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The best camera phones you can buy: Expert tested

We've tested dozens of phones over the past year and taken over 1,000 photos and videos. These are the best camera phones right now.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
Reviewed by Daniella Ramirez
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra | Best camera phone overall
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Camera
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Best camera phone overall
View now View at Amazon
iPhone 15 Pro Max | Best camera phone for video
iPhone 15 Pro Max
Best camera phone for video
View now View at Apple
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 | Best camera phone for creators
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 Camera
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5
Best camera phone for creators
View now View at Samsung
Google Pixel 7a | Best budget camera phone
Person holding the Pixel 7a.
Google Pixel 7a
Best budget camera phone
View now View at Amazon
Xiaomi 14 Ultra | Best camera phone for professionals
Xiaomi Mi 14 Ultra
Xiaomi 14 Ultra
Best camera phone for professionals
View now View at Aliexpress

Many would argue that we've hit a plateau regarding smartphone photography, with just about every major flagship device being reliable and capable enough to capture life's moments, no matter the lighting condition. But from all the phone testing I've done over the past year, I can confidently say that a select few are not like the others.

Also: The best phones of 2024

What is the best camera phone right now?

Of the dozens of phones I've tested in the past year, capturing photo and video on each, my pick for the best camera phone overall goes to Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, helmed by a 200-megapixel main lens that's capable of 100x zoom. There's also a built-in S Pen that doubles as a remote clicker and a host of generative AI features to assist during the capturing and post-production processes. Of course, the best camera phone overall may not be the best option for you. For the other, more specified options, see the list below.

The best camera phones of 2024

Pros & Cons
  • Best display available in any smartphone
  • Reliable quad-camera setup
  • Battery life remains among best in class
  • AI features deliver new value
  • Costs more than some premium laptops
  • No Qi2 magnetic charging
  • Can be unwieldy for some, especially with a case
More Details

Samsung's best smartphone this year (for now) is also the best camera phone that money can buy currently. The Galaxy S24 Ultra builds on last year's camera prowess with a similar 200MP main lens, 12MP ultrawide, and 10MP 3x telephoto, but a new 50MP 5x telephoto. That last sensor makes the most significant difference in far-distance capturing and producing naturally blurred bokeh in portrait mode. 

While the numbers game points to last year's 10x telephoto being superior, ZDNET's Jason Hiner tested the S24 Ultra in full earlier this year and found that "(The 5x telephoto) worked far better than expected, and the results were at least as good as the 10x zoom photos from previous Ultra models and in some cases, they were sharper and less noisy."

Review: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Thanks to larger sensors, the S24 Ultra delivers crisp, lively-colored, and high-contrast imagery that most users will appreciate. What cements the phone at the top spot are all the bonus features that enhance the content-capturing experience, including the built-in S Pen that doubles as a remote clicker, the Galaxy AI features to edit and refine pictures and videos, and even the new anti-glare coating on the display to help users frame shots better when outdoors.

As some Best Buy customers put it, the "best part of the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is the picture quality when using the new cameras," with "AI features that are game-changing."

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra specs: Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 | Display size: 6.8 inches | Storage options: Up to 1TB | Rear cameras: 200MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 50MP telephoto (5x), 10MP telephoto (3x) | Front camera: 12MP | Battery: 5,000mAh

Pros & Cons
  • Action button brings new customizability
  • Lighter, more comfortable form factor
  • Brighter screen for better outdoor use
  • 5X zoom camera for high-quality shots
  • Battery life could be longer
  • Apple-branded cases, especially the FineWoven, need to be better
More Details

The latest iPhone 15 Pro Max offers everything a premium flagship smartphone should, including a brilliant 6.7-inch AMOLED display for work and play. The latest model also looks and feels different than any prior Pro Max devices, as it's made of titanium instead of stainless steel and, therefore, significantly lighter in the hand. This makes the iPhone 15 Pro Max noticeably more comfortable to use, as ZDNET Editor-in-Chief Jason Hiner noted in his review.

