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Camera review: Google turns its attention to imaging on new Nexus 5

31

Connect smartphone reviews are written with the needs of photographers in mind. We focus on camera features, performance and image quality.

Editor's note: This review was conducted using a Nexus 5 with the latest software at that time, Android 4.4. When Google rolled out Android 4.4.1 with the promise of significant updates to the Nexus 5's camera capabilities, we updated and retested our device, amending our review when and where it was appropriate with notes from our reviewer. You can also learn more about what the Android 4.4.1 update means for Google's Nexus 5 shooters.

Google Nexus 5 Product Images
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The Nexus 5 is Google’s latest showcase phone, bringing with it Android 4.4 (aka KitKat) and some new imaging features. Nexus phones provide an Android experience that’s as unadulterated by manufacturer customization and carrier bloatware as you can get without delving into the world of ROM flashing. They’re also the first to get updated when Google releases a new version of Android. All of that gets the Android community into a froth when a new device arrives, but contract-shy people also take notice because Nexus phones tend to be unbeatable deals compared to other unsubsidized phones: the 16GB Nexus 5 goes for $350, $200 to $300 less than competing devices off contract.

Nexus phones are typically based on an existing handset from an established hardware partner. HTC and Samsung have had that honor in the past, and now Google has cozied up to LG the second time in a row, deriving the Nexus 5 from LG’s G2 (the Nexus 4 was based on the LG Optimus G). However the Nexus 5 departs farther from its base than previous Nexus models, with not only a different camera (8MP vs. the G2’s 13MP unit), but a smaller screen size that allows for a more compact design.

The Nexus line may be known for top-flight hardware at bargain prices, but there’s one thing it’s not known for: good cameras. This time around, Google is talking up the Nexus 5’s camera, highlighting its optical image stabilization and revamped HDR mode. We put the phone through its photographic paces to see how it holds up in the real world.

The Nexus 5 works with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint in the US. Verizon customers are out of luck, as the carrier reportedly blocks the phone from connecting to its network. A global version sold outside the US works with most operators around the world.  

Key Photographic / Video Specifications

  • 8-megapixel 1/3.2-inch CMOS sensor
  • Optical image stabilization
  • F2.4 30mm equivalent lens
  • 1080p 30fps video recording
  • 1.3MP front camera
  • HDR mode with extra optimization
  • Panorama mode
  • Time lapse video mode
  • Photo Sphere

Other Specifications

  • Snapdragon 800 2.23GHz quad-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • Android 4.4 (KitKat)
  • 4.95-inch 1920x1080 445 ppi display
  • LTE 4G
  • 16, 32GB storage
  • 2,300 mAh battery, non-removable
  • Available in black and white

Our 8-page review

We've considered every aspect of the Google Nexus 5 camera, with the photographer in mind. We examined the user interface of the native camera app and its special features. We experimented with the camera's performance when taking stills and video, and had a play with the device's many special feature modes. We will also add our studio comparison and DxOMark Mobile test results to this review when all testing is completed.

Click any of the links below for more information of specific functions and continue to our conclusion for a final summary of our findings.

Comments

Total comments: 31
landam
By landam (3 weeks ago)

I have been using this mobile for 4 months and its one of its kind. It is an excellent device, with stunning display, nice graphics and awesome power. And it offers pure Android experience and I even installed the Android L developers version which runs perfectly on my device. The only problem I faced with device is about setting custom ringtone. I found the procedure about how to set ringtone in this link and it worked perfectly, http://www.spinfold.com/set-ringtone-in-nexus-5-and-nexus-4/

0 upvotes
OneGuy
By OneGuy (7 months ago)

I'm glad you did the update, particularly because Google stepped up to it right away. I did a painless OS update (4.0 to 4.1) on my Samsung phone and my question was how easy it is to do an update on Nexus 5 (with the latest phone improvements, say). The latest pics look rather good.

0 upvotes
steevee
By steevee (8 months ago)

nice review and quite funny to see we're neighboors in Paris 15 ;)

0 upvotes
cdiesel32
By cdiesel32 (8 months ago)

I find the camera to be completely adequate. I recently got a great pic of my kids with Santa good enough for Christmas cards prior to the 4.4.1 release. My Nikon D5200 gets used when it really counts. The rest of the time the Nexus 5 does just fine.

0 upvotes
NeoteriX
By NeoteriX (8 months ago)

Quote: "If you miss the shot, you can’t take another one right away. The very fastest shot-to-shot time you’ll see is about half-a-second, not bad though far from instantaneous. However, that speed is variable and sometimes runs closer to a second."

I noticed that even prior to the 4.4.1/2 update that improved shooting speed, you could actually significantly improve the shot-to-shot speed if you use the volume button shutter activation rather than the on-screen shutter. For whatever reason, you're right, the screen shutter is ignored if you try spamming it, and you're getting a shot per half a second.

However, if you use the volume button, you can pretty much get up to "burst mode" speeds: I think I can get around 3-4 shots a second spamming the volume button quickly. Try it out!

0 upvotes
Sosua
By Sosua (8 months ago)

Reasonably fair review, I'm coming from an S3 and have been impressed with the results from my Nexus 5 (shot almost exclusively in HDR+).

I've got a real camera for things I care about anyway though and looks like 4.4.1 just came out.

Still, the image quality on smartphones is getting really, really handy.

