Smartphone cameras are awesome. We’ve come a long way from the Nokia 7650 and its 0.3MP snapper which arguably kicked started the obsession of cramming cameras into handsets.

Now the top mobiles on the market rival – and even exceed – the capabilities of compact cameras while also performing a multitude of other tasks.

But which smartphone offers the best camera performance and image quality?

We’ve taken eight of the best phones to find out who’s top shot by shooting landscape, macro, indoor, low light and portrait images with each phone and analyzing all the photos with some highly trained, fine-toothed eyeballs.

Throw in a selfie camera test and a couple of high ISO challenges for good measure, and the best overall performer gets the glory.

If you’re in the market for a new smartphone snapper you’re in the right place – skip to page 14 if you want to find out the results of our in-depth best camera phone test.

It’s time to meet the contenders.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Key specs

  • 12MP 1/3-inch, 28mm, f/1.8 and 12MP 1/3.6-inch, 56mm, f/2.8
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Phase detection autofocus
  • Quad-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front camera: 7MP, 28mm, f/2.2
  • 5.5-inch IPS LCD display, 1080 x 1920, 401ppi

The iPhone 7 Plus is the first phone from Apple to boast dual cameras on the rear, with a couple of 12MP snappers located in the rounded bump on the body of the phone.

While both have the same megapixel rating, they are not identical with one having a wider field of view than the other.

This gives you the ability to ‘zoom’ by switching between the two cameras, and also allows the 7 Plus to sport a fancy portrait mode which can blur the background while keeping your subject in focus.

Google Pixel XL

Key specs

  • 12.3MP 1/2.3-inch, f/2.0
  • Electronic image stabilization
  • Phase detection and laser autofocus
  • Dual-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front camera: 8MP, f/2.4
  • 5.5-inch AMOLED display, 1440 x 2560, 534ppi

Google’s latest own-brand smartphone duo are of more premium ilk than previous years and the search giant has upped its camera game to bring the Pixel and Pixel XL in line with other top flagships on the market.

We’ve selected the Pixel XL of the two for our best camera phone test, as its larger 5.5-inch QHD display provides a larger, higher resolution viewfinder for your shots.

HTC 10

Key specs

  • 12MP 1/2.3-inch, 26mm, f/1.8
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Laser autofocus
  • Dual-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front camera: 5MP, 23mm, f/1.8, OIS
  • 5.2-inch LCD display, 1440 x 2560, 565ppi
  • microSD
  • Native raw capture

HTC has a strong pedigree in the smartphone camera market, and it has even dabbled in dual cameras in the past with the HTC One M8 , but its latest flagship camera phone sticks with a single snapper.

There’s a powerful manual mode baked into the camera app, and used the right way the HTC 10 is capable of some stunning shots – but is that enough to make it the best camera phone?

Huawei P9

Key specs

  • Dual 12MP, 27mm, f/2.2
  • Phase detection autofocus
  • Dual-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front camera: 8MP, f/2.4
  • 5.2-inch LCD display, 1080 x 1920, 423ppi
  • microSD
  • Native raw capture

It’s double trouble on the Huawei P9 with two 12MP cameras sitting flush to the rear of the Chinese firm’s handset – but like the 7 Plus they’re not identical.

One is a full color RGB lens, while the other is a black and white offering tasked with sucking in extra light and working in unison with the color snapper. Co-engineered with camera giant Leica the P9 offers compelling camera phone competition.

LG G5

Key specs

  • 16MP, 29mm, f/1.8 and 8MP, 12mm, f/2.4
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Laser autofocus
  • LED flash
  • Front camera: 8MP, f/2.0
  • 5.3-inch IPS LCD display, 1440 x 2560, 554ppi
  • microSD
  • Native raw capture

We’re not done with the dual-snappers, with the LG G5 the third camera phone contender offering up a duo on its rear – and it’s a third different implementation too.

Here you get a main 16MP snapper alongside a wide-angled 8MP camera and like the 7 Plus, you can jump between the two for a ‘zoom’ effect. LG’s always trying something a bit different, but can its quirky pairing snap a victory?

Motorola Moto Z

Key specs

  • 13MP, f/1.8
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Laser autofocus
  • Dual-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front camera: 5MP, f/2.2
  • 5.5-inch AMOLED display, 1440 x 2560, 535ppi
  • microSD

Motorola has had somewhat of a resurgence in 2016 under the stewardship of new(ish) owner Lenovo and the flagship Moto Z is solid offering and a real camera phone contender.

A 13MP camera adorns the rear of the phone in a sizable circular bump, while also claiming the title of ‘world’s thinnest phone’ – which means it’ll slide nicely into your jeans.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Key specs

  • 12MP 1/2.5-inch, 26mm, f/1.7
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Phase detection autofocus
  • LED flash
  • Front camera: 5MP, 22mm, f/1.7
  • 5.5-inch AMOLED display, 1440 x 2560, 534ppi
  • microSD
  • Native raw capture

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is currently our best phone in the world right now, and for good reason as it excels in pretty much every way – including the camera.

