The Best Smartphones for Photography in 2024

iPhone 15 Pro Max

Almost everyone wields a camera these days because they already have one by default on their smartphones. But not just any phone will capture the best results, and that’s why some stand out for particular reasons.

Updated 12/8/2023 by Jaron Schneider and Chris Niccolls

Mobile photography is now one of the major battlegrounds for vendors trying to one-up each other. Thankfully, it’s not entirely about numbers, despite megapixel counts hitting new highs, it’s a lot about how effective software can be to do more with the available pixels. That can also depend on how you look at what the software gives you, especially relative to the varying modes phones now regularly offer.

We’re talking about an ever-evolving situation, where new phones may supplant old ones, while others trade places based on how new updates affected performance and output. Whether it’s pro mode features, software that does amazing things, or getting more for every dollar you spend, this roundup is a good place to start. We at PetaPixel will be updating it regularly to reflect a changing and shifting market to give you the insight you need to shoot what you want.

What We’re Looking For

There are plenty of smartphones with what you could consider to be “good” cameras, but the “great” ones are fewer in number, and it often shows. When we look at what would put a smartphone camera on this list, we always look for the best results, particularly when talking about a specific type of photo. That may not necessarily mean the phone is the best in every other facet, but if it’s noted here, there are reasons for it.

That’s why we also broke things down into categories that differentiate between the strengths of certain devices. One phone may be better at shooting portraits, whereas the other has a Pro mode cutting above the rest. Computational software is so integral, and yet, not everyone does it well.

At a Glance

The Best Smartphone Overall: iPhone 15 Pro Max

Main sensor: 48MP (24mm, 28mm, and 35mm equivalent)

Other rear cameras: 12MP 3x zoom telephoto on the Pro (77mm equivalent) and 5x zoom telephoto (48 mm and, for the Pro Max, 120mm equivalent), 12MP ultra wide-angle (macro and 13mm equivalent)

Front-facing camera:
Video recording resolution: 4K/60p
Price: Starting at $999 for the iPhone 15 Pro and $1,199 for the 15 Pro Max

While the iPhone makes its biggest strides in its video performance, the smartphone has gotten a lot better at photography and closed the gap in terms of performance. While it’s still not the absolute best at taking photos comapared to the field, it’s the combination of its capabilities there, in video, and in overall use and performance that make it our pick for best overall smartphone right now. It was awarded the 2023 PetaPixel Award for best smartphone for a reason.

“It’s easy to write off the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max as being marginal improvements over the iPhone 14 Pro that came before. Similar cameras, similar screens, and similar batteries are to be found. A few tweaks to the photo-taking experience and a new button don’t seem like huge additions, but they are thoughtful changes,” Chris Niccolls explains.

Read PetaPixel’s Review of the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max

“What I think we should focus on is the changes to the shooting experience brought about by the A17 processor. Everything about the Main camera image quality has been improved and any of the features you would use like Portrait mode or Night mode are also better, regardless of what camera you use. Everything feels faster, sharper, and cleaner.”

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra and the Google Pixel 8 Pro are both solid alternatives if you’re not a fan of Apple’s ecosystem, but bear in mind that the app options available to you are smaller and weaker and video quality and options are lacking compared to what Apple has produced.

The Smartphone That Takes the Best Photos: Google Pixel 8 Pro

Main sensor: 50MP main, 48MP ultrawide, 48MP telephoto
Front-facing camera: 12MP
Video recording resolution: 4K/60p
Price: Starting at $799

The Pixel 8 Pro leans heavily on its photo-taking capabilities to great effect. While the photos are larger than those taken by the iPhone, the pure image quality isn’t as big of a leap ahead as it used to be. However, it stands out thanks to its more effective telephoto and the built in manual controls.

The new cameras and brighter lenses make a difference and as a result, the 8 Pro is the most powerful photo and video camera Google has ever made. But it doesn’t stop there: the new AI tools and Magic Editor are also a useful addition to anyone’s repertoire, especially if they don’t have the time or the necessary Photoshop skills to go further.

Read PetaPixel’s Review of the Pixel 8 Pro

We do think the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max have better computational results straight out of camera and maybe if you consider third party apps as being a factor, the iPhone would score even higher. But if you care about what is provided to you from the company and want good, straight out of camera results as well as solid RAW performance, the Google Pixel 8 Pro takes the crown.

As for alternatives, while a new version is surely coming soon, href=””>the Galaxy S23 Ultra is very good. It’s one of the most versatile phone cameras available, anchored to a large degree by the Pro mode and RAW capture capabilities.

Best Pro Mode for Smartphone Photography: Xiaomi 13 Pro

Xiaomi 13 Pro Review

Main sensor: 50MP or 12.5MP (with pixel binning) 23mm equivalent

Other rear cameras: 50MP 3.2x zoom telephoto (75mm equivalent), 50MP ultra wide-angle (14mm equivalent)

Front-facing camera: 32MP
Video recording resolution: Up to 8K
Price: Starting at $1,200

While there were flashes indicating what a partnership between Xiaomi and Leica might yield, especially when a Type 1 sensor is inside, the Xiaomi 13 Pro also makes a strong case for what’s possible when a renowned camera brand makes a real impact. That could describe the phone’s camera in its entirety, but the Pro mode — and by extension, the 50MP mode — stands out because it gives you plenty to work with. Granted, you can’t shoot in RAW at the full 50-megapixels, but in a rarity for a lot of phones, you can shoot JPEGs at full resolution using all the manual controls Pro mode offers.