Notably, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the best camera phone right now if you prioritize video recording. Perhaps it's Apple's Bionic chip working its processing magic or just how social media apps are better optimized for video files recorded on the iPhone. There's no arguing that the best iPhone right now also takes the video-recording crown. And if you want the most future-proof video feature currently available, Spatial Video recording, the iPhone 15 Pro series can get the job done.

Review: iPhone 15 Pro Max

The iPhone 15 Pro Max also features a new 5x zoom camera lens -- the equivalent of a 120mm focal length on a mirrorless or DSLR camera. The far-distance capturing and improved low-light performance have been so reliable that the iPhone 15 Pro Max has become my go-to for video recording during product launch events. Lastly, a new Action button replaces the mute-switch toggle of older iPhones and lets you better customize shortcuts and easily open the apps you need, including firing up the camera with a press-and-hold.

Another prominent feature of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the USB-C connector, particularly, one that supports faster charging and data transfers and can charge other devices, including the Apple Watch from your iPhone, directly transfer photos and videos into a portable SSD, and connect to an external 4K monitor. 

"Recent iPhones will give you very good results, and no learning curve you will just have to press a button, so if that's what you want there is no better solution than a smartphone," one Redditor says about the 15 Pro Max, and I agree wholeheartedly.

iPhone 15 Pro Max specs: Processor: A17 Pro | Display size: 6.7 inches | Storage options: Up to 1TB | Rear cameras: 48MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 12MP telephoto (2x), 12MP telephoto (5x) | Front camera: 12MP | Battery: 4,441mAh

Pros & Cons
  • High-quality materials, fit, and finish
  • IPX8 water resistance
  • Larger external display is game-changing
  • The most pocketable Galaxy phone yet
  • No telephoto camera
  • Battery is reasonably underwhelming compared to larger phones
More Details

While the Z Fold 5 is the best Samsung foldable, the Z Flip 5 will likely appeal to the masses. Not only is the clamshell-style handset less expensive than the Z Fold, but it's more compact and portable and is much easier to learn how to use.

The shape-shifting nature of the Z Flip 5 lends itself to one major advantage of traditional slab phones: self-standing photos and videos. Thanks to a hinge that's sturdier than ever, the Z Flip can be bent at an angle so that either the front-facing 10MP camera or the two on the rear are facing you, all while the phone is set down on a table, chair, or bed of grass.

Review: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5

I tested the flip phone for weeks and was impressed by how many refinements Samsung had made compared to the last-gen Z Flip 4. Thanks to the new 3.4-inch outer display, a gapless hinge design that one Reddit user says is "free of creaking," and improved durability, I noted in my full review that unless Samsung unveiled some form of XR headset by the end of last year (which it never did), the Z Flip 5 would unquestionably be the company's most ambitious product of 2023.

Folks who thrive in social media and content creation especially will love the Z Flip 5's ability to switch between shooting styles like camcorder mode and flex mode. The camera system on this may differ from Samsung's latest S24 Ultra and Plus models, but it's reliable enough for the ever-growing industry of digital content creators.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 specs: Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 | Main display: 6.7 inches | Cover display: 3.4 inches | Storage options: Up to 512GB | Cameras: 12MP main, 12MP ultrawide | Front camera: 10MP | Battery: 3,700mAh 

Pros & Cons
  • Smooth-looking 90Hz OLED display
  • First A-series with wireless charging
  • Reliable dual-camera system
  • Middling battery life with acceptable charging rates
  • Only one storage configuration
  • Display may not be bright enough for some
More Details

For a fraction of the cost of every other phone on this list, the Pixel 7a gives you a near-similar smartphone experience. I tested the mid-range Pixel for a month last year and kept asking myself whether a "Pro" phone was necessary; that's how competent this $499 handset is. (Another note: It's been almost a year since the Pixel 7a was released, so you can often find it for around $374 at major retailers.)

