High-end phone vs affordable phone: what is the actual difference in camera quality?

Smartphones these days have great cameras. Or at least so the saying goes, without specifying which phone and which camera.

While it's clear that not all smartphone cameras are created equal, we were curious to find out something specific: how does the camera of a high-end, flagship phone compare to the camera on an affordable phone?

We took one of the phones with the best camera at hand: the $800 Apple iPhone 8 Plus, and then, we grabbed the ultra-affordable Nokia 6, a $230 unlocked phone that is sold on Amazon and works on both AT&T and T-Mobile in the US. Yes, you can buy almost four Nokia 6 phones for the price of just one iPhone.

But once we got started taking pictures, it was not about their price any more: it was about those special moments, the glorious sunset that you see below, the solitary sea in October, the picture of my friends at a bar. A good picture can enhance a memory, and we have even stumbled upon research that says that photographed moments are remembered better. Let's see then, how does a high-end phone compare to an affordable phone in terms of actual image quality...

Disclaimer: The images in the slideshow below have been downsized to load faster. You can view the full resolution photos at the link below. All images shot at auto settings, including auto HDR. We have also not provided 100% crops on purpose: while detail is an important measure of a camera performance, looking at it alone can distract viewers from noticing more important subjects like dynamic range and color.

Download full-size photos here

Related phones

iPhone 8 Plus
  • Display 5.5" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 7 MP front
  • Processor Apple A11 Bionic, Hexa-core, 2390 MHz
  • Storage 256GB
  • Battery 2691 mAh(21h 3G talk time)
  • Display 5.5" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 430, Octa-core, 1400 MHz
  • Storage 32GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3000 mAh(18h 3G talk time)



2. antifanboyism

Posts: 57; Member since: Jun 20, 2017

iphone shots look beautiful but they are not the best bcoz they are over saturated. Same as the galaxy flagships .

34. you_sukk_it

Posts: 219; Member since: Apr 11, 2017

I dont know about most people but s**t, I put the focus where I want by touching it on the screen and auto exposure takes charge as well. this isnt film days @phone arena. you can see the exposure before clicking the image. click on dark spots to make them brighter. morons. I dont think hdr was activated for the nokia.who the feck knows the settings they used

3. Zappo

Posts: 26; Member since: Oct 04, 2016

Why only photos in low light conditions?

11. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Probably because the difference is negligible in proper light condition

4. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

Buy an inexpensive phone that can go RAW and you're set to go. But of course, you will have to edit (naturally) the picture to tweak it.

8. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

And what is that "inexpensive phone that can go RAW"? I didn't remember any mid-ranger or low-end that can shoot raw.. but if you mean old-flagship the G4, G5, or note 5 is cheap enough by now

31. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

Everything falls into inexpensive even if it is yesteryear's flagships.

7. vazzzz

Posts: 64; Member since: May 09, 2014

Did you shoot unfocused pics on purpose ?

10. Victor.H

Posts: 1107; Member since: May 27, 2011

I did not notice that pictures were out of focus until I looked at them on a bigger screen. But there were no pictures out of focus from the expensive phone, and many that were blurry on the affordable phone, which is also telling.

16. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

Don't mind the trolls. You've done a good job Victor.

13. Beijendorf unregistered

While I appreciate the comparison, and I doubt anyone expected a budget phone with a cheap camera module to outperform one of the 2017 flagships, your photo comments fail to be objective and interesting. Check out Juan Bagnell's "Real Camera Reviews" for how to make objective assessments of cameras and keeping a neutral language. He's nailed it.

24. Settings

Posts: 2943; Member since: Jul 02, 2014

PA's results are just ok. It just proves that most smartphone cameras today can take decent pictures, on a minimum expectation. Colors can be adjusted in post production to whatever floats your boat.

14. tiara6918

Posts: 2263; Member since: Apr 26, 2012

In the end, the average joe wouldn't care. Most people just post these images on social media to share and usually with filters. Unless you value photography, you can never go wrong with either one

15. libra89

Posts: 2338; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

This was very interesting. Basically low light is a wash when it comes to certain situations and humans.

17. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

Next we'll see Note 8 Vs Nokia 6.......lol

18. amasog

Posts: 552; Member since: Aug 22, 2013

Man, why would you pit an overly expensive touch screen Remote Control against a cheap low end phone? Lol!

19. Jayvee

Posts: 2; Member since: Apr 08, 2017

Why not Nokia 8 vs Nokia 6?

20. lallolu

Posts: 734; Member since: Sep 18, 2012

This is why I buy high end phones. I don't take lots of photos, but I want it to be excellent when I do.

23. uncle_gadget

Posts: 1050; Member since: Sep 20, 2017

There are cheap phones with very good cameras. The One Plus takes really good pictures. The Lumia's with Carl Zeiss optics are certainly cheap phones that take outstanding photos. Especially the Lumia with the 41MP sensor. So it is gonna vary immensely. Nokia phones to me have always sucked. Cheap phones sensors are to small to capture enough light to get a good low light photo. But with sufficient light, many lower priced phone scan give flagship phones a run for their money. Most people don't care that much about picture quality, because if they wanted professional level pics, they would simply buy a dedicated camera.

25. rkoforever90

Posts: 489; Member since: Dec 03, 2011

Why not compare with Nokia 8? At around 430$ it'd still way cheaper than iPhone 8 and probably has a better camera

28. L0n3n1nja

Posts: 1605; Member since: Jul 12, 2016

Good article, but would have been nice to show the camera specs on each phone, I have no idea what kind of camera is in the Nokia and now I must search.

32. jellmoo

Posts: 2678; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

If you're taking photos mostly for Instagram and Facebook it really doesn't matter. The Nokia 6 is plenty serviceable. Sure, the iPhone is better, but at 4X the price, it had better be.

33. chenski

Posts: 789; Member since: Mar 22, 2015

There is noticeable difference between cheap and expensive, however between flagships, there isn't any noticeable difference, if at all

35. lbblock

Posts: 34; Member since: Apr 20, 2015

I've seen another website do Xperia XZ versus Xperia XA1 in low light, and it became very clear how Sony differentiates the different price points. Comparisons like this doesn't have to be complicated and full of disclaimers or caveats.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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