What is the best out of the many budget camera phones you can buy? One question, lots to consider. Staying in touch with family, loved ones – and staying on top of work and creative endeavours has never been so important, but neither’s sensible spending.
Thankfully the days of draining your wallet for acceptable mobile camera snaps are over. Today, you can spend less than $400 (£400) and still get a feature-packed smartphone with a quality camera, snappy interface and a day-beating battery. If you’re looking for a cost-effective upgrade, we’ve pulled together a list of some of the best smartphones money can buy that won’t destroy your funds.
Below you can find our full rundown of the best budget camera phones for 2021, so whether you're a filmmaker on a budget, a photographer on the go or someone who just wants to take stunning snaps without leaving a huge dent in your finances, this is the place to find your next phone.
The best budget camera phones available now
The Google Pixel 4A could be the best Android phone on the scene for anyone after an excellent camera and a true, unadulterated Google experience at under £350. It’s future-proofed with three years of guaranteed software updates, outclasses the flagship Pixel 4 in terms of storage and like the iPhone SE, it shoots great looking snaps despite having just one camera.
You won’t get 5G on the Pixel 4A, so no fast mobile data speeds. The Pixel 4A also lacks the premium glass and metal build of the OnePlus Nord or iPhone SE. If you’re happy with plastic though, it is a great looking smartphone with a fingerprint scanner, smooth performance in day-to-day use and a great camera.
In a turn up for the books, Apple’s actually 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.
OnePlus — better known for its flagship smartphones — launched the hotly anticipated 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. At £379, 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 X3 NFC starts at £199 ($250) and has fantastic specs for the price, combining a smooth 120Hz screen with a 64MP main camera. The Snapdragon 732G chipset matched with 6GB RAM means you won’t find a more cutting edge midrange mobile at this price-point. Its 5,160mAh battery is huge, even by flagship standards, and supports fast charging.
The phone sports a big screen with minimal bezels thanks to a punch-hole selfie camera, making it look much more premium than you’d expect for the price, though its styling isn’t as sophisticated as some of the competition. Additionally, its software does have a few gremlins within the UI however. App installs are interrupted by adverts that some may find a step too intrusive. Thankfully, its saving grace include that fantastic, best-in-class 64MP camera capable of 4K video capture.
If you like the idea of a Samsung Galaxy S20, but aren’t a fan of the phone’s price, then the Galaxy A51 could be a great shout. It combines a big 6.5-inch screen with punchy Super AMOLED technology for inky blacks and zingy colours. Running Samsung’s custom take on Android, it works like a charm with Samsung’s smart connected gadgets, and it also sports the brand’s charming, customisable camera interface.
Flip the A51 around, and its quad-camera looks similar to that of the S20 - and it is, just without the zoom. It all starts with that main 48MP sensor which is paired with an f/2.0 lens. Alongside it, a 12MP ultra-wide camera, a 5MP macro camera and a 5MP depth sensor. The macro camera is noteworthy, given the fact it’s higher resolution than the 2MP options on most other budget phones, so can grab more detail as close as 4cm away from subjects.
Storage choices are plentiful, with the A51 available in a 64GB or 128GB option, and the added microSD card slot means this can be bumped up by a hefty 512GB. Additionally, the phone’s in-screen fingerprint scanner, Infinity-O hole punch selfie camera and large battery all add to the sense of premium the Galaxy A51 brings to the table.
The Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite is the most affordable 5G phone you can buy at the time of writing. With a 6.67-inch screen, it could be too big for some, but others will love its look and feel, especially at this price point. The 64GB version comes in at just £229 (approximately $300) and it certainly feels more premium than its price would suggest. Design highlights include a cropped circular camera surround around the back, and a choice of three colours, Rose Gold Bleach, Pearl Gray and Atlantic Blue. It also comes with a case in the box, a notable value add for an already affordable phone.
The Mi 10T Lite sports a 6.67-inch 120Hz display and a quad-camera setup, with a 64MP main camera that packs plenty of resolution. The main camera features a Sony IMX682 sensor, which is generally superior to Samsung’s 64MP sensor when it comes to clarity. Complimenting the main sensor is an 8MP ultrawide camera with a 120-degree field of view, and two 2MP cameras, one being a macro camera, and the other is a depth sensor.
