The Complete 2021 Guide for Affordable Smartphones with the Best Camera

To get started as a smartphone photographer, you do not have to break the bank. Nowadays, there are many payable phones with good quality cameras to begin your smartphone photography adventure. 

In this Complete 2021 Guide for Affordable Smartphones, we will guide you through well-established brands and newcomers on the smartphone photography market. 

You will find specs, pros and cons, top features of every phone, and reviews from customers in this extensive overview. Let’s get started!

Affordable Smartphones quick navigation:

⇢ Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Smartphone Photography will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Of course, all opinions remain our own!

We have bought many of these phones for ourselves or family members in online shops like the Amazon and Apple Store. Here is a quick overview so you can find your own favorite in a heartbeat.

>> Google Pixel 3A
>> Motorola Moto G8+ and Motorola One Vision
>> Huawei P 30 Lite and Honor 20 Lite (very hard to find)
>> Samsung Galaxy A51
>> Apple iPhone SE 2020

Google Pixel 3a Budget Camera Phone under 500 dollars

Google Pixel 3a

Best overall budget camera phone. The Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL are a cheaper alternative to the Google Pixel 3 series. You will find lesser specs and materials, but the camera is the same. It uses the same Sony IMX 363 primary sensor as the top-end Pixel 3. When the Pixel camera setup was launched, it was the best at its time. Therefore, you can’t go wrong with this affordable camera phone.

General specifications

Display: 5.6-inch, Full HD+
SoC: Snapdragon 670
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB
Primary Camera: 12.2MP Wide-Angle Lens (f/1.8)
Front camera: 8MP
Fingerprint sensor: Yes, on the back
Video: 4K @ 30fps (frames per second)
Battery: 3,000mAh
Software: Android 9.0 Pie (upgradeable to Android 10)
Weight: 147g
Dimensions: 151.3 x 70.1 x 8.2 mm
Headphone Jack: Yes, 3.5 mm
TurboPower for superfast charging: Yes

Camera

The camera is one of the main reasons to buy the Google Pixel 3a. It comes with the same primary sensor as the top-end Pixel 3 phone and 12.2-megapixel cameras built in the device’s back. Thanks to the smart software combined with the number of megapixels, you can create excellent images and videos at night time. For taking selfies, you will have an 8-megapixel camera at your disposal.

Value

A unique feature of the Pixel 3a is the pressure sensitivity on both sides of the phone: Active Edge. You can easily set your device to perform specific actions by gently squeezing the sides. Ideal for working efficiently and quickly with your smartphone.

Pros and Cons

  • Excellent image quality even in low-light conditions
  • Clever enhanced digital zoom
  • Guaranteed software updates
  • Intuitive Google software
  • Plastic body, lesser construction
  • No zoom or ultra-wide angle lenses
  • Average battery life
  • Not the newest phone on the market

What do others say about the Google Pixel 3A

We always check what other users and smartphone photographers have to say about products before buying one. It generally shows whether or not it is a good smartphone for you.
I found that people tend to say the Pixel 3A is the best buy because of the price-quality value, great photos, Google software, and overall good performance even though the phone only has one lens.
It shows you cannot go wrong when you are on a tight budget with the Google Pixel 3A. You can conveniently pick one up from Amazon.

Price

Prices can vary weekly or even daily, and over time the Google Pixel 3a will get cheaper. I was surprised at how cheap I could buy the Google Pixel 3A on Amazon.


Motorola Moto G8 Plus

Motorola Moto G8 Plus

A solid choice for people on a budget. The Moto G series of Motorola has continuously been a solid choice for budget phones. You will save money without compromising on the essential features of the phone, including the camera. Motorola keeps creating phones with good enough specs combined with attractive hardware. You will get a whole lot of screen for a really low price on Amazon. It took us by surprise what a good deal beginner smartphone photographers get with this camera phone. 

