The other day Steve Punter
) and I decided to do a camera shoot out. Right now I have almost all the flagship devices sitting on my desk including the new Nexus 5 so we figured why not?
I remember back in the day when most phones came with VGA or megapixel cameras. The megapixel phones were much better than the VGA ones but either way, they took pretty lousy pictures.
Back then, a built-in camera was a nice thing to have but if you wanted to capture an important memory, you’d be wise to bring a proper camera along with you be it a point-and-shoot or even something with a large sensor and removable lens.
In the past couple of years a funny thing has happened. While point-and-shoots have improved during that time, they passed this invisible line where they took pictures that were ‘good enough’ for most people.
Yeah, a SLR with a fast lens will take better pictures in a variety of conditions but then again, there’s that saying that that the best camera is the one that’s with you. A SLR will run circles around a camera phone in terms of handling, performance, speed, and quality but then again, a camera phone fits in your pocket - It’s always with me. So which one really is best?
I own a complete Canon SLR set with a body, a bunch of fancy lenses, a couple of flashes, tripods plus some other misc accessories. I also own a Panasonic mirror-less camera with a few compact lenses and a flash. I also have a bunch of camera phones with me most of which are able to take some pretty good pictures.
I have no plans on getting rid of either my SLR or my mirror-less. There are times when a camera phone just won’t do. The thing is, as camera phones improve, I find myself using my real cameras less and less.
The other day I went to a birthday party (a kid’s one). There was a time when I would never think of going without a real camera. This time I packed a couple of camera phones and was perfectly happy with the results.
One thing I’ve noticed is that when I use my SLR, a much greater percentage of my shots are keepers whereas with a camera phone sometimes I have to take a much greater volume of shots.
Let’s get this out of the way. We’re not a camera review website. We don’t have resolution or macbeth charts. I normally characterize camera performance in a few paragraphs (is the camera good or not?). Does this make us poor candidates to compare cameras? Not really, we both shoot a lot of photos and have tried many cameras and know a good camera when we use it.
In the end we decided on 3 scenes. An indoor shot of my tools, a picture of clock at a mall and me sitting in a car.
We actually shot more scenes but to be honest, it was too time consuming to go through all of them.
In all cases we disabled the flash. I don’t normally like to use a flash unless I have to because no matter how good the flash is, it’s usually a few millimeters from the lens and just gives photos a ‘camera flash’ look. That includes the Nokia Lumia 1020 which has a ‘real’ bulb flash and the iPhone 5s’ variable colour temperature flash.
If you’re looking for us to assign all the phones here a number and then crown an outright winner you’ll probably be disappointed, things are never that simple. Instead we’re going to list our observations on each camera.
Before I continue I just want to give some thoughts on how we shot. We tried to leave the camera software as it would be if you just turned it on. We didn’t mess around with settings
We compared the pictures on my PC with my calibrated monitor.
Here are the contenders:
Sony Xperia Z1:
Sony’s flagship phone sports a 20 megapixel camera with a ½.33 sized sensor which is actually the same size you’ll find in many entry level point and shoots.
With an aperture of f/2.0 it also sports the fastest lens here (tied with a few others).
A good camera requires good software so Sony’s includes a Superior Auto mode which is able to choose the most appropriate shooting mode based on what’s happening in your scene/subject.
Bucking the industry trend of increasing the megapixel count, HTC put a 4 megapixel in their HTC One. Marketing a 4 megapixel camera isn’t an easy thing to do so HTC invented a new term. The HTC One has an ‘Ultrapixel’ sensor. Lowering the pixel count while maintaining (or possibly shrinking by a smaller percentage) the same sensor size allows for bigger pixels. A bigger pixel means it’s able to capture more light which should mean better low-light performance and possibly greater dynamic range.
The story doesn’t end with the Ultrapixel sensor. The HTC One also has a stabilized lens which should help low light and video. At f/2.0 it’s also a fast lens with a fairly wide field of view.
The HTC One has been sitting in my pocket for the better part of 6 months so I’m very familiar with it.
Nokia Lumia 1020:
Here’s what you need to know about the Lumia 1020. It has a 41 megapixel sensor. That’s more than most SLR’s and mirror-less cameras.
I’m not sure what sized sensor every camera here has but I’m pretty sure the Lumia 1020 has the biggest one here aside from my mirror-less camera.
It has a f/2.2 lens with a wide field of view.
On the software side the 1020 is able to use Nokia’s Pro Camera app which allows to changes to ISO, aperture, shutter speed and even manual focus.
Samsung Galaxy S4:
The GS4 belongs to Steve. When you talk specs, the GS4’s camera can get lost in the discussion but Steve knows the GS4’s camera inside and out and there’s a lot to say about it. You might be surprised how it does here.
I like the G2’s camera a lot for 2 reasons: First off, it has a field of view of around 35mm which I much prefer over wider angles like on the HTC One/Nokia Lumia 1020. A wider angle gives you more versatility but I generally find it results in less interesting images.
It also has a stabilized lens which is great if you shoot a lot of video.
The LG G2 and Nexus 5 are both from LG. The 5 is sort of a G2 lite or as I like to think of it, a LG G1.9. It has similar specs but LG has kept some things from the 5 like the G2’s camera sensor. The 5 only has a 8 megapixel sensor while the G2’s has 13 megapixels. Still, more is not necessarily better right?
Apple iPhone 5s:
A lot of people have been saying how great the iPhone 5s camera is. Indeed, I own one and am familiar with what it’s capable of. Let’s just leave it at that.
You’re probably wondering why I threw a Blackberry Z30 in this test. There are 2 reasons neither of which is very good. First off, I happen to have it around. Ray finished up his great video review and I’m playing around with it. Secondly, we already have an iOS device and a Windows Phone so we might as well throw in a BB10 device in to round things out.
Anyways, the Z30’s camera specs are competitive with the other phones here. It has a 8 megapixel sensor (same as the iPhone 5s and Nexus 5) and a fast f/2.2 lens which is competitive with the other phones here.
I thought I’d throw in a ‘real’ camera into the mix. After all, while camera phones can take pretty good picture it should be interesting to see the gap between them and the Panasonic.
The Panasonic is a mid-range mirrorless camera which may or may not be discontinued now. I would have thrown a point and shoot in but I no longer own one.
Compared to the camera phones here, it has a much larger sensor than any of them. I’m using it with the kit zoom lens which honestly, isn’t that great. At f/3.5 at wide angle it’s not very fast though it is stabilized. We left it at wide angle for all the tests.