What to Look For in an Android Camera Phone in 2021
If you’re looking for an Android smartphone with a great camera, there are a lot of factors to consider when making the purchase. Many companies try to distract customers with gimmicky features and specs that look good on paper, but they don’t tell the full story.
Take megapixels, for example. While they can increase the resolution of your photos, unless features like post-processing and color reproduction are good, you’ll wonder what went wrong with the unimpressive image or video you just captured.
Companies like Google have taken the software route with their cameras. The search giant’s smartphone line relies on advanced algorithms to produce flagship-quality photographs, and Pixel phones are well-known for their high-quality pictures.
On the other hand, the actual camera hardware is also important. You can have the best smartphone camera software on the market, but if the sensor isn’t capable enough, you’ll hit the ceiling in terms of versatility and quality sooner than you might expect.
Samsung’s a notable participant in the hardware field. Some of its most recent flagship phones have 108MP sensors and periscope telephoto lenses, adding a wide variety of shooting options to its camera app’s arsenal that competitors simply don’t have.
With so many different ways to implement a smartphone camera, it’s our job to break them all down and highlight the best ones. Below, we’ve listed a handful of phones that excel in their respective categories and offer the best balance of hardware and software.
- ✓ Three great cameras on the back
- ✓ Giant high-res display
- ✓ Excellent battery life
- ✓ Clean software
- ✗ 3 years of updates is shorter than Samsung
- ✗ Expensive
If you want the absolute best camera you can find on an Android phone, you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong with the Pixel 6 Pro. Pixel cameras have always been great, and this new model has three of them on the back.
However, the thing that continues to set Pixel cameras apart from the crowd is all of Google’s special software features. Features like Portrait Mode, Night Mode, Magic Eraser, Face Unblur, and Motion Photos are amazing. You’re getting so much more than just megapixels here.
Speaking of megapixels, there are a lot of those, too. The main camera is 50MP, it’s joined by a 12MP ultra-wide camera and a 48MP telephoto camera with 4x optical zoom. That means you’ve got a camera for group shots and when you can’t get close enough to something. There’s a camera for every situation!
Aside from just the cameras, the Pixel 6 Pro has a gorgeous 6.7-inch display with 1440 x 3120 resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. It’s rounded out with a 5,000mAh battery, Google’s own Tensor processor, and 12GB of storage. This is a powerhouse of a phone.
The Pixel 6 Pro costs $900 and it comes with three years of Android updates. That’s not as long as high-end Samsung phones, but you’re always going to get updates first. The software is the cleanest version of Android you can find.
Best Budget Android Camera Phone: Google Pixel 5a
- ✓ Same cameras as the Pixel 5
- ✓ Google’s camera software
- ✓ $450 is a great price
- ✗ 60Hz display
- ✗ Middle of the road battery
- ✗ Not fully water-resistant
What if you could get the same cameras as the Pixel 5 for as much as $350 less? That’s exactly what you can get with the Pixel 5a.
The Pixel 5a has the same main 12.2MP camera along with the same 16MP wide-angle camera as the Pixel 5. The 8MP front-facing camera is the same as well. Of course, you’re getting all the same camera software goodies too.
So what’s responsible for the cheaper price? A couple of things. The Pixel 5a’s 6.34-inch display has a refresh rate of 60Hz vs the Pixel 5’s 90Hz. The 5a has 6GB of RAM, whereas the 5 has 8GB. However, they both have the Snapdragon 765G processor.
All in all, it’s a pretty sweet deal if the Pixel 5 is a little pricey for you. You miss out on little things like wireless charging, but camera performance is going to be spot on. And it only costs you around $350.
- ✓ Extremely versatile cameras
- ✓ All the camera features you can think of
- ✓ Flagship specs
- ✗ Wide-angle camera isn’t as good as main camera
- ✗ Post-processing for photos can be over saturated
Maybe you’re the type of person who wants everything they can get in a smartphone camera. Maybe you want intense zoom capabilities, high megapixel counts, 8K video recording, and all the software tricks you could dream of. For these folks, we recommend the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
This phone has four (count ’em, four) different cameras on the back. There’s a primary 108MP sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide lens, and a set of twin 10MP telephoto lenses. The main shooter captures brilliant photos in virtually any lighting condition, while the ultra-wide can capture breathtaking landscapes.
But it’s the telephoto lenses that really stand out. Using a periscope-style construction, the S21 Ultra’s telephoto cameras are capable of up to 10x lossless zoom. Then, it utilizes Samsung’s Super Resolution Zoom to achieve up to 100x zoom, giving you an incredibly tight shot on whatever subject you’re trying to capture.
And, of course, the S21 Ultra has all the fixings in tow. You’ll find 8K video recording with improved stabilization, studio-quality selfies thanks to the 40MP selfie camera, portrait mode, AI scene detection, and more.
The two areas users will find most fault with are the ultra-wide camera and Samsung’s color choices. The ultra-wide lens’s resolution and light intake aren’t as great as the main camera, since you have fewer megapixels to work with and a smaller aperture. Meanwhile, the way Samsung styles its photos won’t please those who dislike extra saturation.
That being said, if you can live with these two quirks, you’ll be happy with the sheer versatility and prowess of the S21 Ultra camera system. Plus, you’ll get a great smartphone with a big 6.8-inch Dynamiced AMOLED display, a Snapdragon 888 processor, up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, a 5,000mah battery, and an in-display fingerprint reader.