Read PetaPixel’s review of the Xiaomi 13 Pro

That’s on top of the ability to shoot with the standard Leica Authentic and Vibrant modes, plus the four Leica color and black and white filters. Old film emulations (not Leica’s) are also available, only adding to the creative potential to take thoughtful photos rather than typical snapshots. RAW images are great, particularly in low-light, but you may find the 50-megapixel JPEGs are equally flexible when editing them in post.

The best part is this applies to the other rear lenses as well, letting you shoot at 50-megapixels in both telephoto and ultra-wide with the same granular controls. You can also shoot in RAW using either of them at 12-megapixels, effectively making the 50MP mode part of a system rather than a one-and-done feature.

It’s worth wading through the settings within Pro to see what’s available beyond just selecting 50MP or RAW for the sheer depth of features and tools you can use.

Smartphone with the Best Bang for the Buck: Google Pixel 6a

Google Pixel 6a

Main sensor: 12.2MP (27mm equivalent)
Other rear cameras: 16MP ultra wide-angle (17mm equivalent)
Front-facing camera: 8MP
Video recording resolution: Up to 4K
Price: Starting at $449

It would be hard to find a phone that shoots as well as the Pixel 6a does for the price. Rather than strip it down to a barebones experience, this phone offers many of the same features the more expensive ones do. That means the computation works the same way to produce the same quality images. The Pixel 6a won’t match the Pixel 7 series for the simple fact it came out before they did, but to Google’s credit, it includes its more affordable phone whenever it updates its camera app.

Read PetaPixel’s review of the Google Pixel 6a

You lose out on a telephoto lens, so you’re limited to only an ultra-wide with a 114-degree field of view apart from the primary wide camera, albeit without optical or electronic image stabilization. Still, you get good modes to work with, and with RAW capture always available, there’s room to do more in post. For those on a budget, it’s going to be one of the best phone cameras less money can buy.

Best Smartphone for Versatility: Vivo X90 Pro

Vivo X90 Pro

Main sensor: 50MP (23mm equivalent)

Other rear cameras: 50MP 2x zoom telephoto (50mm equivalent), 12MP ultra wide-angle (16mm equivalent)

Front-facing camera: 32MP
Video recording resolution: Up to 8K
Price: Starting at $699

Vivo throws everything it can into its camera app, especially when “Pro” is in the phone’s name. In this case, the X90 Pro is not necessarily the brand’s best within the 90 series, but it is arguably the most versatile because of the sheer breadth of modes, features, settings, and customization involved here. Not to mention the interesting ways in which filters or editing tools enter the fray. Where else will you find an architectural mode or long exposure with so many variances?

Read PetaPixel’s review of the Vivo X90 Pro

The rear camera array includes a zoom lens Vivo prefers to call a “portrait” one because of its 50mm equivalent and the six Zeiss bokeh effects available to choose from. Vivo is one of the few brands that will let you take a photo in portrait mode and then decide where you want the focal point and f-stop to be afterward. You can even save multiple images based on what you want in focus, and even focus stack them in post later.

Zeiss’ presence is more obvious now based on the Natural Color setting applicable through several of the shooting modes. Shooting at full resolution, even if you can’t do it in RAW, at least offers better prospects when cropping in later, somewhat offsetting the shallow zoom afforded by the portrait lens. Plus, you should get good results editing full-res images, despite them coming out as JPEGs.

Best Smartphone for Video: iPhone 15 Pro / Pro Max

Main sensor: 48MP (24mm, 28mm, and 35mm equivalent)

Other rear cameras: 12MP 3x zoom telephoto on the Pro (77mm equivalent) and 5x zoom telephoto (48 mm and, for the Pro Max, 120mm equivalent), 12MP ultra wide-angle (macro and 13mm equivalent)

Front-facing camera:
Video recording resolution: 4K/60p
Price: Starting at $999 for the iPhone 15 Pro and $1,199 for the 15 Pro Max

As mentioned above, the iPhone is still among kings when it comes to video recording, but the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max feel like true upgrades. The Pro models still record HDR ProRes and Dolby Vision, but while the iPhone 14 Pro could only record 4K/30p, the 15 Pro offers 4K/60p. The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max models also add log encoding, giving users more options in post. Thanks to the inclusion of USB-C, workflows for editors just got a lot faster and video shooters can record ProRes footage directly to an attached SSD.

Read PetaPixel Review of the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max

Apple is really pushing the multiple focal lengths (macro, 13mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 48mm, and 120mm (for the Pro Max only). The company bills this as the phone having seven lenses, though there are only three rear cameras with multiple field of view options. It is possible to select either the 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm focal lengths as the default, though.

The 15 Pro and Pro Max also the first smartphones with ACES, a global standard for color workflows. For video, cinematic mode lets users focus on specific objects, while action mode has better stabilization. Spatial video capture will only be out “later this year,” but when it launches, it’ll be possible to make 3D videos for the Apple Vision Pro headset. Both versions also saw upgrades to Night Mode.

In short, it’s the best suite of options for video you can get in a smartphone.