General specifications

Display: 6.3-inch
SoC: Qualcomm Snapdragon 665
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB
Expendable: Yes, to 512 GB
Primary camera: 48MP, f/1.7, electronic image stabilization
Second camera: Wide-angle, 16MP, f/2.2
Third lens: Depth sensor
Fourth lens: Depth sensor, ToF
Front camera: 25MP, f/2.0
Fingerprint sensor: Yes, backside phone
Video: 4K @ 30 FPS (frames per second)
Battery: 4000 mAh
Software: Android 9.0 Pie
Weight: 188g
Dimensions: 158 x 75.8 x 9.1 mm
Headphone Jack: Yes, 3.5 mm
TurboPower for superfast charging: Yes

Camera

The camera of the Moto G8 Plus will outperform its price. With a 48MP primary sensor and a 16MP wide-angle lens, you can take gorgeous images. You will be able to fit all your friends into one picture. Because of the large screen, you can easily edit your photographs after you have shot them.

Value

The 48MP primary camera is a strong performer with a dedicated “action” camera that lets you shoot landscape video while holding the phone in portrait mode. A great trick from Motorola.

Pros

  • Double camera setup (and two depth sensors)
  • Big display
  • 4000 mAh battery
  • Expendable storage to 512GB
  • Stock Android

Cons

  • Software updates tend to be slower
  • No US warranty
  • No software update scheduled to Android 10
  • On the heavy side
  • Screen brightness in sunny conditions

What do others say about the Motorola Moto G8 Plus

As we always do before buying a smartphone, we dive into the world of reviews on different websites and decide whether or not this is our new camera phone. 

Here is what users tell us about the Moto G8 Plus. People frequently say it is the perfect smartphone for a small budget. You will get value for money compared to other manufacturers. Users praise the clean android interface, which we fully understand and support as Motorola Moto G user.

Price

Prices can vary weekly or even daily, and over time the Moto G8 Plus will get cheaper. At the moment of writing the Moto G8+ keeps getting cheaper. You can easily pick on up from Amazon, but don’t wait too long they might sell out fast.


Motorola One Vision

Motorola One Vision

You might wonder why Motorola would launch another Moto like device. The One Vision is slightly different because it works on Android One software, rather than Motorola’s interface. It means the mobile looks more like a Google Pixel smartphone.

General specifications

Display: 6.3-inch, LCD IPS screen, Full HD
SoC: Exynos 9609-chipset from Samsung
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 128GB
Expendable: Yes, to 512GB
Primary camera: 48MP, f/1.7
Second camera: standard depth sensor
Front camera: 25 MP, f/2.0
Fingerprint sensor: Yes, backside phone
Video: 4K @ 30 fps
Battery: 3500 mAh
Software: Android One, Android 9.0 Pie (regular updates), update Android 10.0 is available for download
Weight: 180g
Dimensions: 160.1 x 71.2 x 8.7 mm
Headphone Jack: Yes, 3.5 mm
TurboPower for superfast charging: Yes

Camera

Motorola’s One Vision camera uses a Samsung sensor with a GM1, half-inch sensor with 0.8-micron sensor pixels, unlike many other phones. Four pixels are binned together for lower noise and, therefore, better low-light performance. 

The primary camera has a 48MP sensor with an optical image stabilizer and works well in darker conditions. The G8 Plus, however, makes sharper pictures in the daytime. There’s also a second 5MP rear camera, which is used for depth mapping only. 

Other mentionable features are an ultra-long 21:9 ratio screen with a punch hole and a 25MP selfie camera.

Value

With its 21:9 ultra-long display, watching a movie on the One Vision is an absolute blast.

Pros

  • Ultra-long 21:9 display
  • Good low-light images
  • Clean Android One software with regular updates
  • Good value for money

Cons

  • Not as sharp in daylight as the megapixel count suggests
  • No wide-angle and telephoto lenses
  • Battery lasts one day
  • Can be slippery due to glass housing

What do users say about the One Vision?

As we always do before buying a smartphone, we dive into the world of reviews on different websites and decide whether or not this is our new camera phone.

Again smartphone users are very happy with the clean OS interface with quick updates. The low-light camera can count on enthusiasm, as well as the excellent speed and quality of the screen. They tell us it is a solid phone for a good price. 

