Google Pixel 3a and 3a XLSource: Android Central

Best Budget Camera Phones Android Central 2020

It's no secret that camera quality is near the top of the list when it comes to requirements for a smartphone. And that's the case no matter how much you're spending. Thankfully there are plenty of phones out there that offer solid camera experiences without breaking the bank. The best of the best is the Google Pixel 3a. It gives you flagship camera quality, front and back, for a fraction of the cost — and stands out particularly well at night and for selfies.

Best Overall: Google Pixel 3a

Pixel 3a XL using the camera appSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

The Pixel 3a has almost a perfect copy of the much more expensive Pixel 3's camera, and that's a great thing for everyone. The Pixel 3a's rear camera is super-capable in any lighting and is particularly great in low light thanks to the Night Sight shooting mode. Flip over to the front camera, and you get crystal-clear selfies with a good field of view, auto focus and a good portrait mode.

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The rest of the phone rounds out well, too. You get Google's clean and always up-to-date take on software, along with good-enough specs and hardware that's befitting the price point. Really, there are no notable downsides considering where this phone's competing.

Note: The Google Pixel 4a, this phone's successor, is right around the corner — so if you are able to wait, you're better off buying the newer model soon. It will be more expensive, of course, but it will also have new specs and camera features.

Pros:

  • Flagship-level photo quality, front and back
  • Best-in-class low-light photos
  • Simple Google software
  • Guaranteed software updates

Cons:

  • Plasticky build
  • Average battery life
  • Now a year old

Best Overall

Google Pixel 3a

One of the best cameras available at any price.

The Pixel 3a doesn't just have a great camera for a budget device; it's great by any measure. Daytime or night, rear or front, it's the best you can get.

Best for Less: Moto G Power

Moto G Power ReviewSource: Joe Maring / Android Central

The new Moto G has a triple-camera array anchored by a 16MP main sensor. Photos are balanced and relatively colorful, and the sensor even does a fine job at keeping extremely bright photos from getting blown out. Low-light quality isn't going to surprise you, and that's where this comes up short compared to the Pixel 3a, but for all other conditions, this camera absolutely gets the job done.

Motorola didn't make huge strides in the main camera sensor, but it did add two secondary sensors to improve the overall capabilities of the system. The ultra-wide camera is a clear drop-off from the main shooter, but of course gives you a unique perspective that many inexpensive phones don't even offer. The dedicated macro camera actually produces pretty goodp hotos, and once again just gives you shot variety that you don't get with most other phones at this price bracket.

Pros:

  • Three rear cameras are a lot of fun
  • Great build quality and design
  • Up to three-day battery life
  • Moto Display and Moto Actions are great

Cons:

  • Moto G line isn't known for swift software updates
  • Lacks NFC

Best for Less

Moto G Power

A great overall budget phone, with a solid three-camera setup

If you need a cheap phone, you want the Moto G Power. It has good hardware, a nice display, and cameras that get the job done.

Best Value: Samsung Galaxy A50

Samsung Galaxy A50Source: Android Central

Samsung is best known for its high-end phones, but the A50 has stepped into the mid-range as a strong option. The 25MP main camera is capable in good and mixed lighting, though as expected for this price point comes up short in lower light. But what's surprising for this money is the addition of both a dedicated wide-angle camera, which takes fun shots with a new perspective, and a dedicated depth camera for portrait shots.

The 6.4-inch display is both bigger and much nicer than you'd ever expect for something that competes in the mid-range, as is the beautiful hardware. The spec sheet is strong, with a 4000mAh battery that gives you great longevity. You'll have to face some Samsung-induced bloatware in the software, but the A50 is a great overall phone that isn't at all let down by its cameras.

The new Galaxy A51 brings a new and improved 48MP main camera, but the phone is mostly the same otherwise and more expensive, with a higher price tag than the Pixel 3a. So we still recommend the A50 when value for camera quality is the primary consideration.

Pros:

  • Flagship-style triple camera
  • Top-tier display
  • Strong battery life
  • Great specs for the money

Cons:

  • Considerable bloatware in the software
  • Portrait mode shots are weak
  • No MST Samsung Pay support

Best Value

Samsung Galaxy A50

Great Samsung quality for a fraction of the price

The A50 brings more high-end Samsung DNA than you'd expect, with great specs. The triple camera is good in most conditions, too.

