It used to be that the way one took pictures was with a camera they toted around with them, hoping it could be readied in a hurry when that perfect fleeting moment presented itself or the perfect scene was laid out begging to be memorialized forever. Then cameras started showing up in phones. This was laughable at first, and the early pictures were pretty bad. But like all technologies that garner near unanimous appeal, the tech minds went to work to product better ones, and produce them they did.

The cameras now in our phones take startlingly beautiful pictures, plus excellent zoom features and all kinds of lighting options. Then can take panoramic shots, movies, and virtually anything you want. A phone will never replace a high end camera, but for the vast majority of people, their pictures are more than adequate, and they don’t require you carry around anything you aren’t already carrying. So now there are hundreds of millions if not billions of amateur photographers where 10 or 15 years ago there were none.

Let’s have a look at some of the better ones. Apple used to have the picture market cornered, but nowadays the competition is fierce. Here is a list of the best of the best.

  1. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra – This phone includes a quad setup with wide angle and zoom features. The 108MP sensor produces very natural, detailed images with soft bokeh effects that serve to blur the background to add highlight to the subject. This phone is pricey, but is a great choice if you have the dough.

2. Huawei P40 Pro Plus – This phone has a fantastic and versatile camera system with nice screen design and excellent storage capacity, though it is also very expensive. The zoom on this thing is second to none, and it has an 18mm ultra-wide angle lens and a main 23mm lens backed by an impressive 50-megapixel sensor. The zoom on this phone is superior to the Pixel 5 and also the iPhone 12 Pro. The best pictures are taken without a lot of movement or really bright light.

3. iPhone 12 Pro Max – This phone sports a huge sensor with HDR video, LiDAR for low light shots, and very good pictures in all situations. This is the best of the iPhone line, much better than the smaller Pro model. The optical zoom is a slight step up from the prior model, going from 2x to 2.5x. This phone is larger and therefore provides better battery life, which was always a drawback to the iPhones. Apple’s capabilities in the area of computational photography are impressive. They include Smart HDR 3 and the Deep Fusion system, and deliver beautiful photos in any light condition. This excellent phone does not come cheap however. It will set you back north of $1000.

4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – This is a step up from its predecessor, and now sports a 108 megapixel main sensor with a 12 megapixel telephoto and also a 12 megapixel ultrawide. This is a big improvement over the S20 Ultra. Only the Huawei P40 Pro offers a better zoom. This is an excellent choice for the money.

5. There are two that come in here; the Google Pixel 4a and the iPhone SE. These are both less expensive options , coming in at around half the cost of the models listed above. The Pixel 4a is about $50 less than the iPhone SE with the exact same primary camera hardware as Google’s more expensive models.

A word about our testers. There were 3 of us involved in the testing. By no means do we consider ourselves to be experts in this field, but all 3 have a lot of years under our belts in smart phone usage (each with our own biases), photography in differing capacities, and a lot of technical know-how.

Edd – comes from the IT world, but minored in Photography at Wake Forest, spent some time at the Richmond Times Dispatch where he provided some award winning pictures, and now works at Convergent Technologies Group, a computer technical assistance company in Richmond.

Habib – also an IT guy that got his degree in Computer Engineering from Virginia Tech. He started in the phone repair business out of school where he learned how these things worked. Habib now works at a computer based instruction lab in Richmond.

Ian – Started in construction working with his father. Eventually took a job at a phone repair company where he worked for 6 years before getting back into building when he founded a company that installs siding in Richmond Va.