phone photography
Get the best low-light and true-colour shots with smartphone cameras that outperform the rest. Image Credit: Unsplash/charlesdeluvio

It’s not uncommon to find full-length feature films shot on smartphones. With just a phone clipped into a sophisticated tripod, directors have rolled out psychological horrors, thrillers and action-packed shorts. If you recall the indie film ‘Unsane’ (2018), starring ‘The Crown’ British actress Claire Foy, then you must know that it was entirely the product of iPhone 7 Plus’ 12-megapixel camera.

The range of a smartphone camera is a gift that never stops giving. Granted, our handsets wear many hats, but the one feature that takes the cake for the majority of us is the lens. New rollouts are only as exciting as their camera upgrades, some would argue. We’ve cut the search short for you, whether you’re an amateur photographer or a hobbyist, and asked the pros for the best camera phones to shoot on.

Is a smartphone camera worth investing in?

phone photography
Though they're no match for a DSLR camera, smartphones these days are equipped with real apertures and lenses. Image Credit: Unsplash/Anna Vi

It can be tempting to upgrade to a camera with higher megapixels. But, the key to skilful mobile photography is to fully explore what your current handset has to offer, says Raz Hansrod, the general manager at Gulf Photo Plus (GPP), Dubai’s hub for photography workshops, exhibitions and art prints. Maximising what you already have is the first lesson taught to students enrolled in GPP’s smartphone photography workshop, he adds.

“Invest in knowledge and workshops, and once you’ve hit the tech cap on your phone camera, only then should you look into upgrading,” said Hansrod, who’s been teaching photography for seven years.

If this is your budget alternative to the pricey DSLR, then a smartphone camera can be a solid start to your photography journey. Husain Ujjainwala, a popular social media presence in the world of mobile photography, started out with the Nokia Lumia 1020.

“Being a professional photographer, I can’t compare smartphones to DSLRs. When I go out, though, I’m not going to carry my DSLR with me, it’ll be my phone. Today’s phones do a good job of covering intermediate photography, even giving you a believable bokeh effect,” said the Dubai-based photographer.

Find out which smartphones make it to the list below, and shop with Amazon Prime to get the handset delivered to you as soon as tomorrow.

1. Best Overall: Sony Xperia PRO-I

Pros

  • World’s first one-inch imaging sensor in a smartphone
  • Uses real aperture blades to create blur
  • Memory expandable to 1TB
  • Speedy chipset

Cons

  • Expensive

According to Hansrod, the Sony Xperia Pro-I carries the best camera in a smartphone yet. “It’s the first mobile phone to have a one-inch sensor, which means the camera lets in more light to capture a whole lot of details – you can even print out the photos taken,” he explained. The phone’s genuine sensor is backed by Sony’s own image signal processor, so it’s little wonder that Xperia Pro-I delivers high-resolution images with less noise, even in low-light conditions. All three lenses are 12MP, but the kicker is the dual aperture in the main camera. “It even has real aperture blades inside the camera that expand and contract, letting you control the blur in the background,” Hansrod added, pointing out that other smartphones usually mimic the effect with software tweaks. Sony also adds a dedicated shutter button to the side of the phone, complete with an interface that looks a lot like its digital cameras. Besides the remarkable camera, you’re getting a 6.5-inch 4K OLED screen, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G chipset and an expandable storage memory of up to 1TB. Hansrod calls the handset a well-kept secret in the community.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh524.92 for 12 months with select banks.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh369, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh617, a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh787.

2. Best for Casual Photography: Apple iPhone 14 Pro (512 GB)

Pros

  • 48MP main camera
  • Quad-pixel sensor collects more light
  • ProRAW mode allows full control over editing
  • Action mode stabilises shaky handheld videos
  • Includes 12MP telephoto lens

Cons

  • Needs extra storage for raw images

You might want to add the newly released iPhone Pro 14 (not to be mistaken with the iPhone 14) to your cart, while we await restock on Amazon. This is the first phone in the Pro series to support a massive camera upgrade – jumping from 12MP to 48MP. Hansrod says the iPhone 14 Pro is his own preferred tool for mobile photography, mainly because his existing Apple ecosystem makes editing all the more seamless. The new quad-pixel sensor is 65 per cent larger than that of the preceding Pro 13, meaning it gathers more light to reveal stunning details. Hansrod does note that photographers would want to shoot in ProRAW to bypass the iPhone’s auto-editing. “If you don’t shoot in raw, your pictures will come out saturated and sharper, which is great for posting to your Instagram story or Snapchat,” he explained. The pros much rather tinker with the editing by hand, to suit their eye. Even if you shoot in raw mode, you’ll be taking up a lot of space to store these heavier images, so be prepared to shell out for additional storage. Whether you choose to edit or have the phone do the touch-ups for you, the iPhone 14 Pro is a good buy for the hobbyist.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh341, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh569, a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh726.

3. Best for Night Photography: Google Pixel 6 Pro

Pros

  • Pictures in low-light conditions are vibrant
  • Triple camera lens, including telephoto
  • Astrophotography
  • Clicks realistic images, with little editing

Cons

  • Battery drains faster than expected, say reviews
  • 5G connectivity may not be available to UAE-based users

The buzz surrounding Google Pixel cameras is true. “The Google Pixel 6 Pro performs better than most phones at nighttime. Plus, there’s a lot less auto editing happening here than the iPhone,” said Hansrod. Its triple lens system is composed of a 50MP wide camera, 48MP telephoto lens with 20x zoom and a 12MP ultra-wide angle lens. All cameras are geared towards capturing your subject’s authentic skin tones and keeping images as close to reality as possible. Take your rawest portraits yet with the 11.1MP selfie camera. As for night photography, the Pixel 6 Pro sensor collects enough light to deliver vibrant colours in the dark, without muting the palette. Another neat nighttime feature lets you click the stars, even the Milky Way, in the Night Sight mode with astrophotography. Despite battery complaints from reviewers, the Pixel Pro 6 is often opted for as a photography phone; some even purchase it solely for the camera next to their primary smartphone, according to Hansrod.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh191.58 for 12 months with select banks.

4. Best for Phone Editing: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Pros

  • Built-in S Pen allows for precise editing
  • Five-lens system, including 108MP main and 40MP selfie cameras
  • Decent night photography
  • Shoots a wide range of photos and 8K videos

Cons

  • Gets noticeably warm

A formidable camera system coupled with a stylus is a dream for the perfectionist editor. Ujjainwala uses the Galaxy S22 Ultra to tackle all kinds of shots, from landscape and cityscape to nighttime photography. It all begins with the 108MP main lens, its resulting pixels dense enough for high-quality printouts. Two telephoto cameras with incredible zooming capabilities bring you all the way to the moon. While it makes for easier editing, thanks to the built-in S Pen, the S22 Ultra also serves well in the ‘nightography’ arena. The AI-powered Super Night Solution brightens up portraits and high-res videos and photos on the 108MP main and the 40MP selfie cameras. There’s low noise, less grain and more details in every dim-lit shot.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh348.99 for 12 months with select banks.

Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.