Considering mobile phones didn’t routinely have cameras fitted until the mid-Noughties, the rise in smartphone picture quality has been quite remarkable.
An arms race between manufacturers has seen ever-more advanced lenses being installed, alongside greater control over image settings, while live photos provide a choice of split-second stills.
Of course, a smartphone can’t replicate the complexity of a dedicated camera, especially with so many other functions to perform – telephone, web browser, games console, music player…
Even the best high-end smartphones can’t supplant a tripod-mounted DSLR with master and slave flash guns and a 10mm wide-angle lens.
Nonetheless, these are some of the best smartphones for professional photographers to consider as secondary devices, emergency backups – or simply to capture high-calibre images on the fly.
Google Pixel 5
When considering the best smartphones for professional photographers, it would be remiss not to cite Google’s latest-generation Pixel phone as a point-and-shoot companion.
Despite scaling down some of its specs compared to its more expensive predecessor, the 5’s camera is a cut above older Pixel model, with impressive video stabilisation.
It features standard and ultra-wide lenses, including a 12.2MP 1/2.55-inch sensor, but it’s the algorithms which ensure the 5’s photographs look crisp, clear and well-defined.
Its main weakness is the lack of a telephoto lens. However, independent reviews cite the Pixel 5’s exposure, colour reproduction and low-light photography as being notably good.
Apple iPhone 12 Pro
While Apple’s flagship iPhone 12 Pro Max offers bleeding-edge camera technology, its £1,500 price tag is hard to justify at any time, and especially when it’s £900 more than the Pixel.
For considerably less money, the iPhone 12 Pro delivers images so crisp that it’s been adopted by a number of boutique estate agents, in place of freelancers with SLR cameras.
Its three rear cameras are all 12MP, offering telephoto, wide and ultrawide modes, and benefiting from a LiDAR scanner that offers quick focusing in low-light conditions.
The 12 Pro can also capture RAW files – a rare feature in any smartphone, and ideal for post-production editing.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Samsung has consistently put up the strongest resistance against Apple’s ongoing attempts to secure iOS dominance, and the S20 Ultra is a fine Android handset.
Its roster of rear cameras includes a 12MP 13mm ultra wide-angle lens and a 108MP primary camera with up to 100x zoom and the ability to record 8K video.
Widely hailed as the best Android camera phone ever, this is a good accompanying tool for a photographer whose carry case is already bursting with lenses and filters.
Like the iPhone 12 Pro, the S20 Ultra offers optical image stabilisation, but it goes one better by offering 8K video recording. It’s rather unnecessary, but eye-popping nonetheless.
Huawei P40 Pro
The lack of Android and Google software may stop professionals purchasing Huawei hardware now, since they won’t be able to use some of the software they’re familiar with.
That aside, the P40 Pro is a consistently strong performer which remains one of the best smartphones for professional photographers despite being almost one year old.
It uses a Leica camera module to capture stabilised images through 50MP primary and 40MP ultra wide-angle lenses, combining 5x optical and 50x digital zooms.
Despite lacking some of the software-powered image enhancements of other handsets in this shortlist, the P40 Pro’s photos are impressive – and its video functionalities are superb.
Sony Xperia 1 II
Another one-year-old handset with genuinely impressive camera functionalities, the Xperia 1 II packs much of Sony’s expertise manufacturing SLR cameras and compacts into a phone.
It’s aided by having a 21:9 screen resolution which can be replicated in video footage to produce cinematic presentations, alongside three 12MP Exmor RS sensors.
The 24mm and 70mm sensors are both optically stabilised, offering manual control over everything from ISO and shutter speed to exposure compensation and focus area.
You can also capture RAW files – and unlike the iPhone, these are standard RAW images rather than an Apple-specific variant.