As the old adage goes, the best camera is the one that’s with you. Since most people carry a phone with them just about everywhere, it’s no wonder we’re taking more photos on phones than cameras these days. And now that phone cameras can actually take decent photos and videos, we’re using them to record special events such as weddings and birthdays instead of lugging around a DSLR. But which phone has the best cameras? Which phone takes the best photos? Is it also the best for taking videos? What about selfies?

We’ve rounded up eight of the latest flagship phones in order to put their cameras to the test and find out the answers to these questions. Click the name of the phone below to jump straight to the review of that phone's cameras:

Click here to read the overall verdict and also see: Best phone for audio and music & Fastest phones of 2016

Earlier this year we tested the cameras of nine flagship phones including the HTC One M9, LG G4 and Motorola Moto X. You can find that comparison later on in this article. However, now that we've got our hands on the Galaxy S7, HTC 10, Huawei P9 and LG G5, we thought we'd update this article to find out whether the newcomers are better than the best of the older crew. (We've also compared the best phone cameras of 2015 if you happen to be buying a previous-generation phone.)

Best phone camera 2016: What to look for

Looking at specifications and features will tell you only so much, and it’s a bad idea to choose a phone purely on the basis of its cameras’ megapixel ratings.

However, features can make a difference. Not all phones can record video at 60 frames per second, for example, and some are limited to 1920x1080 rather than the more detailed 4K (or Ultra HD).

Some phones, such as the Huawei P9, use dual cameras to create clever – and convincing – effects such as shallow depth of field, while others use their dual cameras very differently. The LG G5 has a ‘standard’ camera next to a wide-angle camera which is great for capturing action, and offers a viewpoint much like a GoPro.

Best phone camera 2016

The stock camera app itself varies considerably between phones, but if you don’t like it you can download another: there’s plenty of choice. Changing app can also give you extra features, but it’s unlikely you will find higher-resolution or higher frame rates: a phone’s raw performance is often the limiting factor, particularly when it comes to slo-mo video.

The Nexus 6P doesn’t support time-lapse natively, but this is easy to do with a third-party app as it isn’t dependent on performance. However, this same phone can’t shoot 1080p video at 60fps, which will be an issue for some people.

If your priority is video, look for good stabilisation as this can make a big difference to the footage. Don’t forget sound, either. You can listen to the quality of the microphones in each of the clips below.

Best phone camera 2016: Outdoor portrait

Click the image below to see all the portrait photos and our assessment of which are the best.

Best phone camera 2016: portrait photos

Best phone camera 2016: Landscape

Click the image below to see all the landscape photos and 100 percent crops so you can evaluate detail.

Best phone camera 2016: landscape photos

Best phone camera 2016: Selfie

Click the image below to see the selfie photos from each phone:

Best phone camera 2016: selfies

Best phone camera 2016: low light

Click the image below to see how the eight phones perform in low light

Best phone camera 2016: low light photos

 

Best phone camera 2016: video

To see the clips from each phone at the best quality you should ensure that you view them full screen and select the appropriate quality by clicking on the cog icon at the bottom right. Naturally, you will need a 4K monitor to see all the detail in the 4K videos.

iPhone 6S - 4K

Google Nexus 6P - 4K

HTC 10 - 4K

Huawei P9 - 1080p

LG G5 - 4K (main camera)

LG G5 - 4K (wide-angle camera)

Samsung Galaxy S7 - 4K

Xiaomi Mi 5 - 4K

Sony Xperia Z5 - 4K

iPhone 6S camera review

Key features:

  • Rear: 12Mp, 4K video, 1080p at 60fps
  • Optical stabilisation: No (only on 6S Plus)
  • Front: 5Mp, 1080p video
  • Panorama: Yes up to 63Mp
  • Slo-mo: 1080p 120fps, 720p 240fps
  • Time-lapse: Yes
  • Other: Live Photos

The iPhone 6S is a reliable snapper. The upgrade to 12Mp (over 8Mp on the iPhone 6) doesn’t add as much detail as you might expect. This is partially down to the smaller pixels which means noise reduction might be working harder.

There are few settings, and that’s a good thing: most people want to press the shutter or shoot a video and not even think about modes or settings. One niggle is that you can’t even change the video resolution in the native camera app, so if you like to shoot at 60fps you’ll have to delve into the Settings app to switch to 30fps when shooting in low light.

It’s not the best camera on a smartphone, but it does an excellent job in most situations which means you’ll more often get a usable photo where a technically better camera might fail to focus on your subject or get the wrong white balance.

The native app does a great job of shooting panoramas, time-lapse and slo-mo videos. In fact, the iPhone is one of the best cameras for slo-mo, especially since it gives the option of 120fps at 1080p. Most flagship smartphones only allow slo-mo at 720p.

We’re not big fans of Live photos, but for the uninitiated they record a couple of seconds of low-frame-rate video before and after the main photo. You then press hard on the 3D Touch screen to bring the photo to life.

For selfies, the iPhone has the benefit of a front ‘flash’ – the screen momentarily boosts to 3 times its normal brightness. However, photos from the 5Mp camera are quite soft and don’t stack up well against the best phones.