Price

Prices can vary weekly or even daily, and over time the Moto One Vision will get cheaper. It is not very easy to pick a Motorola One Vision up these days, but they sometimes are available from Amazon. You can pick one up here, or you can go for a similar camera phone, the Motorola One Action

Huawei P30 Pro Budget Camera Phone

Honor P30 Lite

The Huawei P30 Lite is the budget version of the P30 Pro, which should be called the best phone camera ever, according to many smartphone photographers in 2019. It might be a bit hard to obtain one in the US. The P30 Lite is conveniently available from Amazon and a very versatile device with some of the high-end specs the P30 Pro has.

General specifications

Display: 6.15-inch IPS-LCD screen
SoC: Huawei HiSilicon KIRIN 710
RAM: 4GB or 8GB
Storage: 64GB or 128GB
Expendable: Yes, with micro SD card up to 1 TB
Primary camera: 48MP wide-angle, f/1.8
Second camera: 8MP ultrawide-angle lens
Third lens: Depth sensor
Front camera: 24MP
Fingerprint sensor: Yes, backside phone
Video: 1080MP @ 30fps
Battery: 3340 mAh
Software: Android 9.0 Pie, Huawei Emotion UI 9.1
Weight: 159 grams
Dimensions: 6.02 x 2.86 x 0.29 inches (152.9 x 72.7 x 7.4 mm)
Headphone Jack: Yes
TurboPower for superfast charging: Yes, Huawei SuperCharge

Camera

The P30 Lite comes with a triple rear camera setup called new in early 2019’s. Nowadays, you can get even more lenses on one smartphone. The smartphone has a 48MP sensor, an ultrawide-angle lens of 8MP, and a dedicated depth sensor. The phone shoots 12MP with the primary sensor, but you can change the settings to 48MP. You can choose to use the intense high dynamic range optimization.  

You can take better images with high-end dedicated night mode. It will take several photographs with different exposures and combines them as one. The result won’t be as good as the high-end Huawei smartphone cameras, but hey, what can you expect at this price. The performance of the P30 Lite is still above average in low-light conditions. 

The phone lacks a zoom function. But as we taught you in other blog posts, you should zoom with your feet to get the best possible results. 

Value

You will get a versatile smartphone with a triple camera array. Shoot amazing images with the 48MP wide-angle, 12MP ultra-wide lenses in combination with a dedicated depth sensor. Giving the phone a high-end look and feel comes with a glass back and an excellent selfie camera. For a fraction of its price, you can enjoy some high-end touches from Huawei.

Pros

  • Stunning high-end design and materials
  • Shoots excellent images in daylight as well as night-time
  • Good selfies
  • Large display with good contrast
  • Triple camera arrangement

Cons

  • No 4K video recording
  • No zoom
  • Other Huawei phones have better batteries

What do users say about the Huawei P30 Lite?

As we do with all smartphone camera research, we dove into the world of the Huawei P30 Lite as well. We were curious whether or not people are just as enthusiastic about this smartphone as we are. 

In short; users write it is a fantastic phone with premium features yet for a low price. It is a great camera phone for mid-range users who want to start their smartphone photography journey. The camera storage capacity is far above other phones in the same price range, or so the public tells us. 

Price

Prices can vary weekly or even daily, and over time the Huawei P30 Lite will get cheaper. You can pick-up the P30 lite from the listing on Amazon for a very reasonable price at the moment.


Honor 20 Lite

Meet the cheaper little brother of the Huawei P30 Lite. They share a lot of specs like many Huawei and Honor phones tend to do. Unlike the P30 Lite, the Honor 20 Lite has a plastic back, which gives the phone a cheaper look. Both have a triple camera array, but they don’t share the same lenses. Let’s see what kind of photographic results you can get with this smartphone.

General specifications

Display: 6.2-inch LCD, full HD resolution
SoC: HiSilicon Kirin 710
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 4 +128GB
Expendable: Yes, up to 256GB 
Primary camera: 24MP AI lens, f/1.8 wide-angle
Second camera: 8MP, f/2.4 ultra-wide-angle lens 
Third lens: 2MP, f/2.4 depth sensor
Front camera: 32MP, f/2.0 selfie camera
Fingerprint sensor: Yes
Video: Full HD @60fps
Battery: 3400 mAh
Software: Android 9.0, Huawei Emui 9.0
Weight: 164 grams|
Dimensions: 154.8 mm x 73.6 m x 8 mm
Headphone Jack: Yes
TurboPower for superfast charging: No

Camera

You can take excellent selfies with the 32MP front camera. It means you can print your selfies on poster size (2.3×1.7 m) without loss of details. The 24MP lens with AI Backlighting Imaging Technology creates beautiful shots in every lighting condition. With 8MP the ultra-wide-angle lens, you can take creative images of buildings and landscapes. Portrait photographs will get a lovely depth of field with soft background due to the 2MP depth sensor.

