Review: Smartphones with Awesome Cameras

Phones have gotten so good at taking photos that I rarely bring along a stand-alone camera anymore. Of course, a phone is never going to replace a full-bodied, single-lens reflex camera, otherwise known as an SLR. There's just no way to squeeze a powerful, SLR-type lens into the small body of a phone. But many smartphones now match and even outperform point-and-shoot cameras. You'll get good pictures with any high-end phone, including LG's G3 and Google's Nexus 6. But a few phones go beyond just good.

I took more than 10,000 still images with more than 20 phones released in 2014. I used the rear cameras and refrained from using the flash so that I could test the phones' low-light capabilities. That's an area where an otherwise good phone can be great.

Apple's iPhone 6 (starts at $649 without a contract) and iPhone 6 Plus ($749):

Last year, I declared the iPhone 5s to be the best camera phone overall. This year's 6 and 6 Plus models are even better, particularly with faster and more accurate focusing. The iPhone can even make moving toddlers look still and sharp.

For indoor and night shots, the iPhone often manages to avoid the image blur that many other cameras produce when shutters stay open longer to let in more light. The 6 Plus model also has anti-shake technology to help reduce blur. I noticed increased sharpness in some shots of statues inside a museum and the city skyline at night, compared with shots taken with the regular iPhone 6. For most shots, though, the iPhone 6 performs just as well. Go for the Plus only if you want the larger viewing screen -- not for the camera.

That's not to say the iPhone always takes the best shot, particularly with its resolution on the lower end at 8...

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