The HTC Sensation XL, Nokia N8 and Samsung Galaxy S2 have all in their own right won a Recombu Camera Phone Faceoff so it makes sense we pit them against one another. The Sony Xperia S should get in on the action being the latest 12-megapixel handset coming out in March.
As a category of tech however, all these handsets are out to prove a point - that they can take on the real deal - compact cameras. Most likely to suffer from camera-phone leaps and bounds are the sub £100 cameras such as the Fuji Finepix T200, so we've got one, are comparing it against the best phones of today and tomorrow, and sharing our raw data so you can reach your own conclusions.
A note to readers, our Sony Xperia S sample is not final build software, so there is room for change in terms of processing of images (noise handling, exposure etc).
In standard comparison style, we've created a grid of images above, these can be clicked through so peruse and abuse until you decide upon your own winner (once we've announced ours of course). We've taken a series of shots: four outdoor testing different scenes, two macro shots and two indoor shots, one with flash and one without. The aims today are to find a camera phone king and question whether a camera phone can take on a fully fledged compact camera.
Let the shootout commence:
Outdoor: Direct light source
Aside from the Sony Xperia S, these phone are all winners of previous challenges so we're starting at the deep end. The light in the tunnel was very bright with the sun right behind and a scene like this is just asking for a washed out photo. So how did our contenders do?
The instant winner is the Fuji Finepix. With the most balanced exposure and best dynamic range the shot doesn't look washed out and detail is discernable in the darks and lights. A very close second is the Nokia N8. More washed out, the 12-megapixel Finn offers some very clean lines surrounding the light-source proving that older tech isn't necessarily worse tech. Neither however is new tech, with the only other 12-megapixel contender, the upcoming Sony Xperia S, picking up third place with an ever so slight white wash when compared to the silver and gold.
They say that when shooting the sky, a rough 70:30 split between earth and air makes for the most visually appealing picture. The problem with 70:30 splits on a clear day? Over exposure. Skies become white instead of blue in order to make the foreground stand out. How did our 70:30 snappers fair?
The new kid on the block, the Sony Xperia S has snatched the crown in this round. Proving that better saturated roofs can swing a win, with great foreground detail and colour coupled with a very attractive sky, it maintains good contrast levels and produces a great overall image. Second is the Nokia N8. Slightly more subdued and delivering arguably the most realistic colours, great sky detailing is coupled with an agreeable depth to the image. Third is the HTC Sensation. Good levels of saturation in the background make way to very nice levels of detail in the foreground. As with the Sony Xperia S, it's picked up on the slight yellow daylight hue in the air and picks up a very respecable bronze in the process.
Outdoor: Backlight + Macro = Oh no
Usually, we'd either give a camera a backlit shot or a macro shot to handle. Not in this test - these are winners remember.
In turn, we focus on a dark bud on a tree and a bright blue sky. All were taken as close as focus would permit on the specific camera (which is why, for example the N8 is much further away than the HTC Sensation XL) and the Nokia N8 and Fuji T200 had to be forced into Macro. We will decide our winner by how well the camera balances background and foreground lighting, not necessarily the most in focus shot.
Winning. It's just something the Sony Xperia S does very well and you guessed it - it's just won again. Despite being test-software, it's delivered a pretty incredible amount of detail on the tree while retaining a huge amount of background colouration, in contrast to, say, the Fujifilm T200 which loses out in the backdrop. We'd strongly advise clicking through on the image to see just how impressive this level of detail is. In addition, it was a breeze to focus on the bud, a blessing in the face of other devices requiring we take as many as 4 shots to focus. Winning.
Second is the HTC Sensation XL. Also a breeze to focus with just a touch, it produced a less detailed but very handsome picture with a great amount of information on the branch and no overblown skys. While the N8 may have produced an arguably better picture than the HTC Sensation XL, it was a nightmare to focus with us having to re-frame the shot in order to achieve the one we got. Still, we think you'll agree, very good, balanced outcomes are worth the effort giving Nokia's N8 a bronze.
Detail: "Can you read that number plate?"
You're car's been scraped, the assailant drives off, you pull out your phone and snap a picture. You'll need some pretty receptive megapixels to track your perpetrator and we're here to tell you which camera would do the best job. Reason would have us believe that the Fujifilm with its 14-megapixel sensor would be in the best position to grab as much information as possible, with the two 12-megapixeled camera phones tailing its tracks, the reality however might prove surprising:
The unquestionable winner in this round is the Sony Xperia S. In fact, it's the Xperia S' picture that prompted us to black-bar the number plate it was so legible. There is a fair amount of grain on the shot, so when compared to the Fuji, it looks a lot less smooth, however in a detail round it's detail that scores points and it's the Sony Xperia S that delivered the only legible number-plate of the bunch.
