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Image Quality and Performance

Most users will not base their smartphone buying decisions exclusively on camera performance and if the new Blackberry 10 operating system is right for you will depend on a lot of factors, many of them non-imaging related. However, we can say that with its dual-core 1.5 GHz processor and 2GB of RAM, the Z10’s general performance is snappy and with 16GB of on-board memory and a microSD card slot, storage isn’t a problem. The BB10 operating system is stable and runs smoothly, though we did encounter a couple inexplicable overnight battery drains, possible linked to the phone trying to sync over Wi-Fi. 

We also encountered some bugginess in the camera app. Several times during testing, the app would reopen as a black screen. Apparently it continued to function; you could still take pictures, though you wouldn’t see anything on screen. Shutting down the app completely in the BB10 Active Frames view (essentially its task manager and app switcher) and restarting it fixes the problem. It’s a small issue, but disappointing nonetheless. We'd expect this to get fixed with an update soon though.

The camera is quite responsive. It opens reasonably quickly. Shutter lag is very short, which contributes to the overall nimble feeling, but you have to remember that the camera will take a picture immediately, whether or not it’s locked focus. So you can end up with an out-of-focus image if you're too quick pulling the trigger.

Autofocus speed is not impressive but certainly acceptable. It’s accurate in good light, and falls off a bit in lower light. On the whole, it’s largely reliable and predictable. Shot-to-shot times, at around three-quarters of second, are decent but some Android phones such as the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S3 have much faster shot-to-shot times. Like most phones, the Z10 annoyingly exhibits “early shutter penalty,” meaning that if you press the shutter before the camera is ready to fire again, it ignores you rather than immediately taking a picture when it can.

Daylight, Low ISO

In good light the Z10 delivers solid results that look good at screen and web resolutions but also bear up under magnification. Its noise reduction is notably restrained, which avoids some of the smeariness and loss of low contrast detail that typically plagues phone cameras. This means a fair amount of noise is visible at base ISO in areas without masking detail like blue skies. In our opinion, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff. 

The automatic white balance is reasonably accurate, which is a good thing since there’s no manual override. Colors tend to be highly saturated as it is often the case on phone cameras. In the Blackberry camera app image parameters such as saturation, sharpness or contrast cannot be modified.

The Z10’s lens offers good sharpness, with minimal softness in the corners. Given the lack of an exposure compensation feature it's good to know the Z10’s auto exposure system is generally doing a good job.

In good light, the Z10 produces pleasing output. A fair amount of low contrast detail is preserved, a testament to the camera’s restrained noise reduction.
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The flipside of low-key noise reduction is that noise is visible at base ISO in areas of plain color such as blue skies.
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The Z10 delivers pleasant and natural  skin tones.
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Like many phones, the Z10 tends toward highly saturated colors. This adds some pop to images, but when a sky is already electric blue in real life, the results can be a bit over the top.
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Dynamic range is limited for all cameras with small sensors, and the Z10 is no exception: this image has lost data in both the highlights and shadows. This is why HDR modes are so useful on phones (though in a scene full of movement like this, most HDR implementations would produce ghosting artifacts).
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Low Light, High ISO

There’s no manual ISO control in the native camera app and the highest ISO the camera uses is 800, a stop or two behind much of the competition. Of course, anyone can crank a sensor to insane ISOs and call it a feature: what matters is the output. Perhaps we’re being optimistic, but we think the Z10 could do ISO 1600 without completely embarrassing itself.

The thing is, when the lights go down, the Z10 turns in a decidedly mixed performance. It’s not a simple story of nasty high ISO performance. Not all noise is created equal, and in some cases the Z10’s noise has a tight, film-like grain that, while abundant, is less intrusive than you’d expect. This is probably another testament to the camera’s light-handed noise reduction: the resulting speckles often look better than the smeary aggressive noise reduction that most phones deploy. This means that certain lighting conditions and subjects lead to very satisfactory ISO 800 performance. For example, portraits can often stand a loss of detail and remain subjectively pleasing.

But sensor noise does obscure a lot of detail as the Z10’s sensitivity cranks up. Worse, in dark areas of the frame, the camera sometimes produces nasty banding noise, which looks like pale horizontal stripes (in landscape orientation). It’s hard to predict when they’ll make an appearance, and they’re sometimes visible at lower ISOs as well. They’re more pronounced towards the sides of the frame, and obviously stand out more when there’s a lack of concealing detail in the image. 