To be frank, the Pixel 6a from 2022 had already set the bar for the mid-range market, offering essential features like an OLED display, a reliable camera system that's backed by Google's computational expertise, and a software experience that includes all the fantastic Pixel features we've come to love, like Photo Unblur and Magic Eraser. As one Best Buy user said, "Google's own features are brilliant and very useful."

Review: Google Pixel 7a

With the Pixel 7a, Google took things up a notch by adding a smoother 90Hz refresh rate display, wireless charging support (though it's capped at 7.5W), and its tried-and-tested Tensor G2 chipset for improved machine learning and overall performance. The processor also enhances the Pixel's photo-taking capabilities, allowing it to better capture various subjects in various lighting conditions. 

That's all accented by an inclusive 13MP front-facing camera with a 95-degree field-of-view, which -- from ZDNET's testing -- proved to be the phone's most underrated feature. Just be cautious of the limited storage size; at just 128GB, it's best to have a Cloud service as a backup for storing all the photos and videos you plan on capturing with the Pixel.

Google Pixel 7a specs: Processor: Google Tensor G2 | Display size: 6.1 inches | Storage options: 128GB | Rear cameras: 64MP main, 12MP ultrawide | Front camera: 13 MP | Battery: 4,385mAh 

Pros & Cons
  • One of the best camera systems in the global market
  • Handy Photography Kit for easier capturing
  • Powerful internal specs
  • Large camera bump is not the most ergonomic design
  • Not widely available in the US
  • Fairly expensive with import costs
More Details

Beyond the iPhones, Pixels, and Galaxies in the US, Xiaomi's 14 Ultra proves that it's sometimes worth exploring the global market. With a one-inch sensor at the helm, flanked by 50MP ultrawide and telephone lenses, the latest flagship from Xiaomi captures some of the best-looking photos and videos I've seen on a modern-day smartphone. 

That said, if the device was more widely available in the US, it would take the best overall spot on this list. Until that becomes a thing, the Xiaomi is worth picking up only if you value professional features like manual camera modes for adjusting ISO, shutter speed, white balance, shooting video in LOG format and more. 

Also: Best gadgets I saw at MWC: Xiaomi 14 Ultra

The cherry on top is Xiaomi's optional Photography Kit, which comes with a fitted case, lens attachments, and a camera grip. The latter accessory provides the Xiaomi with a physical, half-step shutter button, a record button, a dial for zooming in and out, and an additional 1,500mAh of battery for those extended photo sessions.

For what it's worth, the Xiaomi 14 Ultra goes nearly spec-for-spec with last year's 13 Ultra, suggesting that its predecessor was just that good. The newer model wins out with an updated Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor, a front-facing camera capable of 4K recording, and more RAM.

Xiaomi 14 Ultra specs: Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 | Display size: 6.7 inches | Storage options: 512GB | Rear cameras: 50MP main, 50MP ultrawide, 50MP telephoto (3x), 50MP telephoto (5x) | Front camera: 32MP

What is the best camera phone?

Currently, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is the best camera phone available, with a bevy of useful hardware and software features like a built-in S Pen, Generative Edit, and a 200MP main lens. See how it compares with ZDNET's other top picks on this list below.





Cameras (rear)


Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra


Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3

6.8 inches, 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED

200MP wide, 50MP telephoto (5x), 10MP telephoto (3x), and 12MP ultrawide, 12MP front-facing camera


iPhone 15 Pro Max


A17 Pro

6.7 inches, 120Hz AMOLED

48MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 12MP telephoto (5x), 12MP telephoto (2x), 12MP front-facing camera


Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5


Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2

6.7 inches and 3.4 inches, 120Hz AMOLED

12MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP front-facing camera


Google Pixel 7a


Google Tensor G2

6.1 inches, 90Hz gOLED

64MP main, 12MP ultrawide


Xiaomi 14 Ultra


Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3

6.7 inches, 120Hz OLED

50MP main, 50MP ultrawide, 50MP telephoto (5x), 50MP telephoto (3x), 32MP front-facing camera


Insert spec chart of different camera models

Which is the right camera phone for you?

This best camera phone for you depends largely on your focus on photo or video (or both), budget, and color preference. For the best-at-everything device, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is the recommended choice. However, prioritizing video recording over photo capturing, or having a tighter budget, makes the phone less ideal than some other picks on the list. See the breakdown below.

Choose this camera phone…

If you want…

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

The overall best with nearly no compromises. Buy this phone if you want a device that delivers on all camera fronts, including photo, video, nightography, AI editing, and more.

iPhone 15 Pro Max

For video recording specifically, the flagship iPhone is still the best out there. It's also capable of capturing spatial videos for an immersive playback experience on compatible VR headsets.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5

A foldable phone that's pocketable, easy to use, and full of playful camera features. It's also accessibly priced, with frequent deals that bring it down to the $700-$800 range.

Google Pixel 7a

Arguably the best sub-$500 phone on the market right now, with a camera system that rivals flagships and a rather comfortable form factor compared to the industry norm.

Xiaomi 14 Ultra

A high-performance package that comes with all the capturing modes necessary for professional-looking imagery. You'll just have to go through a few loopholes when shopping for this international phone within the US.

Factors to consider when choosing a camera phone

We chose these smartphones by testing them for weeks and months, evaluating them based on thousands of captured photos and videos of people, landscapes, and objects in various lighting conditions.

ZDNET's mobile experts also liaise with industry colleagues and analysts who have hands-on experience with the handsets, sifting through the latest releases for the best of the best. Here's the breakdown of what factors we look for.

  • Camera quality: From group selfies to slow-motion videos, the best camera phones are reliable and flexible enough to capture any shot you want, no matter the place or time. How well the phone portrays different skin tones, processes details from a distance, and balances colors and lighting during the nighttime, are all things we consider when evaluating the top picks. 
  • Storage size and transfer speeds: Naturally, an ample amount of storage size is also considered during the selection process, with the hope that a phone is geared with enough local space to store plenty of photos and videos.
  • Battery life: For how reliant we've become on smartphones -- and how taxing the camera app can be on endurance -- the top picks on this list are not only able to last you from morning to night but support fast charging when it's time to top up. 
  • Price: What you won't find on this list is a device that's not worth the money, or is overcharging you for the features you're getting. You can shop all the phones listed above with confidence.

How we test phones

ZDNET's review team spends upwards of a year testing the ins and outs of every major phone release, evaluating the day-to-day performance, camera quality, battery life and endurance, and special features over time. Performance testing includes real-world usage scenarios like social media browsing, taking phone calls, playing games, and emailing, as well as capturing photos and video. Throughout the year, we pit the latest devices with their closest competitors, including the Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy, OnePlus, and iPhone.

What is the most reliable smartphone brand?

In the grand scheme, Apple is the most reliable smartphone brand, with the longest, most consistent aftersales support of all manufacturers. If we're looking at Android makers only, then Samsung would take the crown, with a promise of up to seven years of software updates for its latest phones, expansive carrier support across the US (and overseas), and one of the most reliable repair and insurance infrastructures.

Can a smartphone camera compete with a DSLR?

It's been said that the best camera is the one you already own, but can a smartphone truly replace a DSLR? That largely depends on what you value in a camera system, whether that's portability and ease of use, the quality of your shots, or even the amount of detail you'd like to pull from the environment. 

While smartphone photography has aged gracefully, especially over the past five years, it's still far-fetched to say it's leveled with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. The biggest gap is in natural blur/depth of field and color accuracy. With the increasing reliance on computational photography and backend processing, smartphone photos are often automatically tuned to appear more colorful, vibrant, and sharp than reality.

On the other hand, the portability and form factor of smartphones make capturing smaller subjects or from different angles much easier to do. Transfering and sharing photos and videos is also much more burdenless.

Other camera phones we tested

Outside of this list of excellent options, here are worthy alternatives that will surely delight you.

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