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 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 for 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 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 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. 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. 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, 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 or 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. For example, the Google Pixel 7 Pro 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 Pixel 7a
The best sub-$500 camera phone • Solid performance and plenty of RAM • Improved 90Hz display
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 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 primary 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 excellent 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 costs less ($314 at Amazon). 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 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 great 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 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.
- Motorola Moto G 5G (2023): Equipped with a pretty nice main camera and a drop-dead price, this is a great smartphone camera for those with more basic needs and a tight budget.
The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G is the most versatile option around
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G
Galaxy S23-inspired design • Color-rich, fluid display • Excellent update commitment
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. 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 5G offers the most bang for your buck in terms of value
Samsung Galaxy A34 5G
Fantastic battery life • Durable, water-resistant build • Long-term update promise
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 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
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 non-pro versions of 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 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. 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 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 A14 5G is a super cheap phone that still offers an excellent camera
Samsung Galaxy A14 5G
Sharper display • Good battery life • Very affordable
A well-dressed budget Android phone.
The Samsung Galaxy A14 5G is a great starter smartphone with a price you don’t have to stress over.
The Samsung Galaxy A14 5G is for those on a tighter budget. It’s the most affordable handset on this list, yet it still offers a good experience. Considering the price, it offers the same camera setup as the Samsung Galaxy A13 5G, which comes with outstanding quality. We’re especially fond of the 50MP primary camera. Portrait mode detection is exceptional, 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
Poco X5 Pro
Great main camera • Long battery life • Powerful for the price
The Poco X5 Pro sticks to a successful formula to deliver a reasonably well-rounded budget phone that ticks loads of boxes for the 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.
The Motorola Moto G 5G (2023) is a super cheap phone that still offers an excellent camera
Motorola Moto G 5G (2023)
Crisp 120Hz refresh rate • Great battery life • Significant price drop
Moto G for less.
The Motorola Moto G 5G (2023) delivers a $150 price cut that brings new value to the budget device. With near-stock Android, a solid primary camera, and two-day battery life, the Moto G 5G (2023) is easy to recommend as a starter smartphone.
For a $249.99 MSRP, the Motorola Moto G 5G (2023) is a heck of a deal. Its secondary cameras aren’t to our liking, but we found the primary shooter to be a pretty good performer.
Other aspects of the device are pretty nice for the price, too. You get nice features like expandable storage, an actual headphone jack, a really smooth 120Hz refresh rate, and great battery life.
There are some downsides, but that is expected from any phone at this price point. The update commitment is pretty lacking, with Motorola only promising a single Android update and three years of security improvements. The phone has no NFC. Additionally, the screen only has a 720p display, and camera flexibility is still lacking.
What makes it stand out?
- It has an amazingly low price.
- 5G support on a budget.
- Solid main camera.
- Great battery life.
Any phone could be the best budget camera phone
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
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.
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.