It's tough to work out the best camera phone on the market – there are so many smartphones to try out, so how on earth will you be able to work out which has the best snapper on the back?
[Update: we're now in 2018, which means our best camera phones listed below will be looking nervously over their shoulders at the new launches set for this year. We're not far away from the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus launch at the end of February, and Sony, LG, HTC and Huawei will all likely follow soon after. ]
The good news for you is that TechRadar tests them all thoroughly, putting them through their photography paces in all manner of lighting conditions and scenarios to help you work out which phone will give the right pictures for you.
Before choosing, it's worth thinking about what you want from a camera phone. Do you want something that's great at taking outdoor snaps and aren't bothered if it's good in low light? Is a great quick pic with friends more important than a really powerful sensor that takes amazing shots when you put the effort in?
Want to see side-by-side comparisons of flagship camera phones? Watch our comparison video below.
It's also worth thinking about battery size and screen quality – if you're going to be heading out all day and doing longer photography sessions, you'll need a battery that can keep up.
And if you're mostly going to look at your photos on the phone, then a phone with OLED screen technology can really make your snaps pop – but if it's social media, or even printing out your photos, that's your plan then you've got a wider array of options.
We've listed all that information below, along with some of our top test snaps so you can make the right decision when it comes to choosing your next camera phone.
The Google Pixel 2 duo have decent sensors on the back, but amazing software processing – and both cameras are identical.
That means you can take an average picture, and instantly watch it improve before your eyes as the phone stitches together multiple images. Despite only packing a single lens, the Pixel 2 pair can both take stunning portrait shots, bringing some real definition to the mix.
The camera software isn't always the best, with a tiny bit of lag in taking the picture (and waiting for the software to kick in) but the optical image stabilisation is a real boon.
The larger screen and longer battery life on the Pixel 2 XL will attract those looking for a more premium smartphone, but it is rather more expensive as a result.
But if you want the best pictures from a phone – we'd point you in the direction of the aptly-named pixel.
Pixel 2 / 2 XL photo samples
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 camera is one of the very best we've tested for a number of reasons: firstly, because the dual sensors are impressive and powerful.
The blurred background, the telephoto lens, the speed of snapping – these are all the things we're looking for on a top-end smartphone.
The longer battery life and the improved screen mean you'll be able to keep taking photos over a longer time, and enjoy them with more vivid colors too.
The thing that we love about Samsung phones is that nearly every snap you take comes out looking clear and crisp, even in low light, which is what you want from an expensive phone… and the Note 8 certainly is.
Samsung has put so many modes on here, but also made the automatic settings incredibly easy to use… it's touch and go between this phone and the Pixel 2 for best camera phone, so either will certainly satisfy you.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 photo samples
- Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review
The Samsung Galaxy S8 pair are the two best phones on the market at the moment, helped ably by their excellent cameras.
They might only be single sensors, which means portrait mode isn't easily achieved (and the reason they're not top of this list) but if you don't care about that, then we'd recommend these phones.
The S8 is well-designed and fits more nicely in the hand for more comfortable photography, but the larger S8 Plus is longer-lasting and packs a more expansive screen.
The sheer range of camera settings is to be applauded here – as is an easy selfie mode – but overall, it's the fact that a quick automatic snap always looks so good in our opinion.
These are great, great camera phones – definitely check them out.
Samsung Galaxy S8 photo samples
The iPhone X has the best camera ever seen on a device from Apple – and that’s on both the front and back.
The rear double sensor is capable of taking some stunning pictures in low light or bright scenes, capturing a lot of detail and erring on the side of natural colors.
Combined with the OLED screen, that brings a lot of vivacity to images, with the results still looking great on social media. The combination of two 12MP sensors, one being telephoto and both packing optical image stabilisation, is a nice move, and you’ll find the speed of snapping desirable.
The front-facing TrueDepth camera is also very capable, bringing clear selfies and also allowing you to take blurred background snaps without using a second sensor. It’s not the best camera on the market, but the iPhone X is easily the best Apple’s ever created and is very close to the top.
iPhone X photo samples
- Read our iPhone X review
The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is another step forward for a brand looking to really focus (sorry) on its photography performance.
The interesting thing is the Mate 10 Pro has the weakest performance in ‘standard’ light of all the cameras on this list – it’s a phone for the more professional user, as the name suggests.