0 upvotes
Konstigt
By Konstigt (8 months ago)

Too bad you did the review before the announced update to fix all the teething problems.

Photos taken with N5 after 4.4.1 are very good + camera is overall faster and autofocus works better.

Comment edited 7 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
peevee1
By peevee1 (8 months ago)

"If you can live with the sluggish camera app (or have faith that Google will eventually fix it) the Nexus 5 deserves serious consideration."

That is an incredibly ridiculous statement. There are about a million other camera apps if you don't like the standard one.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

most of which are not supporting the Nexus 5 100% as the review points out.

0 upvotes
phillipmai
By phillipmai (8 months ago)

The camera is sluggish, I have the nexus 5 and galaxy nexus and the nexus 5 is really slow compared to the 2 year old phone, don't see how this could be seen as a ridiculous statement.

0 upvotes
KamalHans
By KamalHans (8 months ago)

Good Review!
Couple of newbie qns-
Which of the shortcomings listed are fixable by a software update & which are due to hardware limitations ?
In the meantime, which camera app av in the play store can help overcome some major shortcomings?
Lastly, any comments/recommendations re the add-on lenses made by Photojojo?

0 upvotes
JamesMW
By JamesMW (8 months ago)

While it may not fix the hardware or the camera application (directly). There's hope that the lackluster launch speeds and several of the features get some attention with the upcoming Camera API changes that were not finished in time for the Android 4.4 release:

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2013/11/google-is-working-on-a-new-android-camera-api-supports-camera-raw/

0 upvotes
Nucleotide
By Nucleotide (8 months ago)

The bad - no dedicated shutter button? The Vol Up and Down buttons act as a shutter button (you can press Up or Down) if you'd rather not use the touch-screen.

Comment edited 39 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

"dedicated" is the key word here. You can use the volume buttons on almost any Android phone I have seen but only a dedicated shutter button, like on the Nokia, the HTC One or the Sony Xperia Z1, offers a half-press, just like a shutter button on a camera.

0 upvotes
Luis Augusto
By Luis Augusto (9 months ago)

What? No studio shots?

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (9 months ago)

You'll get those as soon as we can get a unit to our studio in Seattle.

0 upvotes
capanikon
By capanikon (9 months ago)

My eight-year-old Nikon D200 spanks this goofy little thing in every photographic manner possible.

0 upvotes
Markol
By Markol (9 months ago)

You're awesome too!

7 upvotes
papillon_65
By papillon_65 (9 months ago)

How do you find making calls, video, and putting the D200 in your pocket? How's that working out for you?

8 upvotes
Markol
By Markol (9 months ago)

I've been using the Nokia 808 for over a year and still use it just because of its great camera. But it was time for a useable smartphone and so I got the Nexus 5.
I didn'T expect much camera-wise (it's Android and a non Samsung one at that). I was pleasantly surprised. OIS works quite well and I haven't found the startup time of the photo app or the shutter lag to be worse than other smartphones, maybe this is subjective.
What makes me furious is the stupidity of showing a full screen presview (distorted) and making a 4:3 image. Almost all photos I make with a smartphone are being viewed on a computer screen and I like to have it in 16:9, even if it means cropping. Why on earth can't the Nexus do this? Why so many resolutions but no way to change aspect ratio? I'd love to see these 2 questions answered by someone from Google. I just don't get it. Manual ISO on the other hand I never missed- I use a smartphone just as a point and shoot.
All in all it's a quite good camera phone.

3 upvotes
Jogger
By Jogger (9 months ago)

I use a cheapie Nokia Lumia 620 and carry an RX100 everywhere. The RX doesnt require a cell plan and wont be obsolete in a month. Image and video quality is orders of magnitude better.

0 upvotes
Markol
By Markol (9 months ago)

Your'e awesome!

4 upvotes
udris
By udris (9 months ago)

I just carry the RX100 the phone sits on the table at home

2 upvotes
dpmaxwell
By dpmaxwell (9 months ago)

The shutter lag makes the Nexus 5 unusable for candid shooting - arguably the main use of a smartphone. I just spent a day at Disneyland and got absolutely zero usable pictures from this phone. I was tempted to throw it in the trash on a couple of occasions.

0 upvotes
Eric Hensel
By Eric Hensel (9 months ago)

That's useful info --I have the same problem with my Samsung Victory (Virgin)

0 upvotes
sheckwel
By sheckwel (9 months ago)

In good lighting situation the Nexus 5 can take great images, I prefer the images coming from my nexus 5 than my HTC ONE, have them both!

0 upvotes
Zlik
By Zlik (9 months ago)

"Google turns its attention to imaging on new Nexus 5"

and then further down, I read: "1/3.2-inch sensor"

Too bad.

1 upvote
phillipmai
By phillipmai (8 months ago)

It is shocking this could be considered attention to imaging, it is worse than my galaxy nexus.

0 upvotes
Warrenkerr
By Warrenkerr (9 months ago)

Volume up or down works as a Shutter button :)

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (9 months ago)

yes, like virtually every Android phone, we say that in the review, but it's not the same as a dedicated shutter with half-press

1 upvote
Odsagn
By Odsagn (8 months ago)

Would be nice to get an update on this review with the new firmware (4.2.2).

It has many fixes and improves camera quality and function.

Thanks.

Sorry, comment is in the wrong place.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Total comments: 31
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