The Z10’s other low light limitation is that a minimal shutter speed of 1/15th sec coupled with a maximum ISO of 800 isn’t always enough to get a decent exposure, even with the fast F2.2 lens. Switching to the Night scene mode with its 1/9th sec exposure floor helps in these instances, but at such slow shutter speeds both hand and subject movement becomes problematic. A mini-tripod is a very desirable accessory to at least reduce the hand-shake factor.

At ISO 348 with enough light for a proper exposure, the Z10 handles this scene well. Colors are still rich and there’s plenty of detail. However, ugly noise banding is visible in the lower left corner, even at this relatively low ISO.
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Quite a bit of detail is obscured by noise in this ISO 800 image, but it is not grotesquely smeared by noise reduction. Close examination reveals some blotchy chroma noise, but it’s not terribly intrusive at normal magnifications.
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This bar-level lighting just isn’t enough to illuminate the subject at the Z10’s maximum exposure in the Auto scene mode. We could have used the Night mode and risked blurring. That said, this image could be considered aesthetically satisfying (especially with a brightness bump in the gallery editor), and noise is under control.
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At ISO 800 with a lot of detail to capture and low light levels, it’s clear how much noise is stepping on detail.
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Comments

Total comments: 26
write2alan
By write2alan (1 month ago)

I just picked up a new Z10 for $200 CAD with no strings attached and very impressed with the phone and its features. The camera is decent. The newest updated OS (Blackberry is Linux based) can run most Android apps. LOL....
Mr. Chen did listen and he should have done this years ago! Maybe Google didn't let them make their phones Android compatible at the time.

0 upvotes
eveningaccessories
By eveningaccessories (Apr 25, 2013)

I definitely like the camera shortcut. Who wants to fumble around when you're anxious to take a picture. My current camera delays until the focus is correct so I think that is good in a phone also. Limited options are good for me. Too many and I can't remember what's what.

0 upvotes
eveningaccessories
By eveningaccessories (Apr 25, 2013)

You've given a good description of the Blackberry. It looks very sleek, comfortable and functional. I would certainly consider buying one.

0 upvotes
eveningaccessories
By eveningaccessories (Apr 25, 2013)

Thank you for this review. Blackberry has always been through of as a serious phone but I guess lately has become less popular. Its good to see them get back in the running. A good camera should help.

0 upvotes
Tom Goodman
By Tom Goodman (Apr 22, 2013)

I'd like to amend the now famous maxim that "the best camera you own is the one you have with you" to read "the best camera...except those built into cellphones."

3 upvotes
T3
By T3 (Apr 22, 2013)

Plenty of people are taking great pictures with phone cameras these days. The maxim still holds true. Just take a look at the various Flickr iPhone photo galleries:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/throughthelensofaniphone/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lumixm43/8655228068/

I've seen far worse photography done with much more advanced DSLRs.

1 upvote
Tom Goodman
By Tom Goodman (Apr 22, 2013)

Not convinced.

1 upvote
T3
By T3 (Apr 22, 2013)

@Tom Goodman, you're not convinced because you're probably one of those crazy pixel peepers who can't enjoy a photo unless you're scrutinizing it at 100% magnification in Photoshop! Hahaha. Well, hate to break it to you, but out in the REAL world, people don't look at photos that way. Ultimately, today more than ever, the actual image is far more important than the device you used to capture the image. That's what photography is really about-- the photo, not the device. But alas, there are people like you who just don't get it, and think photography is more about the equipment than the actual photo.

2 upvotes
Tom Goodman
By Tom Goodman (Apr 22, 2013)

You are wrong on every count. Indeed, cellphone camera zealots like yourself are the ones who believe equipment is all. Throwing around phrases like "pixel peeper" reveals your true orientation. I have never used it myself. Throwing around assertions about what "photography is really about" only reveals your own insecurities...or hubris!