Value

You should buy this smartphone when you are a beginner looking for extensive camera options, fast hardware, for a very reasonable price.

Pros

  • Triple camera array, including a depth sensor
  • Modern design
  • Large internal storage of 128GB
  • Dual sim
  • Large screen

Cons

  • Micro USB charging port
  • Plastic back
  • 5 GHz wifi is not available
  • Unclear update policy
  • No 4K video format

What do other users say about the Honor 20 Lite

We are always curious about other people’s experiences, so we did some research and came up with this conclusion. 

Users are very enthusiastic about the fast processor, sharp images, storage, and amazing specs for the given price. 

We could not agree more. We have been shooting images with Honor camera phones for a couple of years now and they do deliver. 

How much does the Honor 20 Lite cost?

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Honor 20 Lite is no longer available from Amazon. Here are some great budget alternatives

Or you can pick one up from BangGood for around $180

Samsung Galaxy A51

The new midrange galaxy from Samsung combines excellent camera lenses with good quality AMOLED screen and battery. The 128GB is good enough for storing your images and videos, and you have an option to expand the storage up to 1TB via the micro SD slot. Yet another reliable and balanced Samsung smartphone for a great price.

>> I was surprised at how cheap I was able to buy this phone for a family member on Amazon.

General specifications

Display: 6.5-inch 1080 x 2400 FHD Super AMOLED screen
SoC: Samsung Exynos 9611
RAM: 4GB or 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Expendable: Yes, micro SD up to 1TB
Primary camera: 48MP main camera, f/2.0, f/2.2, f/2.4
Second camera: 12MP ultra-wide lens
Third lens: 5MP macro lens
Fourth lens: 5MP depth sensor
Front camera: 32MP, f/2.2
Fingerprint sensor: Yes, optical scanner
Video: 4K@30fps, 1080p@30/120fps
Battery: 4500 mAh
Software: Android 10, One UI 2.1
Weight: 172 grams
Dimensions: 158.5 x 73.6 x 7.9 mm (6.24 x 2.90 x 0.31 in)
Headphone Jack: Yes, 3.5 mm stereo
TurboPower for superfast charging: Yes

Camera

The cameras of the Galaxy A51 did not only improve in quality but also in quantity from its predecessor. You will find a quadruple setup at the back of the phone and a selfie-lens on the front. Some people find the four rear cameras a bit bulky, but who can blame Samsung for this. It is not easy to fit so many lenses into a reasonably priced phone. 

You will find four lenses at the back of the phone:

  • 48 MP, f/2.0, 26mm (wide)
  • 12 MP, f/2.2, 12mm (ultrawide)
  • 5 MP, f/2.4, 25mm (wide), dedicated macro camera
  • 5 MP, f/2.2, depth sensor

And one camera on the front:

  • 32MP, f/2.2 selfie lens

Image quality
Photos taken with the primary 48MP camera are relatively good, bright, sharp, detailed, and colorful. When settings are getting darker at night, you can use the night mode to prevent noise and reduced details. Like most 48MP phones, the Galaxy A51 takes 12MP images and uses pixel binning to improve your photographs’ quality. 

Macro lens
It might not win you awards for taking stunning macro images, but it is fun to play with this new Samsung lens. You can get very close to your subject. Use a tripod and remote shutter while trying out the macro camera because it is susceptible to movement. 

Portrait shooting
You may expect magnificent portraits from the Galaxy A51. The blur looks just right, and the subject detection and separation from the background are excellent.

Value

The Galaxy A50 was one of the best budget phones in 2019. The Galaxy A51 is a continuation of what Samsung tends to do in the mid-range segment. About 80% of the phone is similar to the widely honored A50. The smartphone cameras are good, but the hardware lacks a bit compared to other available alternatives at the same price point. 

