Flagship vs budget phone: is the camera gap closing?

You have heard that budget phones are getting better, but you probably know that camera quality on most is still not quite as good as what you get on a flagship.

In this comparison, we decided to test just that: can the camera on one of the most popular 2022 budget phone models, the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G, match the one on the more than twice as expensive Galaxy S22 Plus model?

You can probably already guess that there will be a difference, but the question is whether it will be big enough to warrant spending a lot more cash for the pricier model, or whether it would be something you could neglect.

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Camera Specs:

The two big things to notice here are the lack of a zoom lens on the budget phone, plus the much smaller sensor used for the main camera.

Instead, you get a quite useless macro and depth cameras on the A53 model, which are not present on the flagship, which tells you all you need to know about how important Samsung considers those lenses to be (hint: not very!).

Is there a difference in photos shot in ideal conditions?

During the day, the cliche says even budget phones can take great pictures, but we do see the flagship perform better

You can clearly see the difference between photos from these two captured during the day: the budget Galaxy has these wildly saturated colors, while the premium model goes with a more toned down look.

The second difference is the over-sharpening on the cheaper model as you see halos around tree branches that don’t look natural at all.

The last major difference we spot is just the abundance of different colors on the costlier S22 Plus model, while the budget A53 model often paints the whole picture in this one dominant tonality, skipping on the nuance in color.

We can definitely say that we prefer photos out of the S22 Plus here, the budget A53 5G goes to an extreme with saturation and loses some detail (and it’s among the better phones in its class!)

What about low light?

Big differences in detail

Come the night, and the differences in photos quality are only amplified. The budget A53 5G model captures far less detail and photos look grainy, while the S22 Plus still gets clean detail and handles dynamic range much better.

While we weren’t totally convinced the flagship phone is much better during the day, night photos leave no hesitation that the difference in favor of the S22+ is indeed big.

What about the ultra-wide camera?

You are not losing out on much

While both phones are listed to have a 13mm ultra-wide camera, the A53 5G has the slightly wider perspective.

Ultra-wide image quality is very close between these two: sure, you still have the pricier Plus model do a slightly better job with color reproduction, and on occasion, it also captures more light at night, but the gap is nowhere nearly as big as we saw with the main cameras.

Zoom comparison

A dedicated telephoto lens on the S22+ makes a big difference!

Having a dedicated zoom lens on premium phones has been the one obvious differentiator that is supposed to convince users to buy a more expensive phone. But how much of a difference does it make in real life?

Well, it turns out — quite a lot! At 3X zoom, the shots out of the budget model lack detail and are barely usable, while the S22+ appears crystal clear.

Portrait Fashion

One more area where a dedicated zoom lens makes a huge difference

Portrait mode is one of these magic features that can turn a regular “phone photo” into what looks like a picture taken on a professional camera.

The first compromise the A53 5G makes here is that it does not offer a zoomed in view, a huge limitation! Most of the time, you would want a portrait to focus on a single person, you want to get close and personal, and you simply cannot do this with a 1X camera.

But even comparing the 1X portrait mode quality, you see that the budget phone makes some weird errors and does not blur the whole background properly. In the first photo above, huge chunks of the background are left unblurred, while the flagship model handles that without errors. You also have the difference in colors as the S22+ chooses more toned down colors vs the aggressively saturated ones out of the A53.

And just look at those 3X zoom shots on the S22+! These look absolutely incredible and there is no way to get them with the A53 5G.


Can you take a good selfie with a budget phone?

While we saw some pretty major differences in photo quality with the rear cameras, selfies taken on these two phones look quite similar.

Both have an excellent amount of detail and pleasing colors, so you’re not losing out much in the selfie game if you opt for the cheaper A53 model.


So we saw the photos and we saw the differences, and in some cases these were big differences, but were they $500 dollars big?

It’s hard to say. If you value a good looking photo, we think the difference in quality is enough to justify buying a flagship phone. The lack of detail when using the main cameras of the Galaxy A53 is a serious blow to image quality, and it’s also no match for the zooming ability of the flagship model.

Myself? Well, after having quite a few beautiful moments missed because of having a sub-par camera with me, I’m sticking with flagship phones for the moment. And what is your take on this?

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