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.
We spoke to three UAE-based experts, all of whom have extensive experience in mobile photography and videography: Raz Hansrod, the general manager at Gulf Photo Plus (GPP), Dubai’s hub for photography workshops, exhibitions and art prints; Husain Ujjainwala (@who.sane), a popular social media presence in the world of mobile photography; and Samurah Saleh (@samurah7), a professional photographer with a passion for mobile shooting.
Discover their recommended models below, along with tips and advice on how to make the most of your smartphone's camera further down. Put your order in with an Amazon Prime membership to get your device as soon as today.
1. Best Overall: Sony Xperia PRO-I
- World’s first one-inch imaging sensor in a smartphone
- Uses real aperture blades to create blur
- Memory expandable to 1TB
- Speedy chipset
According to Hansrod, the Sony Xperia Pro-I carries the best camera on 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 the one on 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 Dh429.67 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh312, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh522, a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh666.
2. Best for Videography: Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
- 48MP main camera with seven pro lenses
- Includes new 5x optical zoom on the on 12MP telephoto lens
- ProRAW and Log modes allow full control over editing
- Action mode stabilises shaky handheld videos
- Reinforced titanium frame for longevity
- Needs extra storage for raw footage
Next, consider the newly released iPhone 15 Pro Max. This is the first phone in the Pro series to support three different focal lengths on the main camera: 24mm, 28mm and 35mm. Not to mention, the 12MP telephoto camera now carries a 120mm focal length, meaning you get to use the 5x optical zoom for farther shots, instead of the old 3x on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Where the phone shines, however, is its first-ever Log encoding in video filming. This allows shooting in raw, so that the pros can colour-grade short films to their liking. Imagine taking full control over your high-quality travel vlogs with the editing software. The iPhone 15 Pro is also the first smartphone to support ACES (Academy Colour Encoding System), which is a global colour standard for major movie productions. If you're a filmmaker or photographer, you'd much rather tinker with the editing by hand, to suit your eye. But, you’ll be taking up a lot of space to store these heavier images and videos, so be prepared to shell out for additional storage. Saleh, who shoots on this phone, says an external hard drive works better for him, especially since the latest line-up carries a USB-C port. Whether you choose to edit or have the phone do the touch-ups for you, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is a solid purchase.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh469.92 for 12 months with select banks.
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 Unedited Results: Google Pixel 7
- Clicks realistic images, with little editing
- Pictures in low-light conditions are vibrant
- Better night-time photography options than before
- OLED phone screen
- Cinematic blur might look overdone
- 5G connectivity may not be available to UAE-based users
The buzz surrounding Google Pixel cameras is true. Some even purchase a Pixel phone solely for the camera next to their primary smartphone, according to Hansrod. While we await stock for the latest Pixel 8 Pro (with telephoto lens) on Amazon, check out its affordable standard model from the preceding generation. The Google Pixel 7 has a dual lens system, composed of a 50MP wide camera 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 and record 4K videos with the 10.8MP selfie camera. As for night photography, the Pixel 7's sensor collects enough light to deliver vibrant colours in the dark, without muting the palette. Another neat night-time feature lets you click the stars, even the Milky Way, in the Night Sight mode with astrophotography. Despite missing a telephoto lens, the Pixel 7 shares most of its software tweaks with the Pro models at a more cost-effective price.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh133.25 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh114, and a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh190.
4. Best for Zoom: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
- Built-in S Pen allows for precise editing
- Five-lens system, including 200MP main and 50MP telephoto cameras
- New 5x optical zoom sensor
- More stable 100x Space Zoom
- AI-assisted editing for quick and natural touch-ups
- Too early to tell
A formidable camera system coupled with a stylus, is a dream for the perfectionist editor, realised in the Samsung S Ultra series. The Galaxy S24 Ultra marked the first flagship release of 2024, bringing exciting upgrades to its quad cameras. One of the two fan-favourite telephoto cameras now carries a 50MP sensor with 5x optical zoom, producing more detailed, sharper distant shots. As for the popular 100x digital Space Zoom, which takes you all the way to the moon, a wider OIS (optical image stabilisation) will stabilise zoomed-in video recordings. While the S Pen makes for easy editing, the S24 Ultra will wow with even easier AI-assisted editing, like erasing objects out of a picture or removing shadows in the sun. The AI-powered software brightens up portraits and high-res videos and photos on the 200MP main and the 12MP selfie cameras. There’s low noise, less grain and more details in every dim-lit shot. So, put in your pre-order now and get your hands on the new smartphone in February!
