Which phone will have the best camera in 2023? As we approach the end of the year, the most significant camera smartphones, including the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the Google Pixel 8 Pro, are now available for purchase. We now have a comprehensive overview of the most powerful devices for your photos and videos in 2023.
Smartphones offer more than just good cameras. Below, you can read about our top camera phone picks. However, to learn more, you'll find links to detailed reviews of each phone. But first, let's explore what makes a camera phone great and understand some basic terms.
Buying guide: How to find the best camera phone?
Before we go into more detail about our selection of smartphones with the best cameras, we would first want to elaborate on a few basic smartphone camera features that you will come across time and again in our reviews.
What distinguishes a good camera from a bad one?
When it comes to detailed reproduction of a scene, the more pixels the better. This is because you can print larger photos or crop them later and still end up with a pretty good quality image. While almost all current smartphones offer excellent quality with the main camera, it is the zoom performance that separates the wheat from the chaff. For example, if having powerful zoom is important to you, you should choose a smartphone with two zoom lenses.
Every smartphone has different strengths and weaknesses, that's for sure. This is why you should consider where you normally snap photos. The Galaxy S23 Ultra, for example, begins to see visual quality deteriorate more starting from 3x, where it can only shoot at native focal length again at 10x. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra, on the other hand, distributes its lenses more evenly across the entire focal length range.
If you do not need plenty of zoom performance but prefer to take panorama shots, then it is best to look out for a powerful camera module behind the ultra-wide angle lens. Of course, a good sensor for the main camera goes a long way, too. Large sensors, in particular, are less susceptible to image noise in low-light conditions.
Finally, the manufacturer's algorithms always play an important role. Major players like Apple, Samsung and Google—are traditionally ahead of the minnows in this department.
Colors: White balance
What is "white balance"? Your brain constantly analyzes the ambient light and answers this question for you every second, always ensuring that you can recognize colors relatively correctly. In cameras, image recognition algorithms must continuously handle this "white balance". This is easy to do so in daylight, but the difficulty ramps up in artificial or even mixed light conditions.
In the subject shown above, cold evening light comes in through the window from the left, and warm artificial light shines on the office dog and the creamy white coat from the right. You can see for yourself here how the four different smartphones handle color temperatures differently. Apple and Samsung are clearly too cold in this picture, the Pixel 7 Pro is very neutral and the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is a bit too warm.
At the same time, you can see the challenge of achieving correct exposure in this picture: Just like the correct white balance, smartphones also have to accurately determine what is really bright and what is dark. Which image do you like best here? I look forward to hearing your opinions in the comments!
Colors: Skin tones
It doesn't matter if you're Caucasian, Asian, or African-American: everyone's skin tone is the same. What does change—in terms of colorimetry—however, is the amount of gray. This, in turn, means that we can determine what is a good color rendering and what is not, regardless of skin type.
So, what is "good" color reproduction? We can find an answer to this, for example, in the terrific Color Grading Handbook by Alexis Van Hurkman*: For Caucasians, Hurkman recommends a saturation of 40% and about 2° above the "skin tone" line. With this, the iPhone 14 Pro Max would be a tad too yellow-green here, and all smartphones except the Xiaomi 13 Ultra would be a bit too saturated.
Besides that, there are of course numerous other parameters to consider, but most of them can be adjusted. For example, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra flattens faces quite a bit with the default settings, but the effect can be changed in portrait mode.
How many cameras are good enough?
Obviously, the more cameras your smartphone has, the more flexible you can be when taking pictures. The main sensors, for example, usually have a focal length of 24 to 26 millimeters, which is equivalent to 35 mm. This corresponds to a relatively large angle of view and is well suited for landscape and city shots, for example.
For portraits or distant subjects, however, you need a telephoto zoom lens, usually between about 70 and 240 millimeters. The higher the resolution of the main camera, the more room you have for a digital zoom without having to rely on a real telephoto lens. It is unfortunate that the law of physics simply sets limits in this aspect. On the other hand, many smartphones offer an ultra-wide angle camera that is suitable for particularly wide subjects.
All other sensors for bokeh, macro, black-and-white, and others fall under the category of "data sheet padding" and have virtually no use.
What do focal length and optical zoom mean?
The focal length of a camera is always shown in millimeters. The higher the number, the more "powerful the zoom", which translates to more magnification you get. The main cameras of smartphones usually range from 24 to 26 millimeters in 35 mm equivalent. Ultra-wide-angle cameras with "0.5x" have half the focal length and would be at 12 to 13 millimeters accordingly. A 3x telephoto zoom camera would then be 72 to 78 millimeters in 35 mm equivalent.
