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In many users' pockets consumer-level digital compact cameras have been replaced by smartphones.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 December 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 1080p display | adjustment dial

In terms of smartphone technology the the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 is not the newest device anymore but with its 1-inch image sensor, adjustment dial and comprehensive manual settings it is still the closest thing to a true hybrid device that we have seen. 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 

Class-leading image quality and solid photo features: Samsung Galaxy S 6 / S6 Edge

16MP sensor | F1.9 aperture | Optical Image Stabilization | 4K video | 5.1-inch QHD display

In our opinion the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are the nicest looking-looking and made Samsung smartphones we have tested so far and the camera performance perfectly matches the premium look and feel of the exterior. 

With their 16MP CMOS sensors the Samsung flagship models capture good detail in bright light and thanks to a combination of very well balanced noise reduction, a fast F1.9 aperture and optical image stabilization low light image quality is at the very top of smartphone cameras with small sensors. In addition both panorama and HDR modes produce great results and the front camera is among the best we have seen. The 5.1-inch Quad-HD screen is fantastic for viewing images or composition, even in bright outdoor conditions, and the new Quick Launch feature gives rapid access to the redesigned and better-structured camera app via a double-click of the home button.

There aren't many points of criticism but high volume photographers will notice the lack of a microSD slot. Thanks to a firmware update the Galaxy now offers manual control of shutter speeds or DNG Raw capture though. So overall, as a mobile photographer you can't go wrong with the Galaxy S6 Edge. It offers great smartphone image quality and camera performance in a beautiful package, just make sure you can live without expandable storage.

Samsung Galaxy S6 / S6 Edge ReviewSample gallery

What we like: Class-leading image quality in all light levels, efficient HDR and panorama modes, premium look and feel

What we don't like: no expandable storage

Also consider: The LG G4 comes with a spec sheet that is not too dissimilar to the Galaxy S6's. It combines a 16MP CMOS sensor with an even faster F1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization. We preferred the Samsung's build quality and screen and found the Galaxy also had a slight edge in terms of image and video quality. However, the G4 is still very good and adds a microSD slot and removable battery to the mix, making it an excellent alternative for the users who rely on those features. 

The value for money option: Motorola Moto X Style / Pure Edition

21MP 1/2.4-inch sensor | F2.0 aperture | 4K video | 5.7-inch QHD display

The Motorola Moto X Style (Moto X Pure Edition in the US) offers a high-end specification at a price point that is noticeably lower than the competition from other established manufacturers. It offers good image and video quality across the board. In very low light optical image stabilization could help reduce the need for shooting at high ISOs but but even without such a system digital stabilization is doing a very good job in video mode and still images show well balanced processing up to the highest sensitivities. The front camera is one of the first we have seen to come with a dedicated LED-flash, giving the Moto an advantage when shooting self-portraits in very low light.

Images are composed and viewed on a large high-resolution display that is sharp and bright, allowing for decent visibility even when shooting in sunny conditions. All the technology is wrapped up in a solidly built water repellent body, allowing for use in adverse weather conditions.

On the software side of things, purists will appreciate the Moto X Style's operating system, which is very close to stock Android. Despite the latest version of Google's mobile operating system the Moto X Style does not support DNG Raw capture or full manual control over shutter speed and ISO though. Panorama mode cannot keep up with the best in class but if you are happy to expand the imaging feature set via third-party options from Google Play and can live without Raw, the Motorola Moto X Style currently represents one of the best value for money handsets for mobile photographers in the high-end bracket of the market. 

Motorola Moto X Style / Pure Edition ReviewSample Gallery

What we like: Excellent detail, expandable storage, water-resistant

What we don't like: no DNG Raw support, low-quality panoramas and slow-motion video

Also consider: The Motorola Moto X Play comes with a very similar design to the Moto X Style but a smaller 5.5-inch 1080p display and a slightly downgraded processor specification. In terms of camera module and operating system it's very similar to the Style, albeit at an even more affordable price, making it a great option for the budget-conscious mobile photographer.

Great video and panorama modes: Apple iPhone 6 Plus

12MP sensor | F2.2 aperture | Optical Image Stabilization | 4K video | 5.5-inch display

Like its predecessors the iPhone 6s Plus delivers solid image quality with good exposure, color and tonality across all light levels but, especially in bright conditions, pixel-level detail is not quite up with the best in class. Where the Apple device really shines is in the special modes department though. Panorama mode produces the largest and best-stitched images in the smartphone sector and both slow-motion and standard video modes capture excellent results. Finally there's now also 4K video for those who need higher resolution moving images.

Apple has also upgraded the front cam to a 5MP sensor and the iOS ecosystem arguably still offers the best selection in imaging and video apps. For current iPhone 6 or 6 Plus users upgrading to the 's' model offers limited benefits but the iPhone remains a solid choice for any mobile photographer, especially when they're already invested into the iOS operating system.

Apple iPhone 6s Plus Review | Sample gallery 

What we like: Good exposure and color, great video and panorama modes, premium materials

What we don't like: less pixel-level detail than direct competitors, no microSD-slot 

Also consider: The iPhone 6s offers most of the Plus model's imaging features and quality in a smaller package with 4.7-inch screen. The camera module has to make do without optical image stabilization but in its testing DxOMark found the impact on image quality to be small.

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.

Device DPR Score  DxO Score  Date 
Apple iPhone 6s Plus 8.3 84  12/01/2015
Motorola Moto X Style / Pure Edition  8.2 83  10/01/2015
LG G4 8.2  83  07/17/2015
Samsung Galaxy S6 / S6 Edge 8.4 86   06/16/2015
Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 8.6 n/a  05/27/2015
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 8.3 83  04/14/2015
Sony Xperia Z3 7.3 79  02/24/2015
Google Nexus 6 8.2 78  01/27/2015
Motorola Moto X (2014) 8.0 n/a  12/18/2014
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 8.2 82  10/21/2014
Amazon Fire Phone 7.9 69  09/28/2014
Apple iPhone 6 n/a 82  09/23/2014
Sony Xperia Z2 7.6 79   08/19/2014
Samsung Galaxy S5 8.2 79  07/09/2014
HTC One M8 7.1 68  05/27/2014
Motorola Moto X 6.6 n/a   03/03/2014
Nokia Lumia 1520 8.4 n/a   02/07/2014
LG G2 7.4 73  11/15/2013
Google Nexus 5 7.1 n/a   11/29/2013
Sony Xperia Z1 7.8 76   11/01/2013
Apple iPhone 5S 8.1 76   10/03/2013
Nokia Lumia 1020 8.8 74  08/30/2013
Samsung Galaxy S4 8.0 75   07/12/2013
Sony Xperia Z 6.6 61   06/12/2013
HTC One 7.5 n/a   06/04/2013
Blackberry Z10 6.9 67  04/19/2013
HTC 8X 6.8  n/a   04/08/2013
Samsung Galaxy Note II 7.1 n/a   03/22/2013
Nokia Lumia 920 n/a  66   03/07/2013
Samsung Galaxy S3 7.3 72   11/01/2012
HTC One X 7.5 n/a   10/22/2012
Apple iPhone 5 8.0  72   10/09/2012
Nokia 808 9.0  77   10/09/2012