While last year’s budget smartphones won hearts with the high- res camera sensors on board, and still keeping the price aggressively under Rs 10,000, this year that was not to be. With the COVID-19 pandemic and rising import duties, OEMs struggled to offer powerful hardware in budget smartphones. So the focus shifted to improving the user experience through software optimisations. That extended to the camera as well, with budget smartphones offering features like a dedicated night mode, filters, and effects, all of which make using the camera a lot more fun. You may not get the best output at this price, but you will hardly be bored using the cameras on these budget smartphones.
The Redmi Note 9 sticks to the 48MP camera setup like its predecessor, but the Medi- aTek processor inside is now capable of even more AI compute, enough to offer fea- tures like Xiaomi’s Pro Colour Mode, which makes a big difference in the output you get. You can't crop to the 48MP camera's actual resolution, but daytime photos come out quite sharp enough to be Instagram-worthy. The ultrawide lens gives you the best output when the sun is high up in the sky, and the macro lens works with ample light. There is a dedicated Night Mode and a Pro Mode, and they come quite handy when shooting in tricky lighting. As for videos, you can shoot at 1080p at 30 FPS, and the quality is decent enough if there’s enough light.
The Narzo 20 Pro is a mid-range smart- phone disguised as a budget offering. It’s the only smartphone in this segment with 65W fast charging support, and the 48MP quad-camera on it is also equally capable. The primary camera outputs sharp images, even when you are shooting something like dense foliage. The colours come out a bit too saturated though and is the main reason why the Narzo 20 Pro lost out to the Redmi Note 9. This also has an AI mode that brings out some more detail in the photos, but it also ends up over-processing the output. The selfie camera on this one scored the highest. It’s also capable of 4K video recording and 1080p videos at 60 FPS, which is a big addition for this segment.
The Redmi 9 Prime almost beat the winner and runners up, if not for its lacklustre selfie camera. Then again, it’s the primary camera that is perhaps the most consistent after the Redmi Note 9. It’s also more afford- able, and Xiaomi’s colour-correcting algo- rithm works beautifully in making photos look a lot more dynamic and vibrant. While there are not many details, you do get a uniformly sharp output. The autofocus is fast for static objects, while the ultrawide lens works only when there’s enough light outdoors. But with all its shortcomings, the Redmi 9 Prime’s camera will have you impressed with all the software optimisa- tions in place to make photos look better.
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