Pros

  • Large 6.5-inch screen
  • Full HD AMOLED screen
  • Superb portraits
  • Dependable battery of 4500 mAh
  • Fast charging

Cons

  • Chipset is not very powerful
  • Camera performance in low-light
  • No video stabilization in 4K
  • The fingerprint sensor is not very accurate

What do users say about the Galaxy A51 from Samsung?

A lot of family and friends tend to ask my advice before buying a new smartphone, especially when they want to use it to take images a lot. Although I know tons about smartphones, I always want to check what others say as well.

People tend to like the big AMOLED screen a lot, as well as the super-sharp images, fast charging, and other amazing specs. It is a camera phone for the budget user I have no hesitations to recommend.

Is the Galaxy A51 cheap?

Prices can vary weekly or even daily, and over time the Samsung Galaxy A51 is likely to get cheaper. You can pick-up the Galaxy A51 from Amazon as we did. According to our experience and those of other buyers, the Galaxy A51 is reasonably priced for the amazing specs you get. We truly recommend this phone for beginner photographers

iPhone SE 2020

A brilliant combination of the iPhone 8 body and iPhone 11 processor makes for a reliable, affordable smartphone with decent cameras. It is a pocket-friendly device in terms of size and price. We wish Apple would have trimmed the bezels on this camera phone, though. But still a very good iPhone for the beginner photographer. You will find the best prices on the Apple listing here

General specifications

Display: 4.7 inches
SoC: A13 Bionic chip
RAM: 3GB
Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Expendable: No
Primary camera: 12MP, 28mm f/1.8
Front camera: 7MP, f/2.2
Fingerprint sensor: Yes, on the home button
Video: 4K @ 60 fps
Battery: 1821mAh
Software: iOs 13
Weight: 148 g or 5.22 ounces
Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm
Headphone Jack: No
TurboPower for superfast charging: Yes

How good is the camera on the iPhone SE

First things first, we really would have like a dedicated night mode on the iPhone SE 2020. Apart from that, the two camera lenses (one on the front and one at the back) do a pretty decent job. It might even be challenging to tell the difference between the iPhone SE images and the iPhone 11. 

Like the iPhone 8, the SE features a single 12MP primary camera lens on the back of the device and a 7MP selfie camera on the front. You will not get an ultra-wide-angle or telephoto lens many Android phones at this price range do have. 

The A13 Bionic Chip will make up for that by creating the possibility to shoot portraits with both back and front cameras. It will use Portrait Lighting effects to control the depth of field and Smart HDR for bringing out the highlights in faces.

Does the iPhone SE 202o offer value for money?

You will find many premium features on the iPhone SE 2020 you won’t find in Android smartphones in the same price range. Think about metal and glass design, wireless charging, and water resistance. The iPhone SE 2020 is the affordable phone to beat, and one of the best cheaper phones. But you will have to pay slightly more than you would for other budget phones in this complete 2020 guide for affordable smartphones.

Pros

  • Fast processor
  • Wireless charging
  • Sharp images
  • Compact design

Cons

  • No ultra-wide-angle lens en telephoto lens
  • Big bezels
  • No night mode
  • Shorter battery life
  • More expensive than other affordable camera phones

What do users say about the iPhone SE?

We are always curious about other people’s experiences so that’s why we take a lot of time investigating. Here are the most common things said about the iPhone SE 2020. 

It is a compact phone that fits in the pocket of your pants or jacket easily, therefor it is also easy to operate with one hand. The quality of the images (from one lens) has surprised many users in a positive way, as did the lightning fast speed. And last but not least, it is a very affordable iPhone that is an excellent choice for beginner smartphone photographers with a soft spot for Apple devices. 

What about the price?

Prices can vary weekly or even daily, and over time the iPhone SE is likely to get cheaper. You can pick-up the iPhone SE 2020 from the Apple Store for a very decent price.

What kind of accessories do I need to take stunning images?

Just a smartphone won’t get you the best possible results. At a minimum, you will want to buy a tripod, a remote shutter, and a microfiber cloth. This will prevent the camera from shaking and you will be able to create super-sharp photographs. You can also pick up some filters, lenses, and lightroom presets. You can find my favorite gear on the recommended gear page of this website.

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