Which cheap camera phone should I buy?

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Hi Fat Duck Tech,
I’m looking for a cheapish second phone. The most important feature is the camera. Any recommendations?
That was the challenge sent to me via Twitter (@fatducktech) last night, so I’ve popped my pondering hat on to come up with some ideas.
Obviously “cheapish” has a fairly wide range to it; for some people that might mean less than $100 — good luck getting a good camera on a phone at that price — and for some it might be under $500. The camera also shouldn’t be your only consideration, especially for a second phone; it’d make a lot of sense, for example, for a Windows Phone 8 user to pick up a second Windows Phone 8 handset because of the shared app aspect.
Here’s three quick thoughts around “budget” handsets with good cameras:

HTC 8X

~$250
The 8X is Microsoft’s “signature” Windows Phone — I never quite understood what that was actually meant to mean — has an 8MP sensor that delivers decent, if not stunning photos. Even moreso than Android handsets, though, Windows Phone handsets have tumbled in price; I could easily find an 8X for a measly $250 online with just a few seconds of searching.

LG Optimus G

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~$350
LG’s Optimus G took its sweet time launching in Australia, and that meant that by the time it did, it wasn’t quite the “premium” handset that LG wanted it to be. The upside there is that its price too has crashed, but what hasn’t crashed is its 13MP camera. Again, you’re not talking absolute top of the range camera ability, but then you’re looking in the budget pile.

iPhone 4s

$529
If you’re in the iOS space already, it does make sense to stay there, but the downside is that doing so isn’t the cheapest of propositions. Apple’s budget model this year is the 8GB iPhone 4s. Apple’s cameras haven’t always had the highest megapixel counts, but they’ve been generally good at taking good shots, thanks to decent build quality; as such, they tend to shoot slightly above their weight. Plus, you know, iOS and all that.

What about second-hand?

There’s nothing wrong with a second hand phone — in theory. Indeed, it could be a very good way to pick up a far more capable handset, no matter which mobile operating system you favour, but obviously you’d want to know the history and condition of the unit before you plunked down your dollars.

As examples, I could find a few Lumia 920 handsets for around $250 on eBay with just a little searching, an iPhone 5 for around $450, or an HTC One for around $300. I’d strongly advise buying from an Australian seller — there are certain warranty implications that are much easier to enforce if things do go wrong — and wherever possible inspecting the merchandise before buying.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the outfits that sell imported handsets for slightly-older stock. As examples, Kogan’s currently got the Lumia 920 for a reasonable $329.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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