Google Nexus 6P camera review

Key features:

  • Rear: 12.3Mp, 4K video, 1080p at 30fps
  • Optical stabilisation: No
  • Front: 8Mp, 1080p video
  • Panorama: Yes
  • Slo-mo: 1080p 120fps, 720p 240fps
  • Time-lapse: No

It’s one of the oldest phones in this roundup, but it’s also still one of the very best for photos. The rear 12.3Mp ‘Google camera’ has a sharpness that’s almost unrivalled. Photos are packed with detail and show every last skin blemish and wrinkle. You may think that’s a bad thing, but when you’re shooting a close-up of your pet you’ll see a stunning amount of detail  that you simply don’t get with other phones.

The auto HDR mode works well, and while the 6P tended to underexpose images in some of our tests, it was far less likely to blow out highlights: you’ll see more blue skies than the flat white skies as you get with many phone cameras.

Low-light performance is good and better than the iPhone’s but not as good as the Galaxy S7’s.

Like the iPhone, it can shoot awesome slo-mo video at 1080p or at double speed if you drop down to 720p. However, there’s no optical stabilisation and no option to record video at 60fps.

The front camera is pretty good, too. It delivers sharp photos and a wider field of view.

Overall, the 6P is a superb choice if your priority is photos. However, the LG G5 is more versatile with its extra wide-angle camera, while the Galaxy S7 is arguably a better all-rounder.

HTC 10 camera review

Key features:

  • Rear: 12Mp, 4K video, 1080p at 30fps
  • Optical stabilisation: Yes, front and rear
  • Front: 5Mp, 1080p video
  • Panorama: Yes
  • Slo-mo: 720p 240fps
  • Time-lapse: Yes

It may have the UltraPixel branding, but the HTC 10’s rear 12Mp camera has a normal sensor. Each pixel is relatively large at 1.55µm; this and the optical stabilisation help to give decent photos both day and night.

There’s an auto HDR mode along with a decent manual mode, and you have the option to shoot in RAW and then process the DNG files yourself. However, you can’t tap to set a metering point which is disappointing.

In auto mode, the HTC 10 is capable of some excellent photos and our portrait shot is a good example of a well-exposed scene with realistic skin tones.

Video quality is pretty good, too. In 4K you get plenty of detail and the optical stabilisation really helps to smooth things out if you have shaky hands, or you’re walking along. It does struggle with dynamic range in video, though.

A bonus is that it can record Hi-res audio with videos, and the quality of the mics is definitely a notch above most other phones.

The revamped camera app is good, but it doesn’t support video recording at 60fps. Also, there’s no quick access to the camera short of swiping up on the screen. Other phones, such as the Nexus 6P let you double-press the power button to launch the camera.

Selfies proved below par, despite the front 5Mp camera also having optical stabilisation (and also the same screen-flash as the iPhone). Colours tended to be washed out and the beauty mode makes faces look like they’re made of plastic.

Huawei P9 camera review

Key features:

  • Rear: 12Mp dual camera, 1080p at 60fps
  • Optical stabilisation: No
  • Front: 8Mp, 1080p video
  • Panorama: Yes
  • Slo-mo: 720p 240fps
  • Time-lapse: Yes

The highlight of the Huawei P9 is undoubtedly its cameras – all three of them. The rear dual-camera arrangement is a tie-in with Leica, although the hardware is actually manufactured by Sunny Optical Technology in China with Leica’s say so.

One of the rear cameras has a standard RGB sensor, while the other is monochrome. Images are taken with both cameras and combined to give better light sensitivity, but you can shoot high quality black-and-white photos using only the mono camera.

The camera app has been influenced heavily by Leica and has plenty of options including a manual mode and the option to shoot in RAW and JPG at the same time. There’s also a clever depth-of-field mode which gives DSLR-style bokeh – a blurred background and sharp subject.

You can even choose what you want in focus after taking a photo in this mode, and the results can be stunning. It’s certainly the most effective of all the ‘blurred background’ modes we’ve seen on a phone but it can still be fooled as it is software processing rather than being a true optical effect.

You also get Huawei shooting modes such as light painting and also ‘beauty video’.

The bad news is that we weren’t that impressed with the standard photos from the P9. There’s far too much processing going on: mainly increased contrast and saturation. Photos are super sharp though, and it could be that Huawei is applying too much sharpening for some tastes. We shot in the Standard mode, which is just one of three Leica modes designed to ‘meticulously reproduce the look of authentic Leica photographs’.

In low light the dual cameras mean that it does a better job than many phones. However, the laser autofocus system did struggle on occasion and failed to produce sharp faces.

HDR is a separate mode, so you’ll have to invoke it manually when you think a scene demands it.

It also seems that so much effort went into photography that Huawei forgot about video. There’s no support for 4K, but at least you can opt to record 1080p at 60fps.

At the front is an 8Mp selfie camera. It has a decent wide-angle lens, but we found that details were quite soft, potentially due to noise reduction, but more likely as a result of the beauty mode.

The P9 has the best cameras of any Huawei phone, but it’s not quite on a par with the Galaxy S7 overall. If you like being creative with your photography, though, it is a compelling choice.