With a Snapdragon 750G paired with 6GB RAM, you wouldn’t class it as the most powerful phone on the market, but thanks to the 120Hz screen, the phone feels nice and fast in daily use. You’ll have plenty of storage options, with 64GB or 128GB storage as well as microSD card expansion, and the ample 4820mAh battery supports fast charging.
The Redmi Note 9 Pro is a big-screened smartphone packing stacks of pixel-power across its five cameras – a combined 95MP. With its huge 6.67-inch display, it’s a perfect multimedia smartphone on a budget, and thanks to its huge 5020mAh battery, it’s also the phone to get if you need all-day and all-night power.
In the box, the Note 9 Pro ships with a handy case that even has a flap to cover up the USB-C port. While that doesn’t make it waterproof, it should help from the odd splash and bits of pocket-lint. The phone’s also protected by Gorilla Glass 5 around the front and back, and with a pre-fitted screen protector, it’s hardier than your average budget smartphone.
Shipping with either 64GB or 128GB storage and an SD card slot, so you can bump up the space for files, photos and more. The result is a phone that punches above its price, and with a Snapdragon 720G, day to day performance is nippy for most tasks.
If you’re looking for big-screened entertainment on a budget, then the Moto G9 Plus is a value champ, with an immersive 6.81 inch screen that will show off widescreen movies beautifully.
With a big screen comes a big size, and the G9 Plus might be too big for some - and its plastic build isn’t our favourite in terms of in-hand feel. If you can learn to love its size and design through, everything from its power through to its camera combination screams value for money.
The Snapdragon 730G processor that powers the experience is powerful enough to handle apps like Lightroom, 3D games and the phone shoots 4K video too. With 128GB storage and a microSD card slot, there’s room for your masterpieces, and the 64MP main camera captures high-resolution photos. It’s matched with an 8MP ultrawide camera, a 2MP macro camera and a 2MP depth camera - no optical zoom, but that’s hardly surprising at the price.
Add to the mix a massive 5000mAh battery, and there’s no getting around the fact that if you’re looking for a brilliant, big phone at a budget price, the Moto G9 Plus should be on your shortlist.
The Moto G 5G Plus is another budget camera phone battery champ, with a big screen and 5G. It’s similar in many ways to the OnePlus Nord, however, costs less and lacks the premium glass-backed finish OnePlus’s 5G phone features.
Around the back, no less than four cameras combine to deliver a competent setup for the price, and thanks to the dual selfie camera, it grabs both wide and ultrawide front-firing photos and videos. The main 48MP camera is also matched with an f/1.7 lens, which results in respectable snaps, even in middling light.
The Moto G’s 5000mAh battery coupled with 20W fast charging means your day-long mobile needs are catered for, and it powers up nice and quickly too. With nice and nippy 5G data speeds, you’ll be able to download files and stream movies without any waiting, provided you get 5G in your area, and thanks to its huge 6.7-inch screen, from Amazon Prime Video to Netflix, it’ll look spot-on.
The Oppo Reno4 Z is another affordable 5G phone, costing £329 (approximately $425), but still feeling premium, with a big, smooth 120Hz screen, main quad-camera, dual-front camera, biometric security and lots of storage. With that said, the screen is LCD, not AMOLED, and the 4,000mAh battery isn’t as big as some others in the same category, and there’s no memory card expansion.
The Reno 4 Z’s main 48MP camera sensor is the Sony IMX 586 and it comes with phase detection autofocus. It also has an 8MP ultrawide camera with a 119˚ field of view. You can choose from a range of shooting modes including Expert (manual), Night, Panoramic, Portrait, Slow-motion, and Time-lapse. The 16MP front camera shoots crisp selfies, aided by a secondary depth sensor.
With a MediaTek Dimensity 800 5G CPU and 8GB RAM, the Reno 4 Z delivers a smooth experience, day-in day-out, especially with its 120Hz refresh rate. Its styling is also a bit more sophisticated than others in its class, making it an attractive daily-driver and affordable 5G all-rounder.