What is the best budget camera phone 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.
Thankfully the days of draining your wallet for acceptable image quality and power are over. Today, you can spend far less than a grand for 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
In a turn up for the books, Apple’s actually launched an incredible value smartphone this year 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 costs curbed.
The camera is another area the iPhone SE skimps when compared to some of the competition, but that doesn’t mean its 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 day-to-day performance, there’s no denying its one of the best budget camera phones.
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, which is why it isn’t our highest ranked Android. 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.
The Moto G range has been one of our go-to choices for budget smartphones for quite some time, consistently offering incredible bang for your buck. Despite the price of the G8 Power it doesn’t skimp on specs, and the software and updates are decent to boot.
Aptly named, the Power has a gargantuan 5,000mAh battery, which puts most phones 2-3 times its price to shame, and makes it an ideal choice for all-day shooting with its varied array of cameras.
Most phones at this price range lack a zoom or ultra-wide camera, let alone ones that provide such decent results (although it’s worth noting that there's no dedicated Night Mode). Still, with a solid 6.4-inch 1080p screen, Snapdragon 665 CPU and a plastic shell, you’re getting a lot of phone for your money here. Consider an upgrade to the G8 Plus if you're after a dedicated Night Mode and more megapixels to play with.
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 Redmi Note 9 Pro is a big-screened smartphone packing stacks of pixel-power in 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, so 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, it punches above its price. Powered by a Snapdragon 720G, it won’t fall at the final hurdle – performance – whether emailing, browsing or 3D gaming.
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.
If you’re looking for the biggest screen available for the smallest price, you can stop now. The attention grabbing Honor 9X has a huge, 6.59-inch display with almost no bezel - all made possible by that pop-up camera. This leaves the Honor 9X notch and punch hole free, despite it being one of the most affordable options on-test.
The 9X isn’t just a big screen though. The triple camera combines a high-resolution primary sensor with a GoPro-style ultra-wide 8MP secondary cam. Add to the mix a 2MP depth sensor, and whether you’re taking portrait shots with beautifully spangled bokeh, or firing up aperture mode photos, which let you change the focus point after the beat, it punches way above its weight.
There are a few missing optional extras that highlight the Honor 9X’s midrange nature. It can’t capture 4K resolution video, for example. There’s also no telephoto camera or NFC (for contactless payments). The 9X’s processor also doesn’t compete with some pricier phones like the Nova 5T or Oppo Reno 2. Still, what it does deliver - plenty of storage, a big battery and a striking look, ends up making it an incredibly easy budget camera phone to recommend for the price.
The Motorola One Hyper is the only budget smartphone around with a sky high 64MP sensor resolution. That means the photos it takes are sharp. That high resolution around the back extends to the front, with the phone’s pop-up selfie camera sporting 32MP of detail – but don’t worry, there’s a beauty mode here too. Complete with background blur features, colour popping and video recording at up to 4K resolution, despite the fact there’s no zoom camera on the Hyper, it’s still a smashing camera phone for the price.
Before you even get to the camera though, it makes an impact, with its big, all-screen display. The phone’s zingy, holographic finish is also novel, with an air of shell suits and Xanadu about it. Unlike pricier phones, the One Hyper ships with a case and a fast charger, and if you peek under the hood, you’ll find a big, beefy battery that delivers day long power.
The Motorola One Hyper also runs a clean version of Google’s Android operating system, but with a twist, literally. Packing gesture support, twist your wrist quickly with the phone in your hand and the camera fires up. Give it a quick karate chop, and the flash light activates. All this comes together to ensure this affordable, all-screen phone ends up being incredibly charming and very capable.
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 punchy 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.
TCL will be better known to smartphone nerds as the company that made the more recent generations of BlackBerry devices but it’s now releasing its own branded phones too.
The TCL 10 Lite has a seemingly generous camera setup with four lenses on the back, although only one of these - the 48MP main camera - takes shots that are impressive. However, only one of these cameras is genuinely quite good.
There’s no dedicated Night Mode for low light shots, mind, but snaps are otherwise crisp. A so-so 8MP ultra-wide camera and 2MP camera for macro and depth assist round off the 10 Lite’s imaging features. With a Snapdragon 665 processor and 6GB RAM, this is a decent handset for the price.