Picking the phone with the best camera used to be an easy exercise. In the early days of the smartphone, the iPhone's camera was leaps and bounds better than Android's offerings. Then big-name Android brands caught up, and for a couple of years in the mid-2010s, Samsung held the crown. Towards the latter part of the decade, I'd argue Google and Huawei each respectively dominated the software and hardware part of mobile photography. But starting around 2020 or so, other brands stepped up their digital imaging game by investing more resources; Apple paid more attention to computational photography, and Samsung took a page or two out of Huawei's book in terms of camera hardware.
Mobile cameras today have become so capable and diverse that it's impossible just to say one phone is the absolute best, as all the best smartphones have great cameras -- many with a unique trick or two. So, in my opinion, the best way to evaluate these cameras is to break them down into different shooting categories. We here at XDA have tested almost every smartphone that sees release, and here's our breakdown of the best cameras for each specific need.
Our favorite smartphone cameras
No one can zoom as far
Packing a 200MP main camera and not one but two zoom lenses along with an ultra-wide, the Galaxy S23 Ultra has the most versatile camera system on the market.
- 10x optical zoom lens helps with really long zoom at 30X or above
- 200MP main camera
- Great computational photography options
- Other than the main camera, the other rear lenses are using several years old hardware
- More megapixel isn't more important than sensor size
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is the most versatile camera system in the world right now, with a 200MP main camera, 12MP ultrawide that doubles as a macro lens, and two zoom lenses covering the 3X and 10X focal length. The 200MP main camera gives Samsung's computational photography plenty of pixels to play with. By default, Samsung's software will apply 16-in-1 pixel binning to produce a roughly 12MP image that packs 16 times the information of a normal 12MP shot, and this helps the image generate light in really dark scenes. The S23 Ultra can also shoot using the main camera's full resolution to produce a 200MP image that can be zoomed in more than most smartphone photos.
Samsung's one of the very few phone brands to offer two zoom lenses, and the logic is that the short 3X lens, which shoots at roughly 70mm equivalent, can be used for portraits, while the long 10X lens, built on Periscope camera technology, can be used for a long zoom. Truth be told, many phones can capture very sharp 10X photos in 2023; instead, where Samsung's camera really shines is if you do 30X zoom or beyond. Here, because Samsung has a stronger base to start off from, its 30X image is sharper than most phones.
But let's get back to that main camera. While it can grab some breathtaking, beautiful images, I'm not convinced the camera needed to be 200MP. Instead, having a larger physical sensor seems to be more important in digital imaging. And thus, I can't say the S23 Ultra's main camera is the best in the world. But when you add up all the lenses, it has the most versatile and complete system.
Xiaomi 13 Pro
Large sensor magic
The Xiaomi 13 Pro's 1-inch main camera is much larger than the Galaxy S23 Ultra's main camera, and it makes a difference if you pixel peep
- The 1-inch sensor is the largest in smartphones
- "Floating" telephoto lens that doubles as a macro lens works well
- More detailed images than S23 Ultra
- The ultrawide camera is below par
- Software processing isn't on Google's level
The hottest smartphone camera sensor right now is Sony's IMX989, a 1-inch type sensor with a physical sensor size that's equivalent to Sony's entry-level point-and-shoot cameras like the RX100. But Sony didn't develop this sensor on its own — Xiaomi contributed $15 million. This lens made its debut in some China-only devices in 2022, but now in 2023, the Xiaomi 13 Pro brings this sensor to an international audience, including those in the U.K. and Western Europe.
I have done in-depth testing that put this particular Xiaomi 13 Pro main camera against Samsung's 200MP camera in the S23 Ultra, and the larger sensor definitely matters. Xiaomi's images are consistently more detailed and less processed if you pixel peep, and in lower light scenarios, the S23 Ultra shot also has more noise. The larger sensor also produces more natural bokeh, so photos have more depth.
Xiaomi also partnered with Leica to develop the color science of the 13 Pro, and as a result, its daytime images have a more organic, atmospheric vibe than most other smartphone photos. Taste in photography can be subjective, but in this writer's opinion, the Xiaomi 13 Pro's main camera produces the best-looking daytime images in point-and-shoot situations.
No phone can make a night scene look more picturesque
Google's Pixel series has some of the best smartphone cameras, and that continues with the Pixel 7 Pro. It doesn't have powerful lenses, but Google's computational photography software is second to none.
- Google's software processing always finds proper exposure
- Google's color science is more liberal in creating a look
- Tensor G2 chip brings unmatched computational photography
- The phone resorts to Night Sight very easily
- Not the most natural colors
While I think Xiaomi 13 Pro's large sensor and Leica color science produce the best day shots, when the sun sets, the Pixel 7 Pro takes the crown. The secret to the Pixel 7 Pro's success is that it combines a relatively large image sensor (not as large as the 1-inch, but still larger than most phone cameras) along with plenty of software trickery, including liberal use of "Night Sight," which is a multi-stack digital photography trick that sees the phone snap a bunch of photos at different exposure just to then stitch together one image.
All that computational wizardry and machine learning help the Pixel 7 Pro produce vibrant night photos no matter how bright the actual scene was. Google also likes to add a cooler tint to photos, which makes night city shots look more dramatic. Colors aren't as natural as an iPhone or Xiaomi 13 Pro's images, but many other reviewers and I generally find Pixel's color grading decision to be very aesthetically pleasing.
