Choosing the best budget camera phone isn’t as easy as you’d think – we can’t easily point our finger at the latest Samsung Galaxy or iPhone and say ‘that one’. That’s because, while loads of phones are great for taking pictures, different models have different strengths.
If you look at our list of the best budget camera phone , you’ll find models with fantastic hardware and some cool software modes, while our ranking of the best iPhones has handsets with incredibly AI optimization, and if you’re looking for unique lenses and sensors that you won’t find elsewhere, our guide to the best Huawei phone is best for you.
How to choose the best budget camera phone?
Let’s be honest. best budget camera phone can be expensive so when you’re on a budget, looking for a great camera phone, there are certain points you should focus on. Here are the points we think you should consider.
Price is going to be the first thing to consider before buying a great camera phone on a budget. While you can find a great camera phone at any price, make sure that the camera phone you choose fits your budget while still providing you with the features you’re looking for.
These days, auto focus seems like an afterthought when it comes to camera phones. It shouldn’t though. Surprisingly, there are camera phones out there that don’t have auto focus which can make things harder when you want great pictures.
Image stabilization and auto focus really go hand in hand. While auto focus can help your photos look great, image stabilization helps keep them from looking shaky. While there are some options out there without image stabilization, it is becoming a more common feature amongst camera phones.
Megapixels continue to be a buzzword when it comes to camera phones. Many people see that a higher megapixel number, the better quality photos they will end up taking.
This isn’t always the case though. Even with the most megapixels available, if the camera on your phone is of poor quality, then nothing will help your photos look incredible.
The point is, try not to focus on the number of megapixels but use it as a bonus in selecting the best budget camera phone for your needs.
Top 5 best budget camera phone
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iPhone 13 Pro / iPhone 13 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Oppo Find X5 Pro
Huawei Mate 40 Pro
Google Pixel 6 Pro
The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max are stunning camera phones, each packing a 12MP f/1.5 main sensor with big 1.9µm pixels, a 12MP f/1.8 ultra-wide, and a 12MP f/2.8 telephoto, with 3x optical zoom.
They both have the same cameras, and their key difference is the phone screen size, which is why we’ve bundled them into one.
While they don’t have the lens numbers or optical zoom length of some phones on this list, their performance is sublime, and while they lack a dedicated macro lens, they’re still competent at taking close-up photos.
Low light performance particularly impressed us in our tests, and that’s something that iPhones are known for, but whatever type of shot you’re aiming for, the iPhone 13 Pro or Pro Max should be able to do it justice.
Apple’s smart AI optimization is out in force here, with the company’s Deep Fusion used to tweak your pictures to make them as wonderful as possible.
The new Photographic Styles feature and Cinematic mode both impress too, though we suspect they might not be massively used by most buyers.
But with an improved Portrait mode, the return of ProRAW, and a great point-and-shoot experience, the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max are photography beasts.
Like its predecessor, the Galaxy S22 Ultra continues to raise the bar of what to expect in terms of smartphone photography.
Not only does it continue to be the only smartphone to support 8K resolution video recording (with remarkable results), but the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s zoom capabilities are second to none.
Offering a hybrid zoom range of up to 100x, the Galaxy S22 Ultra excels when it comes to telescopic photography, and the 108MP main camera is no slouch either.
In our tests, we found that the Galaxy S22 Ultra was capable of capturing detail-rich images in well-lit environments, with superb dynamic range and rich, bold colours that look as if they’re going to leap straight off the screen.
The phone’s night mode also did an exceptional job at boosting the brightness of the image without adding pesky visual noise and blowing out street lights.
Useful photography features such as the ability to grab an image directly from any frame of an 8K video recording are also a huge bonus, as is the ability to capture in both JPEG and DNG formats simultaneously in the Expert RAW app on the Galaxy Store.
So, if you need a flagship smartphone that can pretty much do it all in the camera department, as well as something that knocks it out of the park with telephoto images, then the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is the ideal candidate.
The camera on the Oppo Find X5 Pro is both one of its strong suits and one of its weak suits, as it depends on which lens you’re using.
The main 50MP f/1.7 snapper is superb, as is the 50MP f/2.2 ultra-wide one. Both cameras are capable of taking bright, detailed, colorful pictures. But switch to the 13MP f/2.4 telephoto camera and things go downhill, with its 2x optical zoom being dwarfed by most rivals.
Still, if you’re not overly interested in zoom shots then the Oppo Find X5 Pro comes highly recommended for photo fiends, and it’s helped out by its MariSilicon X neural processing chip, and by the company’s collaboration with camera brand Hasselblad.
This collaboration brings tweaks to Pro photography mode, and also a dedicated XPan mode that recreates the experience of using Hasselblad’s cult classic camera.
You can also record video with excellent stabilization at 1080p, or without that perk at 4K, and there’s a capable 32MP selfie camera on the front.
Overall this isn’t quite the most comprehensive or versatile camera setup you’ll find on a phone, but for most photo types and even for video, the Oppo Find X5 Pro does an exceptional job.
If Oppo wants to compete with Samsung or Apple in those top spots though, it’ll need a better zoom solution in the future.