Getting close, or using the phone in low light, will result in some great shots – and that’s a lot to do with the fact Huawei is combining monochrome and color sensors into its handset for the best mix of low-light and rich images – and the results bear out.
The Aperture Mode also allows you to fit far more into the frame, so while Mate 10 Pro isn’t the best snapper overall in a smartphone, it does reward those looking to put effort into their photos – and it’s a sensor bolted onto a really rather decent camera too, with simply sensational two-day battery life.
Huawei Mate 10 Pro photo samples
- Read our Huawei Mate 10 Pro review
The LG V30 is a camera that takes the best of LG’s sensors and puts them to good use – it’s at its best when things get dimmer. Not in true low light, but if there’s a little bit of illumination the V30 really comes into its own, taking sharp and swift snaps when you need them.
The 16MP sensor is the main affair here, and when you just want to take a quick snap it works well. On top of that, the second sensor is a wider-angle affair, so you can get in more of the image you’re trying to snap.
We also really like how LG has worked to explain the more complex settings to you, allowing you to learn how to use the professional mode and get more out of your smartphone photography.
The selfie camera isn’t quite up to the same standard – a shame when last year’s V20 was so competent – but overall, this is a great snapper attached to a top phone.
LG V30 photo samples
- Read our LG V30 review
The iPhone 8 Plus is only behind the iPhone X because it’s got a slight higher aperture on the second sensor, meaning low-light photography isn’t quite as good.
Apart from that, the main camera images are almost identical to those shot from the more expensive phone, and you’ll be pleased with the results time and again. Portrait mode continues to improve and can bring some stunning results, and while the front-facing camera isn’t TrueDepth-enabled (so you can’t do blurred-background selfies) it’s still very good.
On top of that, the iPhone 8 Plus has another big advantage over the competition: you can record 4K in crisp 60 frames per second, or super slow motion video at 240 frames per second.
If you can’t quite afford the iPhone X but want a great camera from an Apple phone, this is the place to look.
iPhone 8 Plus photo samples
- Read our full iPhone 8 Plus review
The thing we like about the camera on the P10 Plus is that it’s so fully-featured, and easy to use in all the modes.
For instance, the camera task bar in the app is easy to use and makes it a cinch to open up the wider-aperture mode and bring some sparkle to your snaps.
The camera app itself is fast to use, easy to interact with and overall just results in some good images. It’s not the best around – as referenced by how low down on the list this phone is – but the sensors working together bring the ability to refocus an image after it’s taken.
Yes, that’s a feature that a number of phones here offer, but it’s – again – easy to do on the Huawei P10 Plus.
On top of that, low light performance is pretty impressive – better than on the standard P10, which doesn’t make the cut here – so that’s why we’re plumping for the P10 PIus on our ranking.
Huawei P10 Plus photo samples
- Read our full Huawei P10 Plus review
The only phone on our list from 2016, the iPhone 7 Plus gets into the mix by adding in some of the fanciest Apple photography skills into a more affordable package.
Don’t get us wrong – this phone still isn’t cheap. But at the same time, it’s got two sensors that allow you take portrait-mode snaps that come out cleanly and crisply most of the time.
The day-to-day snapping is very impressive too, even after a year – yes, it’s not quite got the visual clout of the 8 Plus, or the iPhone X, but it’s better than the single sensor on the iPhone 8, and for that reason alone we’ve got it on the list.
The selfie camera could be a touch better, especially compared to some of the rivals, but the ‘screen flash’ capability helps mitigate that by offering sharp self-images on low light.
iPhone 7 plus photo samples
- Read our full iPhone 7 Plus review
People can easily forget that HTC is one of the best brands for photography on a smartphone, leading the way for so many years.
The HTC U11 is another strong smartphone photography performer, with clear snaps, the ability to shoot in RAW and some of the nicest night-time shots we’ve ever captured with a smartphone.
However, the way to get those is to take them in RAW mode and then enhance afterwards – it takes a while but the results can be awesome.
The thing that irks the most about this camera is that there’s a touch of shutter lag in the mix, which gets tiresome every time you want a quick picture.
But we can forgive that thanks to the selfie capabilities – the sheer capability of HTC’s proprietary UltraPixel technology to get a great front-facing picture in low light is magnificent.
HTC U11 photo samples
- Read our full HTC U11 review