LG G5 camera review

Key features:

  • Rear: 16Mp + 8Mp wide-angle, 4K and 1080p at 30fps (both cameras)
  • Optical stabilisation: Yes (both rear cameras)
  • Front: 8Mp, 1080p video
  • Panorama: Yes
  • Slo-mo: 720p 240fps
  • Time-lapse: Yes

Although the G5 is modular and allows you to plug in a separate camera, the built in cameras are very capable. One is a ‘standard’ 16Mp camera which is slightly unusual in that it has a 16:9 sensor rather than the typical 4:3, and the other is an 8Mp camera with a 135-degree wide-angle lens.

It’s really easy to swap between the cameras is all the shooting modes in which they’re available and while the wide-angle camera doesn’t even come close to the main camera for quality, it opens up a whole load of interesting shooting options which would either require a GoPro-type camera or an add-on lens such as those from Olloclip.

Clip-on lenses are a hassle, though, so it’s great to have the option to go wide when you need to cram in more to your image, either because you’re limited in your shooting position or because you want a more stylised photo or video.

You can select UHD video with both cameras, although as with photos, the drop in quality is noticeable with the wide-angle.

Using the main camera, the G5 is capable of excellent photos whether you’re taking landscapes, portraits or close-ups. It exposes well and the laser autofocus only struggles in low light. Photos aren’t the best in low light: they’re grainy and noisy but with decent levels of detail.

For selfies, it’s not a great phone. It took washed-out photos which were soft at the edges. Like the HTC, it reverses the image so it’s as if you’re looking in a mirror.

Overall, the G5 is a decent choice for photography, if not so much for selfies. It’s the only phone to offer a built-in wide-angle camera, but it’s a shame that LG didn’t make it waterproof like the Galaxy S7 so you could really take advantage of those cameras in all conditions.

Samsung Galaxy S7 camera review

Key features:

  • Rear: 12Mp, 4K, 1080p at 60fps
  • Optical stabilisation: Yes
  • Front: 5Mp, 1080p video
  • Panorama: Yes, plus motion panorama
  • Slo-mo: 720p 240fps
  • Time-lapse: Yes

Samsung has shied away from high pixel counts and gone for a 12Mp main camera rather than the 16Mp on the S6. It’s a bold but wise move and makes the S7 one of the best phones for photography that you can buy.

It ticks almost every box, too, with optical stabilisation, 4K video and the option for 60fps in 1080p. It can shoot slo-mo, albeit not in 1080p, and will shrug off a downpour because the whole phone is water resistant.

And despite having the same number of pixels as the iPhone 6S, photos were sharper and much more detailed. Colours are vibrant and exposures are generally spot on. And in low light, the larger pixels (1.4µm vs 1.22µm) really seemed to help: the S7 is capable of superbly detailed photos with virtually no noise. You don’t get a dual-tone flash – or a front flash – but few will miss these.

4K video is also highly detailed and thanks to an HDR option, doesn’t blow out the sky when other phones can’t avoid it. Audio is decent from the built-in mics as well. The OIS helps, but there’s a bit of video wobble if you’re moving it around too much.

You can double-tap the home button to launch the camera, and there’s minimal focus lag which means you’re less likely to miss the moment: another reason why the S7 makes for such a good camera. Reviewing photos on the AMOLED screen is a treat, too.

The app includes a manual mode where you can change the metering mode, ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation. Plus you can choose to shoot in RAW mode and enable the tracking autofocus mode.

Samsung has also copied Apple and added a Motion Photo mode which records a couple of seconds of video before and after you take a full resolution photo. Arguably more useful is the ability to take 9Mp photos while shooting 4K video.

If you’re into selfies, the front 5Mp camera has a decent wide-angle lens and produces sharp, well-exposed self-portraits.

This all-round goodness makes the S7 the best phone camera right now. It does a fantastic job in auto mode, but offers manual options for those that want them. And in addition to superb quality results, Samsung has nailed the user experience, too.

Xiaomi Mi 5 camera review

Key features:

  • Rear: 16Mp, 4K, 1080p at 30fps
  • Optical stabilisation: Yes
  • Front: 4Mp, 1080p video
  • Panorama: Yes
  • Slo-mo: 720p 120fps
  • Time-lapse: Yes

Xiaomi takes the cameras seriously on the Mi 5 and uses a 16Mp Sony sensor and a sapphire cover for the main camera. It has what Xiaomi is calling 4-axis optical stabilisation and can record video at 4K.

It has its limits, though. There’s no 1080p60 mode and slo-mo is a mere 120fps at 720p. But these minor gripes aside, this is a surprisingly good camera on a phone that’s half the price (or less) than other flagships on test here.

The app is a little confusing at first because you have to swipe in from the left to change modes and options. Also, settings are separate for video and photos and it’s easy to accidentally apply digital zoom when swiping to access these options.

There are a few unusual options, such as a long shutter setting up to 32 seconds: something you won’t find even on the HTC 10, which is limited to two seconds (the Huawei P9 lets you keep it open for 30 seconds).

Typically, cameras on mid-range phones have no hope of competing with the best out there, but the Mi 5 holds its own. Photos aren’t as sharp as the Samsung S7 or the Nexus 6P, but they’re perfectly respectable. Colours are generally natural and exposure good. In our portrait photo we discovered that face detection didn’t always work: it focused on buildings in the background.

But when it works – which is most of the time – you won’t be disappointed by the Mi 5’s photos. In low light it doesn’t embarrass itself, just about keeping up with the iPhone 6S.

