster focus and improved portraits. Dolby Vision and HDR are also top in their class. New introductions like Photographic Styles and Cinematic mode also make the latest iPhone one of our favorite releases.
This is an investment but the bump in features justifies the cost. However, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a giant phone that will weigh down your pocket (if you’re lucky enough that it fits in it). That’s our biggest complaint to date. We’d appreciate Apple shaving off some weight but if you’re looking at something called the “Pro Max,” you likely already considered the size. Whether you’re a casual photographer or a pro, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a fine-tuned smartphone and the best camera phone available today.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Jodi Owan works behind a keyboard and a camera. Find her on Instagram and her website.
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