The optical zoom of a camera system is the ratio between the smallest and largest focal length. A camera system with 12 to 120 millimeters, therefore, has a 10x zoom. In the case of smartphones, however, the manufacturers usually calculate from the main camera—from 24 to 120 millimeters would therefore be a 5x zoom according to this calculation method, and an ultra-wide angle camera with 12 millimeters is 0.5x.
As if that weren't weird enough, manufacturers replace the upper optical focal length with an arbitrary maximum value for a digital zoom to calculate the zoom factor—and then come up with a 50x, 100x, or 200x zoom that has long since lost any meaning.
Another important point for estimating the image quality is the size of the image sensors in smartphones. The larger the sensor, the more light it captures and, in turn, the better the image quality. The sensor size is usually specified in 1/1.2-inch format—the smaller the number under the fraction, the larger the sensor and the better the expected image quality.
Sensor size is also directly related to pixel size via resolution. Roughly speaking, the pixel size in microns is calculated by dividing the edge length of the sensor by the horizontal or vertical resolution. The larger the pixels, the more light they capture and the better the image quality.
The term "aperture" describes the focal length of the optical system in relation to the diameter of the entrance pupil of the lens. It sounds complicated, but you only need to remember one thing here: The smaller the number, the more light is allowed into the sensor, and the less image noise you will theoretically have at night. Therefore, F1.6 is better than F2.0. The f-number is often also written as aperture ratio, then in the format f/2.0.
Of all the technical key data of smartphone cameras, however, one great unknown quantity remains: image processing in the smartphone. The quality of the algorithms that convert the raw data from the sensor into JPEG or HEIC images is often more important than the technical data of the smartphone camera.
Therefore, it is always worth taking a look at our sample photo galleries, which NextPit provides in their original size for all current smartphone reviews, apart from the spec sheet.
The best camera smartphones in 2023
If you're looking for a top camera smartphone at the end of 2023, the Google Pixel 8 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra are the best Android choices. For Apple enthusiasts, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the premier option for camera quality.
There are also excellent camera phones available for under $1,000. In this price range, Google leads with the Pixel 8, along with the Pixel 7 and Pixel 6a. For the first time on our list of camera phones, we've included a foldable device: the OnePlus Open. It earns the title of the most capable foldable phone for photography ever released. Let's take a closer look at these devices one by one.
The best camera smartphone 2023: Google Pixel 8 Pro
The Pixel flagship's 50 MP main camera features an f/1.68 aperture and a 1/1.31-inch sensor. It's accompanied by a 48 MP ultra-wide-angle camera with a 125.5-degree field of view, which can also handle macro photography.
The camera system is rounded off with a 5x telephoto zoom camera at 48 MP. Image stabilization is both optical and electronic. At the front, there's a 10.5 MP selfie camera in the punch hole.
A standout feature of all these cameras is their access to the company's advanced AI capabilities. The software, with tools like the Magic Eraser, Best Take, and the new Magic Editor, enhances your photos significantly. With more software updates on the horizon, the Pixel 8 Pro's camera is set to get even better over time.
Speaking of longevity: with a seven-year update guarantee, you can enjoy this smartphone for a long time. Naturally, its other specs are just as impressive. It features the latest Tensor 3 SoC, a 6.7-inch OLED display, 12 GB of RAM, and up to 512 GB of storage.
The device is encased in an IP68-certified housing and is equipped with a 30 W rechargeable battery boasting a capacity of 5,050 mAh. It goes without saying that the display runs on the brand-new Android 14 in its purest form.
If you're interested in purchasing it, the recommended retail price is $999.
The best Android alternative: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
If you want the ultimate flagship, then there is no way around the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, which simply offers incredibly good performance in all aspects. Of course, this also applies to the excellent and enormously versatile camera with the bombastic 200 MP main sensor.
The 10x optical zoom is also really fun, although the large gap in the focal length range reduces its flexibility by quite a bit. There's also 8K video recording and plenty of exciting shooting modes.
The South Koreans also delivered great performance apart from the camera. From the powerful Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC to the fantastic QHD+ display with a 120 Hz refresh rate and a powerful battery life, the Galaxy S23 Ultra really is "ultra" in all aspects.
This also applies to the software: Samsung's update policy of four years of Android updates and five years of security patches is simply top-notch.
The best camera iPhone from Apple: iPhone 15 Pro Max
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is the spearhead of camera smartphones from Apple. It has a triple camera, consisting of a main camera with 48 MP (f/1.78 aperture), an ultra-wide-angle camera with 12 MP (f/2.2 aperture) and a telephoto lens with 12 MP (f/2.8 aperture).
The telephoto lens has a 5x optical zoom, whereas in the previous generation you had to make do with a 3x zoom. There is also still a 12 MP selfie camera at the front.
