From Apple, Google, Samsung and more, we collected the best photo-taking camera phone recommendations so you can choose the best for you.
Updated Nov. 20, 2023 2:30 a.m. PT
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
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Andrew LanxonEditor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
The best phones in 2023 all feature amazing cameras that can take photos to wow your Instagram followers or family members. These include high-performance phones from Apple, Google, Samsung and others. Different companies offer unique features, a spectrum of camera lenses and varied megapixel counts. We thoroughly tested and compared dozens of phones and found that a phone that has more lenses or megapixels doesn't necessarily mean it's any better at actually taking great-looking shots. Top phones like the iPhone 15 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro use larger image sensors and software additions for AI-powered computational photography. Then there's the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra's camera, which can take some of the best zoom photos it's possible to get from a phone.
It's important to keep in mind, though, that there isn't a "perfect" phone camera for everyone. Even among CNET's phone reviewers, there isn't a phone camera that suits all our needs. We look at how these cameras perform in real-life situations: how they balance exposures, how they handle colors and how easy they are to use. Read our guide to help find the best phone camera for your needs.
What is the best camera phone?
The $999 iPhone 15 Pro and $1,199 iPhone 15 Pro Max have the same regular and wide cameras and offer the best complete package for photos and videos on any phone you can buy today. While the 15 Pro's 3x optical zoom lens is good, the Pro Max goes further with a 5x zoom that lets you find more interesting shots in a scene. Both phones pack advanced features like ProRaw images, ProRes video capture and recording in Log color space, which makes them powerful tools for professional filmmakers.
Is the iPhone 15 Pro leaps and bounds ahead of what Google and Samsung are doing? No. But in terms of consistency, reliability and approachability, the iPhone 15 Pro is our pick for people who want a top-notch camera system that's easy to use.
What about the Pixel 8 Pro?
The Google Pixel 8 Pro is now available, with updates to the camera, along with various software features that make full use of the next-generation Google processor. We ran into issues with the cameras during our testing and are holding off on our final review as we work with Google to get to the bottom of things. A little patience now may pay off nicely later on.
While features like the new titanium body and A17 Pro processor make both the Pro and Pro Max exciting phones, it's the larger model that keen photographers should look toward. It shares the same 48-megapixel main camera as the standard Pro, but its telephoto lens gets a significant bump to 5x over the base Pro's 3x. It might not seem like much of a step up, but that extra zoom will help you find more interesting compositions in scenes out of reach of smaller zooms.
I love using the 5x zoom on the Pixel 7 Pro -- it feels like you're carrying a fully equipped camera setup with you, alongside the other lenses. With the 15 Pro's ability to shoot in ProRaw, along with advanced video capabilities including Apple ProRes and Log codecs, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is one of the most sophisticated camera phones you can buy right now.
With that in mind, if you're not that bothered about long zooms, then the iPhone 15 Pro has essentially the same features and comes in a smaller package that's easier to hold.
Lighter and more comfortable to hold
15 Pro Max's 5x optical zoom adds versatility
A17 Pro for console video games
Being able to change the focus in Portrait photos is welcome
Google's Pixel 7 Pro has impressed us in a number of ways from its slick new design to its extremely user-friendly software. But it's the camera that's really stood out, with the Pixel 7 Pro delivering superb shots in a variety of conditions. Its main sensor captures shots with superb dynamic range and vibrant colors while its 5x optical zoom gives extra reach than the iPhone 14 Pro is able to manage.
And while its night mode shots aren't as good as the iPhone's, it's a great camera overall that'll suit both photography amateurs -- and those looking to take more artistic images -- well and at a cost that undercuts its rivals.
The Galaxy S23 is a lot, but in a good way. Samsung made improvements to the camera's resolution (200 megapixels compared to 108 megapixels), color tones and dynamic range, while retaining the impressive 10x optical zoom as its predecessor. There's also a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor that's been optimized specifically for Samsung's phones, which brings faster performance compared to the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Starting at $1,200, it may be an understatement to call this phone expensive. Those willing to pay more for a giant screen and a high-quality, versatile camera, however, won't be disappointed. Read our full review of the Galaxy S23 Ultra.
Excellent main camera, especially in low light
Double the storage in the base model
Four years of Android OS updates
Photos don't always look natural, especially selfies
The base iPhone 15 lacks some of the advanced features of the Pro model, including the telephoto zoom lenses and capturing images in ProRaw or videos in ProRes formats. Its main camera has been given a significant bump to 48 megapixels, and refinements across the board mean it's an extremely capable camera for more everyday shooting.
While dedicated photographers will likely want to look toward the Pro line, those of you wanting to simply take beautiful, well-exposed shots of your kids at the beach or your friends gathering for some beers will love the ease with which you can capture those moments with a tap of the screen. And its $200 savings over the base Pro model will be a little easier on your bank balance, as well.
USB-C port for more convenient charging
Colorful matte design
Improved camera that can automatically take people and pet portraits
Dynamic Island brings better multitasking
No always-on display
Find My Friends feature only works with other iPhone 15 phones
Google's budget phone took a leap forward in 2023 with the Pixel 7A, which offers many of the same benefits as the Pixel 7 but at a cheaper price. Like the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7A runs on Google's Tensor G2 processor, meaning it has many of the same photo editing and language translation features as its pricier sibling. The Pixel 7A's 64-megapixel camera takes excellent photos that rival the Pixel 7's in quality.