4K video is nice and sharp, and stabilisation is effective too. Even audio is clear, although it’s not as directional as the iPhone’s and lacks bass.

Sony Xperia Z5 camera review

Key features:

  • Rear: 23Mp, 4K, 1080p at 60fps
  • Optical stabilisation: No
  • Front: 5Mp, 1080p video
  • Panorama: Yes
  • Slo-mo: 720p 120fps
  • Time-lapse: Yes

Sony makes the sensor for the Z5’s 23Mp camera, but somehow the Z5 gets it wrong on quite a few levels. While some – notably DxOMark – rate the Z5 very highly, we’ve tested both the Z5 and Z5 Premium and come to very different conclusions.

First up, that massive megapixel rating. Sony has been cagey about revealing specific details about the sensor and the phone defaults to 8Mp so you have to actively change it to 23Mp. And as you can plainly see from our landscape comparison crops, there’s less detail in the Z5’s photo than you get from phones with 12Mp cameras. Really, that high number is misleading at best and fraudulent at worst.

There’s more trouble, too. You’ll find SteadyShot in the menus, but this isn’t optical stabilisation. It’s actually software cropping which smooths out video in the same way video editing software does.

Plus, it can only record slo-mo video at 120fps at 720p. Most rivals offer double the frame rate and some will record 120fps at 1080p.

There is one bonus: a dedicated two-stage shutter button, something no other rival in this group possesses. The phone is also water resistant like the Galaxy S7, so you don’t have to put it away if it starts raining heavily. Unfortunately, Sony did a u-turn on its waterproof claim in September 2015 and you’ll now void the warranty if you start trying to take underwater photos and videos.

In low light its photos aren’t too bad but lack detail compared to the best (the Galaxy S7) and in good light, colours tend to be washed out.

For selfies, the front 5Mp camera has a very wide field of view, but images are very soft at the edges.

In the right circumstances, the Z5 can take a decent photo and video, but it’s far from the best phone camera.

Best phone camera 2016: Verdict

Aside from the Xperia Z5 which proved a disappointment for a second time, none of the cameras here are bad. The best phone for you, though, will depend on your priorities. If you specifically want to shoot video at 60fps, this rules out a surprising number of new phones: LG G5, HTC 10, plus the Mi 5 and Nexus 6P. But not the Galaxy S7, which shoots great 1080p60 (and also 4K30).

But if you want to get creative with photos, the LG G5 with its wide-angle secondary camera is fun, as are the special modes on the Huawei P9. The P9 might suit some people, but the focus is firmly on photos: it doesn’t support 4K video and has no optical stabilisation. The Galaxy S7 offers both.

As we’ve said, the iPhone’s camera isn’t the last word in sharpness or detail – and the front camera is even worse in this respect – but it does a solid job all round and is dependable. Sure, you’ll end up with the odd blurry photo of your tearaway toddler, but you’ll be pleased with the 60fps video or 4K footage. The slo-mo mode is also great quality, and it produces great-looking photos in most situations.

HTC promised its latest phone would offer a very, very compelling camera experience but the bottom line is that it’s not the best phone camera out there. It can take decent photos and videos but they’re not the sharpest and the “experience” could be better: we want a fast way to launch the camera app and support for 60fps when shooting in 1080p. Some people will gravitate towards the phone because of its Hi-Res audio and the option to shoot photos in RAW, but apart from the Hi-Res audio recording in videos, the Galaxy S7 has everything that’s missing here.

If your budget is limited, the Xiaomi Mi 5 is a fine choice and if you can live without 60fps video and optical stabilisation, the Nexus 6P takes fantastically sharp photos (and video).

Ultimately, though, the Samsung is the best all-rounder. It ticks all the feature boxes apart from a couple that don’t particularly matter to most people – 120fps slo-mo and Hi-Res audio recording – and takes superb photos and videos which are sharper and more detailed than most other phones, including the iPhone 6S.

(Below is the previous comparison from the start of 2016)

Best phone camera 2016: the contenders

At the start of the year we gathered together the iPhone 6s Plus, the latest Google Nexus phones, Sony's Xperia Z5, the OnePlus 2, Moto X Force and brought back the Galaxy S6 (in Edge+ guise), One M9 and G4 (still HTC and LG's flagships) to battle it out again.

This isn't meant as an exhaustive test of every last camera feature on each phone. We didn't test slo-mo, time-lapse and burst modes. You can read more about those in our individual phone reviews. Instead, this was intended to be a useful comparison for anyone looking to choose a phone based on the quality of its standard photos and videos.

Below is a brief comparison table showing the main specs of each phone’s cameras:

 

Main camera resolution

Front camera resolution

Video (max. resolution)

Optical stabilisation (OIS)

Flash

Dedicated camera button

iPhone 6S

12Mp

5Mp

4K [email protected]

No

Dual-tone LED

No

iPhone 6S Plus

12Mp

5Mp

4K [email protected]

Yes

Dual-tone LED

No

Google Nexus 5X

12.3Mp

8Mp

4K [email protected]

No

Dual-tone LED

No

Google Nexus 6P

12.3Mp

8Mp

4K [email protected]

No

Dual-tone LED

No

HTC One M9

20Mp

4Mp

4K [email protected]

No

Dual-tone LED

No

Motorola Moto X Force*

21Mp

5Mp

4K [email protected]

No

Dual-tone LED

No

LG G4

16Mp

8Mp

4K [email protected]

Yes

LED

No

OnePlus 2

13Mp

5Mp

4K [email protected]

Yes

Dual-LED

No

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+**

16Mp

5Mp

4K [email protected]

Yes

LED

No

Sony Xperia Z5***

23Mp

5Mp

4K [email protected]

No

LED

Yes

* The Moto X Force uses the same cameras as the Play and Style, so you can use the samples below as if they were from those phones.

