best mobile phones for portrait photography under $500

Best Mobile Phones for Portrait Photography under $500

As smartphone technology has improved, so has the performance of budget phones. As a result, the best mobile phones for portrait photography under $500 are more impressive than you may think at first glance.

phone portrait photography
Joe Monk (@jmmobiphoto)

Do note that the list features mobile phones from a variety of years because the technology at the price point has not yet been surpassed.

3 Best Mobile Phones for Portrait Photography Under $500

Best Quality

Preview
TitleGoogle Pixel 4a
Camera Set-Up1. 77° 12.2 MP dual-pixel Rear Camera featuring ƒ/1.7
2. 84° 8 MP Front Camera featuring ƒ/2.0
Video CapabilityRear: 4K @ 30 fps, 1080p @ 30 fps, 60 fps, and 120 fps, or 720p @ 30 fps, 60 fps, and 240 fps
Front: 1080p @ 30 fps, 720p @ 30 fps, or 480p @ 30 fps
Storage Options128GB
Our Rating9.2/10
Cost$$
LinkCheck Price

Best Deal

Preview
TitleApple iPhone 8 Plus
Camera Set-Up1. 12 MP Rear Wide Camera featuring ƒ/1.8
2. 12 MP Rear Tele Camera featuring ƒ/2.8
3. 7 MP Front Camera featuring ƒ/2.2
Video CapabilityRear: 4K @ 24 fps, 30 fps, and 60 fps, 1080p HD @ 30 fps, 60 fps, 120 fps, and 240 fps or 720p HD @ 30 fps
Front: 1080p HD @ 30 fps
Storage Options64 GB
128 GB
256 GB
Our Rating8.7/10
Cost$$
LinkCheck Price

Best Price

Preview
TitleSamsung Galaxy S10
Camera Set-Up1. 77˚ 12 MP Rear Wide Camera featuring dual aperture (ƒ/1.5-ƒ/2.4)
2. 45˚12 MP Rear Tele Camera featuring ƒ/2.4
3. 123˚16 MP Selfie Camera featuring ƒ/2.2
4. 80˚10 MP Selfie (Front) Camera featuring ƒ/1.9
Video CapabilityRear: 4K @ 60 fps,
1080p HD @ 60 fps or 240 fps, 720p @ 30 fps or 960 fps
Storage Options64 GB
128 GB
256 GB
Our Rating9.2/10
Cost$$$
LinkCheck Price

For the purposes of this post, under $500 is a budget phone. If you would like to see a post similar to this but about phones that are even less expensive, then let us know in the comments.

Do you have a vague understanding of what portrait photography is, but wish there was some way to know for sure. Check out our guide to powerful portrait photography on a phone and then pop back to finish this guide.

Google Pixel 4a

Many may expect to see the iPhone SE here, but there are a few reasons why Google’s Pixel 4a beats out Apple’s newest – for now – offering.

While both phones feature only a single lens on the front and back, the Pixel 4a simply outperforms the SE in both photos and videos. This year’s predecessor, the 3a, was a smashing success and Google built on their technology. The iPhone SE is Apple’s first foray into the price point, and while it’s acceptable it isn’t the pinnacle. For now, that remains Google.

Google’s AI is unparalleled and the Pixel 4a exists as a personification of this fact. The auto-focus is better than ever before and the OIS and EIS make the need for a smartphone gimbal and Bluetooth camera remote almost nill. Add in an advanced Night Sight that improves on low light capability and that does quasi-astrophotography for the cost and you have the winner of 2020.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus

Yes, I’m recommending the iPhone 8 Plus as the best iPhone for portrait photography under $500, and here’s why. It’s, at the time of writing, the only iPhone offering with a dual-camera set-up that comes in under budget. Now it’s worth noting that Apple is working to phase out the usability of these babies, but as a short term solution, they can’t be beaten.

You’ll need the tele lens to do real portrait photography. If you’re using an AI portrait mode like with the iPhone SE or Pixel 4a, then the software can – and frequently does – make mistakes. In shooting with the iPhone 8 Plus, however, you’re using a legitimate tele lens so the results can’t be ruined by the AI. Shoot your photos in the Lightroom Mobile CC app for manual control and RAW capture capability to take your content to the next level.

Samsung Galaxy 10

So, the Samsung Galaxy S20 undoubtedly features the most impressive camera of this bunch. While it isn’t geared towards portraiture per se it’s a content creating goliath. It’s quad-camera set-up gives you a similar focal length arsenal to the iPhone 11 Pro but at half the cost.

Obviously, this post is about smartphone portrait photography, but it’s worth noting that Android filmmaking apps are completely underwhelming. So if you’re looking for a phone for any sort of video, then you should go in another direction. The bokeh effect in the native Samsung camera app is just as aesthetically pleasing for social media as the iPhone’s is. You’ll be able to capture RAW files directly from said app too.

Budget Mobile Phones for Portrait Photography – How Do They Compare to the Flagships?

The camera doesn’t matter. The camera doesn’t matter. The camera doesn’t matter. Composition does.

If you’re shooting on one of the three phones recommended in this guide, then chances are that no one will be able to tell that you aren’t shooting on the newer version. The newer version simply isn’t that much better.

There are reasons that these three phones aren’t still flagship phones – they’re namely related to Apple, Google, and Samsung attempting to turn a profit, but there are other reasons too. There’s a reason that not everyone updates their phone as soon as Apple drops a new iPhone. So, what’s the Goldilocks level of perfection here?

In terms of this list, the iPhone 8 Plus is certainly the biggest stretch as far as performance goes. You know Apple is being sued for slowing down old iPhones, right? At the same time, Apple’s questionable ethical decisions shouldn’t affect the camera too much. At the end of the day, though, the iPhone 11 Pro chews the 8 Plus up and spits it out as if it were nothing in terms of cameras.

So, where does that leave us? Is the iPhone 8 Plus a good camera in 2020? For me, and this is a personal preference, I’m fine with waiting for fiscally responsible upgrades through my cell phone provider when they come available because the camera I have is undoubtedly good enough. Practicing with the worse option will make getting the better option more meaningful.

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