Seldom have we had so many phones throwing their hats into the ring for being called the best camera phone. From ultra pixels to PureView technology to CMOS sensors, all kinds of jargon is being spouted in support of different devices. At the end of the day, however, it all really boils down to picture quality and it is on that altar that we decided to test five phones that have been laying claim to being the best camera phones around.
1. Samsung Galaxy S5: 16.0-megapixel camera
2. HTC One (M8): 4.0-megapixel ultrapixel camera
3. Sony Xperia Z2: 20.7-megapixel camera
4. Nokia Lumia 1520: 20-megapixel PureView camera
5. Apple iPhone 5s: 8.0-megapixel iSight camera
There will be some questions as to why we are including the iPhone 5s in this line-up, considering that it is by far the oldest of the lot. Our rationale is simple – love it or hate it, it is pretty much the most popular phone camera in the world. We will give allowance to its age, but we could not resist the temptation to pitch it against some of the new kids on the camera phone block to see how well it has aged.
And oh yes, why did we not include the Lumia 1020 in the whole battle? We could be witty and say because this was a shoot out featuring phones that have cameras, not cameras that were phones, but the truth is that the Lumia 1020 remains a freak of cell camera nature, and pretty much in a zone of its own, thanks to its 41.0-megapixel sensor. We don’t think it would have been fair to put any of these devices against it – that one is the best choice for any photographer who wants a phone.
A word of caution
A few things need to be pointed out: this is not a hardcore expert test of the cameras, but one carried out from the view of a general mainstream user. So we are not going to zoom into each tiny pixel, and are not going to yammer about sensor sizes and apertures, but are just going to stick to general point and shoot parameters. Although all these devices come with elaborate settings that can be tweaked, all the shots in this test were taken in auto mode, as that is the one that is used close to 99 per cent of the time, as per a source in a phone company. We have tried to keep the circumstances the same for every photograph, but in some cases, the subject has moved a bit, in some others, the position of the phone might have been marginally different. This is the human element – we were not using tripods but our hands, again because we really feel that is what most users use when taking snaps off a phone camera – and for that we apologize. We did not test the flash because honestly, we don’t think that unless it is a Xenon one, it adds much to the photograph – the cameras were on auto mode, and it decided whether the flash fired on not. In most cases, it did not! There will also be some calls for testing video – we simply did not have the time or bandwidth to do so (we would have needed to record some similar repetitive event and those can be hard to find), so apologies in that regard too. Finally, there is a reason why there are no night shots – the devices had to go back to the people who lent them to us by early evening!
We would like to stress that this is not a decisive be-all and end-all vote on these phones’ cameras, but simply our experience over a particular period of time. Other people’s experiences might differ.
Right, with that out of the way, let us proceed to what we discovered:
Our mode of testing
We decided to simply spend a day snapping pictures with the five phones in different light conditions and situations. Yes, we did provide onlookers with a lot of entertainment, as they wondered who the funny chap was who kept taking out different devices to snap the same scene, but ah, that is a small price to pay for what we obtained.
Shot 1: The twig in the daylight
The tree in our locality had a new twig near its base and it was looking quite striking in the sun, so that was our first port of photo call. And as you can see, the three cameras that did best were the S5, the 1520 and the Z2. In terms of being realistic, the 1520 came out the best, while the S5 and Z2 delivered good-looking pictures with slightly over saturated colors. The M8 turned out a slightly washed out result and well, the iPhone 5s got off to an embarrassing start – it simply refused to focus from where we were taking the shot, and focused only when we got much closer (we attached the unfocused shot as the aim was to keep shooting conditions the same across all devices).
Winners: Xperia Z2 and Galaxy S5
Shot 2: The lady and the car
The light was excellent so I decided to take a picture of the better half next to her beloved automobile which is red in color. For me, this would be a great test of colours and skin tone handling. And the M8 and the iPhone 5s came to the party with a vengeance in this one – both took very good pictures. The Z2 and 1520 took decent enough shots, but the 1520’s effort had a slight greenish tint to it while the Z2 was slightly washed out (it made Anu’s shirt look a shade lighter of pink), even though it captured detail very well again. The S5 was the most realistic one here, we thought, with the M8 and the iPhone 5s comung in its wake.
Winner: Galaxy S5