The best camera phones to buy in 2021

·5-min read
 (Unsplash)
(Unsplash)

In a world of Instagram and TikTok, a phone’s camera has grown to become one of its biggest selling points – with manufacturers and marketeers working hard to one up their competition when it comes to the best quality photographs and videos.

We’ve looked at the best the market has to offer and ranked the best camera phones to buy in 2021.

 (Samsung S21 Ultra)
(Samsung S21 Ultra)

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra - 5/5 stars

No. of lenses: 5

Max resolution: 108MP

Max video resolution: 8K@24fps

Our Verdict

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 captures the best quality images and videos whether you’re an amateur or professional photographer thanks to its 108 Megapixel (MP) wide angle lens, which more than doubles the pixel count of the next nearest competitors’ best efforts.

There’s also its 10MP periscope telephoto and telephoto lenses, a 12MP ultrawide lens and super-sharp 40MP front-facing camera. What’s more, the S21 Ultra captures video in up to 8K resolution, which is higher than the average television can output.

The handset also features the market’s widest f-number range, going from f1.8 – 4.9, allowing for great portrait effects and manipulation of light. It’s an expensive phone, however, at £1,329.

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 (Huawei P40 Pro+)
(Huawei P40 Pro+)

Huawei P40 Pro+ - 4.5/5 stars

No. of lenses: 7

Max resolution: 50MP

Max video resolution: 4K@60fps

Our Verdict

Huawei’s P40 Pro+ features a 50MP main lens, a 40MP ultrawide lens, 32MP selfie camera and 8MP telephoto lenses that zoom up to 10x. Its Time Of Flight (TOF) technology stands in for LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) found on other flagship phones and allows for accurate environment mapping to produce more lifelike images.

Video goes up to 4K at 60 frames per second, which is the gold standard for resolution in terms of what modern displays can actually output. The P40 Pro+ sells for £999.99.

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 (Samsung Galaxy S21 5G/S21+ 5G)
(Samsung Galaxy S21 5G/S21+ 5G)

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G/S21+ 5G - 4/5 stars

No. of lenses: 4

Max resolution: 64MP

Max video resolution: 8K@24fps

Our Verdict

The Galaxy S21 5G and S21+ 5G offer camera set ups almost as good as their bigger, Ultra brother for a few hundred pounds less. For £819 (Galaxy S21 5G) or £999 (Galaxy S21+ 5G) you get a 64MP main lens, 12MP telephoto and wide lenses plus a 10MP selfie camera. Just like the Ultra, both handsets can capture video in 8K at 24fps.

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 (Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G)
(Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G)

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G - 4/5 stars

No. of lenses: 4

Max resolution: 108MP

Max video resolution: 8K@24fps

Our Verdict

It’s no surprise to see Samsung appear yet again in our list of phones with the best cameras, since the manufacturer has invested heavily in photography. The long-windedly-named Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G comes with a 108MP wide lens, 12MP telephoto and ultrawide lenses plus a 10MP front-facing camera. Top it off with 8K video capture and 50x zoom and you’ve got an attractive package for £999.

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 (iPhone 12 Pro Max)
(iPhone 12 Pro Max)

iPhone 12 Pro Max - 4/5 stars

No. of lenses: 6

Max resolution: 12MP

Max video resolution: 4K@60fps

Our Verdict

At 12MP, the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s lenses don’t look like they belong on our list – but pixel count isn’t everything because software can go a long way towards optimising image capture. The downside is that you’re limited to 5x zoom, but the handset’s LiDAR and Structured Light (SL) tech are what really bring the wow factor and rival pics taken with higher-spec lenses. Video capture goes up to 4K at 60fps. The iPhone 12 is available for £1,399.

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What to look for in a camera phone

  • The higher the megapixel count, the higher the resolution you take will be, which means the sharper your photographs will look. Images taken with higher megapixel count cameras will retain more detail when you zoom in on them in your photo gallery.

  • Video resolution is measured in height and width, but with pixels as the units of measurement. A HD video is one that measures 1920 x 1080 pixels. A 4K or ‘Ultra HD’ video measures 3840 x 2160 pixels, while an 8K video measures 7680 × 4320 pixels. The higher the numbers, the more detail you’ll see in a video.

  • The number of frames per second dictates how smoothly images move in a video. 24 frames per second (FPS) is the standard for the movie industry and gives a cinematic effect. 60fps is great for fast moving images like sport or animation. 60fps gives a more true-to-life replication of movement as our eyes see it.

  • Different types of lenses allow you to take different types of image. A wide angle lens gives you a wider field of view, allowing you to get more in frame without having to move further away from the subject – which is great for group portraits. A telephoto lens allows you to zoom in on a subject while preserving detail.

  • Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) technology compensates for a photographer’s shaky hands to reduce the amount of blur caused by shaking and produce sharper images.

  • LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging. The technology is all about mapping 3D space using lasers. The effect is better and more realistic depth to your photographs.

  • Time of Flight (TOF) is an alternative to LiDAR that calculates the distance between the camera and the subject to enhance the sense of depth in an image.

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