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What are the best budget camera phones? We tested 44, here are our top 5.

Good camera phones don't have to cost you an arm and a leg!
By
November 3, 2022
google pixel 6a camera in hand
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Smartphone cameras have improved by leaps and bounds, rivaling point-and-shoot 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 lots of great budget phones with great cameras, too. 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 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. Check out our buyer’s guide if you’re not sure what to look for in a budget phone.

Get a great deal this holiday season

Looking for a great deal on your next budget camera phone? Right now, several phones are on sale for the holiday 2022 season. You can check out our full list of holiday and Black Friday deals, or check out the list below for the best budget phones on sale right now:

The Google Pixel 6a takes the crown as the king of budget camera phones

Google Pixel 6a
Google Pixel 6a
Affordable • Loud stereo speakers • Great Pixel UI software
Google's latest budget offering takes some key steps forward, right into the path of the Pixel 6.
The Google Pixel 6a pulls some of the best Pixel 6 features into a smaller and more affordable package. It's easy to use with one hand and offers more of a processing punch than previous Pixel A phones, even if the battery life takes a big hit.

Google’s Pixel A-series has set an industry standard on what a budget phone should be. These devices are very light on the wallet, yet offer most casual users a more than satisfactory experience. The build quality, while mainly composed of plastic, is solid enough. Performance is great as well, as the phone is powered by the same chipset as the flagship-quality Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. We did find that stepping into more resource-intensive tasks like streaming or navigation made the phone a bit too hot, but at least the performance is there.

As for the camera, this is our pick for the best budget camera phone around. Pixel phone cameras are so great not precisely because of advanced hardware, but because of Google’s advancements in computational photography. The Pixel 6a is no exception. We were big fans of its color reproduction, and the natural bokeh is impressive. Night Sight still does miracles in darker environments, and Google’s post-processing is all that we can expect. Exposure is usually spot on, and features like Portrait Light, Magic eraser, and Real Tone, make the camera phone all that more enticing. All of this is only achievable thanks to the Pixel-exclusive Tensor processor.

The Pixel 6a punches way above its price thanks to its superb post-processing.

Aside from the excellent camera system, you’ll find plenty of improvements on the Pixel 6a over its predecessor. It has an arguably better design, an in-display fingerprint scanner as opposed to a rear-mounted one, and the already mentioned faster chipset. You also get a 4,410mAh battery, which in our testing did struggle to match the 24 hours of battery life Google promises. Still, we almost always managed to get through the usual 16 waking hours of the day.

If you want a great cheap camera phone and can stretch your budget to $450, you won’t find a better phone than the Pixel 6a.

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 chipset we saw on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 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.

Best of the rest: Four other amazing budget camera phones

The Google Pixel 6a 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 A53 5G: We know there are plenty of Samsung fans around. This phone is great all around, offering a great experience and a very good camera.
  • Samsung Galaxy A32 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 A13 5G: The A13 is for those looking to spend as little as possible on a good camera phone. It’s super affordable.

The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G is the most versatile option around

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
Intelligent camera • Great battery life • 5G capability
A great mid-range phone made even better. Mostly.
On top of power and performance, this is the first Galaxy A series phone to guarantee four years of major Android updates and five years of security updates.

The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G was a great mid-ranger, but every phone needs to be cycled out. The successor has arrived, carrying the predictable Galaxy A53 moniker. Once again it’s one of the best budget camera phones, although it offers much more than just that. We had very little to complain about in our review other than the lack of 4K@60fps video recording. And that’s hardly a dealbreaker for most.

Samsung’s mid-ranger sports a flexible camera system equipped with four sensors. You get a great 64MP primary camera, an impressive 12MP ultrawide sensor, a 5MP macro lens, and a 5MP depth sensor. We had plenty of fun with these. While the primary and ultrawide lenses carried most of the weight, it was also fun to take some macro shots. We wish there were a telephoto lens, but these are commonly dropped in phones at this price range. We got great results from all cameras, overall.

The Galaxy A53 also comes with the Exynos 1280 under the hood, a large and crisp 120Hz display, and a microSD card slot. Performance from the Exynos 1280 didn’t blow us away, but it was good enough. We did, however, appreciate the flagship-level update commitment, as the A53 will get four years of Android updates and five years of security updates. Samsung offers the best support in the business, even longer than Google’s own Pixel phones, which only get three years of Android updates.

Best of all, the handset is cheaper than its predecessor, coming in at $450 — the A52 went for $500. This puts it in direct competition with the Google Pixel 6a above. We think both are excellent choices, with the Pixel offering better overall photos and the A53 5G offering a bit more versatility. The A53 5G also gets much better battery life — nearly two days of use on a single charge in our testing.

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 A32 5G offers the most bang for your buck in terms of value

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
Large Gorilla Glass 5-protected display • Impressive budget cameras • Classy design • Affordable 5G
Samsung's software experience with an LG Velvet-esque design feels like a winning combination.
Galaxy A32's multi-lens camera system takes photos to the next level. Go ultra high-res on the 64MP Main Camera for crisp, clear photos throughout the day. Expand the viewing angle with Ultra Wide Camera. Customize focus with Depth Camera, or get closer to the details with Macro Camera.

The Samsung Galaxy A32 5G is the phone to get if you want the most out of your hard-earned cash. Its MSRP sits comfortably under the $300 mark (and typically less when on sale), but it offers an experience that’s pretty close to some devices twice its price.

As a camera phone, we found little to nothing to complain about. The 48MP main camera is a great performer, the ultrawide shooter offers impressive angles, and the macro camera is solid for niche photos. We’ve tested a lot of budget phones, and nothing in this price range even comes close.

Our only real complaints about the phone are that it can get pretty hot under stress and charges rather slowly. The 15W charging is not that great in 2022, and in our testing, we got from zero to 27% in 30 minutes. You get a pretty good package if you ignore those downsides. The phone has a great display, pretty good performance, an awesome design, and the same great commitment to updates as Samsung’s most expensive flagships.

What makes it stand out?

  • It has a large display.
  • 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)
Guaranteed long-term software updates • Improved battery life • Powerful A15 Bionic chipset
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 launch price. It supports wireless charging, has water resistance, and sports the high-end A15 Bionic chipset. This processor is the same found on the iPhone 14, and unsurprisingly it managed to beat the Pixel 6a in most of our benchmarks. While you likely won’t notice a difference in most casual use cases, this phone is technically the most powerful on our list.

More: Apple iPhone buying guide

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 A53, which offers four 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. With that in mind, the iPhone SE 2022 is not for everyone. If you can spend a bit more, the iPhone 13 Mini is a much more modern-looking phone.

What makes it stand out?

  • The A15 Bionic offers premium phone-level performance.
  • The camera is great, 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 A13 5G is a super cheap phone that still offers a great camera

Samsung Galaxy A13 5G
Samsung Galaxy A13 5G
Solid performance • 50MP main camera works well in good lighting • Two-day battery life
A Galaxy phone for undemanding users
This affordable Samsung phone is aimed at undemanding users. It has plenty to offer, though, including a battery that will last you up to two days, performance that's more than suitable for everyday tasks, and a camera that does a great job as long as there's plenty of light available.

The Samsung Galaxy A13 5G is for those on a tighter budget. It’s the most affordable handset on this list, yet it still manages to offer a good experience. Even better, it’s typically offered for little or even nothing if purchased through a carrier. As of writing, you can get it for free via T-Mobile or for just $2 a month from AT&T.

We’re especially fond of the 50MP main camera. Portrait mode detection is outstanding, and we love the color reproduction. Of course, a lower price point will mean the camera system isn’t up there with the best camera phones (especially the secondary lenses), but it’s hard to complain at this price.

The phone is no slouch in every other department, either. It still has 5G support. Performance is pretty solid, too. It also has a massive 5,000mAh battery that bit two days of use on a single charge in our testing. This is also the cheapest phone we recommend buying — any less and you’re making some serious tradeoffs.

What makes it stand out?

  • It has an amazingly low price.
  • Performance and camera quality are great for the cash.
  • The two-day battery life is stunning, thanks to its 5,000mAh battery.

What to look for in a good budget camera phone

The budget camera phones we listed above 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 as to what you should look for in the best budget camera phones.

  • How many cameras do you need? There’s a popular trend where smartphone makers slap as many cameras onto a phone as they can 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 lenses. No matter what, you can ignore devices that pass off macro cameras and depth sensors as extra lenses to fill space. A good ultrawide camera can take the place of a macro, and depth information rarely requires its own sensor.
  • 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. You might want a sweeping ultrawide lens to bring in every last detail if you’re into landscapes. However, you might find yourself looking for a telephoto lens if you’re hoping to capture some wildlife.
  • Megapixels aren’t everything: Just like the fact that four cameras aren’t always better than three, 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 larger sensor for the Pixel 6 series.
  • Do you want manual controls? If you’re coming from the world of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, you might like a little more control in your life. Some phones offer in-depth apps that let you tweak your aperture, white balance, and exposure compensation. If none of those terms sound familiar, you might be after a device with a more straightforward setup. The Pixel 6 Pro, for example, lets you control portrait mode and a few basic effects but limits your manual power in favor of the Tensor’s smarts. If you’d rather do it all yourself, the Xperia Pro-I is a perfect example of a mighty manual setup — it doesn’t even have a dedicated portrait mode. Alternatively, you can take a look at our guide to shooting manual.
  • 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 completely different results, which all comes back to the onboard software. Powerful software also leads to better editing control over colors and object removal.

Any phone could be the best budget camera phone

Edgar holding a budget camera phone

Hardware helps, but we can’t stress the importance of technique enough. The truth is a good photographer can take a good image with any budget camera phone, and current affordable handsets come with great shooters if you know how to make the most of them. I have previously proven this point. I used a budget camera phone to shoot professional photos during my experiment. And I used a Moto E5 Plus, which is beaten by all phones on this list on paper. Check out my experience in the article linked below.

Here: What a pro photographer can do with a cheap smartphone camera

With that in mind, you should also learn more about photography and learn how to take better images. That’s a better investment than spending more money on equipment. We have a great selection of educational content available to you.


FAQs

Not really. Camera sensors can offer great quality with fewer megapixels. Sensor size, pixel size, 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, 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.