For some people, smartphones are just cameras that can make phone calls — because these days, the camera is often the headline smartphone feature. We all appreciate a crystalline display and muscular processor, but for the camera you always have with you, the ability to shoot great photos is critical. Great cameras are generally featured in flagship devices, like the iPhone 13 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, and Google Pixel 6 Pro, which rank among the best camera phones out there today. However, these smartphones cost upwards of $900, so anyone on a tighter budget is going to feel left out.
But there's still hope, as manufacturers increasingly prioritize the cameras included in their budget models. From the iPhone SE (2022) to the Google Pixel 6a and Nokia G50, lower-priced models are now offering premium cameras for those on a budget. This is great news for photo hobbyists, and to steer you in the right direction, we assembled a list of the best budget camera phones available today.
Google Pixel 6a
Best budget camera phone overall
- Compact, lightweight design
- IP67 water resistance
- Flagship-grade performance
- Excellent cameras
- Clean software
- Years of guaranteed updates
- Display is only 60Hz
- Tensor chip runs hot
- Lacking battery life
Google's Pixel 6a, at 152.5mm high and 178 grams, is easy to operate singlehandedly. The 6.1-inch OLED panel with a Full HD+ 1080 x 2400 resolution, 60Hz refresh rate, and covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 offers an ideal phone for great images.
The Pixel 6a features an outstanding camera phone with a simple camera app that’s also a quick snapper. The camera is 12.2MP and has an f/1.7 aperture, optical image stabilization (OIS), and phase detection autofocus. Its 12MP ultrawide camera has a 114-degree field of view alongside an 8MP selfie camera.
With decent lighting, the Pixel 6a produces pleasing photos with great detail and brilliant colors. Its HDR software handles challenging skies and harsh lighting. The ultrawide camera does an excellent job of retaining color profiles with minimal edge distortion. The Pixel 6a includes a dedicated Night Sight mode to help capture your subjects in extremely dim lighting conditions.
Apple iPhone SE (2022)
Best budget iPhone camera
- Compact and light
- Very powerful
- Touch ID works really well
- Wireless charging
- IP67 water resistance
- Poor battery life
- 60Hz screen
- 64GB won't be enough
The iPhone SE 2022 is an old dog, but it's still got plenty of new tricks. With its 4.7-inch Liquid Retina display and 60Hz refresh rate, the iPhone SE 2022's design may look dated, but this small handset packs a punch. Under the hood, you get Apple's latest A15 Bionic chip, and that is what fuels this budget iPhone's superlative camera's single 12MP rear sensor and 7MP selfie cam. Add to that Apple's Deep Fusion technology, Smart HDR 4, and Photographic Styles, as well as an improved Portrait Mode — but still no Night Mode.
Most of the SE 2022's image processing magic is driven by the A15 chip's neural engine. The portrait lighting and new filter modes can snap compelling images. While you can tap into Portrait mode, Apple restricts this faux bokeh trick to human subjects. You can record at 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second, and there’s even an option to extend the dynamic range at lower frame rates.
Samsung Galaxy A53
Best budget Samsung camera phone
- Pretty design
- IP67 water-resistance
- Camera is great for social media
- Vibrant screen
- Two-day battery life
- Performance can be sluggish
- Not an upgrade to the A52 and A52S
The Galaxy A53 5G is a great value for its quality, camera, and software. It’s 8.1mm thick and weighs 189 grams. A 6.5-inch Super AMOLED screen covered with Gorilla Glass 5, carrying 2400 x 1080 pixel resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate, guarantees pleasant viewing.
It's the camera that sets this phone apart — and it's ideal for casual, fun use. The Galaxy A53 5G features four cameras: a 64MP main camera with an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization, a 12MP wide-angle camera with a 123-degree field of view, and a pair of 5MP cameras for macro and depth. Features include Night mode, Pro mode, Samsung’s Single Take mode, video recording up to 4K and 30 frames per second, built-in Snapchat Lenses, and augmented reality effects. The photo editing software adds versatility, including the Object Eraser mode, Spot Color mode, and plenty of filters.
Lowlight performance is decent without too much image noise, and the selfie camera captures accurate skin tones and details. Overcast days result in less than ideal images, however, while the 2x option is a digital rather than an optical zoom.
Moto G Power (2022)
Best ultrawide camera phone
- Amazing battery life
- Accurate biometrics
- Decent amount of ROM
- Good camera system and software
- Water repellent
- No 5G connectivity
- Comes with Android 11
- Plastic backing
- Slow responses at times
The Moto G Power (2022) packs a 6.5-inch 90Hz display, 4GB of RAM, a MediaTek Helio G37 chip, and a massive 5,000mAh battery. The body is plastic, the screen's colors look a bit muted, and there's no 5G or wireless charging.
