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What are the best budget camera phones? Here are our top 7

Good camera phones don't have to cost you an arm and a leg!
By

Published onMay 7, 2024

Google Pixel 7a
MSRP: $499.00
Check price
Positives
The best sub-$500 camera phone
Solid performance and plenty of RAM
Neat size and design
Smooth, feature-rich software
Improved 90Hz display
Great upgrade commitment
Negatives
Slow wired charging, even slower wireless charging
Mediocre battery life
Tensor G2 runs hot
Pixel 7 and Pixel 6a are better value
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G
MSRP: $449.99
Check price
Positives
Galaxy S23-inspired design
Color-rich, fluid display
Strong primary camera
Solid everyday performance
Good battery life
Excellent update commitment
Negatives
Prone to extreme camera saturation
Cheap plastic frame
No wireless charging
No 4K/60fps video
Samsung Galaxy A34 5G
MSRP: €349.00
Check price
Positives
Fantastic battery life
Durable, water-resistant build
Long-term update promise
Decent main camera
4K selfie video support
Negatives
Poor low-light image quality
Super-slow charging speeds
Mediocre secondary cameras
Limited upgrades over predecessor
Some app bloat
Apple iPhone SE (2022)
MSRP: $429.00
Check price
Positives
A15 Bionic chipset
Touch ID
Improved battery life
Negatives
Extremely dated design
Cramped, low-res display
Inflexible camera
Samsung Galaxy A25 5G
MSRP: $299.99
Check price
Positives
Excellent stereo speakers
Class-leading software commitment
Solid primary camera
Sharp 120Hz display
Negatives
Plastic build feels cheap
Inconsistent fingerprint reader
Low-res macro camera
No water or dust rating
OnePlus Nord 3
MSRP: €499.00
Check price
Positives
Large 120Hz display
Fast 80W charging
Flagship-level performance
Decent main camera
Quality construction
Negatives
Poor macro camera
Weak video options
Some shutter lag
Limited high frame rate support
Only IP54 water resistance
Nothing Phone 2a
MSRP: $349.00
Check price
Positives
Quirky design
Crisp AMOLED display
Punchy speakers
Decent cameras
Quick wired charging
Negatives
Poor US support
Limited IP rating
Weak camera zoom

Google has officially launched the Pixel 8a. The new mid-range phone includes a similar camera system as the Pixel 7a but offers plenty of upgrades elsewhere. As a result, we expect it to replace the Google Pixel 7a on this list as the best budget camera phone, but we will update it once we have fully reviewed the device.

Smartphone cameras have improved by leaps and bounds, rivaling dedicated cameras and other complex camera systems. If you don’t want to spend big bucks on the best Android phone cameras money can buy, there are also many awesome budget phones with great cameras. Here’s what to consider when looking for the best budget camera phones:

  • How far can you stretch your budget?
  • Do you want an Android phone or an iPhone?
  • How important is versatility?
  • Will you buy unlocked or via a carrier?

We must set some standards before we move on. What exactly is a budget phone? The definition is subjective, but we believe anything under $500 is considered a budget camera phone nowadays. Therefore, we won’t add any devices that go over that price point to this list.

What to look for in a good budget camera phone

The budget camera phones we list here are great options, but we can understand if you still have some doubts. There’s a world of possibilities out there. Let’s help you further with some indications of what you should look for in the best budget camera phones.

  • How many cameras do you need? There’s a popular trend in which smartphone makers slap as many cameras onto a phone as possible to make you think it’s better. You might find four lenses on a $300 device, but you may never use them all, and they may not hold a candle to a pair of higher-quality shooters. No matter what, you can ignore devices that pass off macro cameras and depth sensors as extra lenses to fill space. A good ultrawide lens can replace a macro one, and depth information rarely requires its own shooter.
  • What type of cameras do you need? Picking up from the point above, it’s good to consider the kind of images you want to capture. If you’re into landscapes, you might want a sweeping ultrawide lens to bring in every last detail. However, you might find yourself looking for a telephoto lens if you’re hoping to capture some wildlife. Or maybe you are into macro shots, in which case you should look for a good macro camera, but these are rare in smartphones.
  • Megapixels aren’t everything: Just like the fact that four cameras aren’t always better than three, you also shouldn’t focus on looking for a high-megapixel camera phone. We would consider these phones with 50MP sensors or higher. That said, 108MP isn’t always better than 12MP. Many cameras with massive megapixel counts bin down to smaller images by default, while some 12MP lenses take advantage of larger sensors for excellent results. Google stuck with a 12.2MP primary sensor for years before adopting (and binning) a higher-resolution sensor for the Google Pixel 6 series.
  • Do you want manual controls? If you’re coming from the world of DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, you might like a little more control in your life. Some phones offer in-depth apps that let you tweak settings like white balance and exposure compensation. If none of those terms sound familiar, you might be after a device with a more straightforward setup. For example, the Google Pixel 8 lets you control portrait mode and a few basic effects, but limits your manual power in favor of the Tensor processing smarts. If you’d rather do it all yourself, the Sony Xperia 1 V is a perfect example of a mighty manual setup.
  • Software matters a lot: Sticking with the Pixel example, one of the reasons that Google didn’t update its hardware very often was because the processing software is just that good. Two phones may share the same image sensor, yet produce entirely different results, which all comes back to the onboard software. Powerful software also leads to better editing control over colors and object removal.

