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Best Android camera phones available today. Bonus: three future contenders

Quick, can you remember the last time you used a standalone digital camera? It was back when you were still listening to ”new” Rolling Stones hit singles on your dedicated MP3 players, right? Boy, have smartphones changed the game and sent a bunch of once crowd-pleasing gadgets to the pits of oblivion.

Android photography

Multimedia performers, skilled point-and-shoots, personal assistants, self-portrait producers, these are only some of the tricky roles Androids undertake day in and day out without flinching. Forget “convertible” tablets and laptops, our routine handhelds are the real 2-in-1, 3-in-1, 4-in-1, all-in-one MVPs.

Of course, while nearly all of today’s smartphones are versatile enough to transform into modern Walkmans, complex cameras and miniature PCs at will, only certain models can fulfil every task flawlessly.

Android camera

And if you don’t need a cutting-edge multi-purpose device, but rather the perfect machine for a specific imaging function, you may want to revisit our selfie specialist roundup or stay tuned for the ultimate list of camera phone pros.

That’s right, it’s time to put the selfie fad behind you, and concentrate on the best rear-facing cam-equipped Android contraptions available today, as well as a few imminent photography savants:

Samsung Galaxy S6 – $657 factory unlocked; $200 with Sprint, AT&T or Verizon pacts

It’s difficult to find something the GS6 (and its “edgy” sibling) aren’t great at. Cam performance is no exception, with 16 megapixels, optical image stabilization, autofocus, LED flash, face detection, auto HDR and panorama features covering all key areas a shutterbug might need when not in possession of a DSLR.

Galaxy-S6-Camera

Granted, the actual lens remains tiny compared to bulky digital single-lens reflex cameras, whereas the f/1.9 aperture system is no longer the cream of the crop after LG G4’s introduction. Yet at the end of the day, this powerhouse will produce amazing pics in whatever conditions… all things considered.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – $540 unlocked; starting at $230 with Verizon contracts

At first glance, Note 4 and S6’s main snappers are virtually identical. The same 16 MP count, OIS across the board, LED flash and so on and so forth. But if you look close enough, you’ll find Sammy’s newest top-shelf phablet boasts narrower f/2.2 aperture, resulting in slightly less low-light muscle.

Galaxy Note 4 camera

Needless to point out the on-contract GNote 4 is also pricier while packing an inferior processor that could well influence shutter speed.

Samsung Galaxy K Zoom – $411 unlocked

This weird hybrid is more digital camera than phone, and it’s nowhere near as widely available stateside as the mainstream new members of the S and Note families. But hey, it can make and receive voice calls, and when it comes to photography skill, it’s Android’s best shot at keeping Microsoft’s PureView technology at arm’s length.

Galaxy K Zoom

Hands down the 10x optical zoom is what makes this chunky monkey a shutterbug’s wet dream, alongside 20 hefty megapixels, 24 – 240 mm focal length, Xenon flash and a CMOS sensor.

Sony Xperia Z3 – starting at $465 international SIM-free

Though it also rocks 20.7 remarkable MPs, the Z3 is hardly an ideal DSLR replacement, since it lacks the sharp close-up miracles of optical zoom. Not to mention optical image stabilization.

Xperia Z3 camera

On the bright side, the CMOS 1/2.3″ sensor is a standout performer, and you get LED flash, autofocus , Burst Mode, HDR, a decent digital zoom and image stabilization system, plus 4K video recording at 30 fps in the 5.2 incher’s bag of tricks.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact – $380 unlocked

Xperia Z3 Compact

Smaller but not humbler than Sony’s most recent full-sized global flagship, this diminutive beast also unleashes the fury of a 20 megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture, LED flash, autofocus and 2,160p vid shooting at 30 fps. Including underwater.

LG G3 – $353 factory unlocked; $0.01 on-contract at AT&T, Verizon and Sprint

Let’s not beat it around the bush. 13 MP is low when pitted against the 16 and 20 megapixel giants listed above. F2.4 aperture certainly doesn’t help G3’s cause, letting less light in and thus harming both overall night-time photo performance and focal quality.

LG-G3-Camera

Thankfully (for LG), the perennial Korean underdogs were wise enough to adopt a proficient OIS solution, as well as offer dual-LED flash and something called laser autofocus to improve just what the narrow aperture hindered. All in all, for a market veteran, the G3 holds its own decently, keeping up with the times.

Google/Motorola Nexus 6 – $630 unlocked; $180 with AT&T contracts, $200 for Sprint

Yes, it’s expensive, somewhat precarious to handle with one hand and no, it doesn’t break any sensor records, at a humdrum 13 megapixels. But there’s OIS class to be had, f/2.0 aperture, autofocus, face detection, HDR, panorama functions and 30 fps 4K video recording.

Nexus 6 camera

Besides, the always up-to-date, stock software guarantees nothing will get between you and capturing that mesmerizing sunset the way God intended man to admire it – no bells and whistles, little to no post-processing correction.

What’s on the horizon

LG G4

Moar megapixels (16, to be specific), record-setting aperture size (f/1.8), “truer colors”, improved white balance, beefed-up optical image stabilization, ultra-sharp UHD video capture, manual settings for fine-tuning everything from shutter speed to ISO sensitivity and exposure compensation.

LG G4 camera

Frankly, I’ve no idea what half of those things do or mean. What I’m pretty sure of nevertheless is the leather-backed soon-to-be G4 drastically perks up its predecessor’s already impressive camera performance, going up against Nokia’s PureView virtuosos with great aplomb. Let’s just hope LG finds the pricing sweet spot eventually.

Asus Zenfone Zoom

Unveiled back at CES in January, this direct Samsung Galaxy K Zoom opponent is nowhere to be found on store shelves stateside or around the globe. Even worse, we doubt it’ll ever be picked up by a major American carrier.

Asus Zenfone Zoom

The best we can hope for therefore is a reasonable price tag outright and an adequate distribution effort. What makes this so desirable? Simple – 3x optical zoom, dual-LED, dual-tone flash, OIS and laser autofocus. Unfortunately, the megapixel count is mediocre at best. Yes, we’re afraid you can’t get rid of the unlucky 13 here either.

Sony Xperia Z4

Looking familiar as ever, the latest “Sony flagship nobody asked for” pulls off the “amazing feat” of once again snubbing optical image stabilization. No words on an LED or aperture upgrade yet, but ultimately, even if nothing’s changed, this 20.7 MP shooter remains a classic.

Xperia Z4

Do keep in mind that, while identical on the outside, the Z4 stands out from the Z3 under the hood with a state-of-the-art octa-core Snapdragon 810 chip. That perhaps doesn’t directly boost photography excellence, but it definitely aids with the phone’s general wow factor.