Is it worth spending more for a good phone camera?

Google Pixel 6 Camera
Google Pixel 6 Camera (Image credit: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

It's often said that the best camera you have is the one with you. For most of us, most of the time, that's our smartphone. Even if you own a more expensive, more capable standalone camera, your phone will almost always be closer at hand.

That's just one of many reasons why, if you're shopping around for a new smartphone, it's worth paying close attention to its camera system -- even if it means spending a little bit more.

But before you buy, it's worth thinking about what you'll use your phone's camera for most. Most phone cameras these days are good enough. So unless you're buying an absolute bargain-bin model or a really old phone from five years ago or earlier, chances are it'll take photos that are good enough in most situations. That's especially true if you're primarily sharing them on social media instead of printing them out or blowing them up onto a big display.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Camera Module Closeup

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

In 2021, most phones at the $400 level or above will have some night mode for taking clearer shots in darker conditions, as well as a portrait mode to create sharper-looking pics of friends and family. Although a few years ago, you might only find them in high-end flagships, in 2021, they're table stakes features.

Most phone cameras are good enough, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't demand more.

So why spend more on a higher-end phone with a better camera? The first thing to consider is that the photos you take on your phone will form memories that'll hopefully last years. So whether you're posting them to Facebook or backing up to Google Photos or Amazon, you're going to want them looking their best. That's especially true of video, which is one of the more challenging areas for cheaper phone cameras. Videos of vacations and other occasions can form some of our most precious memories.

In addition to superior video performance, a flagship phone like a Pixel 6 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra will offer higher-quality secondary cameras, like ultrawide and telephoto. These can help you capture a wider field of vision or punch in to capture more distant subjects with greater fidelity.

In cheaper phones, often one of the first areas where corners are cut is with secondary cameras. And that could mean shots taken with the ultrawide or telephoto cameras don't look as good if these extra shooters are even offered at all.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Camera Viewfinder

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

The same applies to computational features — features that use the number-crunching power of your phone's processor — like night mode and portrait mode. A greater number of rear cameras can help your phone judge depth and capture more realistic portrait-effect shots. Meanwhile, low-light captures can be helped considerably by speedy processors like those found in the latest Android flagships.

Your phone camera is also a great gateway into the broader world of photography.

Smartphone photography is also worth considering as a hobby in itself and a gateway into the broader world of photography. The same basic principles like framing and lighting apply whether you're using a smartphone that costs a few hundred dollars or a big interchangeable-lens camera that costs several thousand. Getting started with your phone can be a fantastic and highly approachable way to dip your toe in the water.

As a general rule, if you care even slightly about photography, it's worthwhile getting a phone with a better camera than you think you need. Take a look at reviews, comparisons, and roundsups of the best phone cameras you can buy.

If you are photographically inclined, you'll be using your phone to capture years of memories that you'll be looking back on for decades to come, so it's well worth spending a little more to make sure those memories are as clear and enjoyable as possible.