The Google Pixel 7a takes the crown as the king of budget camera phones

Google Pixel 7aGoogle Pixel 7a
AA Editors Choice
Google Pixel 7a
The best sub-$500 camera phone • Solid performance and plenty of RAM • Improved 90Hz display
MSRP: $499.00
The essential Pixel experience
The Pixel 7a delivers more premium features than ever for under $500, such as wireless charging support, a 90Hz refresh rate display, and a 64MP camera.

Google’s Pixel A-series has always offered incredible camera chops for the price, and the latest Pixel 7a takes that even further. It features the same chipset as Google’s Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, which is a big part of why the camera performance is so great. The Tensor G2 processor doesn’t have as much gaming power as Qualcomm’s flagship processor, but it’s specialized in machine learning smarts like post-processing on images.

Apart from the chipset, the Pixel 7a also saw a big jump in megapixels, with a 64MP primary shooter that delivered excellent results in our testing. Likewise, with the 13MP ultrawide lens. Color reproduction and white balance are superb, and the natural bokeh is impressive, but what really puts it over the edge are special features enabled by the processor, like Night Sight, Magic Eraser, Photo/Face Unblur, and more. The phone takes excellent point-and-shoot photos, so you don’t have to be a professional photographer to get good results.

The Pixel 7a punches way above its price thanks to its superb post-processing.

In addition to the excellent camera system, the Pixel 7a is a great overall phone. The size is on the smaller side, which is perfect for one-handed use, and everyday performance is superb. There are a few drawbacks, of course, starting with battery life. In our review period, it struggled to match the 24 hours of juice Google promises, and the 18W charging was painfully slow. The display also defaults to 60Hz instead of its maximum of 90Hz, likely to extend the weak battery life.

However, the biggest sticking point for anyone looking for a budget camera is the price: $499. That puts it closer to mid-range territory than a true budget phone. We still think it’s worth the price of entry.

What makes it stand out?

  • It can shoot incredible photos thanks to Google’s computational photography.
  • Performance is excellent, as it has the same Google Tensor G2 chipset we saw on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro.
  • The device is an excellent size for one-handed use.
  • Google’s devices have simple, clean user interfaces.
  • As a Pixel phone, this device will usually get updates first, and for a long time.

The best of the rest: Six other excellent budget camera phones

The Google Pixel 7a is a stunning camera phone for a very reasonable price, but it’s not the only one around. We have a few other options that might be a better fit for some of you.

  • Samsung Galaxy A54 5G: We know there are plenty of Samsung fans around. This phone is excellent all around, offering a great experience and a very good camera.
  • Samsung Galaxy A34 5G: This might be your best bet if you’re looking for the best value. It offers the most bang for the buck.
  • Apple iPhone SE (2022): iPhones have great camera phones, but they are known to be expensive. Not this one!
  • Samsung Galaxy A25 5G: The A25 5G is for those looking to spend as little as possible on a good camera phone, while sticking to the Samsung ecosystem.
  • OnePlus Nord 3: The Nord 3 is a better deal if you want more performance from your budget camera phone.
  • Nothing Phone 2a: This device has a low price, an excellent design, and a pretty nice camera system.

The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G is the most versatile option around

Samsung Galaxy A54 5GSamsung Galaxy A54 5G
AA Recommended
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G
Galaxy S23-inspired design • Color-rich, fluid display • Excellent update commitment
MSRP: $449.99
The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G packs a Galaxy S23-like experience into an affordable shell
The Galaxy A54 5G bridges the gap between Samsung's mid-range phones to its flagships. It rocks a premium design with a flexible camera setup and one of the best software commitments in the Android game, all while hanging onto its affordable $449 price tag for yet another generation.

The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G was a great mid-ranger, but every phone needs to be cycled out. The successor has arrived, carrying the predictable Galaxy A54 5G moniker. Once again, it’s one of the best budget camera phones, although it offers much more than just that.