The best overall picture and a close second is the Fujifilm Finepix T200. While it goes without saying that had we used its impressive 10x zoom it would have won, at its widest angle, we got five of the seven digits of the license plate. That it softened the image more will prove more flattering when shooting things like people, but in a round like this, every crevice counts.
Coming in third is the Nokia N8 proving our anticipated top three to be near enough on the money. With two digits legible, it hammers the final nail in the coffin - for tiny number plate capture, 12-megapixels is better than 8.
Once again, we are taking a macro shot with some pretty spectacular lighting and a good amount of depth. With a coin from Mauritius, we do our best to identify which camera handles tricky metal while also assessing how close we can get to our subject.
If the last round was about landscape detail, this round is about close up detail and while it produces arguably the most attractive shot, the Fuji T200 softens the harsh detail on the coin missing out on our top three. With the Nokia N8 not even focusing properly in close quarters, the winners are the remaining handsets. It's such a close call, were almost begrudged to pick one, however if we must we'd call the Samsung Galaxy S2 the winner with its incredible detailing of every chip, nick and scratch. Second would be the HTC Sensation XL and third the Sony Xperia S. All were a breeze to focus on and impressed us no-end in this round.
We usually take a picture of a flower to illustrate freshness, insinuate an aroma and capture nature's colour pallet at its most vibrant. Not today. These are dried flowers, cob-webbed with dust and altogether a little more Miss Haversham than Hermione Granger. The camera winner will therefore need to pick up the withered within the beauty.
As with the first round, our winner is the Fujifilm Finepix T200, followed by the Sony Xperia S and closely trailed by the HTC Sensation XL. With the best overall exposure, the Fuji T200 captured the off yellow of the flower's pale petals. The webbing is clear and the whole shot looks accurate. The Sony Xperia S captured a great amount of detail in the centre of the rose, just falling behind on overall exposure while the HTC Sensation over-yellowed the flower and over-greened the leaves ever so slightly despite fantastic detail placing it third.
Indoor: No flash
This is a noise round and Nugo's fur is a prime spot for noise to breed, with its dark colouration there's every danger that rather than a detailed grey it will become a speckled colour bath. Despite all the cameras compensating well, the scene wasn't lit well from the front with no artifical lighting.
Which camera handles itself best when challenged with a furry subject indoors? The Nokia N8 does. With the most amount of detail against the least amount of noise, fur is discernable as are Nugo's eyes and the overall shot is well exposed. Second is the Sony Xperia S. While producing some noise, the overall scene is well exposed and there is depth across Nugo's face, with more in the pink areas than any other contender. Finally, in third place is the Samsung Galaxy S2. Producing more noise than either Nokia or Sony's efforts, it nevertheless betters the other two shooters with a fine amount of detail and depth.
To fill out Nugo's wrinkles and create an altogether more flattering shot, we get out our fill-flash. This should take some strain off the noise processing so detail on Nugo's fur should be more life-like. In addition, we can also hope for a well balanced overall scene.
The reality is thankfully in-line with our expectations, at least from three of the cameras. Unsurprisingly the Xenon flashes of the Fujifilm Finepix T200 (gold) and Nokia N8 (silver) win the final round with Xenon being a standard on compacts and one that has fared well for the Nokia N8 in previous tests. The Samsung Galaxy S2 with its dual LED flash comes in third concluding our final round and deciding on a winner.
Our leader-board is as follows:
- Sony Xperia S - 14 points
- Fujifilm Finepix T200 - 11 points
- Nokia N8 - 11 points
- HTC Sensation XL - 5 points
- Samsung Galaxy S2 - 5 points
Ironically, we've got a joint second and third. The newest device, the Sony Xperia S has managed to seize the crown despite not sporting final release software. It captures a shot incredibly fast, produces a fine picture and also offers amongst the most intuitive UI with a great focusing system. The joint second place goes to the Fujifilm T200 and Nokia N8, though the prior is considerably easier to use and more adept to macro shots. The winner's board pits the HTC Sensation XL and the Samsung Galaxy S2 joint in third place with both showing a real forte for macro and along with the Sony Xperia S, delivering the best focusing systems of our test.
The leader-board isn't the only reason we put together this comparison, we wanted to ask the question, can a mobile phone camera rival a sub-£100 compact camera. Clearly, the answer is yes - to a degree.
To what degree exactly? With a 10x optical zoom as opposed to no optical zoom on any of the mobiles, the Fujifilm would be the only viable option to take on, say, a holiday to Florence or to your child's nativity play when you're two rows from the back. Also, as is clear in the final shot, if you plan on using a flash - nothing beats Xenon, something 99% of compacts have.
What this comparison shows is that now, top-end camera-phones can indeed rival compacts for day to day snaps and produce some incredible pictures, with the latest from Sony whetting our appetites for the MWC reveals next week. Until a decent optical zoom lands on a mobile phone however, as much as we love our camera-phones, our compact is here to stay.