** The Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+ use the same cameras, so the photos and videos are representative of all three phones.

*** The Xperia Z5, Z5 Premium and Z5 Compact also share the same front and rear cameras.

Best phone camera 2016: The tests

We set up each phone to the highest resolution available for photos and videos. That meant switching aspect ratio from the default if necessary for the front and back camera. We didn't use any RAW modes, just the standard JPEG mode. The only exception was the Xperia Z5, because Sony recommends shooting in the default super-sampling 8Mp mode.

For each test, we took photos within minutes of each other to ensure conditions were as similar as possible.

We didn't use any tripods, since virtually all photos are taken handheld with a phone. This meant stabilisation systems - whether optical or electronic - could prove their worth.

Again, opting for real-world shooting, we selected automatic modes and didn’t tap the screen to choose focus or exposure points. Few people do this and it allowed us to assess the cameras' automatic exposure systems. The tests are not scientific: we haven't used test images to check for focus, distortion and other technical characteristics. These are real-world photos, so they give the same results you can expect when you use the phone yourself.

All photos were taken from the same spot, which is why the field of view changes from phone to phone. Different cameras have different lenses: some more wide-angle than others. Also playing a major part is the sensor format. Some are 16:9 while others have 4:3 sensors. In each case, we made sure we used the highest resolution available – many Android phones default to 16:9 which chops the top and bottom off the photo for phones with 4:3 sensors.

The photos below were all taken in November 2015 on an overcast day, including the selfies which were taken indoors, facing a window. They are unedited. All we did was to resize them to 1600 pixels wide and display them at 750 pixels wide. You can click on them to expand them to 1600 pixels.

Here's a reference photo of St Pancras, shot in similar (but not identical) conditions to those in the photos below:

Best camera phone 2016 - Canon 60D reference photo

And here's a 100 percent crop so can you see the detail it can capture:

Best camera phone 2016 - Canon 60D reference photo

Best phone camera 2016: St Pancras hotel

iPhone 6S Plus

Best phone camera 2016: iPhone 6S Plus

100 percent crop:

Best camera phone - iPhone 6S Plus 100 percent crop

It's a murky-looking shot from the iPhone 6S Plus. However, the HDR mode - triggered automatically - means the sky hasn't been blown out. Detail and sharpness is good, but there's not all that much more detail compared to the 8Mp iPhones from last year. It may look murky, but it's close to what the scene actually looked like. Some of the phones managed to brighten it up more using HDR (such as the Nexus 5X and 6P) but in reality, St Pancras was fairly dark.

Google Nexus 5X

Best phone camera 2016: Nexus 5X

100 percent crop:

Best camera phone - Nexus 5X 100 percent crop

The 5X has chosen a slightly cooler white balance than other phones but the HDR+ mode (which we recommend using in the full 5X review) has brought out shadow detail and prevented the sky from turning white. It's a sharp photo with plenty of detail.

Google Nexus 6P

Best phone camera 2016: Nexus 6P

100 percent crop:

Best camera phone - Nexus 6P 100 percent crop

It's hardly suprising that the 6P's photo is virtually identical to the 5X: they use the same camera. The only minor difference is that the 5X doesn't have electronic image stabilisation. The 6P has brightened up the scene even more though.

HTC One M9

Best phone camera 2016: HTC One M9

100 percent crop:

Best camera phone - HTC One M9 100 percent crop

We weren't overly impressed with the M9's main camera when we tested it against its rivals and it doesn't fare too well now, either. The HDR mode is hidden away as a shooting mode in its own right and isn't something that will turn on automatically so we left it disabled here. The overall exposure is a bit dark, but more disappointing is the heavy-handed noise reduction (and / or compression) which leaves the hotel's brickwork smudgy. The 16:9 sensor means you don't see as much of the scene as phones with 4:3 sensors.

Motorola Moto X Force

Best phone camera 2016: Moto X Force

100 percent crop:

Best camera phone - Moto X Force 100 percent crop

It's a decent effort from the Moto X Force, although the highlights are blown out. It makes for a better looking photo overall, but there's less potential to get a better image in Photoshop due to the clipping. Focus, sharpness and detail levels are all good, but compression artefacts are visible in the brickwork and - to a lesser extent - tiles.

LG G4

Best phone camera 2016: LG G4

100 percent crop:

Best camera phone - LG G4 100 percent crop

An appalling misfire from the G4 here. It's hard to see without looking up close, but the whole image is fuzzy and smudgy with low detail levels. It wasn't caused by shaky hands, since both test shots came out the same and used a 1/364sec shutter speed and ISO-50. Checking the same photo shot back in May on a different sample supplied by LG, there's evidence of the same fuzziness and lack of sharpening around the pillars and balcony. The G4 is capable of better quality than this, but clearly not in these conditions. It's even blown the sky out. (It's worth pointing out that other people have got better results from their G4s than we have, and we know it's capable of great quality. But we can only report on the photos and video shot with the press review phones we were given.)

