Best Camera Overall
The S6 is the best camera we've seen yet, unseating even the great iPhone 6 Plus. Samsung has taken a break from megapixel inflation (staying with the same 16 MP as the Galaxy S5) and zeroed in on image quality. An infrared sensor is meant to help the camera gauge lighting conditions for better white balance, or neutral color cast. That might explain the mostly accurate colors we saw, especially in low-light images. A roughly 30 percent larger aperture over the Galaxy S5's (f/1.9 vs. f/2.2) also helped produce brighter low-light images at faster shutter speeds. Combined with optical image stabilization (a first for the Galaxy S series), the S6 delivered very sharp photos in dim lighting. The camera's phase-detection autofocus is nearly as quick as the iPhone 6 Plus's, and face recognition is dependable. Focus tracking allows the camera to keep your subject sharp while you're shooting video or a burst of photos. Other upgrades, including a 0.7-second startup time and a 5-MP, f/1.9 front cam, make the Galaxy S6 phone camera the one to beat.
Best Action Camera
The iPhone 6 Plus's killer feature is superfast phase-detection autofocus (what Apple calls "focus pixels") that blows away the competition. Point the camera at someone or something, and they appear sharp instantly. You really notice the difference under low light, where it beats even the best rivals, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6. Face-detection autofocus is superb, recognizing a person's mug even under low light or if they are turned to the side. Optical image stabilization even smoothed out video we shot when panning quickly to follow animals scurrying around the Bronx Zoo.
If this 5.5-inch-screen phablet is too giant for you, try the 4.7-inch iPhone 6. Other than image stabilization, it offers all the same camera features.
Best Smartphone Camera for Outdoors
Take one of the best phone cameras on the market, wrap it in a waterproof and shock-resistant case, and you have the Galaxy S5 Active (on AT&T) and Sport (Sprint). Both cameras boast the same image quality and clever photo apps as the Galaxy S5, but they can also survive a dunk under 3 feet (1 meter) of water, thanks to their IP67 water-resistance certification (1 meter for up to 30 minutes). The Galaxy S5 Active can even snap pics underwater, thanks to a mechanical shutter button. The Active is also guaranteed to keep clicking after 4-foot drops — at least 26 times — based on its MIL-STA-810G rating, which also includes dust resistance.
Best Selfie Smartphone Camera
For many people, the images taken with the front camera are as important as those from the "main" back shooter. HTC is the first phone maker to recognize this, by releasing the Desire Eye, which features 13-megapixel cameras on both the back and the front. The front cam's extra-wide 22mm-equivalent lens keeps your selfies from being selfish, as you can pack your friends in as well. Though 13 MP may sound like overkill, this high resolution allows you to crop way into the picture — for example, to zap photobombers — and still have a high-res photo to show off.