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Best camera phone 2018: the top smartphone snappers around

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It’s tough to work out the best camera phone on the market – there are so many smartphones to try out, so many variables to consider, and a huge amount of personal taste to take into account – so how on earth will you be able to work out which has the best snapper on the back?

The good news for you is that TechRadar tests all the best camera phones 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? Or are you after a simpler point-and-shoot offering that’ll consistently take great snaps?

Want to know more about dual-cameras? Check out our 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 3 is the best camera phone you can buy right now.

Even better, you get the choice of two handsets for your best camera phone experience, with both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL boasting the same camera setup.

While most of the other handsets in our best camera phone round-up have at least two rear cameras, the Pixel devices come with just a single rear snapper.

These cameras are extremely powerful though, with an intuitive interface and AI smarts adapting fantastically to any scenario, be it beautiful vistas or low-light portraits.

What sets Google’s 12.2MP rear camera apart from the competition is its consistency. We got sharper, slightly brighter photos from the Pixel 3 and 3 XL versus the iPhone XS Max (overly warm color tones), Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (not always the best HDR) and Huawei P20 Pro (frequently over-sharpened).

Behind-the-scenes, Google’s dedicated Pixel Visual Core chip and machine-learning software are the magic that recognize what photos should look like and which shots you’ll actually want. 

If there’s one thing Google knows how to do, it’s processing data and perfecting algorithms. 

And let’s not forget, both phones also have dual front-facing cameras, giving you great portrait-mode selfies with beautifully blurred backgrounds.

Between the two, we’d opt for the Pixel 3 XL for the best camera phone experience. Its bigger, higher resolution display (vs the Pixel 3) works as a great viewfinder, while it also boasts a bigger battery which will keep you snapping for longer. 

Read our full reviews: Google Pixel 3 | Google Pixel 3 XL

Best camera phone

With three rear cameras the Huawei Mate 20 Pro offers a highly versatile camera phone experience.

The P20 Pro ushered in this era of great Huawei cameras, and the Mate 20 Pro inherits its 40MP wide-angle f/1.8 lens and 8MP, f/2.4 3x telephoto with OIS and then builds on it further.

Rounding out that trio of rear-facing cameras is the new star, an ultra-wide 16MP, f/2.2 lens. It expands the Mate 20 Pro’s feature set, letting you take a wider array of photos from limited positions. 

Even for casual shooting, it makes life easier when trying to fit a bunch of far-flung elements in the same photo.

The Mate 20 Pro’s overall low-light performance is superior to that of most other smartphones we tested, especially with its seconds-long-exposure Night Mode.  

The phone’s 3x telephoto does a great job of snagging distant shots, and the hybrid 5x zoom adds a digital blend to give you a bit more reach. It’s not perfect, but in our comparative testing, it outdid some digital-only zooms like on the Google Pixel 3.

There’s a host of other features in the camera app on the Mate 20 Pro too, allowing you to really fine tune and tinker with the photography experience.

Read our full review: Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Best camera phone

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 builds on the strong camera offering of the Galaxy S9 Plus, with a number of small enhancements making it even better.

The result is a handset which is comfortable shooting in any scenario, including in low light, for some truly impressive shots.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera identifies and adapts to various subjects with a new scene-optimizer feature. It adjusts the white balance and color based on 20 subjects as varied as sunsets, flowers, food, birds, text and so forth. 

Compared to even the six-month-old S9 Plus, the Note 9 camera captures more detail, but you’ll have to squint to see the differences.

As this is a Note device, you get Samsung’s S Pen stylus included with the handset, and you can use the button on this as a remote shutter key. 

It means you can set the Galaxy Note 9 down on a surface and walk away from it and still snap a shot using the S Pen. It’s a relatively minor perk, but one we enjoy using.

One slight mark against the Note 9 is its lack of HDR video recording, but for many this won’t be an issue.

Read our full review: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Best camera phone

Apple’s latest iPhone duo boast powerful dual rear cameras, but it’s not just the specs that appeal about the firm’s mobile photography experience – it’s also the ease of use of their smartphone snappers.

The iPhone camera app is well known for being a simple, clutter-free interface, focused on taking great snaps every time with minimal controls, modes and settings for the user to worry about.

It means that you don’t quite get the same breath of shooting options as you do on the likes of the Samsungs and Huaweis, but the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max boast Apple’s best smartphone snappers to date, with improvements to their low-light capabilities.

If you want a phone to pull out and take a quick snap with minimum effort, the new iPhones are some of the best camera phones around.

Apple has popularized the blurred background Bokeh effect, and Portrait Mode is one of the best implementations of the technology we’ve used on a smartphone, with a range of studio lighting effects adding extra pizzazz to your compositions.

Both the iPhone XS and XS Max have exactly the same dual 12MP rear cameras, with the only differences between the two being screen size, battery size and their physical size.

The 6.5-inch display on the iPhone XS Max gives you a huge viewfinder when it comes to snapping photos, but it comes with an equally huge price tag, with the still-expensive iPhone XS producing the same results in a smaller form factor.

Read our full reviews: iPhone XS | iPhone XS Max

Best camera phone

Earlier this year the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus was our best camera phone pick, fusing an excellent all-round smartphone experience with a highly accomplished photography offering.

