The best camera in any situation is the one you have with you, and most of the time that’s the camera on your smartphone. That’s why, over the past few years, mobile photography has been come a crucial part of flagship smartphones, and the results are often incredible. But who has the best smartphone camera on Android? In “Shot for Shot,” we’ll let your eyes be the judge…

What are the best Android cameras?

Before we dive into the samples, who are the contestants? In this comparison, we want to take a look at the smartphones that are widely considered to offer the best overall (rear) cameras when it comes to versatility, consistency, experience, and quality. Right now, that list includes:

  • Google Pixel 5
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
  • Oppo Find X3

These phones offer wildly different hardware to achieve their final results, and starting at the bottom there’s the Pixel 5. Google’s formula for a good camera hasn’t changed much over the course of five generations. Just like the original Pixel, the latest generation has a 12MP camera at its core — albeit with a newer sensor — now backed up by a 16MP ultrawide sensor. The Pixel is generally regarded for its simple and consistent shooting experience with the results bolstered by excellent software processing.

Pixel 5 Android Enterprise

Moving on to Samsung’s offerings, the Galaxy S21 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra both offer a very similar package. The headliner is a 108MP primary camera with laser autofocus. Beyond that, the two differ slightly. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the superior option on a hardware level, offering a 12MP ultrawide camera and two 10MP telephoto shooters. One of those is a 3x optical zoom shooter while the other hits 10x optical zoom. With software, the phone manages up to 100x “Space Zoom.” The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is limited to 50x zoom because it only has one telephoto camera, a 12MP camera with 5x optical zoom. There’s also a 12MP ultrawide.

As for the Oppo Find X3 Pro, the focus isn’t so much on zoom, but rather on macro and microscope shots. The main camera is a 50MP sensor backed up by a 13MP telephoto camera that manages 5x optical zoom. The third sensor, though, is another 50MP shooter with an ultrawide lens that can also be used for high-res macro shots. It even offers a special LED ring that can take pictures of subjects just millimeters off the lens in focus and high detail.

How do the best Android cameras compare?

We could go on and on talking about camera features, resolution, colors, and more, but honestly the best judge of a smartphone’s camera is your own eyes. Below, you’ll find test samples from every one of our contenders in a few scenarios. After you’ve viewed them, vote in the poll below to let us know what you think is the best Android camera.

For each gallery below, you can click to expand each photo, or click on “view full size” underneath to view the uncompressed photos on Google Drive.

Note: After publishing this comparison, we discovered that our Google Pixel 5 was mistakenly set to shoot photos in a compressed format. The issue has been resolved now and this comparison will be updated soon with new photos. While this doesn’t have any effect on the colors of the photo, it can affect details and sharpness, especially when viewing the full resolution shots.

Primary camera, natural light

  • Pixel 5
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Note 20 Ultra
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro

View full size | Left to right — Pixel 5, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Oppo Find X3 Pro

When it comes to natural daylight, it’s honestly pretty hard to trip up a modern-day flagship smartphone. Here, everyone is basically on the same playing field and comparisons come down to colors, sharpness, bokeh, and really just personal preference. Still, HDR is an important tool to balance the bright light of the sun with your subject to get the most detail possible.

Primary camera, indoors

  • Pixel 5
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro

View full size | Left to right — Pixel 5, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Oppo Find X3 Pro

Even in the middle of the day and with all of the lights in a room turned on, any smartphone can fall apart when brought indoors. In our tests, we’re in a room with a good amount of natural light backed up by several overhead lights.

Ultrawide camera, natural light

  • Pixel 5
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Note 20 Ultra
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro

View full size | Left to right — Pixel 5, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Oppo Find X3 Pro

Ultrawide cameras won’t make or break your shooting experience, but all too often quality can quickly degrade compared to the main sensor. Often times, too, distortion can ruin even the best ultrawide camera on an Android phone.

Zoom camera 2x and 10x (or maximum)

  • Pixel 5
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Note 20 Ultra
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro
  • Pixel 5
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Note 20 Ultra
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro

View full size (10x) | Left to right — Pixel 5, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Oppo Find X3 Pro

After countless years of digital zoom giving the illusion of cutting in on your subject, the best Android cameras are adding additional focal lengths to improve results at a distance, in some cases even being able to literally capture the moon. Results here often vary greatly, though. We settled on 2x zoom and 10x zoom to both show what happens with casual use and what you can expect when you push these systems to their limits.

Primary camera, indoor low-light

  • Pixel 5
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro

View full size | Left to right — Pixel 5, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Oppo Find X3 Pro

Perhaps one of the toughest scenarios for a smartphone camera is indoors with low light, meaning no natural light and middling overhead or localized lighting. It really comes down to HDR and sensor size to hit the win here.

Night mode

  • Pixel 5
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro

View full size | Left to right — Pixel 5, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Oppo Find X3 Pro

Smartphones now can capture the stars if you use them right, but night mode photography is usually best used just to capture a scene without needing the flash, and it’s also a portion of smartphone photography can and vary wildly in quality from device to device.

What do you think the best Android camera is?

After looking at the samples above, what do you think the best option is? Personally, I’m very impressed with what the Oppo Find X3 Pro has put out, but the Pixel 5 still seems more consistent, and Galaxy S21 Ultra does offer some of its own perks. It’s a tough call!

This article is regularly updated as new contestants arrive on the market. Occasionally, older devices will be removed as successors are released.

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Shot for Shot: Putting the best Android cameras to the test [Gallery]
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