Now that IFA 2013 has been and gone, we’ve got a perfect selection of flagships to perform another camera comparison with – specifically, the Apple iPhone 5, HTC One, LG G2, Nokia Lumia 925, Samsung Galaxy S4, and Sony Xperia Z1.
With pixel counts on these phones ranging from 4.3-megapixels through to 20.7-megapixels – not to mention the myriad of different shootings modes – we thought the fairest way to compare all the cameras was to shoot in automatic mode at the default resolution.
This means the HTC One at 4.3-megapixels, Apple’s iPhone 5 and Sony’s Xperia Z1 at 8-megapixels, the Nokia Lumia 925 at 8.7-megapixels, and the LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy S4 at around 10-megapixels given the 16:9 aspect ratio.
Now that’s all covered, lets get comparing:
Step one is to get up close and personal with an awkward focal-point: a Furby beak.
We tapped the pecker of the Furby on the right-hand side on all six phones, giving them all an equal chance to lock-on. The scene also showed off Furby’s fur for some contrasting texture.
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 won the macro shot round by a whisker. Focusing on that specific place was easiest on Samsung’s handset, and it ended up producing the sharpest shot with punchy colours. There was also a good amount of detail picked up in the surrounding fur.
The Apple iPhone 5 and LG G2 are tied for second place. While the iPhone 5 proves better at focusing on the beak, the additional pixels and clarity delivered in the LG G2’s 10-megapixel image makes the whole picture more appealing when you zoom in tight.
All our camera phones are excellent performers in good lighting – we know that having reviewed or used them all extensively. What tends to trip up smartphones are low-lighting conditions, so we thought we would emulate a dusky type shot in a low-lit stairwell
The Sony Xperia Z1 is the winner here. Despite the 8-megapixel resolution, Sony’s image stabilisation keeps things clean, with noise reduction taking the edge off the grain. Nokia’s Lumia 925 comes in second. It’s a tad noisier than some of the others, but zooming in results in a sharper, less dappled shot.
Third place goes to the iPhone 5. Despite lacking any explicit image stabilisation, it’s the least softened image, and it retains a fair amount of detail. That’s pretty impressive considering it’s the oldest phone in the comparison.
Very low light
At this point we wanted to throw all six smartphones into the deep-end by testing in very dimly lit situations. The only light creeping in to the stairwell after the bulbs have been killed is a crack of natural glare. All the devices seemed to struggle, but which one is the winner?
It’s a draw between the Nokia Lumia 925 and the Sony Xperia Z1. Sony has seemingly found a balance with the Z1’s image softening, producing a pleasing image without excessive dappling. The Lumia 925’s shot is more realistic, though. It packs strong detail and an even overall shot, but it’s a touch over-exposed.
Coming in third is the LG G2. While over-softened, it’s the camera phone that will produce the best shot for Facebook – noise free, well balanced, saturated, and retaining enough detail to crop in to.
If we’ve proven anything in the last round, it’s that image stabilisation is the difference between a good and bad low-light performer, but how does the flash affect the outcome?
While Samsung’s flashes have historically been the winners of these tests, this is the first time we’ve compared the S4’s blinding light to the brunt of the camera phone market.
Sadly for Samsung, it concedes its crown to Sony. The combination of the Xperia Z1’s SteadyShot lens coupled with some stonking flash calibration results in a winning shot. Colours are relatively accurate, there’s strong detailing, and the resulting 8-megapixel file is smaller than most of the competition.
Second is the LG G2. Once again, it’s over-softened, but it looks fantastic from a distance. It’s also well contrasted and will, once again, look the best on Facebook. Finally, the HTC One comes in third. It’s a tad oversaturated, but it packs good overall contrast and pairs respectable detailing with the smallest file-size of the bunch.
Focal point in natural light
The final round is all about detail coupled with a nice wide angle. Natural light gives our sharpshooters the best opportunity to capture loads of information while showing off their dynamic range. Phones with a higher megapixel count should provide more detail (in theory, anyway), but what about the overall shot?
The two 13-megapixel shooters snap-up the prize, featuring oodles of detail and incredibly comparable images; hardly surprising given the fact both house Sony’s 13-megapixel Sony Exmor RS sensor.
Third place goes to the Sony Xperia Z1, packing less pixel-power in the fully automatic shot than the winners. It has a nice wide angle with a reasonable file size, as well as impressive detailing and balance.
And the winner is…
The Sony Xperia Z1. The Japanese company has seemingly found the post-processing balance that was sorely missing from the Xperia Z. In Superior Auto mode, its sensor churns out some great 8-megapixel images, the revised UI is enjoyable to use, and it placed top three in every round other than macro, making it the best all-round camera phone of the moment.
Second place goes to the LG G2. We’d call it the best social media camera phone, only because its images look best from a distance. If all you’re going to be doing is uploading to Twitter and Facebook, then the G2’s snaps will pack the least amount of noise thanks to its noise reduction. That will help with portrait shots too – smoother skin should look much more flattering.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is our third place choice. If you recall our last camera comparison, then you’ll remember that the S4 performed abismally in low light. That’s been fixed thanks to a camera firmware update. It’s still nowhere near the best, but it’s significantly better than it was. Pair that with strong macro performance along with fantastic detail, and you have a good all-round performer.
Anyone who wants to download the samples used in the comparisons can access them right here.