If you’re looking for a phone with a great camera, you’ll quickly realize most of today’s options are pushing four figures. That’s way too expensive. But surprisingly, the best budget phone typically delivers a pretty similar experience.
Low cost doesn’t have to mean low quality, and spending less than $500 on a phone can still yield impressive photos that rival the best of the best, as long as you choose the right one. So, below we’ve recommended the best budget phones with great cameras. Obviously, everyone has a different budget or brand preference, so here are a few of your options.
Why It’s So Hard to Find a Good Camera in a Cheap Phone?
There are several reasons why it’s almost impossible to find a decent camera in a cheap phone. Consumers expect, or even demand, more than ever these days, making it difficult for any brand to deliver a great all-around camera phone for those on a budget. Brands have to pick their battle on parts, and as we know, those parts are expensive and start to add up. So, they compromise on things like the camera.
Often, manufacturers put the biggest and best screen they can into a cheap phone to lure buyers. Or, they’ll pack three cameras on the back, so it looks convincing, but then you get home and realize it’s awful. Even worse, some phones try to sound like a flagship device for $300, packing in everything but the kitchen sink, and no single aspect of the device is very good. Instead, it just “has it all.”
Honestly, that’s where Google’s Pixel line excels. Google focused on an excellent camera, smooth software, and a good screen, then cut out all the gimmicks or extras most people rarely use. It nails all the essentials. Apple did something similar with the iPhone SE. As a result, they both top our list.
Best Overall: Google Pixel 4a
The Google Pixel 4a is an incredible value and offers the best smartphone camera in any budget setup, period. See, the key here is Google put the same excellent camera sensor as its flagship phone into the budget Pixel 4a, powered by excellent computational photography software that makes it one of the best on the market, so you get Google’s excellent night and portrait modes, for example. Our own Michael Crider gave it an editors’ choice award and says it’s “Google’s best phone yet, at any price.”
As a refresher, you’ll get a 5.8-inch hole-punch display, 128GB of storage for all your photos and video, 6GB of RAM, stock Android, great battery life, and one of the best cameras on a smartphone. And though it doesn’t have multiple rear cameras like, say, the Galaxy A51 or the original Pixel 4, it’s still the same great main camera as Google’s more expensive phone. As a result, taking great photos is consistently fun, easy, and hassle-free.
The Pixel 4a seriously raises the bar for how good a budget phone’s camera can be.
Google Pixel 4a - Unlocked Android Smartphone - 128 GB of Storage - Up to 24 Hour Battery - Just Black
The Pixel 4a and its camera are unbeatable at this price.
Alternatively, we wanted to mention Google’s slightly more expensive Pixel 4a 5G. Odd name aside, it’s the same amazing phone as the Pixel 4a, only bigger, slightly better, adds 5G connectivity, and it packs dual cameras on the back. Yes, you’ll get a bigger 6.2-inch screen and a secondary ultra-wide camera to enjoy, but it does cost a little extra. When we reviewed it, we decided it’s the best camera phone for those with a slightly higher budget and who want more from their phone.
Google Pixel 4a with 5G - Android Phone - New Unlocked Smartphone with Night Sight and Ultrawide Lens - Just Black
Get a big, powerful, well-rounded phone for under $500.
Best Budget iPhone Camera: iPhone SE (2020)
This list wouldn’t be complete without the iPhone SE, mainly because it’s the best cheap iPhone camera. You could pay over a grand for the iPhone 12 Pro Max, or save most of that and get Apple’s 2020 budget phone.
The iPhone SE is a powerful new phone in a familiar old design. It looks like the iPhone 8, yet underneath the small 4.7-inch screen are upgrades like Apple’s A13 bionic processor, 3GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, TouchID, and the same rear camera as the iPhone 11. It’s a mish-mash of devices, but the result is a phone that takes amazing photos without breaking the bank. If you don’t want an Android or Galaxy phone, the iPhone SE (2020) is the best camera phone that’s affordable.
Apple iPhone SE (64GB, White) [Locked] + Carrier Subscription
If you're on a budget but want a great camera phone, get the iPhone SE at $349.
Runner Up: Samsung Galaxy A51
In closing, we wanted to offer a runner-up for Samsung fans or those invested in the brand and Galaxy ecosystem. The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of those phones that looks amazing on paper. You have a huge, gorgeous 6.5-inch screen, 128GB of storage, a big 4,000 mAh battery, and four cameras on the back.
Yes. it’s kind of what we mentioned above, where the manufacturer packed in a ton of cameras and a huge screen to lure you in. Then again, this is Samsung, who makes some pretty great phones. All things aside, the Galaxy A51 is a solid option for buyers. You can shoot in 4K video, and the phone is surprisingly versatile in terms of taking photos day in and day out. Thanks to a good range of standard, ultra-wide, and macro lenses on the back, it’s capable of getting good photos with ease.
Samsung Galaxy A51 Factory Unlocked Cell Phone | 128GB of Storage | Long Lasting Battery | Single SIM | GSM or CDMA Compatible | US Version | Black
Samsung fans will love this phone's quad cameras for just $349.
When you’re trying to get a great budget camera phone the options are somewhat limited. At the end of the day, though, everyone has different wants, needs, preferences, and budgets.
Hands-down the Google Pixel 4a is the best phone and camera for the price, but anything on this list will make you happy.