Ten years ago, camera phones used to be a special category of phones that pushed the envelope of how good an image sensor on a phone can be - which was not pretty good, to be honest. Today, phones under Rs. 10,000 come packed with cameras that click very usable photos.
Having said that, the image quality on entry-level devices still leaves something to be desired, and if you're willing to spend more, you get features such as phase detection autofocus, slow motion video capture, 4K video recording, and optical image stabilisation that can improve your pictures quite a bit, without spending more than Rs. 30,000.
To make this list, we focused only on phones that we've reviewed so that we can vouch for the image quality ourselves. We also stuck to phones released this year, because while older phones might still have great cameras, their performance in other areas would be lacking today. You can get even better cameras on phones, but you'll have to spend a lot more. Here are five phones we’ve tested that offer the best camera quality for under Rs. 30,000.
1) Xiaomi Mi 5
Xiaomi’s Mi 5 was one of the first reasonably-priced phones to sport the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip. It’s got a 16-megapixel Sony IMX298 camera sensor at the back, and a 4-megapixel front camera with a big, 2 micrometer pixel size. In our tests, pictures in good lighting were “bright, colourful and fairly sharp”. The Auto HDR mode delivered good results, keeping the pictures clean and pleasant to look at. Low light shots, although not the best in class, offered satisfactory results.
We were particularly happy with the 4K recording output of the camera, that was “gloriously detailed”. The front camera is also another high point of this phone, taking decent selfies even in low light. However, the camera at the time was not one of the fastest in focusing on the subject, and slo-mo videos drop the resolution to 720p.
2) OnePlus 3
The OnePlus 3 appears to be a home-run for the Chinese startup, especially after witnessing the company not reducing the price by a single rupee since it launched four months ago - not even during the e-commerce sales season. It is an admirable competitor to the above-mentioned Xiaomi Mi 5, with the same Snapdragon 820 chip, an extravagant 6GB of RAM, and a tastefully tweaked version of Android dubbed Oxygen OS.
The rear camera on the OnePlus 3 is the same Sony IMX298 sensor as the Mi 5. The front camera sports an 8-megapixel resolution, but with a smaller 1.4 micrometer pixel size when compared to the Mi5. Our review suggests that “the camera itself is particularly good when shooting outdoors in good light, producing pictures that are sharp and detailed, with very little noise and grain”.
Once again, focusing isn’t as fast as more expensive smartphones, but pictures turn out well composed once the focus is locked. Videos are excellently shot on 4K, and although the slow-motion mode delivers interesting results, a faster 240 fps frame-rate would have been appreciated, considering the high-end chipset inside. The camera UI, being Google’s Camera app found in stock Android phones, is easy to use. The front camera too takes good quality snaps.
The OnePlus 3’s weakness is its somewhat grainy low-light photography output. But overall, it is certainly more than satisfactory as a camera phone for most people.
3) Honor 8
The Honor 8 is the only phone in this list to feature dual cameras. But unlike the iPhone 7 Plus whose secondary telephoto lens used for better zooming, the Honor 8 uses a combination of colour and monochrome lenses to improve image quality. The dual sensors are also used to create a bokeh effect, the extent of which can be controlled using the camera interface.
As for the image quality, “landscapes and macros pack in good detail with near-accurate colours under natural light”, according to our review. Pictures shot in low light using the rear cameras and selfies using the front were also satisfactory. Videos shot were also good, but sadly the Honor 8 doesn’t support recording in 4K resolution.
4) Asus ZenFone 3 ZE552KL
The ZenFone 3 ZE552KL is the third iteration of the popular ZenFone series from Asus that brought high specs at a reasonable price to market. Asus’s PixelMaster 3.0 is a combination of a 16-megapixel Sony IMX298 sensor (the same found in the Xiaomi Mi 5 and OnePlus 3), a six-element Largan lens, f/2.0 aperture, subject tracking with a fast laser autofocus autofocus of 0.03 secs, OIS, and Sapphire lens protection.
In our review, photos taken indoors were "excellent, with a great amount of detail and accuracy, thanks to the second-generation laser autofocus technology which comes into play”. The camera also focuses pretty quickly, as advertised. Outdoor shots were captured with vibrant colours, and did not lose detail when zoomed. The ZenFone 3 isn’t an ideal performer during low lighting though, with grain and loss of detail appearing in the final results.
The front-facing 8-megapixel camera does not disappoint, by capturing images that were “clean and with a decent amount of detail”. A good phone to pick if you're looking for an attractive design with an all-rounder performance.
5) Moto Z Play
The Moto Z Play is the newest phone in this list, that tries to capitalise on the brand recall of the Moto X Play - a reasonably-priced phone with long battery life from last year. This year too, it wins praises for great battery life thanks to reasonable specs paired with a large 3510mAh battery.
Other than that, the Z Play’s camera is also worth talking about; it features a 16-megapixel sensor with phase detection and laser autofocus. According to our review, “in daylight, landscapes shots pack in good level of detail with good colour reproduction”. Continous focusing works as expected but the phone is sometimes unable to focus on subjects that are close to the sensor. Also, even in less-than-ideal lighting, pictures do not exhibit too much noise. All in all, a reasonable phone to pick if battery life is of priority to you, apart from camera quality.
These are our picks for the phones with the best cameras under Rs. 30,000. These cameras might not replace a DSLR but for most of us, they're going to be good enough. Are you interested in any of these? Let us know via the comments.