Best Outside the U.S.: Moto G8 Plus

Moto G8 PlusSource: Motorola

The Moto G is consistently a great choice for those who want to save money whithout compromising on the core smartphone experience. The Moto G8 Plus follows that formula, with good enough specs nicely combined in an attractive hardware package.

You get a 6.3-inch display, Snapdragon 665 processor, 4GB of RAM and a solid 64GB of storage (plus microSD expansion). The 4000mAh battery is plenty for a full day's use. That's really good for the money, and it's paired with Motorola's simple software that packs a lot of useful additions.

Like the Moto G Power, you get a camera setup that actually outperforms its price. The G8 Plus is a bit different, though, with a 48MP main camera that's a strong performer, and a dedicated "action" camera that lets you shoot landscape video while holding the phone in portrait mode — a neat trick you just don't see anywhere else.

U.S. buyers note: The version on Amazon U.S. is an international model and won't work on Sprint or Verizon or any of their MVNOs. It will work fine on AT&T and T-Mobile, but has no U.S. warranty.

Pros

  • Triple camera system
  • Dedicatd action camera
  • Big display
  • Large battery
  • Expandable storage

Cons

  • Motorola's software updates can be slow
  • No U.S. warranty

Best Outside the U.S.

Moto G8 Plus

It's hard to beat the value of a Moto G

The Moto G8 keeps up Motorola's value-focused legacy. You get solid specs, a big battery, an attractive design, a triple camera, and simple software.

Best Steal: Nokia 2.3

Nokia 2.3Source: Nokia

When you're buying a phone this inexpensive, you need to set your expectations rather low. It isn't going to blow you away, but for getting the basics done at a killer price, the Nokia 2.3 is tough to beat.

The 2.3 brings you a 6.2-inch display with decent enough qualities, a capable MediaTek processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of (expandable) storage, and a surprisingly large 4000mAh battery. You'll also get a solid 13MP rear camera that will get the basic shots for you, plus a secondary 2MP camera for depth information for portait shots. Up front you get a 5MP camera, which will get the bare minimum done for selfies and video calls.

It's also an Android One device, meaning you get clean software with minimal changes from what you'd find on Google's own Pixel phones. The software updates are relatively quick and guaranteed for two years as well, which is hardly a given at this price point.

On the downside you're missing NFC, a fingerprint sensor, and USB-C — but again, the core fundamentals of the phone are solid and this is an incredible price.

Pros:

  • Extremely affordable
  • Large display with respectable bezels
  • Generous 4000 mAh battery
  • Clean, up-to-date software
  • Works with all GSM carriers in the U.S.

Cons:

  • Charges with Micro-USB
  • Doesn't have NFC
  • No fingerprint sensor

Best Steal

Nokia 2.3

It's hard to argue with the value you get here

You get all the basics, from the hardware to the cameras, and nothing more — but you save a ton.

Bottom line

If camera quality is the top consideration when buying a phone, but you're on a budget, the Google Pixel 3a is absolutely the best choice. Its camera is lifted right from the high-end Pixel 3, and it shows — it's dramatically better than anything else at the same price. Also, if you want a bigger version, you can pick up a Pixel 3a XL for just a little more.

The Pixel 3a's cameras may not seem that impressive on paper, and it doesn't have the variety of shooting methods or lenses to choose from, but it's all about the results here. Front or back, the 3a's cameras take exceptionally sharp, balanced photos — and its Night Sight will produce better low-light shots than just about any other phone, regardless of price.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Andrew Martonik is Executive Editor, the U.S. at Android Central. He has been a mobile enthusiast since the Windows Mobile days and covering all things Android-related with a unique perspective at AC since 2012. For suggestions and updates, you can reach him at andrew.martonik@androidcentral.com or on Twitter at @andrewmartonik.

Daniel Bader is Managing Editor of Android Central. As he's writing this, a mountain of old Android phones is about to fall on his head, but his Great Dane will protect him. He drinks way too much coffee and sleeps too little. He wonders if there's a correlation.

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