Alex Dobie
Executive Editor

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

  • I wish reviewers would go back and review phone cameras after they have received updates as they tend to get better with time **coughzflip3cough**
  • This. Updates can be a game changer, but this being Android Central, updates likely won't be reported unless it's Samsung or Pixel.
  • Yep, you're right, but at the same time, OEMs have to stop launching new devices with software that's barelly more than a beta just to meet launch deadlines.
  • LOLwut, Samsung camera takes better pictures over time? You should wait until April 1st to make that joke.
    However, reviewers does do this in a way, by doing the typical benchmark comparison with the next generation of the device.
  • Cameras aren't really part of my use case, or a big deal to me. Probably those years with the cameraless BlackBerry devices permanently wired my brain. Get off my lawn! You darrn kids and your fancy picture taking devices!" Lol I would've loved the option to customize my S21 and choose the lowest possible camera quality and get better internals or cheaper price for better value. I definitely don't get my money's worth with the camera part of my smartphones.
  • In the bad old days of sub-par flip phone cameras that were almost like "Emergency Use Only" quality, I felt like you. I wished the phone manufacturers would give us the option to buy a good PHONE, with great reception and voice quality and forget the camera. So I used to carry around a really good Canon P&S camera because it was worlds ahead of my flip phone camera. But once I got my LG G4 with a really good camera, I found there were just so many times when I didn't have my ELPH with me but was able to get pretty darn good shots with my new phone. Took a while, but it totally changed the way I look at phones. Give your S21 another chance. The camera is supposed to be top notch :).
    And remember, cheaper phones usually go with cheaper EVERYTHING, not just the camera. Screen and battery are often another place the corners get cut.
  • Agreed. It just feels like a waste for me to have a decent camera when that component cost would be more beneficial to users like me if it were put towards the cost of more storage, RAM, or other features/specs.
    Or dare I say, lowering the price! lol.
    Everything is a tradeoff. I'd be curious to know how many smartphone owners actually use their cameras or care about having the 'best' phone cameras.
    Most ppl aren't on Social Media or are 'tech savvy'. I always end up with a relatively decent camera on the phone since that seems to go hand-in-hand with the specs and features that I actually look for.
  • "...Most ppl aren't on Social Media or are 'tech savvy'...." should be "...nor tech savvy...". Why, you included aren't in the sentence. Recall, either or, neither nor? Okay, you did not use either thus or is incorrect, however aren't should be followed by nor, not or. Badda-Boom!
  • maybe I'm spoiled from the pixel line, but the camera does so much more than just take pictures, I find myself using the lens feature frequently to identify plants, or open QR codes, or just get info on visual things.
  • Cameras are a big part of my mobile world & quality is important to me. Many budget to midrange devices can be good but many are also terrible. I have a TCL20SE back up phone in case something happens to my main phone. Cameras are dreadful at £199
  • I think if a phone is going to your only camera, you probably should be somewhat attentive to it in a prospective device. I'd probably spend a bit more money because a better phone will get two things (probably): 1) faster SoC architecture, so your actual camera app (i.s. shutter) won't lag
    2) better optical lenses
  • The 2021 Pixel 6 Pro has 2019 Samsung camera hardware in it... Stop the hype, for goodness sake.
  • So what? All the Pixels prior to the 6 series were using camera hardware that was 3 or 4 years old at this point and they still competed every year for the best camera on a smartphone. Hardware is only half the story when it comes to moble photography.
  • I totally agree people only look at hardware how fast, how big the camera lens is etc... but if you have half-baked software what good is that?
  • Samsung is a perfect example. Hardware is great, software is crap.
  • Yes, it is worth it. At the time, I bought one of the best smartphone cameras in the world, running on THE fastest phone in the world. Three years later it's still a stellar performer, and I have no desire to replace it. Even fought with my carrier to keep it.
  • My 6 year old LG G4 STILL has a great camera and screen, even by today's standards. But the battery won't hold a charge and replacements are mostly off-brand junk. Plus, phones have made other big improvements so think I'll finally opt for a Pixel 6 Pro upgrade
  • "Is it worth spending more for a good phone camera?" Yes, because it's pretty much the ONLY camera I'm ever going to spend money on.
    Fotography is not even a hobby for me, it doesn't make sense for me to spend money on a dedicated camera and/or editing software. But, when I DO take pictures (of familly, pets, or just because I saw something cool and felt like it) I want to have good quality, and there are plenty of mobile apps to make quick edits, add filters or cool effects, remove objects, etc, starting with Google Photos that's already built-in my phone. Also, better phone cameras tend to be accompanied by better phones overall.
  • Camera quality is one of the first features I check reviews for. If the camera is mediocre or even just average, it's a no buy for me. There are times I can't bring my DSLR gear with me and the phone has to be THE camera. The phones are good enough so the camera has to shine.
  • When I am buying a phone the camera is not an important consideration.
  • It can be worth it, but to me, as a hobby photographer, the camera app is almost more important than the camera itself. I mainly shoot in "pro mode" where I have full control of everything and if the camera app has a messy layout or is unintuitive to use, I just use my DSLR instead. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultras cameras are brilliant, but the app is not. So I'll probably get myself a Sony Experia instead.