Best camera phone: 6 handsets tested

What's the top cameraphone on the market?

The best camera phones 2013

This article is currently undergoing a huge overhaul with all the best cameraphones from 2014 - while we put the top snappers through their paces, here's the run down of what we'll be including:

  • iPhone 6 Plus
  • Sony Xperia Z3
  • HTC One M8
  • Samsung Note 4
  • Nokia Lumia 1020
  • Samsung Galaxy K Zoom
  • LG G3

The new and fancy update will be published as soon as we've added the Note 4 into our testing process - stay tuned!

Smartphone cameras have transformed photography. Almost everyone has a camera with them all the time now, which means that there's little need to buy a separate digital camera: smartphones have effectively killed off the market for low-range standalone digital cameras, and for an increasing number of people, their smartphone is their only camera.

But is your smartphone camera really up to the job? While the resolution and performance of smartphone cameras has steadily improved, the specifications show that smartphones are still inferior to dedicated image capture devices.

Smartphones offer much smaller sensors (in terms of resolution), and have smaller lenses. If you're sharing images electronically, these differences may be negligible on-screen, but when you're preserving the permanent archive of your most treasured moments, it could be a different matter.

Meanwhile, cameras and phones have become more connected. Most cameras now feature Wi-Fi and camera manufacturers increasingly offer a free downloadable app that lets you use your camera with your phone. These apps let you use your phone to store photos or as a remote control for the camera, pairing your screen with the camera's viewfinder.

Best smartphone cameras

If you're a one-device photographer, though, you'll want to know which is the best smartphone to buy. TechRadar compares six of the newest - and by implication, best - handsets to decide which is the best for taking pictures. Each has its advantages, while technology in terms of sensor and lens can vary widely, so your choice must take into account not only how well the phone handles as a camera, but also the results it returns.

The six in contention

Our candidates are as acclaimed as they are diverse: the HTC One, Sony Xperia Z1, Apple iPhone 5S, Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, Nokia Lumia 1020, and LG G2. With one exception - the HTC - all feature higher pixel counts than phones of previous generations.

We've looked at the HTC One Android handset before, at the start of the summer, but are re-examining it here by way of comparison.

HTC One - key specs:
CPU: 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 quad-core
Camera: 4MP Ultrapixel
Display: 4.7-inch Super LCD, 1080 x 1920 resolution
Capacity: 16/32GB internal, no microSD
Dimensions: 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm
Weight: 143g
Extras: HDMI out, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, NFC

Best smartphone cameras

Next up is our second Android OS (4.2 Jelly Bean) machine in the Sony Xperia Z1, a more obvious monoblock design.

Sony Xperia Z1 - key specs:
CPU: 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 quad-core
Camera: 21MP Exmor-R
Display: 5-inch LCD, 1080 x 1920 resolution
Capacity: 16GB internal, plus microSD
Dimensions: 144 x 74 x 8.5 mm
Weight: 170g
Extras: HDMI out, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, NFC

Our third contender is the iPhone 5S, powered by Apple's refreshed iOS 7 and new A7 chip.

Best smartphone cameras

iPhone 5S - key specs:
CPU: A7 64-bit chip
Camera: 8MP iSight
Display: 4-inch Retina display, 1136x640 resolution
Capacity: 16/32/64GB internal, no microSD
Dimensions: 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm
Weight: 112g
Extras: Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11ac,

The fourth phone up for a look-see is the Android powered Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, a more deliberately camera-like version of the plain S4 with a proper optical zoom lens (other smartphones use digital trickery to give the appearance of zoom).

The back of the handset exactly resembles the front of a camera, making this one of the closest examples of tech convergence yet.

Galaxy S4 zoom

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom - key specs:
CPU: 1.5GHz dual-core
Camera: 16MP, 10x optical zoom, Xenon flash
Display: 4.3-inch Super AMOLED, 540 x 960 resolution
Capacity: 8GB internal, microSD slot
Dimensions: 125.5 x 63.5 x 15.4 mm
Weight: 208g
Extras: HDMI out, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, NFC

Our last but one option is the Nokia Lumia 1020, which for our purposes came with a matching camera grip-come-body shell which slots onto the handset via its charging port.

A second port is provided within the grip itself, so you don't lose out on any functionality. A clever if hardly high tech add-on, it feels like another step towards making phone photographers feel like real photographers.

Nokia Lumia 1020

Nokia Lumia 1020 - key specs:
CPU: 1.5GHz Snapdragon MSM8960 dual-core
Camera: 41MP PureView
Display: 4.5-inch AMOLED PureMotion+, 768 x 1280 resolution
Capacity: 32/64GB internal, no microSD
Dimensions: 130.4 x 71.4 x 10.4 mm
Weight: 158g
Extras: Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11n, NFC

Finally, the LG G2 - another recently released high-end Android 4.2 Jelly Bean smartphone.

LG G2

LG G2 - key specs:
CPU: 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 quad-core
Camera: 13MP
Display: 5.2-inch True HD-IPS LCD, 1080 x 1920 resolution
Capacity: 16/32GB internal, no microSD
Dimensions: 138.5 x 70.9 x 8.9 mm
Weight: 143g
Extras: HDMI out, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, NFC

The comparison will go into the above features in detail, focusing on how well the phone can be used as a camera in terms of its user interface, handling and, of course, photographic performance.

This isn't a test on how easy the phone is to use as a camera, it's a combination of all the above points - adding price, handling, simplicity and end result to work out the best camera attached to a phone.