There are plenty of great budget camera phones on the market, so if you’re looking for a fantastic pocket photography tool but don’t want to spend a lot of money, there are definitely options out there for you.
The cheap phone of yesteryear may have had bad cameras, as sensors and lenses were some of the key areas where brands cut corners when trying to make low-cost phones, but in 2021 that’s not the case: you can get a fantastic snapper without breaking the bank.
Nowadays, budget camera phones can have high-res sensors, multiple lenses, smart software optimization and more, with lots of features you’d previously only see on top-end devices, readily available to the masses. But with the affordable phone market so busy, it can be hard to know which is the best device for you.
That’s why we’ve compiled this list of ten fantastic cheap phones that take great pictures, whether that’s because of top hardware or smart software. We’ve drawn the ‘budget line’ at $500 / £450, though there are handsets on this list for a lot less than that, if you really don’t want to spend much.
Of course, if you’re not on a budget, our list of the best camera phones will show you the top handsets money can buy, and of course if your pocket snapper doesn’t need to also play games and take calls, our ranking of the best cameras is where you should look. We've also got some smartphone photography tips you can check out to make your snaps perfect.
The best budget camera phones available now
There really is no phone quite like the Redmi Note 10 Pro. For starters, you’ve got that camera with its huge megapixel count. 108MP (one hundred and eight megapixels!) is a huge number, let alone at this phone’s starting price. More than just empty specs, the Note 10 Pro takes fantastic photos with a shallow depth of field, grabs stacks of detail, and shoots video at up to 4K resolution.
Believe it or not, the imaging credentials of the Redmi Note 10 Pro get better when you factor in the secondary cameras. There’s an 8MP ultra-wide camera for GoPro style, expansive photos, and there’s a telemacro camera, normally reserved for pricier phones. This 5MP sharpshooter might not pack the pixel-counts of the main or ultra-wide cameras, but for anyone who likes close-up photography, it’s a treat, capable of capturing glorious textures and macro photos inaccessible to most smartphones.
More than just a camera phone, the Note 10 Pro also matches excellent photography chops with a gorgeous AMOLED screen and sleek design. While it isn’t a powerhouse, and it doesn’t support 5G mobile data speeds, given everything it can do, those are two omissions from its spec sheet we’re okay with, especially if excellent photos on a budget is your number one goal when picking up your next smartphone.
Perhaps the best low-cost all-rounder of 2021 is the Realme GT - it's powerful, it charges quickly, and it has some pretty good cameras too.
Sure, this phone doesn't beat the Redmi Note 10 Pro in the camera department, but it holds its own against many other budget phones on the market.
Plus it has plenty of premium features outside the photography area - so much so that you'd be forgiven for thinking this was actually a top-end device. It has the most powerful Android processor, charges at incredible speeds, looks incredible (depending on which version of it you opt for) and has a wonderful-looking screen.
If you're reading this list, you'll come to the Realme GT for its commendable camera experience, but stay for everything else.
OnePlus' Nord phones are a staple of this list of the best low-cost photography phones, and the newest entry in that line is the Nord 2 (which isn't actually the second Nord phone - it's the fifth).
The OnePlus Nord 2 has a fantastic 50MP main camera, that we've also seen on a few way-more-premium phones. This is joined by a less-impressive, but still useful, ultra-wide and monochrome duo.
Beyond that this phone has a good-looking screen, fast charging and lots of processing power.
Google's newest budget smartphone isn't exactly a huge step up over its predecessors, the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5, but the changes are what matters.
This phone has a better battery than the Pixels that came before, and is better protected against water and dust. It's also cheaper than the two phones we mentioned above, making it better value for money.
You're getting Google's smartphone camera software here, which means pictures are tweaked and balanced to perfection behind the scenes. Sure, there's no zoom, but if you don't need that this is a great choice for photographers.
This isn't Xiaomi's first entry in this list of the best budget camera phones, and it won't be its last either. The Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G takes some of the key features from the Mi 11 and cuts some corners - and lots of the body - to make a smaller, cheaper phone.