We’ve chosen the S7 Edge over the Galaxy S7 for its larger screen and more stylish design. We know it’s one of the best snappers on the market, but is it the best camera phone? Only one way to find out – read on!

Sony Xperia XZ

Key specs

  • 23MP 1/2.3-inch, 24mm, f/2.0
  • Electronic image stabilization
  • Phase detection and laser autofocus
  • LED flash
  • Front camera: 13MP, 22mm, f/2.0
  • 5.2-inch IPS LCD display, 1080 x 1920, 424ppi
  • microSD

Sony has an awesome background in photography, producing some of the best professional cameras around – and that technical know-how has filtered down to its smartphone range too.

The Xperia XZ is just the latest in what has been a long line of solid smartphone cameras, and the powerful 23MP snapper on the rear means this is a camera phone you’ll want to keep an eye on throughout the test.

A good smartphone should have a default camera app that combines plenty of functionality and features, with an intuitive design that’s easy to use.

Screen brightness, contrast and color reproduction also affect the accuracy of the app’s image preview as you compose a shot, and while all our phones can focus fast, some autofocus systems are slightly more rapid than others.

Camera phone trivia: all about aperture

A camera lens is a bit like a hosepipe, but instead of water flowing through it, it flows light. The amount of light that can pass through at any one time can be controlled by adjusting the aperture.

This a basically a hole that can be varied in size, so the larger the hole/aperture, the more light can flow through to the sensor. A large aperture is good as it means you can snap a bright image without using a long shutter speed which could in turn result in blur from camera shake if you don’t hold steady.

It also means the sensor doesn’t need to use a high ISO sensitivity, so image noise is minimized.

The only downsides to a large aperture is it can cause a reduction in image sharpness in the corners of a photo, and it’s hard to photograph a scene where you want both the subject and background to be in focus.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Apple’s native iPhone 7 Plus camera app is as clear and easy to use as you could want. There’s the usual iOS swipeable list of photo format options, easily accessible next to the shutter icon, and the list includes a Portrait mode that aims to replicate the shallow depth of field produced by a large aperture DSLR lens.

This can work quite well, but only when shooting a very isolated subject. Otherwise the effect can be more like a strange interpretation of a toy camera filter effect.

The default iOS camera app lacks any manual control or raw file capture, and while these features can be accessed through third-party apps, you may have to pay for the privilege. Apple’s camera app does give you some filter effects, and an HDR mode, but not much more.

Performance is hard to fault though, with lightning fast autofocus that never misses a beat. The app’s image preview is also top notch, just edging out the S7 for color and contrast accuracy.

Google Pixel XL

Google has taken inspiration from Apple’s camera app for the Pixel XL , and with similar results.

Apart from some nifty photo modes like Photo Sphere for shooting spherical panoramas, and a Lens Blur mode that rivals the iPhone’s Portrait mode, you’ve only got HDR, flash, white balance and exposure compensation to play with. But with so little cluttering the app, it’s a doddle to use.

Like Apple, Google has locked out raw image capture from its stock Android camera app, but you can get around this by using a suitable third-party alternative.

The native app’s image preview is reasonably accurate, but slightly oversaturated and doesn’t provide as realistic a view as the iPhone or S7’s apps.

Contrast is also a tad high, which makes for a punchy look, but at the expense of some slightly blown highlights and dark shadows. At least autofocus performance is near-perfect.

HTC 10

The HTC 10 ‘s image preview exhibits similar traits to some of its rivals, oversaturating red and orange tones, and underexposing some darker shadow areas. Autofocus performance is also good but not great, as in some low light scenarios there can be minor focus hunting.

Standard Photo mode in HTC’s camera app includes common options like flash and HDR settings on the main preview screen, but select Pro mode and a new menu of manual camera functions pops out.

These settings include white balance, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity settings and a manual focus feature, with each option getting its own easy to use slider. Pro mode also gives you the option of DNG raw capture.

Huawei P9

The joint Huawei/Leica-developed app on the Huawei P9 manages to fuse comprehensive manual control with good ease of use.

The interface is kept uncluttered by hiding the 14 shooting modes on a menu, accessed by swiping in from the left, while a swipe from the right reveals camera settings. Manual controls are easily revealed by swiping up from the shutter release icon, rather than hiding them in a separate pro mode.

Manual control covers metering options, sensitivity (ISO 50-3200), shutter speed, exposure compensation, autofocus options (continuous, single shot and manual focus), and white balance control that includes a custom scale covering 2800-7000k.

