Have you ever wondered how a 13-megapixel flagship smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S4 stacks up against a 12-megapixel flagship compact camera like the Samsung EX2F in full-auto mode? We certainly have.
After all, smartphone camera technology is pushing barriers like a juiced up second-row mid-scrum. For many, smartphones have replaced point and shoots. Whether it's the fact a smartphone is always in your pocket or bag, or that the technology is advancing so quickly, phones have changed photography, it's as simple as that.
To see whether the Samsung Galaxy S4 could really capture life through a lens like a dedicated, enthusiast compact though, we walked around London and took eight choice pictures with each. Here are our findings:
(Updated with video)
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs EX2F: Good lighting
Below is perhaps one of London's most archetypal landmarks - the public telephone. Red, bold and adorned with her majesty's crown no less, it makes for a fine subject.
The results show off the bat that the Samsung EX2F has a wider angle than the Galaxy S4. With a wider angle, it captures more information, with more bikes and building in the background.
This does make the telephone box look smaller, and as most of the pictures in this comparison were taken from the same spot, the 100% crops will show different amounts of information.
In addition to the wide angle, the Samsung EX2F shot is also less saturated. The Galaxy S4 shot pops, but that pop isn't really 'real', it's down to very clever post processing, making the Galaxy S4 picture more consumer friendly and the EX2F picture more true to life.
What the first shot proves from the word go is that in good lighting, the Galaxy S4 can churn out some hot shots, competing with an enthusiast compact head-on.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs EX2F: Colour and exposure
Staying outdoors and seeing how a slightly harder shot challenges our two smart-devices, we're still focusing on colour, but this time with some reflective visibility strips and deep UPS browns.
The Samsung EX2F has undeniably pulled a better shot out of the bag, with its more accurate oranges, better dynamic range and altogether more on-point exposure.
This could come down to the wide angle of the EX2F getting more information with which to make accurate white balance decisions, but regardless, it's a convincing win for the EX2F. Still, impressive performance from the S4 though, especially considering it is a phone.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs EX2F: High contrast indoors
As if we didn't make it hard enough before, taking cameras indoors while looking outdoors is a great way to test their ability to deal with high contrast scenes.
Below, the results are pretty self-explanatory. Detailing on the brick is respectable across both devices. The Galaxy S4 exposes the shot more, pulling out a smidgen of additional detail from the brickwork, but in doing so, blows out the view through the window.
The EX2F however moderates its exposure to give the more balanced shot of the two. It's also considerably crisper, with the combination of the optical image stabilisation and the F/1.4 lens killing handshake and shortening shutter speed, 1/90 as opposed to 1/33 on the Galaxy S4.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs EX2F: High contrast outdoors
Making things a little bit easier we took to the streets once more. Pointing both cameras up at the sky, we were still able to test their high-contrast chops, but this time in abundant lighting.
You can see below, in contrast to the prior shot, the Galaxy S4 has gone and under-exposed the image. It looks good in isolation, but when placed alongside the Samsung EX2F image, it becomes clear, you would need to up the exposure or flip on HDR mode on the Galaxy S4 to capture that kind of colouration in the leaves.
Looking closely, it's clear in the EX2F shot that some of the leaves are blown out, but between the additional detail in the background building through to the overall amount of information communicated, its picture and chosen exposure level without a doubt make its image the better of the two.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs EX2F: Macro outdoors
Before we venture indoors for good, lets take a macro shot in abundant lighting. Why? It'll tell us a bit about nearest focal range of both, not to mention detail.
The first thing you'll notice with the Samsung EX2F's shot, in contrast to prior shots, is that the camera seems closer to our subject than the Galaxy S4. That's because it has a considerably nearer focal range.
The dedicated camera pulls out far more detail than the Galaxy S4, despite a lower pixel count, suggesting the S4 misfired focus slightly, homing in just behind the screw.
Exposure is also more accurate on the EX2F, though with its f/2.2 lens, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has managed to pull a nice amount of background blur. Impressive all round, but the EX2F edges ahead once again.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs EX2F: Macro indoors
Once more, two close-up shots, once more, two impressive images and once more, one better than another.
This round isn't quite so cut and dry though. For starters, the Galaxy S4 looks more 'poppy' once again. Saturation booming, more orange than brown, given both side by side, we'd forgive you for thinking the S4's take on Hans, the dog was better.
The reality though is this - Hans, the dog, is brown.
Not orange, but brown. While the AMOLED optimised Galaxy S4 result looks good therefore, the Samsung EX2F picture is far more true to life. Detailing on the fur is also considerably better in the focal area.
With its wide open f/1.4 lens, in complete auto mode, the EX2F will give you an extremely shallow depth of field. This is great for background blur, but if you're more keen on detail across the focal range, you'll need to go manual and up the aperture.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs EX2F: Macro Lowlight
This is disclaimer time - we're shooting in pure automatic mode on both the phone and camera. Most Samsung Galaxy S4 owners won't be jumping into their settings and tweaking exposure and night mode, so neither should we.
Why the disclaimer? Because, low-light is a weak-point of the Galaxy S4 in pure auto mode. We've covered it before, comparing it against the HTC One and Nokia Lumia 720, and unsurprisingly when stacked against a dedicated compact, it fares similarly.
On the flipside - check out that Samsung EX2F! That is a stunning amount of detail considering the dim conditions coupled with the fact it's a hand-held shot.
We're pretty confident Samsung could improve the Galaxy S4's low-light performance with software tweaks down the line, considering it packs the same Sony Exmor RS sensor as the better performing Xperia Z. For the record, the build number on our S4 is JDQ39.I9505XXUAMDM.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs EX2F: Flash-on
Any Galaxy S4 owners out there though - fret not, low light shooting isn't out of your reach by a long stretch. The flash on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is categorically better than any other non-xenon smartphone.
Take a look below, it even competes with the Samsung EX2F, illuminating the space almost as evenly and pulling in legible lettering in the lock. Once again, pretty incredible for a phone.
In almost all light conditions therefore, the Samsung Galaxy S4 can pull a great shot out of the bag. Sure, flashless low-light shooting is pretty dire, but with the flash - it's very, very good.
Can it compete with a dedicated advanced compact camera like the Samsung EX2F across the board? No, it can't. Not in terms of image quality and especially not at night. We've been using the EX2F out and about, and have infinitely more confidence in its low-light ability than any other smartphone - just look at this hand-held shot:
The Galaxy S4, HTC One, iPhone 5 and Sony Xperia Z therefore make for perfect supplements to high-end digital compacts, perhaps replacing entry level compacts for many, in-spite of the lack of optical zoom.
Is that the final word? Definitely not. Nokia's EOS camera phone is on the horizon, pegged to take the optical image stabilisation of the Lumia 920 and couple it with a high-megapixel sensor as found on the 808 PureView. HTC is also refining its UltraPixel sensor across its portfolio of products, while Samsung is rumoured to be coupling Android with its Galaxy brand once more in the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.
So camera enthusiasts and phone lovers alike - get excited, and for anyone interested in full-res versions of the pictures used in this comparison, just click the thumbnails below: