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What are the best budget camera phones? Here are our top 6
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 unsure what to look for in a budget phone.
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 of 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 replace 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. 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.
- 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 Google 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 Google Pixel 7 Pro, for example, lets you control portrait mode and a few basic effects but limits your manual power in favor of the Tensor G2‘s smarts. If you’d rather do it all yourself, the Sony 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 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’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 flagship 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 this year, with a 64MP main shooter that delivered excellent results in our testing. Likewise with the 13MP ultrawide lens. Color reproduction and white balance are great, 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, and more. The phone takes great point-and-shoot photos, so you don’t have to be a professional photographer to get 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. Being a Google phone, it also gains access to unique Pixel features and a great update promise of five years of security updates and three years of Android version updates. That’s not quite as good as what Samsung offers at four years of version updates, but rest assured, this phone will easily last you for half a decade if you take care of it.
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.
But the biggest sticking point for anyone looking for a budget camera is the price: $499 (MSRP). That puts it closer to mid-range territory than a true budget phone, and it’s only $100 cheaper than the true flagship Pixel 7. We still think it’s worth the price of entry, but if you want to save a bit more, last year’s Google Pixel 6a now retails for $349 (or even less on sale), which is an absolute steal. You can learn more about the phone in our Pixel 7a review.
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: Four other amazing 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 great all around, offering a great experience and a very good camera.
- Samsung Galaxy A34: 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 A14 5G: The A14 is for those looking to spend as little as possible on a good camera phone. It’s super affordable.
- Xiaomi Poco X5 Pro: The Poco X5 Pro is a better deal if you want more performance out of your budget camera phone.
The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G is the most versatile option around
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. We have very little to complain about here.
Samsung’s mid-ranger sports a flexible camera system equipped with four sensors. You get a nice 50MP primary camera, a 12MP ultrawide sensor, and a 5MP macro shooter. 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 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. 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 pretty affordable, coming in at $449 MSRP. 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.
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 offers the most bang for your buck in terms of value
The Samsung Galaxy A34 is the phone to get if you want the most out of your hard-earned cash. Its MSRP sits comfortably at the £349 mark (and you can find it for almost $300 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.
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
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 Android’s best in 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.
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 and its 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 better option you can still get for a pretty good price.
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 A14 5G is a super cheap phone that still offers an excellent camera
The Samsung Galaxy A14 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. It offers the same camera setup as the Samsung Galaxy A13 5G, which comes with outstanding quality, considering the price. We’re especially fond of the 50MP primary 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 excellent for the cash.
- The two-day battery life is stunning, thanks to its 5,000mAh battery.
The Xiaomi Poco X5 Pro is still a great option if you seek more expensive performance for a low price
The Xiaomi Poco X5 Pro isn’t quite as cheap as the other ultra-affordable options on this list, but it gets pretty close with a price that is usually well under $300. It’s not widely available, so most of us will have difficulty buying it straight out. It can be easily imported, though.
What makes the Poco X5 Pro stand out is that, despite this low price point, it comes with specs that would make it seem like a much more expensive handset. It features an AMOLED screen that measures 6.67 inches and has a 120Hz refresh rate. The design is slim and light. You also get a Snapdragon 778G and up to 8GB of RAM, making performance really snappy for the price. Not to mention battery life; we managed to get two days of moderate usage out of a single charge.
We gave the Poco X5 Pro plenty of love in our review, but we’re here for the cameras. We’ll be honest and tell you right off the bat that the secondary cameras disappointed us. The primary 108MP camera made up for the rest, though. The primary shooter uses pixel binning and does a good job producing high-quality images in most conditions. It produces punchy colors, a good level of detail, and very minimal noise during the day. And while we’ve seen better low-light performance, the Poco X5 Pro did very well considering its lower price point.
What makes it stand out?
- Great value for the price
- Performance and camera quality are great.
- The two-day battery life is impressive.
- Slim and light design.
Any phone could be the best 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.
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.
Let’s get you started learning the most important photography terms and concepts. You should also learn how to shoot in manual mode. We also have a guide with some key tips to improve your images and take them to the next level. As the cherry on top, we can show you how to edit an image to really make it stand out.
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.