As you can see, it’s now be usurped by a number of new camera phone releases, but  it’s still a fantastic offering which has now dropped in price since launch. 

Round the back you get two cameras, with the main 12MP sensor joined by a secondary 12MP sensor directly below it. 

The main sensor is rather special, as it has a world’s-first-on-a-phone f/1.5 aperture, meaning that it performs fantastically well in low light.

That’s not all this sensor has up its sleeve though, as it also features Samsung’s Dual Aperture Technology, allowing it to move from f/1.5 (for low light) to f/2.4 (reduces overexposure in bright scenes).

Meanwhile the second camera allows you to take bokeh-rich photos, with parts of the image blurred while other parts are in focus.

This is all wrapped up into an easy-to-use camera app with an automatic mode which takes care of most of the technological trickery, meaning all you have to do is point and shoot for a great snap.

Read our full review: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Best camera phone

The Huawei P20 Pro marked a significant shift for the Chinese firm, as it offers up one of best camera phone experiences on the market.

It may have been superseded by the newer Mate 20 Pro, but take nothing away from the P20 Pro, this is still a top camera phone.

Its party piece is the triple camera setup on its rear. The three cameras have a combined megapixel count of a staggering 68MP. Chuck the 24MP front facing camera into the mix as well and the phone has a total count of 92MP.

Megapixels only get you so far, but the good news here is that the Huawei P20 Pro backs up its MP count with a strong suit of camera features.

The main 40MP camera is backed up by a 20MP black and white sensor that helps with image processing, including decreasing noise and improving dynamic range – although as default the P20 Pro shoots at 10MP.

The third rear camera has a 3x ‘zoom’ lens and an 8MP sensor, letting you zoom into a scene without using digital zoom – which means there’s very little decrease in image quality when used.

Read our full review: Huawei P20 Pro

Best camera phone

You may be wondering how the Galaxy S9 is as far down as it is considering its bigger brother is above it. 

The reason is that, unlike the iPhone XS/XS Max and Google Pixel 3/3 XL which have identical cameras, Samsung gave the S9 Plus more photography prowess.

The Galaxy S9 is still a top camera phone though, with its powerful 12MP rear snapper (there’s just one on the back of this phone) an advancement on the excellent sensor found on its predecessor.

Samsung has improved the camera’s low-light capabilities on the Galaxy S9 with an industry leading f/1.5 aperture, and it’s added super slo-mo, 960fps video recording to the mix as well.

The camera is even smarter though as, like the S9 Plus, it boasts Samsung’s Dual-Aperture Technology, allowing it to automatically switch between f/1.5 in low-light settings, to f/2.4 in bright scenes.

The result? An easy to use camera, with an auto mode which, nine times out of ten, delivers a great photo with very little effort.

Read our full review: Samsung Galaxy S9

Best camera phone

The Sony Xperia XZ3 is the best camera phone from the Japanese firm to date, with its single 19MP rear snapper proving a powerful photography option.

The user interface has been streamlined for starters, so there’s less swiping to get to the various modes and frequently accessed settings are always shown on-screen, so there’s minimal fiddling around when prepping your shot.

In good light, detail is strong, and a nice amount of background blur can be achieved without calling on any bokeh modes.

Where the Xperia XZ3 camera excels though is video. The digital stabilization works well in good light in particular, and the 4K HDR footage you can capture is simply breath-taking.

Sony is also still the only manufacturer whose phone cameras are able to capture 960fps Full HD slow motion, with the competition capping out at 720p. It’s totally unusable in medium to low light, but it’s a nice feature to have when you’re outdoors on a sunny day.

Read our full review: Sony Xperia XZ3

Best camera phone

The LG G7 ThinQ isn’t the only camera phone on this list to pack more than one snapper on its rear, but it uses the two sensors it does have in a different way to everyone else.

Its primary rear camera is a relatively standard 16MP affair with a f/1.6 aperture that’s accomplished enough to take decent quality snaps, but it’s the second 16MP camera alongside it where things get a little more interesting.

Instead of gathering extra data to improve shots on the primary camera, or to provide bokeh-like effects, this 16MP snapper boasts a wide angle lens allowing you to cram more into every shot.

This is great when it comes to shooting landscapes or skyscrapers, and you can easily switch between the two sensors with a single tap on the screen.

Overall quality isn’t quite as impressive as the Samsungs, Pixels or Huaweis above, but for those looking for something a bit different, and some serious wide-angle action, the G7 ThinQ has you covered.

Read our full review: LG G7 ThinQ

Best camera phone

The OnePlus 6T may not be the very best camera phone here, but it’s cheaper than the rest of the competition and still offers up a flagship photography experience.

The camera features a wide-angle lens paired with a 16MP sensor, as well as a secondary 20MP lens and sensor combination. Both lenses feature a f/1.7 aperture.

While OnePlus has stuck with the same hardware on the T update as the OnePlus 6, the software has been improved, notably with the addition of a new Nightscape long exposure mode. It’s good, but not as good as the similar modes on the Mate 20 Pro or Pixel 3.  

Selfies are also nice and sharp, especially in good light, with the nicely exposed faces you want – and the selfie bokeh mode works well too.

Read our full review: OnePlus 6T