That said, it's got a respectable camera setup of a 50MP main, 2MP macro, 2MP depth sensor, and 8MP selfie camera. It works well, but the selfie camera’s lens gets intrusive with the camera’s lens located at the top of the display. You can enable several built-in camera features, including a portrait mode, panorama pictures, live filters, night vision, group selfies, auto smile capture, watermarking, photo markups, and Google Lens integration.
Two notable camera features include dual mode, which allows front and rear image capture in the same shot, and pro mode, which allows adjustment of lighting, aperture speed, and focus to customize the settings.
Best sharable images
- Long battery life
- Strong build quality
- Fuss-free, reliable software
- Guaranteed software updates
- 5G for the future
- 60Hz refresh rate screen
- Low-resolution screen
- Big and heavy
The Nokia G50 is a large phone featuring a 6.82-inch screen. The body is nearly 9mm thick and 174mm tall and weighs 220 grams. The design features a circular camera module in an Ocean Blue color. The G50 is a serviceable phone that provides adequate ability for the price, with great software and long battery life.
There is a 48MP main camera, a 5MP wide-angle camera, and a 2MP depth camera. The main camera produces colorful, shareable images, though lowlight shooting can be challenging. Wide-angle photos are dark, and detail gets lost in shadow on overcast days. The depth camera assists with portrait shots, which have acceptable edge recognition, and various portrait selfie modes add an unusual though artificial background to your shots. The Nokia G50’s camera doesn’t stand out from the competition, but the main camera gets the job done.
Here are the key specs you need to consider when looking for a good camera phone.
Megapixels: While the more megapixels a camera has, the higher the theoretical resolution of the image, the size of each pixel is also critical. Larger pixels are more light-sensitive and capture images with less noise and artifacts, making your pictures more realistic and easier to enlarge, crop, or print. Generally, with megapixels, more isn’t necessarily better, as cramming more pixels on a small sensor can degrade rather than enhance image quality. Smaller pixels hold less light. More pixels also mean larger files, which can be inconvenient for both editing and storage.
Aperture: The bigger the aperture, the more light a lens lets in and the greater the exposure. In theory, the bigger the aperture is, the better it is at capturing detail in the foreground. The smaller the aperture is, the better it is at capturing detail in the distance. In lens terminology, a smaller number indicates (somewhat counterintuitively) a bigger aperture, so f/1.7 is bigger than f/1.8, for example. This means that a phone with a bigger main aperture might be better than one with a smaller aperture, while the reverse may be true for telephoto lenses. However, software also plays a role in processing photos, so hardware isn't the only factor.
Optical image stabilization (OIS): This helps to keep the camera lens steady, correcting for movement in the hands of the photographer. This is a good thing to have since few of us use a smartphone with a tripod.
High dynamic range (HDR): This is another desirable feature. Dynamic range is the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of an image that an HDR feature can boost beyond what can be natively captured in a single shot. It involves taking multiple shots of the same subject in different exposures and then combining them to create a single shot, which should be better lit with more intense colors and contrast.
All else being equal, the more camera lenses, the merrier. However, additional rear camera lenses don't always translate to a better overall camera experience. This is particularly true with budget camera phones, which are built on a tighter budget, meaning that if a manufacturer splurges on having a quad-lens rear camera, all four of these lenses may end up being sub-par. Sometimes, it's better to focus on making the main, wide lens as good as possible.
That said, if a phone manufacturer does devote sufficient resources to making high-quality additional rear lenses, they can be great fun. Ultrawide lenses let you take wide-angle landscape shots or more open shots of tight spaces. Telephoto lenses let you capture zoomed shots, while macro lenses let you take extreme close-ups. Other special lenses include color filters, monochrome cameras, and time-of-flight sensors, which may or may not be well implemented.
Smartphone cameras have come a long way. The best of them let you take photos that can be used in a professional setting — we sometimes rely on camera phones for images used on this site. However, as good as they are, DSLR cameras will always outperform a camera phone because of the flexibility and control afforded by interchangeable lenses, high resolution, and sensor size. Professional photographers should check our list of the best DSLR cameras available right now if they seek the highest-quality photos, especially for scaling up or printing.
We test smartphones — and all products reviewed on this site — in exactly the same way that you use them: by living with them. By using a smartphone as our main device for a week or more, we put it through its paces in pretty much any likely situation. We come to learn of its weaknesses and strengths under various conditions, and we also get a firm handle on its quirks.
Not only do we use smartphones extensively when testing them, but we also use our knowledge and experience to assess just how well they compare with the competition. We've been reviewing every major smartphone for years, so we know when a particular model stands out from the crowd or does something it really shouldn't. This is how you can be sure that, when we say a smartphone is good, it stands up well against any other phone you're likely to come across in its category.
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