Remarkable: Both the front and rear camera sensors can film in 4K at 60 fps. In addition to the versatility of the camera system, the quality of the telephoto zoom and the portrait mode were praised in our reviews.
Best camera smartphone up to $1,000: Google Pixel 8
Of course, the basic model of the year 2023 should not be missing from the big Pixel festival. The Pixel 8 "only" has a dual camera like its predecessor, but it is impressive. The main camera offers exactly the same key data as its Pro brother, i.e. 50 MP, f/1.68 aperture and a pixel size of 1.2 μm.
The ultra-wide-angle camera with 12 MP and f/2.2 aperture, on the other hand, falls short, but of course without disappointing. At night, the fact that you can't keep up with the Pixel 8 Pro Cam with the ultra-wide angle is noticeable in a negative way, but apart from that, these images are almost as impressive as those of the main camera.
The 2x zoom is also impressive and, as is usually the case with Pixel phones, and Google also excels in the AI functions. The range of functions is identical to that of the large Pixel 8 Pro, but this also means that some of the previously announced functions are not yet ready for launch.
Here too, regardless of the cam, you get a powerful smartphone with a Tensor 3 chipset, 6.2-inch OLED display, 8 GB and up to 256 GB memory. Another big advantage over the competition here: Pure Android 14 and a tempting update promise of seven years!
Compared to the Pixel phones mentioned above, the Google Pixel 7 already has one more year under its belt. However, this also means that its price has fallen more sharply and it has therefore entered the $600 category.
As with the Pixel 8, Google combines a 50 MP main camera with a 12 MP ultra-wide-angle shooter. At 10.8 MP, the resolution at the front is even slightly higher than on the successor.
All cameras deliver 4K videos with 60 fps and the main camera impresses with brilliant images during the day and at night. Only the ultra-wide-angle photos at night are not as great as with the main camera.
The Tensor 2 powers this 6.3-inch device and, as with the Pixel 8, there is up to 256 GB of storage space and 8 GB of RAM. The battery, which has a capacity of 4,355 mAh, can be charged with up to 21 W.
Best camera smartphone up to $400: Google Pixel 6a
One thing that the camera in the Google Pixel 6a will not win is the prize for the smartphone with the most cameras under the $400 price bracket. The smartphone only has a dual camera configuration and does without the macro and bokeh sensors, which are both common and gimmicky in this price range.
In return, both cameras benefit from Google's sophisticated image processing algorithms and deliver really great photos—almost on the level of the major Pixels.
The Pixel 6a is user-friendly with its straightforward stock Android and reliable long-term updates. It delivers strong performance, thanks to the same Tensor SoC used in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Uniquely for its price, it's IP67 certified, making it dust and water-resistant. One thing to consider is its size: the Pixel 6a is quite compact.
Competition such as Xiaomi does better compared to the Pixel 6a would be the display. The display of the Pixel 6a has a maximum refresh rate of 60 Hz. You will also not find wireless charging in this handset, with wired charging happening only at 18 watts.
Foldable phones are really popular now. Gone are the days when they were just an exciting concept. Above all of them, we have the OnePlus Open—which is a great camera phone.
Photography fans will really like the camera made by Hasselblad. We've used it for a while and it's great. Its main part is the 48 MP Sony LYTIA-T808 camera. This camera has a big 1/1.43” CMOS sensor and a lens that lets in a lot of light (f/1.7 aperture), so pictures are very clear.
There's also a 64MP zoom camera that can zoom in 3 times without losing quality, 6 times using digital tricks, and up to 120 times with Ultra Res zoom, but this last one isn't as good. Plus, there's a 48MP wide-angle camera that can take wide pictures up to 114°, great for capturing big scenes.
The phone not only looks great but performs even better, and it's more affordable than its competitors. About its features—the OnePlus Open has a design similar to the Galaxy Z Fold 5 but with its own unique touch. It charges superfast, and its multitasking features, like the 'Recent fold' and OnePlus Canvas, really boost productivity.
In short, if you're in the market for a foldable phone this year that excels in photo and video performance, the OnePlus Open should be your top choice. It's budget-friendly, feature-rich, and simply enjoyable to use.
What do you think of our selection? What models did we miss out on that you think should be included? We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments.
This article was completely rewritten in November 2023. The previous comments have been retained.
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I have been writing about technology since 2004 with a strong passion for smartphones, photography, and IoT, especially in the world of smart homes and AI ever since they debuted. I'm also an avid cook and bake pizza at least three times a week using my Ooni Koda 16. In order to compensate for all the consumed calories, I indulge in sporting activities on a daily basis while strapping on at least two fitness trackers. I am strongly convinced that you can DIY a lot of things if you put your mind to it - including a photovoltaic system and power station.