LG’s new G4 flagship is just around the corner, but we wanted to place the current hottest handsets; the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Note 4, iPhone 6 and the new HTC One M9 in competition to see which has the greatest snapper on the scene right now.
Note: All stills were taken at their respective phone’s native resolution in auto mode with HDR and flash both switched off. All shots and footage were taken handheld to reflect the most common use cases.
In the overcast, but bright environment the sample shot was taken in, the HTC One M9 stood out for its poor judgement of white balance, dressing the image in warmer yellow and green tones. That said, it deals with the high contrast of the light shining through the clouds well. The heavier post processing of the Note 4 is excessive, but offers the sharpest details on the buildings over the river, whilst the Galaxy S6 takes a more natural and relaxed approach to sharpening.
The iPhone adopts the softest contrast between the brightest and darkest elements of the shot, actually picking out blue sky between the clouds, something none of the other combatants was able to do. Despite this, the notably lower megapixel count of the phone’s sensor means details in the distance were lost, blacks appear grey and feature notable grain too.
Despite the hundreds of Pounds people spend on their smartphones, taking pictures of subjects as mundane as their dinners appears to be a top priority, even over capturing things like beautiful vistas. As such the subject for our comparison in artificial light was a delicious portion of meatballs.
Both of Samsung’s offerings produced the nicest overall images, with intelligent white balance countering the incandescent lighting. The M9 suffers from poor detail at a 100 per cent crop whilst the iPhone adopts the softest image and again, the most conservative contrast.
Speaking of contrast, this shot of a staircase with underside lighting proved a particular challenge for all the phones in the lineup. The M9 over-exposed the shot as a whole, leaving the darker areas of the image lacking in detail or depth, the Note 4 offered up the best balance of contrast and detail, but along with the iPhone suffered from bloom and glare where the intense white of the strip lighting was visible.
The Galaxy S6 was a close second in terms of image fidelity, and also side-stepped the bloom issues of its phablet sibling, but didn’t quite offer the same depth or colour reproduction of the Note 4, falling short by a whisker.
If attractive Bokeh is what you’re after (bearing in mind that it’s a pretty subjective quality) Samsung’s Galaxy S6 wins out with the most appealing shots. The Note 4 and iPhone tripped up in the post-processing department, sharpening the edges of background elements unnecessarily, but missteps aside, they still create beautiful Bokeh and offer crisp detail on the foreground subject.
In truth, all four handsets deliver pleasing macro imagery overall. Up close the M9’s shots lack sharpness, the resolution continues to place the iPhone behind the pack in terms of fine detail, and the Note 4 is the most heavy-handed with its sharpening.
The lack of OIS (optical image stabilisation) is clearly detrimental to the M9’s low light prowess, which struggles the most in the poor lighting conditions. The Note 4 retains a decent amount of detail, but noise is rife throughout the image, even on lighter portions of the shot. The Galaxy S6 too features a fair amount of grain, but the subtler image processing reduces the effect.
The iPhone features the most accurate white balance and noise is surprisingly mild. Fine details and colour balance still take a hit however.
Just as with the stills they capture, each of these 1080p/30fps clips is notably different; the iPhone over exposes the shot slightly, whiting out bright colours (such as the lit red traffic light), but copes well with movement. The M9’s sensor lacks the dynamic range to capture details accurately, particularly in darker portions of the shot and once again it sides with warmer tones with regards to white balance.
The Galaxy S6 produces the nicest overall footage as it’s clean, well exposed and features the most accurate white balance, whilst the Note 4 is a close second that over-sharpens the footage and distorts motion in the process.
With the exception of the HTC One M9, which under delivers on the quality you’d expect from a 20-megapixel sensor, each of these handsets shows promise across the board, the added detail the larger sensor and accuracy the Galaxy S6 offers places is at the top of the pile, with the Note 4 falling short for its over processed output and the iPhone 6 for its lack of fine detail.
Which results did you prefer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.