Woman takes photo of sunset with her phone

Take perfect photos every time with our guide to phone cameras

Published 9th December 2022
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From holiday snaps to selfies, we love taking photos with our phones. But if you're buying a new (or used, or refurbished!) phone, how do you know you're getting photographic bang for your buck?

In the early years of phone cameras, image quality was extremely basic: Low-resolution VGA (Video-Graphics Array) image sensors could only take basic grainy images and were all but useless in the dark.

But in the smartphone era, that's changed. Many cameras come with a cluster of image sensors that work together to provide amazing shots regardless of what they're taking, while new AI systems allow the camera app to reduce blur, focus automatically and much more.

When it comes to finding the right camera phone, most people are overwhelmed by all the features available. With so many different models and brands on the market, it’s hard to know what to look for in a camera phone. This article aims to provide an overview of the key features and specs to consider when deciding which camera phone is the best option for you.

Megapixels

The easiest specification to understand is megapixels (MP) - this tells you how much visual information the digital camera in your phone captures with every shot. The higher the number the more pixels will be present and the sharper your image will look. Premium phones have 48MP or more in their main sensor, although most amateur photographers will be happy with 12MP-15MP images.

Autofocus

One of the reasons phone cameras are so popular is how quickly you can snap a pic with them, and that requires a quality digital autofocus - otherwise your subject will be all blurry. The better the autofocus, the faster you can take a photo and the less likely you'll miss a magical moment!

Without getting too technical, the best autofocus systems are dual-pixel, so look for this feature if you like to take photos of your favourite sports teams or bands performing on stage. The next best option is phase-detect, which is more common in mid-tier phones.

Different lenses

It used to be that you'd only have one lens on the back of your phone, but modern phones include two, three or even four lenses! But why? Well, it's all for taking photos in different situations. Look out for:

  • Telephoto lens: Lets you take clear photos of far away objects
  • Macro lens: Necessary for short range photos of small objects
  • Ultrawide lens: Lets you fit more stuff in the shot - perfect for landscape and nature shots

The demand for better lenses has seen lots of third party companies develop their own clip-on lens accessories that add even more flexibility. Explore our mobile phone lens attachment category to see them.

Top camera phone tech

Much of your photo's quality is down to physical things like the camera lenses, but the inner workings of your phone are just as important. These are some of the biggest software features to look out for:

High dynamic range (HDR)

Dynamic range describes how much detail a digital photo has in its darkest and lightest parts. Phone cameras with HDR tech use processing to boost the number of colours and the contrast in your photos, making them more detailed.

Low light mode

Because camera sensors are small, taking pictures in low light is a problem - they're normally pretty grainy and blurry. Phones with a low light mode take a series of photos very quickly, and then combine them into a single image using AI to reduce blur. Your photos will look clearer and brighter.

Optical image stabilisation (OIS)

This feature reduces blur in your photos and camera shake in videos for a smoother image.

Magic eraser

Sick of photobombers? Rub them out with a magic eraser tool on the latest premium phones. These use the latest AI to recreate the areas of a photo that are blocked out by an object and let you remove them from the photo.

Photo editing & filters

Some of the most popular phone apps of all time are improved camera apps and editing suites, so modern camera phones include these features as standard. You can adjust the white balance, fine tune the focus and tweak the ISO to get a photo exactly like you want it.

Later you can find the perfect mood with filter, vibrancy adjustments and other editing options. Those independent apps still exist, so you can always download them if they're absent from the phone you buy.

The best brands for good camera phones

Most mobile brands offer at least one phone with an awesome camera, but according to the experts these are the brands that consistently deliver top quality phone photography:

Overall, phone cameras have come a long way, and it’s clear that the technology will only continue to evolve. Be sure to consider all of the elements we've mentioned and the price of the camera phone when making your decision.

While phone cameras may not offer the same quality as traditional cameras, they are becoming increasingly popular due to the convenience and portability they offer. Whether you’re looking for a casual camera for shooting family photos or a professional-grade camera for filmmaking, phone cameras are certainly worth considering.

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