See also: LG G5 release date, price and specs rumours.

OnePlus 2

Best phone camera 2016: OnePLus 2

100 percent crop:

Best camera phone - OnePlus 2 100 percent crop

Aside from the over-saturated colours which have turned the brickword to orange, this is a good shot from the OnePlus. Focus and exposure are respectable, and although there's some evidence of noise, detail is retained and there are minimal compression artefacts.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+

Best phone camera 2016: Galaxy S6 Edge+

100 percent crop:

Best camera phone - Galaxy S6 Edge 100 percent crop

One of the best, if not the best, photos in these conditions. We already knew the S6 had a great camera and it proves it with this well-exposed shot that exhibits great detail levels. There's quite a lot of sharpening going on, but the result is a usable photo that doesn't require much editing at all. The only criticism is the 16:9 sensor which means you lose the top and bottom - just compare this with the much taller image from the Sony below:

See also: Samsung Galaxy S7 release date, price and specs rumours.

Sony Xperia Z5

Best phone camera 2016: Xperia Z5

100 percent crop (this was in 8Mp mode - the default mode Sony recommends you use):

Best camera phone - Xperia Z5 100 percent crop

As we've seen from Sony before, the Z5 delivers a strangely ghostly image that's artificially bright. The wide-angle lens introduces some distortion and focus is a little soft. At least colours are natural. In better conditions, the Z5 is capable of better quality than this effort.

Best phone camera of 2015: Outdoor photo – Brunswick Square Gardens

iPhone 6S Plus

Best phone camera 2016

Here the iPhone 6S demonstrates why it's one of the best phones for photography. The exposure is excellent, as is focus and white balance. There's just the right amount of sharpening and no noise. There's purple fringing on the tree branches which is a little more pronounced than other phones, except the OnePlus 2.

Google Nexus 5X

 Best phone camera 2016

The HDR+ mode ensures another great photo from the Nexus 5X. There's lots of sharp detail, and the sky isn't blown out. It isn't identical to the 6P's photo, though. The framing is slightly different and the leaves on the trees look washed out. This could be due to the metering system choosing a different exposure to the 6P's, and this is inevitable if you leave any phone using entirely automatic setttings. Sometimes it will be perfect, other times not.

Google Nexus 6P

 Best phone camera 2016

The 6P is capable of great photos with HDR+ turned off, but in scenes like this it helps to retain highlights. And as you can see, there's blue rather than white sky in this example. It has also exposed the image slightly better than the Nexus 5X, but that's most likely down to marginally different framing.

HTC One M9

 Best phone camera 2016

When we tried the HDR mode on the One M9, we were rewarded with a blurry, out of focus photo. The image above was shot without HDR, and is much better for it. It's sharp and fairly detailed, but the limited range means the sky and tree branches are over-exposed.

Motorola Moto X Force

 Best phone camera 2016

The Moto X Force has also over-exposed this shot. Although colours are good, detail is a bit soft in places, especially near edges. It's a respectable photo, but not quite in the same league as the new Nexus phones.

LG G4

 Best phone camera 2016

At this reduced size the LG G4's photo looks ok. But zoom in and the same fuzziness seen in the St Pancras photo is evident. It doesn't suffer from the same chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) as the iPhone or OnePlus 2, below, though.

OnePlus 2

 Best phone camera 2016

A great shot from the OnePlus 2. Colours are natural, focus is sharp and detail levels are excellent.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+

 Best phone camera 2016

The ever-consistent Galaxy S6 delivers another great photo. Exposure, focus, white balance are all great. The image isn't quite as sharp as the OnePlus 2's, though!

Sony Xperia Z5

Best phone camera 2016

Again, the Z5's tendency to overexpose is demonstrated here. The metering hasn't compensated adequately for the bright sky which affects the phone box, which appears faded compared to other phones. Details are sharp, though.

Best phone camera 2016: low-light photo

iPhone 6S Plus

Best camera phone 2016

The iPhone 6S Plus isn't as competent in low light as Apple would have you believe. The white balance is off, and there's noticeable amounts of noise. No doubt the smaller pixels have had in impact here: the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus may have fewer pixels to play with, but the fact that they're larger means they can receive more light. It's not bad, but it's certainly not the best.

Google Nexus 5X

Best camera phone 2016

Whether the difference between the 5X and 6P's low light photos is down to shaky hands or the lack of electronic stabilisation we can't say for sure. But the 6P's effort is noticeably sharper which suggests the EIS is doing its job on the more expensive phone. Both are good photos, though, with negligible colour noise. Colours are impressive, as is the amount of detail retained even with the noise reduction.

Google Nexus 6P

Best camera phone 2016

Proving itself a good all-rounder even if it does lack optical stabilisation, the 6P manages a sharp photo in very little light. If you have particularly shaky hands you might not get results as good as this, mind.