This handset has the same fantastic macro camera we saw on the Mi 11 - and on the Redmi Note 10 Pro and Poco F3 on this list - and also packs a high-megapixel main camera, with an ultra-wide snapper to round out the party.
Beyond the cameras this is a fashionable phone, with a slim body and a range of colors to pick from. It's not got much stopping power in terms of battery life, but it'll be enough for most people.
Apple launched an incredible value smartphone in its iPhone SE (2020). The phone combines flagship power with water-resistance and wireless charging — all flagship features. The design might look familiar; that’s because it lifts the body of the iPhone 8, and packages up 2020 flagship innards in the old-school shell. That said, its performance is on-point, and its price tag pared back.
The camera is another area the iPhone SE skimps when compared to some of the competition, but that doesn’t mean it's bad. The single 12MP snapper can grab high-resolution, portrait mode photos and even shoots 4K video. Add to the mix the fact it starts from just $399/£409, and Apple’s officially beating many Android smartphones at the game they normally dominate – value for money.
The Realme 8 Pro has a 108MP camera, yet costs barely any money. It's a lot like the Redmi Note 10 Pro in this regard, but it lacks a few of that handset's extra cameras and features that give it the edge.
But the Realme 8 Pro is definitely still worth considering, as it's a champion in a few non-camera departments too. It's incredibly quick to charge, has a small body that fits snug in the hand, and has a good-looking screen with a higher pixel-per-inch count than lots of its rivals.
Megapixels aren't the only thing that a phone camera needs to get by, but the Realme 8 Pro is a great all-rounder phone beyond its super-high-res main camera.
Samsung's sole entry on this list is the Galaxy A52 5G, which is arguably the best entry in its budget and mid-range Galaxy A series of 2021.
On paper, this is a solid camera phone with four lenses that are all higher-res than equivalents you'd see on other phones, paired with Samsung's smart scene optimization and AI to make the most of any picture. Sure, the handset lacks some of the cool features that makes the Galaxy S series best, but the lower price makes up for that.
Beyond the cameras, this is also a solid phone in all areas that it counts, with a good-looking screen, solid battery life and 5G connectivity.
OnePlus – better known for its flagship smartphones – launched the anticipated OnePlus Nord in August 2020. It packs 5G, a total of six cameras, a stunning, bright, punchy AMOLED screen which is silky smooth at 90Hz, not to mention premium Scandi glass and metal design. And at this price, it’s about as cost-effective as a smartphone gets right now.
Running with Oxygen OS, OnePlus’s custom interface on top of Android, it delivers a stable, clean UI with considered customisations, like Zen Mode. This gives you the power to disconnect from your phone for a set amount of time, while still being able to access emergency services.
The OnePlus Nord also has four cameras around the back, spearheaded by a 48MP sensor and an optically image stabilised wide-angle lens. There’s also an ultrawide camera, a depth sensor and finally, a low-resolution macro camera.
With fast charging and day-long battery life, between the OnePlus Nord’s striking looks, punchy screen and nippy day-to-day performance, there’s no denying it's one of the best budget camera phones around.
The Poco F3 is a budget powerhouse, with a fantastically mighty processor capable of playing back the most rip-roaring of 3D games. While not the most affordable 5G phone you can buy, or the best camera phone at its price, it is a balanced handset that’s good at everything, and excellent for gaming.
Also excellent for movie watching, with its ample 6.67-inch AMOLED screen matched with stereo speakers, the Poco F3 looks and sounds great for the price. Just like the Redmi Note 10 Pro, the F3 features a super-smooth 120Hz refresh rate, making for silky smooth scrolling social feeds. One area it out-does the Note 10 Pro is design, with its glass back bettering the Note’s plastic body.
With a 48MP main camera, we’ve seen a lot of phones with similar photography credentials to the Poco F3, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The tried and tested sensor grabs decent photos across lighting conditions, and with the addition of a Telemacro camera, which takes great close-up photos, it’s fair to call this phone a total package.
If there was anything that detracted from the F3’s appeal, it wouldn’t be battery life, charging speeds, or its sleek look and feel. Oh no, it would be the very occasional user interface niggles we experienced in our time with the phone. When the value for money is this good though, the F3 is still a great buy.