The iPhone's stabilization is second to none
The iPhone 14 Pro (or Pro Max if you want to pay extra) takes excellent images, but if you take a lot of video, you'll love the phone's great stabilization.
- Excellent zoom fluidity
- The best stabilization in smartphones
- Takes great photos, too
- Could blow out highlights from time to time
- Natural depth-of-field lacking compared to top Android phones
Apple has always been the king of phone camera videography, and the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max keep the crown. Whether it's switching between the three lenses mid-recording or filming while walking and panning, the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max footage are the most fluid and smoothest of any phone on the market. Thanks to having the most powerful smartphone chip on the market and having superior hardware and software synergy between phone and software, the iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max video footage also has the smoothest transition between scenes with contrasting exposure.
Add in its Cinematic Mode, which adds artificial bokeh to videos, and Action Mode, which shoots with the ultrawide camera with a major crop for superior stabilization, and the iPhone 14 Pro is the best phone for videos of any kind. In fact, many YouTubers I know use the iPhone 14 Pro as a b-roll filming machine.
But it's not all perfect: the iPhone 14 Pro phones' camera sensors aren't as large as the top Android phone cameras, so videos look a bit flat, without the natural depth-of-field you get in Xiaomi 13 Pro's videos. But still, this is a minor nitpick, as stabilization and exposure adjustment are more important.
Google's computational photography prowess comes to a foldable
Google's first foldable continues the company's tradition of making impressive cameras, and the Pixel Fold's system is the best in any foldable. You get a triple-camera setup on the back, and a hole-punch selfie camera on the front.
- Consistent camera that takes great photos in most situations
- Night Sight brings excellent photos in low-light conditions
- Hole-punch camera offers better quality than competing under-display sensors
- Google's post-processing is a bit dim
- Minimalist camera app without a lot of customization
If you like the look of photos captured on Google Pixel devices, like the aforementioned Google Pixel 7 Pro, you'll be pleased with the camera system on the Google Pixel Fold. It doesn't feature the exact same camera system as Google's traditional flagship, but it comes with many of the same features and specs that make it great. You get four cameras on the Google Pixel Fold: a triple-camera system on the back and a hole-punch selfie camera on the front.
The cover screen offers a 9.5MP f/2.2 dual PD in a hole-punch cutout located at the center of the top of the screen. Unlike some other foldable phones, this isn't an under-display camera so that quality will be better. The triple camera setup features a 48MP f/1.7 PD main camera with OIS and CLAF, a 10.8MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera, and a 10.8MP f/3.05 telephoto camera with 5x optical zoom and 20x Super Res Zoom support. Plus, since it's a foldable phone, you can also use the cover screen to take selfies with the triple-camera setup.
Our reviewer tested the Google Pixel Fold against the Galaxy Z Fold 4, and in most situations, Google's foldable took better photos. The Pixel Fold was often on par with the Pixel 7 Pro, but the Galaxy Z Fold 4 frequently lagged behind, as you can see in the photo samples below. Now, there's a new flagship foldable from Samsung, the Galaxy Z Fold 5. However, the camera hardware found in the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is identical to the prior Z Fold 4, so results should be similar between the two models. Overall, our reviewer found that although the Galaxy Z Fold 5 has better hardware than the Pixel Fold, Google's post-processing and optimization produce better shots in most situations.
From left: Google Pixel Fold, Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4.
A near-flagship camera at a midrange price
Google gave the Pixel 7a a series of spec bumps over its predecessor, but none might loom larger than the camera upgrades. It's almost on par with the Pixel 7, and that says a lot about its quality.
- Great software processing leads to better quality photos
- 64MP main sensor is best in a midrange phone
- Night Sight provides great low-light photos
- Camera sensor is still smaller than most flagships
- Software can only do so much to compensate for worse hardware
Google's A-series smartphones have been better than their price would suggest for quite some time. However, the lineup's cameras did lag behind the company's other flagships in past years. That changes with the Google Pixel 7a, which offers camera quality that nears flagship-level at a mid-range price tag. Retailing at just $500 — and experiencing routine deals — buyers on a budget won't find a better camera than the ones found on the Pixel 7a.
It features a 64MP, f/1.9 sensor that is a huge upgrade over last year's Pixel 6a, which only had a 12MP sensor. The Google Pixel 7a does have a 1/1.7-inch image sensor size that is still less than the standard Pixel 7, though. Regardless, the Pixel 7a's Tensor G2 system-on-a-chip does a lot to help the phone's cameras punch above its weight. Thanks to this computational photography found on the Pixel 7a, many photos taken by the phone can keep up with the Pixel 7.
The Pixel 7a's main camera is still the overall best at its price range because it has a responsive shutter, is fast to focus, and can find proper balance in challenging lighting conditions. Below are more main camera samples I've snapped over a week of using the Pixel 7a. This camera will satisfy most people.
Best smartphone cameras 2023: the final say
Even though I like the Pixel 7 Pro and Xiaomi 13 Pro's main cameras better, the Galaxy S23 Ultra has the most versatile and well-balanced camera system around. Between the sweeping ultra-wide camera all the way to 10X optical zoom, you can shoot at an equivalent optical range of 13mm and 230mm.
The S23 Ultra's video performance, while not as good as the iPhone, is very strong, too — the best in Android. When you add all this up, along with the ability to shoot in full 200MP resolution, we have the best overall and most versatile camera phone.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the best phones on the market, packing an all-new 200MP sensor, a refined design, a custom Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset, and One UI 5.1.