DPReview recommends: Best smartphone cameras [UPDATED]

DPReview recommends: Best smartphone cameras

In many users’ pockets consumer-level digital compact cameras have been replaced by smartphones. The cameras of the latter don’t usually have zoom lenses or xenon flashes but image sensor technology has been rapidly improving and clever software processing helps rival, and in some cases even surpass, image quality of dedicated cameras. Add large high-resolution screens for image framing and viewing along with the ability to add special features and new shooting modes by installing apps to the mix, and it’s no surprise that for many the smartphone camera has become an important piece of photographic equipment. 

On this page we have listed, in no particular order, our current favorite smartphone cameras for those who are looking to buy their first smartphone or upgrade their current device. We are aiming to continuously update this article as new reviews are being added to the site. At the bottom of the page you will also find a chronological list of all smartphone camera reviews that have been published on DPReview Connect since we started the site in 2012. 

Recommendations are subject to change and current as of June 2015. Please note that some reviews are ongoing and we will update this article accordingly. 

King of the camera-phones: Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

20MP 1-inch sensor | F2.8 aperture | 4K video | 4.7-inch display | adjustment dial

With its 1-inch image sensor, adjustment dial and comprehensive manual settings the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 is the closest thing to a true hybrid device that we have seen so far in the smartphone market. Its image detail and operational control is unheard of on more conventional smartphone cameras and the ISO range up to 25,600 allows for more flexibility when shooting in low light. Additionally the Raw files offer noticeably more editing leeway than those captured by cameras with smaller sensors.

However, CM1 owners have to be willing to accept some compromises. The lens shows some noticeable corner softness, white balance under artificial light is inconsistent and the flash produces results that can be virtually unusable. Video quality is average at best and we weren’t too impressed by the CM1’s screen either. The DMC-CM1 is also noticeably bulkier than conventional smartphones and as shipped, the lens has no protection from scratching, so carrying the device in your pocket might not be ideal. 

Essentially, the Panasonic CM1 is the device of choice for all those who want their smartphone to offer the looks, feel, control and image detail of a premium compact camera. If you are willing to accept the drawbacks mentioned above and don’t mind paying a premium price it won’t be easy to find a smartphone that performs better as a stills camera.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 Review | Sample gallery 

What we like: Great detail and DR across the ISO range, physical shutter button and adjustment dial

What we don’t like: 4K video only at 15 fps, poor flash performance, no OIS 

Great allrounder: Apple iPhone 6 Plus

8MP sensor | F2.2 aperture | Optical Image Stabilization | 1080p video | 5.5-inch display

Apple’s latest top-end device features the best iPhone camera yet and has no obvious weaknesses in the imaging department. With its 5.5-inch screen the iPhone 6 Plus is the first “phablet-sized” Apple smartphone and while the 8MP sensor and F2.2 have remained the same as on the iPhone 5s the camera module has been improved with the addition of on-sensor phase detection for a faster AF and an optical image stabilization system. Other camera features include a panorama mode that produces images up to 43MP large, 1080p video at 60fps and a 240 fps slow-motion mode at 720p resolution. 

The large display is great for video and image viewing alike and the camera squeezes more detail out of its 8MP sensor than some 13MP competitors. The optical image stabilization system works very efficiently, allowing for low ISO values and better detail in dim conditions and in our testing we were impressed with the results of the panorama and HDR modes. The camera app focuses on simplicity but plenty of manual controls and special modes are available through third party apps. 

The iPhone 6 Plus does not stand out in any in any particular area but simply delivers very good performance across the board. Still images are well-exposed with very good detail and video is smooth and clean of artifacts. Slow-motion video, HDR and panorama functions are among the best we have seen. The iOS eco-system also still offers the best choice of imaging apps. If you are not scared off by its size you can’t go wrong with the iPhone 6 Plus for mobile photography.

Apple iPhone 6 Plus Review | Sample gallery 

What we like: Good detail across the ISO range, great HDR and panorama modes, premium materials

What we don’t like: No 4K video, low-resolution front camera, no microSD-slot 

Also consider: The Apple iPhone 6 offers the iPhone 6 Plus’ imaging features, minus the optical image stabilization, in a smaller package with a 4.7-inch screen, making it the ideal choice for those iOS users who prefer a more pocketable device.

Excellent image quality and feature set: Samsung Galaxy Note 4

16MP sensor | F2.2 aperture | Optical Image Stabilization | 4K video | 5.7-inch display

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 combines a 16MP 1/2.6-inch CMOS BSI sensor with a F2.2 aperture and an optical image stabilization system and is also capable of capturing 4K video. For faster AF speeds it uses a sensor-based phase detection system.