Samsung’s mid-ranger sports a flexible camera system equipped with four sensors. You get a high-megapixel 50MP primary camera, a 12MP ultrawide shooter, and a 5MP macro. While the primary and ultrawide lenses carry most of the weight, taking some macro shots will also be fun. We wish there were a telephoto lens, but these are commonly dropped in phones at this price range. Overall, the camera experience will be great for the price.

The Galaxy A54 5G also comes with the Exynos 1380 under the hood, a large and crisp 120Hz display, and a microSD card slot. We also appreciate the flagship-level update commitment, as the A54 will get four years of Android updates and five years of security updates.

Best of all, the handset is pretty affordable, coming in at $450. This puts it in direct competition with the Google Pixel 7a above. We think both are excellent choices, with the Pixel offering better overall photos and the A54 5G offering a bit more versatility. The Samsung alternative also has a much healthier 5,000mAh battery.

By the way, the Samsung Galaxy A55 5G ($387 at Amazon) is already out. We aren’t officially adding it to this list of the best budget camera phones for a couple of reasons. It isn’t available in the USA, and we haven’t reviewed it yet. It is definitely a phone you should consider if it’s available in your market, though.

What makes it stand out?

  • It has a large, crisp, and fluid display.
  • Battery life is outstanding.
  • It has plenty of lens options for a budget camera phone.

The Samsung Galaxy A34 5G offers the most bang for your buck

Samsung Galaxy A34 5GSamsung Galaxy A34 5G
Samsung Galaxy A34 5G
Fantastic battery life • Durable, water-resistant build • Long-term update promise
MSRP: €349.00
The Samsung Galaxy A34 5G is a capable phone with a large display and a big battery. It's lightweight and offers everything an entry-level user would hope for.

The Samsung Galaxy A34 5G is the phone to get if you want the most out of your hard-earned cash. Its price sits comfortably at the £349 mark (and you can find it for about $240-$280 in the USA), but it offers an experience that’s pretty close to some devices twice its price.

As a camera phone, we find little to nothing to complain about. The 48MP primary camera is a great performer, the 8MP ultrawide shooter offers impressive angles, and the 5MP macro camera is solid for niche photos.

The device is also not half bad for the lower price point. It comes with a MediaTek Dimensity 1080 chipset, 6-8GB of RAM, a pretty large 6.6-inch Full HD+ display with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, and a very large 5,000mAh battery. By the way, you can charge it at 25W.

By the way, the Samsung Galaxy A35 5G ($400 at Samsung) has been announced, and this one is actually coming to the USA. You might want to look into it to see if it’s worth waiting for.

What makes it stand out?

  • It has a large display with a smooth refresh rate.
  • The cameras are stunning for a phone at this price.
  • It offers 5G on a budget!

The iPhone SE (2022) is the best budget camera phone for Apple users

Apple iPhone SE (2022)Apple iPhone SE (2022)
Apple iPhone SE (2022)
Guaranteed long-term software updates • Improved battery life • Powerful A15 Bionic chipset
MSRP: $429.00
One of the most affordable iPhones you can get
The latest iPhone SE has the same body as its predecessor but sports a faster chipset, more RAM, and a bigger battery.

The 2022 version of the iPhone SE is a worthy competitor in this space, considering its $429 price. It supports wireless charging, has water resistance, and sports the high-end A15 Bionic chipset. This processor is the same found on the non-pro versions of the iPhone 14, and unsurprisingly, it managed to beat Android’s best in our benchmarks (at launch).

As for the iPhone SE camera, it performs very well. However, you only get one rear sensor, which doesn’t give you the flexibility you get with something like the Galaxy A54 5G and its three cameras. Regardless, the iPhone SE 2022 is still among the best budget camera phones in the market, because the little it can do, it does very well. Images are crisp, color reproduction is spot-on, and the camera app is dead simple to use.

The phone is not without issues, though. Its design is quite dated, and the screen is small and offers a low resolution. Not to mention, it is getting a bit old now.

What makes it stand out?

  • The A15 Bionic offers premium phone-level performance.
  • The camera is excellent, even if this is the cheapest iPhone.
  • You get the Apple promise: a straightforward UI, good performance, outstanding customer support, and more.