First things first – the Mate 40 Pro has one tragic flaw, and it’s a deal breaker for most people. Thanks to the Google trade ban in the US, you can’t access Google’s own app store.
Huawei’s store is still playing catch up, and you’re likely to be frustrated with certain apps not working, even if you can easily download them online.
Having said that, the Mate 40 Pro is still one of the best camera phones in the world, offering the complete package.
Both regular and ultra-wide angle shots look superb in both well-lit and dark conditions, while the 5x optical zoom performs remarkably well even in lower light too. Focusing is fast and snappy, and the front-facing selfie camera also cram in larger groups, thanks to its wide angle lens.
Throw in super-stabilized video with impressive HDR for good measure, and you have a smartphone with a camera that’s capable of excelling at any task you care to throw at it.
We loved the way the Mate 40 Pro picked up colors, with dramatic sunsets and vibrant food dishes standing out when captured on the phone. Low-light shooting is great too, whether you’re snapping people or objects.
We’ve also got to commend the range of camera modes Huawei offers – options like Moon Photography, Spotlight Portrait, 50x Hyperzoom, incredibly slow-motion video recording and light painting all give the phone a real edge for playful or experimental photographers. We had lots of fun trying these out to take great snaps.
After a few years of uninspiring smartphones, the Google Pixel 6 Pro marked the tech giant’s return to the camera powerhouse club.
The Google Pixel 6 Pro has a huge sensor on its main camera, which takes in light better than sensors on most other devices, as well as a powerful telephoto and ultra-wide camera – this trio is somewhat of a dream team.
Joining the party is Google’s software, which is what made Pixel phones great camera devices in the first place.
Not only is AI scene optimization fantastic at tweaking your picture to look great, but there are some extra software tools – the biggest one is Magic Eraser, which can edit out background people in otherwise-clean shots.
This is a fun feature to play around with, but from our testing, the results weren’t always natural-looking.
We found the Google Pixel 6 Pro great as a point-and-shoot wonder, like the iPhone above – it was easy just to press the shutter button and rely on Google’s smart AI to take a great-looking shot.
While the lack of expandable storage and a limited battery life might limit the Google Pixel 6 Pro’s functionality as a versatile camera phone a tiny bit, the actual photo-taking power is wonderful.
How we test phone cameras
Rather than using controlled conditions and attempting to compare cameras scientifically, we put each of these smartphone snappers to the test in real-world scenarios.
We drill down to test out manual controls, may alter still or recording resolution to draw comparisons and make sure to test any specialist or dedicated features and settings a particular device boasts too.
Which phone has the best camera?
There are many good smartphones in the list above, and the best one for one person doesn’t mean the best camera for everyone.
That said, the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra are the two overall best camera phones available today that cover a broad range of shooting scenarios.
The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro incorporate Google’s advanced camera algorithms and improved camera hardware.
They arguably are the best point and shoot cameras available, but Google seems to be having issues releasing stable updates for cellular reception and other functions.
What is the best budget camera phone?
The iPhone 13 Pro Max is the best camera phone. We found it to be the most capable camera phone overall, mastering both photo and video, and including new features like cinematic video and macro photography.
Can a smartphone camera compete with a DSLR?
It’s been said that the best camera is the one that you always have with you and in today’s world, that is certainly your smartphone.
Smartphones used to be a good alternative just because they were in your pocket, but today’s smartphones have advanced imaging technology and software, so they can honestly challenge dedicated cameras.
Due to their limited dimensions, mainly the thickness of the phone, smartphones cannot match the full capability of a DSLR, and you will not find professionals using a smartphone for weddings, graduations, sporting events, or other similar activities.
However, many of us have given up our point-and-shoot cameras and find smartphones perfectly capable of serving as our primary camera.
Given that people don’t print photos as much while sharing them on social media and online services, a smartphone is perfectly capable. If you want the manual functions seen in a DSLR, then you should consider the Sony Xperia Pro-I.
Should you download additional camera apps?
While each phone has one, or more, apps installed to control the camera experience; many apps are available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store to enhance the experiences.
Apps are available to expand your creativity, add extra manual controls, incorporate filters and much more.
Many of the available apps are free or have trial versions, so you can download, install, and test apps as you evaluate the limits of your smartphone cameras.
Many articles cover the most popular and functional applications, so give some a try and see what your smartphone camera can do.
How can you take the best photos with your phone?
CNET has assembled an extensive article that guides you through various aspects of smartphone photography, including different scenarios, apps, and more.
Moment makes various lenses that attach to your smartphone to enhance the capability of your cameras. Still, the company also has a large collection of online lessons to provide you with advanced photography lessons.
How did we choose these camera phones?
The process to make our selections includes testing the phones for weeks, reading reviews from other websites and publications, researching reviewer guides and manufacturer websites talking with colleagues and other users who have hands-on experience with the phones, and then selecting the best from all of the available choices.
While we have our own typical camera use scenarios, selecting one of these phones for yourself will heavily depend on the primary usage of the cameras on your phone. We focus our time on travel and flower photos with some video content.