1 upvote
Eric Hensel
By Eric Hensel (Apr 23, 2013)

The problem is, Tom, whether or not your original post is correct --it's irrelevant

1 upvote
T3
By T3 (Apr 23, 2013)

Tom, I'll say it again: it's about the photos. I could care less about what someone uses to create a photo. I use Canon FF and APS-C DSLR bodies, an Oly m4/3, various compact P&S cameras, and yes, a smartphone camera, too. Doesn't matter, I've gotten wonderful, memorable, cherished photos from all of them. Like I said, it's about the photos, not the device. Open up your mind. Sadly, narrow minds have narrow ideas, hence your comment that I am a cellphone camera "zealot"! Haha. Yes, someone who says that it's about the photos, not the device, is a cellphone camera "zealot". Hahaha! Absurd.

I stand by my assertion that "the best camera is the one you have with you" still holds truer than ever. But only a device "zealot" would say something like "...except those built into cellphones"...especially in the face of evidence to the contrary:

http://www.mobilephotoawards.com/slideshow.php

The pictures say it all.

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 9 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Anepo
By Anepo (May 31, 2013)

If you plan on repeating chase jarvis's famous line, then please at least get it f*****g right!

0 upvotes
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (Apr 22, 2013)

Daylight images are very good for a smartphone! More or less same quality as the best smartphones (iPhone 5 and GS3/4).
In low light, that's another story... at the moment only smartphones with optical stabilizer (the 920 and the HTC One) can deliver decent results (but the 920 has serious problems in daylight...).

0 upvotes
mr_landscape
By mr_landscape (Apr 22, 2013)

I do not understand dpreview team! For what sake they review mobile phones with crippled camera abilities? There are MANY dedicated cameras and lenses that completely out of the coverage.

2 upvotes
nima66999
By nima66999 (Apr 22, 2013)

tnx

0 upvotes
andreas2
By andreas2 (Apr 22, 2013)

I bought a camera and all I got is this phone.

0 upvotes
captura
By captura (Apr 21, 2013)

BB has indicated that the OS from the 10 will be going into their Playbook tablet, eventually. Those of us who have a Playbook would like to know when.

0 upvotes
knize10
By knize10 (Apr 21, 2013)

Tomorrow's junk.

5 upvotes
andreas2
By andreas2 (Apr 22, 2013)

Include every piece of electronic equipment you have ever bought.

2 upvotes
raimaster
By raimaster (Apr 21, 2013)

Ouch do you use Z10 from Verizon for this test?? its bad, really bad because it has the oldest OS. Try the newer ones from AT&T or Canada carrier or event download the latest OS. There is many improvement, Yes, Z10 has HDR mode, it has also stabilization shooting mode (my fave mode), - check it out nice shot by Z10:
http://jtinseoul.wordpress.com/

Comment edited 6 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 21, 2013)

It's got a stabilization mode but not optical stabilization which is a big difference. Once an update is available we will have a look at that HDR mode.

4 upvotes
raimaster
By raimaster (Apr 21, 2013)

Firstly i really want to know which OS version dpr team use for this test? Second, its bit too early to make a test because new OS 10.1 just leaked yesterday (you can download it) add. new feature such as HDR and camera improvement even better. Do you want to re-shots again after upgrading the OS? I have Z10 and i think its not below the other smartphone on market today. Few camera application is really good.
BB z10 + app UberIris http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51247925

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 22, 2013)

If we'd always wait for firmware updates we'd never get anything tested. The device is available in the shops, people need to make buying decisions with the current firmware and that's what we are testing with, not something that "got leaked" today.

3 upvotes
dpLarry
By dpLarry (Apr 22, 2013)

True. That's why the camera reviews are alot faster now.

2 upvotes
raimaster
By raimaster (Apr 22, 2013)

Oh no way, once you buy from another carriers today (except Verizon) the newer OS is already there to download. Published since last month i guess. Why it is important? because you will have Z10 with overall much better performance and slightly better in low light shooting.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
RC
By RC (Apr 22, 2013)

You are talking beta firmware (or is it even alpha?) and I am pretty sure that DPR used the latest standard firmware for their test, which would be a V 10.0.xx firmware. I have the Z10 and I also own the iPhone 5, Galaxy Note II and the latest HTC One and the Z10 has by far the worst camera. It isn't bad for snapshots, not at all but comparing it to the mentioned other phones I own, it lacks a lot of quality. DPR is right and you cannot expect DPR to test an alpha/beta build or even wait for the "next big" firmware update. This is ridiculous. Btw: My Z10 has the latest 10.0.10.99 (Vodafone) firmware.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Total comments: 26
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