The Samsung Galaxy A25 5G is a super cheap phone that still offers an excellent camera

Samsung Galaxy A25 5GSamsung Galaxy A25 5G
Samsung Galaxy A25 5G
Excellent stereo speakers • Class-leading software commitment • Sharp 120Hz display
MSRP: $299.99
Good budget buy.
The Galaxy A25 5G sits right in the middle of Samsung's budget-friendly A series, replacing a Galaxy A24 that never made its way to the United States. It offers a smooth, 6.5-inch AMOLED with a 120Hz refresh rate, an in-house Exynos 1280 chipset, and a triple camera system captained by a 50MP primary sensor. Oh, and it still has a headphone jack!
See price at Amazon
Samsung Galaxy A25

Other Samsung devices offer great bang per buck, but here’s a great option if you want something affordable that is readily available in the USA. The Samsung Galaxy A25 5G is a very good budget camera phone for those on a tighter budget. It costs $300, and has that great Samsung look we know many of you love.

The primary camera comes with most of the bells and whistles. This includes a high-megapixel 50MP sensor, an f/1.8 aperture, a 0.64µm pixel size, PDAF, and OIS. The secondary cameras feature 8MP and 2MP sensors. We didn’t think the secondary cameras were great, but it has a solid main camera.

This is a pretty neat phone, overall. Specs include an Exynos 1280 processor and up to 8GB of RAM. The 6.5-inch screen is nicely sized, has a Full HD+ resolution, and keeps the 120Hz refresh rate. And you’ll also get a 5,000mAh battery.

What makes it stand out?

  • It has a very enticing price point.
  • Performance and camera quality are excellent for the cash.
  • The 5,000mAh battery offers a two-day battery life.

The OnePlus Nord 3 is still a great option if you seek great performance for a low price

OnePlus Nord 3OnePlus Nord 3
AA Recommended
OnePlus Nord 3
Large 120Hz display • Fast 80W charging • Flagship-level performance
MSRP: €499.00
Nord power.
The OnePlus Nord 3 packs a MediaTek Dimensity 9000 chipset, with up to 16GB of RAM and a 120Hz 6.74-inch display. It improves upon the OnePlus Nord 2 and OnePlus Nord 2T's battery with a 5,000mAh cell and a flagship-grade camera sensor.
See price at OnePlus
Save €5,000.00

The OnePlus Nord 3 isn’t quite as cheap, and it gets pretty close to our limit, at €499. It’s not widely available, so most of us will have difficulty buying it straight out. It can be easily imported, though. That said, it can be easily found on Amazon for under $420.

The OnePlus Nord 3 is actually quite an impressive device for a budget phone. It has a pretty large 6.74-inch with a 1,240 x 2,772 resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. In our review, we were also surprised by its flagship-level performance. Build quality was also pleasant, as was the 80W charging, which took our test device from zero to 100% in about 35 minutes.

We’ll be honest here; we weren’t fans of the secondary cameras and video options. That said, the primary camera is pretty good. It’s actually the same sensor found on the OnePlus 11, which is a nice addition to an affordable phone.

What makes it stand out?

  • Nice display with 120Hz refresh rate
  • Flagship-level performance
  • Super fast 80W charging
  • Great main camera

The Nothing Phone 2a is a very unique phone with a good camera system

Nothing Phone 2aNothing Phone 2a
AA Recommended
Nothing Phone 2a
Quirky design • Crisp AMOLED display • Punchy speakers
MSRP: $349.00
The first true budget phone from Nothing.
The Nothing Phone 2a aims to deliver all the core features and style of the Nothing Phone 2 at a cheaper price point.

The Nothing Phone 2a is one of the most unique budget camera phones around. Its design is fun, features special lighting in the back, and will quickly stand out in a crowd. It has its downsides, such as limited US network compatibility and a lower IP54 rating. You can learn more about these issues in our Nothing Phone 2a review.

While we weren’t necessarily impressed by the camera performance, we did see very decent results in this department, which is something great to see at these price points. We were pleasantly surprised by the detail in the main camera, even if the phone’s zoom capabilities are a bit limited. And if you care for more pixels, this is a high-megapixel camera phone, featuring two 50MP sensors in the back and a 32MP sensor in the front.

Everywhere else, this is a pretty neat handset. You will get pretty nice performance, a nice AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, and quick 45W charging.

What makes it stand out?

  • It has a very nice price.
  • Solid main camera.
  • Great battery life and quick charging.
  • Awesome design.

FAQs

Not really. Camera sensors can offer great quality with fewer megapixels. Sensor size, pixel size, software enhancements, and other factors make a more significant difference.

Absolutely! Especially now that smartphone cameras are starting to rely more on software than hardware. Computational photography can do amazing things.

DSLR and mirrorless cameras are starting to phase out of the consumer market. Professionals still prefer full systems for many reasons, though. They usually have larger sensors, better lens options, more customizable settings, and offer more versatility.

Most budget camera phones worth their salt cost anywhere between $300-$500. Anything below that and quality usually starts to fall behind.

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