While it lacks the telephoto zoom lens found on the Pixel 7 Pro, its much lower price means this is likely a good tradeoff, especially if you prefer sweeping wide vistas rather than closeup portraits.
While we still like the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7A's lower price makes it a better deal for most people. Only opt for the Pixel 7 if you really want a slightly larger screen and are willing to pay the extra $100 for it. Otherwise, the main differences between the Pixel 7 and 7A come down to the former's more durable build, slightly faster charging and ability to wirelessly charge compatible accessories. The Pixel 7 also has a larger camera sensor that's more sensitive to light, according to Google, but CNET's Lisa Eadicicco didn't notice much of a difference.
Many of the same features as the Pixel 7 at a cheaper price
Gains wireless charging, face unlock and high refresh rate
Screen still looks dim outdoors
Higher price compared with Pixel 6A at launch
Only three generations of Android OS updates compared with Samsung's four
While the iPhone 15 Pro Max may have one of the best camera setups it's possible to find on any phone, it also has a sky-high price tag that makes it out of reach for most of us. Thankfully although, Apple has kept some of its older models on sale, directly from its online store, including the $599 iPhone 13.
The Pro versions of the iPhone 13 or iPhone 14 aren't available anymore, but the iPhone 13 has an excellent dual camera setup that takes vibrant, pin-sharp images in both standard and ultra-wide views. If you're after a phone that's great at taking quick snaps of your family and friends in the holidays then it's a great, more affordable option to consider.
Solid battery life
Cinematic mode is fun
Affordable price compared to other iPhones
Notch is noticeable
Cinematic mode is more of a novelty than a pro feature
Selfie camera could be better
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Other phones we tested
The $1,400 Sony Xperia 1 V retains all the best features of previous Xperia 1 phones, like a 4K high refresh rate display, expandable storage, cutting-edge cameras with eye-tracking autofocus, a 5,000-mAh battery, a dedicated hardware shutter button and a headphone jack, all wrapped in Sony's lovely, mundane utilitarian design. The phone brims with numerous quality-of-life improvements for its target audience of creative types like photographers, filmmakers, musicians and gamers who want nuanced control over the content they make. But its $1,400 price tag keeps this phone squarely aimed beyond most consumers.
How we test phones
We test every phone in real-world scenarios, focusing on its features, design, performance, cameras, battery life and overall value. We document our findings in an initial review that is periodically updated when there are new software updates, or to compare it against new phones from competitors such as Apple, Samsung, Google and OnePlus.
Photography is a major focus for most phones these days, so we take pictures and videos of various subjects in a variety of settings and lighting scenarios. We try out any new camera modes, such as Action mode that debuted with the iPhone 14 line, or the Unblur photo tool that launched with the Google Pixel 7 series.
Battery testing is conducted in a variety of ways. We assess how long a phone lasts during a typical day of use and note how it performs during more focused sessions of video calls, media streaming and gaming. We also conduct a video playback test, as a simple, replicable measure of pure battery life, which isn't always included in the initial review but sometimes added later in an update.
We use benchmarking apps to measure each phone's performance, alongside our own anecdotal experiences using the phone for our review. Most notable are how the graphics and animations look. Are they smooth? Or do they lag or stutter? We also look at how quickly the phone switches between horizontal and vertical orientations, and how fast the camera app opens and is ready to take a photo.
We perform processor-heavy tasks like editing photos, exporting videos and playing games. We evaluate whether a newer version of a particular phone includes enough features to make it worth upgrading from older models.
Try it before you buy it: It's one thing to ogle over the camera features of a phone, but it's another to actually try them out in a store.
Protect your new phone with a case: Make your phone and its camera's last longer with a case.
Don't overlook affordable phones: The $499 Pixel 7A and $599 iPhone 13 can do almost everything that a new premium phone can do for a fraction of the price. Save some money and still take great snaps.
Wait for sales: Many of the best phone camera systems are found on more expensive models. Look for sales and discounts around major holidays, especially Amazon's Prime Day and Black Friday.
Check if you're already invested: Have you already bought a lot of iPhone camera accessories like a case or tripod? Stick with an iPhone if you still want access to them. And make sure your new iPhone will still work with your setup.
Phone camera FAQs
Which phone camera is the best at night?
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, Apple iPhone 15 Pro and Google Pixel 7 Pro all have dedicated night modes that take multiple images and combine them in a single photo that's brighter and has less image noise. All three are good, and it's nearly impossible to say one is better than another.
Are iPhone or Samsung cameras better?
Samsung Galaxy phones and Apple iPhones have some of the best cameras found on any phone. Either smartphone is a capable photographic tool, but neither is such a clear leader that it's worth moving from Android to iOS or vice versa. If you want the biggest telephoto zoom camera found on a phone, grab a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. If you want an excellent all-around shooter that produces natural-looking images and videos, along with pro features like ProRes and Log video capture, get an iPhone 15 Pro or 15 Pro Max.
What's the difference between real cameras and phone cameras?
The biggest difference between a dedicated camera and a phone camera is the size. A dedicated camera has a larger sensor and bigger lenses that take in more light. The results are photos that have more detail, a wider dynamic range and more versatility in medium and low light. A phone camera is tiny. The sensor is smaller than a fingernail and the lens is about the size of a single Lego brick. To overcome the limitations of a small sensor and lens, a phone uses computational photography (AI and machine learning) to combine parts of multiple images into a single photo that's brighter and has more detail than a phone camera alone.