HTC One M9

Best camera phone 2016

As well as lacking in shadow detail, HTC's photo shows heavy-handed noise reduction which eliminates detail and leaves everything very smudgy-looking. Of course, looking at the whole photo on screen and avoiding zooming in 1:1, you won't really notice. But even so, the One M9 isn't a great low-light performer.

Motorola Moto X Force

Best camera phone 2016

It's a similar story for the Moto X Force. It's a gloomy, dingy-looking scene, with compression artefacts easily visible when you zoom in to check the detail. But even without looking at the actual pixels, it's fairly obvious to see where noise has been removed: look at the wall behind the Vegemite jar.

LG G4

Best camera phone 2016

The LG G4 excels in low light. In fact, it's almost as if we lit up the room compared to, say, the One M9 and Moto X Force. (We didn't - the exposure was 1/9 sec) There's quite a lot of noise, but we're happy to live with that given the quality of the image as a whole: details are still sharp and haven't been obliterated by noise reduction.

OnePlus 2

Best camera phone 2016

Not a bad effort from the OnePlus 2. Focus is a little soft, and there's a fair amount of noise, but more expensive phones faired worse in this test.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+

Best camera phone 2016

Like the OnePlus 2, the Galaxy S6 Edge+'s photo is a little soft, but the exposure is better and there's far less colour noise. In fact, this is one of the best low-light photos of the group.

Sony Xperia Z5

Best camera phone 2016

The Z5 does an admirable job in limited light with a good exposure, good detail and limited noise. The soft focus on the left side of the image - noticeable on the memo pad - is disappointing though.

Best phone camera 2016: 4K video

Note that the videos below were uploaded to YouTube as our usual video player doesn't yet support 4K playback. Also note that you won't be able to select the 4K quality option on most mobile devices including iPads. You should really use a PC or laptop with a 4K screen to judge the quality.

iPhone 6S Plus

The new iPhones differ slightly in their video capabilities, with the 6S Plus having the benefit of optical stabilisation. It makes a big difference, offering smooth and generally shake-free fotage with a much more cinematic feel. Focusing is generally excellent thanks to those special focus pixels, and it only struggles to focus in very low light.

With the benefit of 4K, images have great levels of detail and there's the expected great colour reproduction. Only the audio recording lets the side down a little, but you can always connect a better-quality microphone.

Google Nexus 5X

The Nexus 5X delivers excellent quality video. Colour, exposure and white balance are good, and focus is fast, too. The lack of optical stabilisation is the big disadvantage, so you really need to keep the phone as still as possible. In terms of audio, the microphones aren't directional, so a lot of ambient noise is recorded.

Google Nexus 6P

No surprises with the 6P, and our comments for the 5X apply here too.

HTC One M9

It may shoot in 4K, but the lack of any stabilisation at all means the One M9's video footage is some of the worst here and the difference is plain to see. Images also lack detail. The only plus is good stereo audio, but it's hardly a consolation.

Motorola Moto X Force

With good stabilisation, loads of detail and natural colours, the Moto X Force's videos are a pleasure to watch. This is bolstered by good audio, too. The camera is quick to adjust exposure when moving from light to dark or vice versa.

LG G4

If held relatively still, the G4 is capable of great video. But as good as the optical stabilisation is, footage suffers from the dreaded 'jello' effect when you move around too much. Colours and detail are generally good, but highlights can be blown out. Audio is pretty good, too.

OnePlus 2

OnePlus didn't skimp on the camera in the 2: it has optical stabilisation. This, along with 4K recording, means it delivers video on a par with phones costing more than twice as much. While image quality is generally great, audio quality is not. There's strange clipping, as if the ambient noise was too loud. This may be fixable with a software update, but as it stands, the sound lets the OP2 down.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+

As we saw back when we tested the Galax6 S6, the Edge+ - with the same camera - offers the same excellent detail levels, good colour and exposure. Stabilisation is effective if you really hold the phone still, but there's noticeable wobble or  'jello' when you're walking with it. Audio isn't perfect either. Overall, video quality is good, but other phones offer better stabilisation.

Sony Xperia Z5

For some reason, YouTube refuses to process the Xperia Z5's video after uploading it. So we're working on a way to post the clip here so you can watch it.

So you'll have to take it from us that the quality is generally excellent. Footage is packed with detail and stabilisation is also brilliant. Colours and exposure are good, and focus is fast. It only struggles - as most do - in low light.

Best phone camera 2016: selfie

This is a test of each phone's front camera. We disable any beauty modes so that we can more accurately judge the detail captured by each camera. On phones such as the Samsung S6 the mode is enabled by default and while it does improve selfies for the ladies (there are also options to enlarge the eyes), men will want to turn it off immediately.

iPhone 6S Plus

Best camera phone 2016

Apple may have upgraded from the 1.2Mp camera in the iPhone 6 to 5Mp, but there's still a lack of detail in selfies. Skin tones are realistic and not oversaturated, but the highlights are blown out and focus is soft.  

Google Nexus 5X

Best camera phone 2016

Well exposed, with good skin tones and lots of detail, the 5X is a great phone for those who love to take selfies. No skin smoothing is going on, something that won't please those who'd prefer their pores and blemishes to be hidden, but from a detail perspective, it's great.

