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Android camera phone face-off part 2

Las Vegas, January 2012, home to sun, CES and six cameras in one tech-writer’s bulging pockets – oh yes, it’s time for another Recombu camera comparison to find the best camera phone on the market now. Here we’re pitting the Samsung Galaxy S2, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc and HTC Sensation XL against one another in Las Vegas lighting.

Since our low-light camera comparison in December, we decided to mix things up for the sunshine shooting. Firstly, we’ve thrown a Windows Phone 7 device in, the HTC Titan. Why? Because it has the same camera module as our previous winner (the HTC Sensation XL). We wanted to see if it would perform significantly differently on Windows Phone 7. Secondly, we’ve included a champion of compact cameras in the comparison: the Canon S90, f/2.0 lens and physically larger 10-megapixel sensor in tow – it should provide a handy benchmark against which to judge the five point and shoot wannabes. We’ve made all the images clickable, so if you want to get involved, just download the grid yourself and share your opinions below. Now though – it’s camera time:

Landscape: Detail

Las Vegas feels like a big, intricate cardboard cut out. To make sure you can capture every ounce of detail we’ve taken you to The Excalibur, a hotel themed around Arthurian tales, snapping an entire landscape of castle and zooming in on a single red circular tower.

Overall composition shows first off how strong all these cameras are. Given the fantastic lighting, all deliver respectable shots. Zooming in however and a couple of champions emerge while others fall short.

Starting with the winners, it’s the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the HTC Sensation XL deliver the strongest levels of detail in that order. The reason the Samsung pitches just ahead of the XL is down to more realistic contrast levels with the red portion of the tower delivering a more natural tonal gradient from left to right.

Oddly enough, our loser in this detail round isn’t the Samsung Galaxy Nexus with its lowest megapixel sensor, but the HTC Titan. Despite identical hardware to the HTC Sensation XL, very evident over-softening appears. While this wouldn’t be noticeable on a 6×4 print out, if you plan on cropping and digital zooming it’s worth bearing in mind. Therefore the results are as follows: 

1. Samsung Galaxy S2
2. HTC Sensation XL
3. Samsung Galaxy Nexus 

 

Landscape 2: Colour

Sky. When in the desert it’s a beautiful thing, a single vast gradient of blue, truly mesmerising and a huge part of any Las Vegas photograph. In turn, we haven’t made a mistake of cropping right into the sky for our comparison, no, we’re using it to compare colour.

As you should be able to make out, some shots look grittier than others when zoomed in. The three losers off the bat in terms of colour smoothness are the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, HTC Sensation XL and HTC Titan, looking most heavily artifacted. This leaves the Samsung Galaxy S2 and Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S on top in these stakes.

Looking at colour accuracy however and in a turn for the books, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus comes out on top. The blue sky is most comparable to the Canon S90, as is the composition in general. On its tail are the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S. Taking these factors into account therefore:

1. Samsung Galaxy Nexus
2. Samsung Galaxy S2
3. Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S

Landscape 3: Dynamic Range

What is dynamic range? Put simply, it’s the camera’s ability to communicate the full tonal range between dark and light. If the camera has good dynamic range therefore, dark greys won’t come out as black and light blue skies won’t be blobs of white.

Taking a look at New York, Las Vegas, we’ve zoomed in on an area of tonal variance and as you can see, the Canon Powershot S90’s image exhibits discernable detail across the spectrum.

The most comparable camera phone is definitely the Samsung Galaxy S2, with tapered contrast levels producing the broadest dynamic range. That said, despite offering a different image altogether, the HTC Sensation XL’s more acute contrast levels are visually more pleasing zoomed in and also manage to offer pretty good dynamic range as well.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S appears to suffer from a fair bit of chromatic aberration (colour accented corners) while the Samsung Galaxy Nexus’ lack of discernable detail makes the dynamic range when zoomed in this much appear less. This probably comes down to the pixel count, but still lets it down against the competition.

So the results for the final landscape shots are in and scoring is as follows.

1. Samsung Galaxy S2
2. HTC Sensation XL
3. HTC Titan

Focal Object: Contrast

Leo, the famous bronze lion at the MGM Grand. Photographed millions of times and yet photographed well considerably less. Why? Metal. It’s difficult to communicate in a still image. Painters struggle with it and camera’s can fall at the way-side when capturing it.


