Want a killer smartphone camera, but on a limited budget? We reveal the best value mobile phones which pack a smart, feature-packed and dependable camera, for budgets of under £300 SIM-free.
In 2017, you no longer have to splash out for a pricey flagship smartphone to get a worthy mobile camera. While the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and the Google Pixel undeniably pack the best phone camera tech around, you can get away with spending half as much (or even less) for a dependable everyday snapper.
In this group test we’ve gathered our favourite great-value mobile phones which rock an excellent rear camera. They’re all under £300 SIM-free (maxing out at around £30 per month on contract), while some of them even dive beneath the £200 mark. Yet many of these camera phones can shoot up to 4K resolution video and pack excellent features like slow motion capture.
If your budget expands beyond the £300 price point, go check out our selection of the best camera phones you can buy in 2017.
Best camera phones on a budget: Sony Xperia XA1
|Our Full Phone Review:||Xperia XA1 review|
|Our Camera Review:||Xperia XA1 camera review|
Sony’s first affordable phone of 2017 is the Xperia XA1, boasting gorgeous design and some decent specs for a low asking price here in the UK. However, one of the best features is that 23-megapixel rear camera, which offers fantastic results given the budget price point.
A supremely fast autofocus coupled with a smart quick launch feature means you’ll never miss a key moment. Our test photos after a full week of use rarely failed to impress. Every shot is crammed with detail and accurate, stand-out colours. Even in low light, the Xperia XA1 punches well above its weight.
You can only shoot up to Full HD video, so no 4K resolution footage option unlike the Moto G5 Plus. However, Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilisation tech makes for smooth, decent-looking video.
Selfie lovers will also enjoy the 8-megapixel wide-angle front-facing camera, complete with palm gesture shutter action.
Best camera phones on a budget: Sony Xperia XA
|Our Full Phone Review:||Xperia XA review|
|Our Camera Review:||Xperia XA camera review|
Another Sony phone, last year’s Xperia XA may be older than the fresh new XA1 but still packs a very capable 13-megapixel camera considering the low asking price.
Sony’s object tracking tech is on board, slapping a yellow box around a moving or stationary object and keeping them in focus even when you move around. This combined with the smart autofocus means you’ll rarely get a blurry photo.
Every shot taken with the Xperia XA is packed with detail. Whether you’re snapping up-close subjects or capturing an attractive vista, your photos will look crisp and clear when blown up onto a big screen. On top of that you get a rather good 8-megapixel selfie camera for snapping your mug. All for just £200 here in the UK.
Best camera phones on a budget: Lenovo P2
|Our Full Phone Review:||Lenovo P2 review|
On the back of the Lenovo P2 you’ll find a 13-megapixel camera with a two-tone LED flash. For under £200, this is a perfectly decent budget snapper that’ll suit pretty much any amateur photographer out there.
Lenovo’s ‘Smart’ auto mode does a respectable job of figuring out the best settings in next to no time at all, while that clever Phase Detection Autofocus locks onto your subject in double-quick time. The end result is a sharp and detailed photo as long as lighting conditions are okay, along with realistic colour reproduction.
Need to take a spontaneous shot? No worries. You can double-tap one of the volume buttons to take an instant snap when the phone is hibernating, which captures an image in just over a second. Great news when your cat/child/other half decides to do something hilarious.
As well as the ability to shoot up to 4K UHD resolution video, you also get a handful of bonus camera modes. Slow-motion, fast-motion (timelapse) and manual modes are all present and correct.
Best camera phones on a budget: Moto G5 Plus
|Our Full Phone Review:||Moto G5 Plus review|
|Our Camera Review:||Moto G5 Plus camera review|
The great-value Moto G5 Plus boasts a ‘best in class’ 12-megapixel rear camera, complete with Dual Pixel Autofocus technology and an f/1.7 aperture lens – in other words, it sounds suspiciously similar to the brilliant Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge cameras.
Our tests revealed that the Moto G5 Plus is indeed a solid budget snapper, capable of capturing good-looking, accurate images in most conditions. Built-in HDR helps to deal with tricky lighting, ensuring your photos are packed with detail even when you have to shoot into the light. Meanwhile when conditions get a little dim, that f/1.7 aperture lens can suck up quite a lot of light to limit the amount of grain in the end result.
You can shoot Full HD 1080p footage at either 30 or 60 frames-per-second, while the G5 Plus also boasts the ability to capture 4K Ultra HD resolution video. Detail levels are strong, complete with decent lighting and accurate colour reproduction.
Best camera phones on a budget: Huawei P8 Lite 2017
|Our Full Phone Review:||Huawei P8 Lite 2017 review|
|Our Camera Review:||Huawei P8 Lite 2017 camera review|
The P8 Lite 2017 costs under £200 but that 12-megapixel rear camera can happily capture good-looking, detailed photos in all but the most tricky of conditions. In other words, it’s one of the best mobile snappers at this price point.
On full auto you can depend on the lens to keep your subject nice and crisp, if they aren’t busy disco dancing at the time. Strong contrast is ably handled and close-up shots come out clean every time, with plenty of detail packed in. Colours are accurately reproduced too.
Low light shots aren’t quite as strong, but for the price you can’t expect the moon on a stick. And you can shoot good-looking Full HD video footage too, perfect for those simple home movies.
Best camera phones on a budget: Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus
|Our Full Phone Review:||Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus review|
On the back of the Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus you’ll find a 16-megapixel snapper bolstered by a dual-LED flash. At this price point it’s a pleasingly dependable shooter and a definite step up from the standard Swift 2’s 13-megapixel camera.
That autofocus is as fast as a Geordie when last orders are called, with the ability to burst shot by pressing your finger down. Focus deals well with everything from up-close shots of wildlife to sweeping landscape photographs. Even fast-moving subjects like pets and kids are usually caught without too much blur to ruin the photo.
You get a number of different camera modes, which can be flipped between with a flick of the finger, as well as some basic manual controls to take direct control. Thankfully auto mode does the job in the majority of cases, offering crisp detail and respectable colour capture. Low and tricky light can cause the Swift 2 Plus to stumble on occasion, but that’s exactly what we’d expect at this price point.
You can once again shoot up to Full HD video, with solid results when viewed back on a big telly.
Best camera phones on a budget: Honor 6X
|Our Full Phone Review:||Honor 6X review|
|Our Camera Review:||Honor 6X camera review|
At this sort of price range, you’d probably be surprised to see a smartphone packing dual-lens cameras – but that’s exactly what you get with the Honor 6X.
Shooting in automatic mode in well-lit conditions, the Honor 6X is fast to focus and just as fast to capture. You can expect some fine detail in your final images too, while the built-in manual controls allow you to counter some of the shortcomings of the phone’s natural low-light performance.
Huawei’s pre-loaded filters and bonus camera modes like document capture are welcome, while the wide aperture mode gives some gorgeous simulated bokeh by using both camera lenses at once.
Best camera phones on a budget: Obi Worldphone MV1
|Our Full Phone Review:||Obi MV1 review|
On the back of the Obi MV1 you’ll find an 8-megapixel camera, complete with single LED flash. And surprisingly given the crazy-low asking price, this is a great basic snapper, capturing an impressive amount of detail with each photo you snap.
Sure, there’s occasional oversaturation in high contrast, but the MV1 deals well with changes in lighting and you can quickly swap between three Auto Exposure methods if you want brighter images or spot lighting. That LED flash is powerful enough to light up your subjects in a pub or club too, when needed.
As for video, you can shoot up to 720p HD footage which is perfectly serviceable for home movies and cute little clips for sharing online. There’s no kind of image stabilisation to cut down on judder and shake however, so don’t move around too much while you’re filming.