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh424.92 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: The manufacturer offers a one-year warranty. Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh312, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh522, a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh666.
5. Best Value: OnePlus 11
- Triple camera system uses Sony hardware and Hasselblad software
- Excellent colour reproduction at night
- 32MP telephoto lens for DSLR-like portraits
- Powerful mobile processor with spacious 16GB RAM
- Only 2x optical zoom
OnePlus 11's impressive triple camera system is co-developed with the legendary Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad. Excellent for beginners testing waters, the phone itself is swift in operation, led by a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset (the same as Galaxy S23 Ultra) and a 16GB memory, so there's no fear of hanging mid-shoot. As for the camera hardware, the OnePlus 11 uses Sony mobile sensors on all three lenses: 50MP main, 48MP ultrawide and 32MP telephoto with 2x optical zoom cameras. Hasselblad lends its genius to the software, where its industry-leading colour science helps bring out richer, more natural pictures, even at night. In portrait mode, Hasselblad's optical standards add a DSLR-like depth and bokeh effect to close-up shots. Expect your gallery to look fantastic on the AMOLED 120Hz display with Dolby Vision and Atmos. Reviews vouch for the incredible speeds on the phone, with many saying it's the best Android handset.
Is a smartphone camera worth investing in?
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 Hansrod. 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. Ujjainwala started out with the Nokia Lumia 1020, while Saleh picked up the OnePlus 6T, which inspired him to carve out a professional career later on.
Ujjainwala said: “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."
Android vs. iOS: Which carries the best camera?
Samsung and Apple's latest flagship releases come to mind. Both the iPhone Pro series and the Galaxy S Ultra ranges will always have fan communities vying for the best camera on a smartphone. Android's massive range is not to be overlooked, either, as Google Pixel enjoys classic status.
The Dubai-based mobile photography hobbyist Saleh has been shooting landscapes and aerial pictures on iPhones since 2019. Having used the 13 Pro Max and 14 Pro Max in the past, Saleh says that the latest iteration was every bit worth the upgrade for him.
"The iPhone 15 Pro Max has more lenses than the previous model - you get 5x optical zoom on the telephoto camera, while earlier, it was just 3x. In the main camera, you can even use a 35mm focal length for a wide angle. It's also better at action photography, where the camera will stabilise the video on its own without a gimbal, such as a running shot of a car," said Saleh. Out of all the lengths, Saleh finds macro the most impressive, noting how the phone's close-up images nearly compete with professional lenses.
Apple's internal processing does, however, tinker with the final capture in subtle ways, Hansrod points out. Photographers would much rather 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 [but not for photographers],” Hansrod explained.
"Pros will always shoot in Log to get raw footage, where the colours are very low. Later, they can edit the colours, add presets and filters to their liking," added Saleh, talking about the new video upgrade to the iPhone 15 Pro series.
Ujjainwala uses the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra to tackle all kinds of shots, from landscape and cityscape to nighttime photography. It all begins with the 200MP main lens, its resulting pixels dense enough for high-quality printouts, he adds. Our Galaxy expert prefers editing with the S Pen due to better precision, making it his favourite flagship model to shoot on.
With the latest Galaxy S24 Ultra drop, it's still early days to determine how the new AI integration will fare, but the ever-popular zoom has gotten an incredible upgrade with a 50MP telephoto lens and a 5x optical zoom sensor. Let's not forget the 100x digital Space Zoom that's been giving concert-goers high-quality 'fancams'.
If you want a camera that shoots 'raw' without any machine tampering, the Google Pixel is your answer. Hansrod said: “The Google Pixel 6 Pro performs better than most phones at night-time. Plus, there’s a lot less auto editing happening here than the iPhone.” The Pixel Pro range gives you an additional 48MP telephoto zoom lens, which the standard Pixel doesn't have. Their main 50MP cameras, whichever generation you opt for, will have little difference.
Interestingly enough, even affordable Android manufacturers like OnePlus can produce stunning results. Saleh tells us that he's yet to see certain OnePlus captures reproduced on his iPhone. With Android, beginners can always count on a cheaper option to pursue photography.
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.Get the best low-light and true-colour shots with smartphone cameras that outperform the rest.