Autofocus isn’t quite as quick as the front runners, with minor lag when moving between near and far subjects, but it’s speedy enough. Huawei’s image preview is also slightly on the cool side, but colors aren’t oversaturated and dynamic range is good.

Annoyances? HDR is confined to a separate shooting mode, rather than being integrated into the default mode. The P9’s camera – like the iPhone’s – is also positioned in the far corner of the device, so you’ll need to be more careful where you place your fingers when shooting.

LG G5

Apart from some slightly oversaturated colors, the LG G5 ‘s image preview is impressively clear, with great dynamic range. This is the only phone here that shoots in a native 16:9 aspect ratio, filling the screen for a more immersive shooting experience.

Like the iPhone 7 Plus, the G5 packs dual cameras, but LG has gone for wide and wider in terms of focal length. The longer of the two lenses actually gives a typical wide-angle view, much like rival smartphones, whereas the ultra-wide lens provides an even larger field of view, albeit with plenty of barrel distortion.

Three main shooting modes are available: Simple, Auto, and Manual. Simple has no options at all. Auto reveals settings like aspect ratio, HDR, film color effects, image stabilization, and a voice activated shutter, while Manual mode gives you full-on control.

Options include manual focus, selectable ISO (50-3200), shutter speed, and there’s raw+JPEG capture. Manual really does mean manual though, so change the shutter speed and you’ll then need to tweak the ISO sensitivity to maintain an accurate exposure. It’s also annoying that you can only control the flash from within Manual mode.

Motorola Moto Z

The Motorola Moto Z ‘s autofocus system puts in a solid performance, with just a slight pause when switching between close and far subjects before the camera locks on.

The stock camera app’s image preview isn’t quite as accomplished, as it oversaturates red hues, but not as much as the HTC or Sony phones. The app also struggles in mixed lighting situations, causing natural light to look overly cool when shooting from an indoor space with fluorescent lighting.

But when it comes to functionality, Motorola’s camera app is top notch. There’s easy adjustment of the self-timer, flash and HDR functionality from the home screen in Auto mode, while extra settings can be revealed by swiping in from the left edge.

Switch to Pro mode and more options appear, including manual focus, white balance, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity (100-3200), and exposure compensation. These settings can also be floated out to overlay the image preview with sliders for easier fine tuning.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge covers almost all the right bases. Its image preview impresses with color and contrast accuracy almost on par with the iPhone 7 Plus, but its app boasts much more creative control.

Auto mode gives you access to common settings like HDR, the flash and self-timer. But switch to Pro mode and there’s raw+JPEG capture and manual focusing, plus control over white balance, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity (100-800).

Pro mode enables even more expert options on a separate menu, including autofocus options (center and multi-point), as well as different metering modes (center-weighted, matrix, and spot). You even get three custom modes where you can save frequently used configurations.

There’s just one drawback to the S7 Edge’s usability: those curved screen edges make the phone a nightmare to hold on to.

Sony Xperia XZ

The Sony Xperia XZ follows in the footsteps of the Z3 and Z5 by including a proper two-stage hardware shutter button for a traditional camera feel. Half press to focus, then push all the way to shoot. A slightly chunkier physical form also helps the Xperia XZ feel marginally more secure in the hand than most rivals.

Fire up Sony’s camera app and you’re greeted by a mostly accurate image preview, apart from noticeably overcooked reds and oranges. Autofocus is more impressive, though not quite as nippy as the best phones here.

As with Sony’s previous flagship phones, maximum shooting resolution is 23MP, but where the Z3 did its best to lower this to 8MP in many scenarios, the XZ is content to maintain max res in the default Superior Auto mode, so that’s the resolution we went with for testing.

One swipe enters the manual mode, revealing ISO adjustment (50-3200) and metering options (face-detection, multi area, center weighted, spot, and touch) in the settings menu.

Strangely, these options are separated from other controls for exposure compensation, white balance, shutter speed and manual focus, which are accessed by tapping the sliders icon located between the settings and shutter release icons.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

The combination of an accurate image preview and a fully-featured camera app with native raw capture earns the S7 Edge top marks here.

Runner up: Huawei P9

The Huawei P9’s image preview isn’t quite as realistic as the S7’s, but its app is beautifully designed and a pleasure to use.

Highly commended: Sony Xperia XZ

Includes a two-stage hardware shutter button that controls a comprehensive app packed with features. Preview color accuracy and autofocus performance could be improved though.

Highly commended:  Motorola Moto Z

It’s not got the most accurate app preview and there’s no raw capture, but the app’s design is great and makes manual control a breeze.

A contrasty landscape scene is a great test of dynamic range and a sensor’s ability to resolve very fine detail.

We kept each phone’s HDR feature enabled for maximum dynamic range and the best possible color rendition.

 

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