Google Nexus 6P

Best camera phone 2016

As with the 5X, the 6P's identical camera does a superb job of capturing detail and textures. It's also perfectly exposed and sharp. If anything, the skin tones are a bit too saturated, but it's one of the best here.

HTC One M9

Best camera phone 2016

The One M9's front camera is arguably better than its rear. This example is well exposed, detailed and fairly sharp. Colours are a bit washed out, but arguably more natural than some here.

Motorola Moto X Force

Best camera phone 2016

Slightly underexposed, the Moto X Force's shot isn't overly flattering, and appears to be applying some skin smoothing which we couldn't turn off. If there's an option, we failed to find it. As a consequence, detail is limited and a bit smudgy.

LG G4

Best camera phone 2016

The G4 defaults to a mirrored selfie mode, which is why the image is flipped. It's a good photo, though, with realistic colours. Detail is lacking, though, with what appears to be smoothing despite us turning off the beauty mode.

OnePlus 2

Best camera phone 2016

We're not that impressed with the OnePlus 2's effort here. Skin tones are a bit off and there's similar smoothing going on like the LG G4. Overall, a lack of detail.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+

Best camera phone 2016

There's too much processing going on in the S6 Edge+'s selfie. And that's despite turning off the beauty mode. Smoothing and sharpening are too evident for our liking. Some will appreciate it, but we prefer the detail you get from the Nexus 5X and 6P.

Sony Xperia Z5

Best camera phone 2016

The Z5's photo has some posterisation - blocks of colour instead of smooth continous tones - from the smoothing, which shouldn't have been present with any beauty mode disabled. The overhead light has thrown white balance off a bit giving whites a green tint.

See also: the best phones of 2016/16

Best phone camera 2016: Verdict

So which is the best phone camera from the current crop in 2016? The short answer is that Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and Google Nexus 6P have two of the best cameras going, and that the iPhone 6S isn’t too far behind.

Others have rated Sony’s Xperia Z5 camera even higher, but in our experience it wasn’t nearly as impressive, and we can only go by the photos we took on our sample phones in real-world conditions.

The longer answer is that there are many more considerations than simply evaluating a few test photos and videos to determine which is the best phone camera for you. With this number of phones, we could easily have spent weeks testing every last feature, but as we said right at the start, our aim was to find out which camera took the best pictures in a few different real-world scenarios in auto mode.

With that being the remit, the S6 Edge and 6P are pretty much tied for first place, even when you factor in the quality of their front cameras. Add video to the mix and the Samsung edges ahead thanks to optical stabilisation which the Google phone lacks.

However, while it can’t compete on outright quality we still highly rate the iPhone’s camera. Other phones may have technically ‘better’ cameras, but this doesn’t always translate to better photos: they can be hit and miss as conditions change.

The iPhone, on the other hand, delivers consistently good photos – and video - in just about any conditions with no need to adjust any settings. This reliability is exactly what you need in a phone camera that you depend on to capture the moment.

It’s also important to look at the other camera features a phone offers, too. If you like to shoot in slo-mo, you’re more likely to pick a phone that has the fastest frame rate at the highest resolution. Most are capable of only 120fps at 720p, but the iPhone 6S and Plus can both capture 240fps at this resolution, a significant difference.

Currently, all these flagships record 4K video at a maximum of 30fps, but many can shoot 1080p at 60fps, including the iPhones, Xperia Z5 and Galaxy S6 Edge. However, the Nexus 6P does not natively support 1080p60 which will be a dealbreaker for some.

For others, the front camera is just as important, and beauty modes can improve a quick selfie. The Nexus 6P and 5X have fantastic front cameras which deliver sharp, detail-filled photos. The S6 Edge and LG G4 have good beauty modes, but the Samsung has the better camera here.

If you’re after a good camera but can’t afford one of these phones, the OnePlus 2 comes to the rescue. The 64GB version costs £289 yet the camera stands up well against phones costing more that twice the price. It shoots in 4K, has OIS and delivers great quality in most situations. It can also capture slo-mo at 120fps in 720p, and the camera app offers time-lapse and panorama modes, just as you’d expect. The bad news is that OnePlus’ camera app doesn’t let you record video at 1080p60.

It’s no secret that the HTC One M9 has mediocre cameras, so we’re hoping for good things from its successor, rumoured to launch in just a few weeks. The Moto X Force was a bit of a disappointment, too. Like previous Motorola phones before it, the Force looks fine on paper, but the reality is that photos just aren’t in the same league as the Galaxy S6 Edge, Nexus 6P or iPhone 6S.

Videos, though, were surprisingly good considering the lack of optical stabilisation, but this isn’t enough to persuade many people to choose the Moto X over phones which take better photos.

Finally, the LG G4 has a pretty great camera but our sample made a few mistakes that blotted its results sheet. Like the HTC, it’s about to be superseded but while its replacement may have better cameras, it could still be a great phone to buy if prices drop even further: let’s not forget that you can pick one up for a similar price to the OnePlus 2.

Price, of course, is only one of the other factors you’ll be juggling when trying to pick the best phone. Battery life, screen size (and quality) and performance are probably all on your list. But if you’re choosing purely on the basis of the camera, it’s hard to beat the Galaxy S6 Edge, Nexus 6P and the iPhone 6S Plus.

Thanks to Ashleigh Allsopp for helping out with this article (you can follow her on Twitter)