Unlike with most scenarios, sculpted metal doesn’t benefit from over softening and in a turn for the books, our Canon S90 appears to have done just that. The lion’s nose and features appear as if they’re crafted of water rather than sculpted from bronze. Attractive? Yes. Representative? Not so much. The same can be seen on the HTC Titan, guilty of over-softening in the past if it’s detail you want, then keep reading.

Coming in third is the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S with good detail levels though slightly off colouration. Second is the Samsung Galaxy S2 with better colours and in the top spot for this round is the HTC Sensation XL proving once again that despite having the same hardware as the HTC Titan, a very different image should be expected

1. HTC Sensation XL
2. Samsung Galaxy S2
3. Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S

Direct Glare: Lens

Lens flare is difficult to avoid when taking shots directly facing a bright light source. This is where lens integrity and shielding come into play, and while you won’t be able to get a lens hood for your mobile phone, it might bear fruit knowing that you’re camera phone can counter the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip with its lens alone.

In the face of a glass structure that was doing its best to blind us by reflective light through our lenses, we’ve got some pretty conclusive results. Taking the overall images to start, it’s the HTC handsets, in sharing a lens come out on top with least lens flare. The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S unfortunately is the poorest performer of the bunch as you can see with some pretty strong glare in the bottom right.

Zooming in for detail however and while grainy, the HTC Sensation XL has the most along with the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S. It goes without saying, in this difficult round, the Canon Powershot S90 shows these camera phones who’s boss by being the only camera to offset flare and deliver good levels of detail as well.

With flare fending in mind therefore, results are as follows:

1. HTC Sensation XL
2. HTC Titan
3. Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Outdoor Macro: Detail

Jackie Chan’s hand-print. What better way to finish our outdoor tests than with a prime example of the American Dream. Not only is this a macro shot, but it’s also a tricky one with the print cast in a transparent perspex / glass type material.

Going at it like a ninja we swiped and tapped and tried our darnedest to make all our phones focus on the part we zoomed in on with a simple touch to focus. The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S was a challenge forcing us to re-frame our shot in order to achieve focus on the groove of the hand-print. You will see therefore that it has the weakest overall levels of detail thanks to the manual nature of our focusing.

As for the rest of the contenders, there are two clear winners. The HTC Sensation XL and the Samsung Galaxy S2, with the latter knocking out slightly higher detail. Team Samsung are clearing up today with the Galaxy Nexus trumping the HTC Titan for third place, making the Jackie Chan round results as follows:

1. Samsung Galaxy S2
2. HTC Sensation XL
3. Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Indoor Macro: Colour

Vegas over and at the airport, we picked up a couple of things: Postcards, inappropriate bottle openers and peanut butter M&M’s. Why? Because, that’s what people do when on holiday. That and we needed something to test our camera phone’s indoor macro capabilities on.

With a specific focus on colour accuracy, the Canon Powershot S90 easily produced the most accurate shot. With the focus being metal once more, it wasn’t easy, but we just left it in auto, compared it against real life and it worked a treat.

How about the phones? The Samsung Galaxy Nexus gets first place. Despite a lot going on in the shot, it looks pretty much spot on colour-wise. Samsung seem to have their colours down in indoor lighting with the Samsung Galaxy S2 falling in line for a second place trophy and in third place is the HTC Sensation XL, which despite delivering a slight yellow hue, still bettered the results of the remaining two handsets, making the indoor macro leader-board:

1. Samsung Galaxy Nexus
2. Samsung Galaxy S2
3. HTC Titan

Conclusion

With a fool-proof points system devised and scores tallied up, after a close battle which was neck and neck until the last rounds, our Las Vegas Camera Phone King title goes to the Samsung Galaxy S2. With a total of 15 points, Samsung’s 2011 flagship was able to score well across the board and fend off our winter winner, the HTC Sensation XL to the number one spot. The Sensation XL did come second however with very competent performance and great detail and in third place sits the Samsung Galaxy Nexus which, despite having a lower resolution sensor delivered impressive colour accuracy and strong overall compositions in the good lighting Las Vegas provided.

1. Samsung Galaxy S2

2. HTC Sensation XL

3. Samsung Galaxy Nexus

So there you have it, another camera comparison down. If you want to form your own opinion, click the images for larger versions and share any thoughts in the comments section below.

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