Best Premium Android Camera Phone
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
With the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you get all the cameras, all the software, and all the features for a great picture. You do have to pay all the money too, though!
Best Android Camera Phone in Low Light: Google Pixel 6
- ✓ Night Sight is phenomenal
- ✓ Astrophotography mode is fun
- ✓ Has two of the cameras from the Pro model
- ✓ Only $600
- ✗ Lacks a telephoto camera
When it comes to picking a phone that performs best at night, we have to give it to the latest Pixel phone. We’ve already highlighted the Pixel 6 Pro, so we’ll show some love to the smaller Google Pixel 6. It’s all about that Night Sight magic.
Google’s Night Sight feature on the latest Pixel line is perhaps the most impressive setting to ever ship on a smartphone. Once you enable it and stand still for a moment, you can capture some truly breathtaking images at night of practically anything. The system relies on a long exposure and lots of post-processing magic to yank out shots you’d never expect to come from a smartphone.
The company also has a feature coupled with Night Sight called Astrophotography. This feature specifically looks for a starry sky to highlight the miniature lights above and create photos that leave you speechless. Other phones aren’t capable of this kind of photography, since they lack this software feature.
The Pixel 6 doesn’t have as many cameras as the bigger Pixel 6 Pro, but it still has the 50MP main camera and a 12MP ultra-wide camera—you only miss out on the telephoto lens. Plus, it’s a whopping $300 cheaper than the Pro at $600 MSRP, so it’s a fair trade-off.
At the end of the day, Google’s Night Sight and Astrophotography are why the Pixel 5 should be the phone you think of if you’ll be taking lots of photos at nighttime. It’s simply that good.
Best Android Camera in Low Light
Google Pixel 6
Pixel phones are the best when it comes to low-light and the Pixel 6 does it at an affordable price point.
Best Android Camera Phone for Selfies: Asus Zenfone 8 Flip
- ✓ 180-degree flip cameras for awesome selfies and video
- ✓ Flagship specs
- ✓ Large screen and battery
- ✗ No wireless charging
- ✗ Poor software support
- ✗ No CDMA (Verizon) support
This one’s an odd one for sure, but if you’re looking to take the very best-looking selfies, you have to check out the Asus Zenfone 8 Flip.
The reason this device is on our list is due to the hardware that gives it its name—the rear camera set physically flips 180 degrees so it faces you when you want to take a selfie. That means you can use the main 64MP sensor, the 112-degree 12MP ultra-wide lens, and the 8MP telephoto camera to capture some great selfies. You’ll also get much higher quality images since the sensors are intended for primary photography, not just the occasional selfie for Instagram or Snapchat.
Plus, your selfie video will be much better. Asus equipped the cameras with 8K video capture at 30 frames per second, plus advanced stabilization, so your vlogs will be extra sharp.
Asus also includes flagship-level specs in the Zenfone 8 Flip so you don’t have to sacrifice performance. There’s a Snapdragon 888, 8GB of RAM, 128 or 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, and a 5,000mAh battery. You also get a 6.67-inch Super AMOLED 90Hz display, stereo speakers, fast charging, and an in-display fingerprint reader.
Downsides to the Zenfone 8 Flip include a lack of wireless charging and CDMA carrier support, meaning those on Verizon won’t be able to use the device. Software support is also historically spotty from Asus, so you might be stuck on Android 11 for a while.
Beyond that, if all you want is the best Android device for taking selfies, you shouldn’t skip the Flip.
Best Android Camera Phone for Selfies
Asus Zenfone 8 Flip
Don’t you wish you could use your phone’s back cameras for selfies? The Asus Zenfone 8 Flip allows you to do just that, and you get great selfies as a result.
- ✓ Extensive video controls with Cinema Pro app
- ✓ Granular audio controls
- ✓ High-end specs w/ a 4K screen
- ✗ Auto-mode for video isn’t very impressive
- ✗ Not great for average videographers
Those who are serious about capturing video on their phones will love the Sony Xperia 1 III. It’s one of the most premium phones you can get with a list of impressive specs like a 4K OLED screen, Snapdragon 888, 12GB of RAM, and loud stereo speakers. However, it’s the camera department that really stands out thanks to the added capabilities of Sony’s software.
Included on the Xperia 1 III is a wave of professional controls that let you adjust virtually every aspect of the video you want to capture. From ISO to white balance to color grading, you’ll find all the controls a pro could ever want to create the memories and achieve the production level you want. You also get Sony’s Cinema Pro camera app for even deeper control over your video, along with advanced audio controls to nail the sound capture perfectly.
On top of all this, the Xperia 1 III comes with a standard 12MP f/1.7 lens, an ultra-wide 12MP f/2.2 lens, and a periscope-style 12MP f/2.3 telephoto. This hardware, combined with Sony’s innovative camera controls, means you can create some really stunning videos. You can capture everything in up to 4K at 120 frames per second, as well as in a cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio.
The biggest downside to the Xperia 1 III is its lack of consumer-friendly features. There are many controls and features here that will appeal to a more experienced market, not those who just want to point and shoot video. Don’t expect the auto-mode for videos to impress you or a simple snap of the shutter button to capture your next masterpiece without any editing.
Priced at $1,299, the Xperia 1 III is by no means cheap, but if you’re serious about capturing video with your phone, Sony’s latest offering is certainly worth consideration.
Best Android Video Phone
Sony Xperia 1 III
Sony’s flagship phone is has the hardware and software to make some truly breathtaking video. There’s a bit of a learning curve to it all, though!