From a mobile photography point of view it is difficult to go wrong with the Note 4. In the image quality department it beats its phablet rivals iPhone 6 Plus and Nexus 6 by a whisker and comes with a comprehensive imaging feature set, including efficient HDR and panorama modes. The large QHD-AMOLED-display is great for image framing, reviewing and editing alike and the 3.7MP front camera is capable of capturing a decent selfie. 

Unfortunately the Samsung doesn’t come with the same IP67 environmental protection rating as the Galaxy S5, a physical shutter button or DNG Raw support but its arguably closest rival, the iPhone 6 Plus, has to make do without these features as well. The Note 4 does come with MicroSD-support and good battery though and if its large dimensions feel right for you you can’t go wrong with it as a mobile photography device.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Review | Sample gallery

What we like: Good image quality in all light levels, efficient HDR and panorama modes, excellent screen

What we don’t like: lack of manual control in camera app 

Also consider: The Galaxy S6 is the Note 4’s smaller cousin. It comes with a smaller 5.1-inch screen but offers the same Quad-HD resolution as the Note 4. Its camera module combines a 16MP sensor with optical image stabilization and a very fast F1.9 aperture, performing very well in the DxOMark image quality assessment.

Great for Raw shooting and editing: Google Nexus 6

13MP sensor | F2.0 aperture | Optical Image Stabilization | 4K video | 6-inch display

The Nexus 6 is Google’s latest showcase device for the Android operating system and was designed in cooperation with Motorola. It comes with the same dual-LED ring flash as the 2nd generation Motorola Moto X and a 13MP imaging sensor. Light is captured through a fast F2.0 aperture and an optical image stabilization system helps in low light and during video capture. 

Running Google’s stock version of Android 5.0 the Nexus 6 is one of very few devices currently capable of capturing DNG Raw files. Editing them on the huge AMOLED QHD display is a pleasure as well. Build-quality is very solid and with its thin bezels, metal frame and slightly wavy form factor the Nexus looks and feels like a premium smartphone. 

In common with most smartphones the Nexus 6 flash metering and white balance can be a little unreliable but otherwise image quality is good across the ISO range and can be further improved by activating the excellent HDR+ mode which does not only increase dynamic range but also captures better detail in low light. In video mode the camera captures clean footage and clear sound but occasionally exposes a slight jittering around the edges which we hope Google can address with a firmware update at some point. Overall though the Nexus 6 is a great choice for Android photographers who don’t mind using a large device. 

Google Nexus 6 Review | Sample Gallery

What we like: HDR+ mode, efficient Optical Image Stabilization, DNG Raw capability with 3rd party apps

What we don’t like: Inconsistent flash exposure, occasional jittering in video mode, no microSD slot

Also consider: The Motorola Moto X (2014) comes with a very similar design to the Nexus 6 and a 13MP image sensor but in a smaller package. The camera has to make do without an optical image stabilization system but we were still pleased with the Motorola’s image quality in our testing and the operating system is very close to the Nexus 6’s stock Android version.

Great IQ and extensive manual control: Nokia Lumia 1520

20MP sensor | F2.4 aperture | Optical Image Stabilization | 4K video | 6-inch display

The Nokia Lumia 1520 is not the newest device on the market – since its launch the Nokia mobile device division has been taken over by Microsoft – but it is being kept up-to-date through software updates and we think it is still one of the best camera phones out there.

The PureView branded camera combines a 1/2.5-inch 20MP BSI CMOS sensor with a F2.4 lens and optical image stabilization. Following the same concept as the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 the 1520 saves downsampled 5MP images but also lets you access the full 20MP files. In addition you can set the device to capture DNG Raw-files which is great news for all those users who like to optimize their image in post-production.

Despite manual control slowly being implemented in Android and iOS camera APIs we think the Lumia Camera app still offers the best interface for manual camera control and the recent Microsoft Denim software update has added new features including a 4K video mode and Microsoft’s innovative Rich Capture mode that allows you to finely control the intensity of a flash or HDR capture. 

In terms of image quality the Lumia 1520 delivers very good results in both its 20 and 5MP modes and if you can live with the slightly limited choice of apps in the Windows Store the Microsoft device can make a great smartphone camera alternative to the more established competition running Android or iOS. 

Nokia Lumia 1520 Review | Sample gallery

What we like: Extensive manual control, DNG Raw support, physical shutter button

What we don’t like: Sluggish camera start-up, limited choice of imaging apps

Also consider: The Lumia 930 offers identical camera specifications to the Lumia 1520 in a smaller 5-inch frame, making it an obvious alternative for those who find the larger model too bulky. 

If none of our recommendations can convince you, below you can see a complete list of our smartphone camera reviews including scores. Click on the device name to go straight to the review.

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