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Super Shootout: Samsung Galaxy S4 vs HTC One vs Apple iPhone 5 vs Nokia Lumia 920

148

 

2013 is still young but has been an interesting year so far in terms of mobile image capture. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona a number of devices, all of them running the Android operating system and boasting 13MP camera modules, were announced. This includes the Sony Xperia Z, the ZTE Grand S, Huawei Ascend D2 and Lenovo K900. In March Samsung followed with their new flagship device, the Galaxy S4.

While Samsung is betting on a 13MP horse, HTC, the second largest manufacturer of Android devices, is going the opposite way, equipping its HTC One top-end phone with an unusually low resolution 4MP sensor with large photosites (which HTC calls "ultrapixels") and optical image stabilization (OIS) which, in theory, should result in improved low light capabilities.

However, Google's Android OS is of course not your only option if you are currently in the market for a smartphone with good imaging capabilities. Apple's iPhone 5 and the Nokia Lumia 920 have been on the market for a while and successors are no doubt in the pipeline, but for now these devices are more than valid options for iOS and Windows Phone users, respectively.

Arguably the most interesting new Android devices, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One are finally available for purchase - and crucially at last in our office - so we put them head-to-head with the established competition from Apple and Nokia. Here is an overview of our competitors in this shootout and their key photographic specifications:

PhoneSensorApertureOptical IS Focal length*Aspect ratio
 Samsung Galaxy S4  13MP CMOS  F2.2  no  31mm  4:3
 HTC One  4MP CMOS  F2.0  yes  28mm  16:9
 Apple iPhone 5  8MP CMOS  F2.4  no  33mm  4:3
 Nokia Lumia 920  8MP CMOS  F2.0  yes  26mm  16:9

*35mm equivalent

For the purpose of this shootout we have taken sample images in a variety of "real-life" situations and in our controlled studio environment. This article comprises of four pages with the following content:

Landscape

This shot was taken in bright sunlight with all cameras in Auto ISO and White Balance modes. The phones were mounted on a tripod using an iStabilizer smartphone holder and all images where shot from the same position.

Samsung Galaxy S4, ISO 50
Apple iPhone 5, ISO 50
HTC One, ISO 107
Nokia Lumia 920, ISO 100

Looking at the four samples above there are some obvious differences in terms of contrast and saturation. The Samsung, HTC and Nokia all produce very saturated and contrasty images, with the Nokia almost going slightly over the top. The iPhone captures a more natural image, with less saturated colors and visibly lower contrast.

Samsung Galaxy S4, 100% crop
Apple iPhone 5, 100% crop
HTC One, 100% crop
Nokia Lumia 920, 100% crop

Looking at the 100% crops, the difference in pixel count between the cameras becomes very obvious. The HTC One looks the sharpest at a pixel-level but this is due to a combination of the low pixel count and pretty strong sharpening. However, with its 13MP sensor the Samsung, at least in good light, simply captures more detail.

All the cameras here struggle with low-contrast detail, even at low ISOs and in good light. This is very visible on all the trees and foliage in the scene. However, the Nokia's mix of heavy noise reduction and sharpening looks worse than the rest up close. The Apple and Samsung arguably offer the best balance between noise reduction and sharpening here. The S4's sharpening is still quite strong but in good light its 13MP CMOS captures the most detail in this comparison (by a whisker).

Portrait (Shade)

This outdoor portrait was shot hand-held in the shade, with consistent camera-subject distance. Again, all cameras were set to Auto ISO and White Balance and as you can below, the light was bright enough for all devices to select base ISO (or close to it in the case of the HTC One).

 Samsung Galaxy S4, ISO 50
Apple iPhone 5, ISO 50
HTC One, ISO 102
 Nokia Lumia 920, ISO 100

In these portraits we can see the same differences in saturation and contrast as in the landscape shot above, but there is also some exposure variance. The HTC has produced a darker image than the rest while the iPhone's image is the brightest. In this light situation Auto White Balance has produced a slightly blue cast on all images.

 Samsung Galaxy S4, 100% crop
Apple iPhone 5, 100% crop
HTC One, 100% crop
Nokia Lumia 920, 100% crop

Despite all devices keeping the sensitivity low in this low contrast situation, all images suffer from a loss of fine detail through noise reduction. The sharpening on both the Nokia and HTC is very strong, resulting in a punchy but slightly unnatural look. Again, the iPhone and Samsung show a better balance of noise reduction and sharpening, but ultimately the Samsung captures slightly more image information than the Apple device.

Portrait (Sunlight)

This is another portrait shot, taken hand-held in bright sunlight, to see how the cameras deal with skin tones in contrasty lighting conditions. Again, all cameras were set to Auto modes.

 Samsung Galaxy S4, ISO 50
Apple iPhone 5, ISO 50
HTC One, ISO 114
 Nokia Lumia 920, ISO 100

Again, the HTC captures a slightly darker image than the iPhone with the Samsung and Nokia falling in between, but overall exposure is within acceptable limits on all devices.

Samsung Galaxy S4, 100% crop
Apple iPhone 5, 100% crop
HTC One, 100% crop
Nokia Lumia 920, 100% crop

All cameras struggle with the bright highlights caused by the reflection of the sun on the subject's skin. On the Samsung, Apple and Nokia the red channel is clipping, resulting in blown out areas on the skin. The Apple iPhone is the worst offender here. The HTC One, on the other hand, is the only camera here to capture most of the highlight detail which indicates that its large photosites can capture an additional amount of highlight range over the higher resolution competition.

Comments

Total comments: 148
12
joseluismx
By joseluismx (Apr 24, 2013)

The iPhone5 looks great. I'm a Galaxy S3 owner and I'm biased towards Android, but the landscape photo looks so much better from the iPhone than the rest. Every detail is better. The S4 has a weird defect, it seems. If you look at the left part of the horizontal thing from the crane, it looks almost blurred out. The iPhone renders it perfectly. Even the mountains in the background look great in the iPhone. The S4 seems to use too much NR even at base ISO, so the details are gone.

In the Portraits (sunlight) and flash photos, the iPhone seems to be overexposed.

If I wanted a camera-phone, I'd go with the iPhone. For everything else, I'd go with Samsung's features.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
meanwhile
By meanwhile (Apr 25, 2013)

Does the iPhone have controls for flash strength? If yes, that could just be turned down so it's not so overpowering.

0 upvotes
dgr4forum
By dgr4forum (Apr 24, 2013)

Long time dpreview reader, I'm trully surprised by the rather poor quality of this article, guess that's as much as we can hope for in "the blog".

First of all comparing "per pixel" resolution (100% crops) with so different sensor sizes makes simply so little sense... Would have loved to see the same comparison where all contenders were shown resized at HTC's One sensor crop-size. That at least gives you a proper base for comparison (assuming you resize with some decent software).

Then again, with all pictures shot in full auto, you could have at least noticed that in some cases the smartphones were simply not focusing in the same points.

And then again, what use for the low-light studio test when mounted on a tripod for something like a SmartPhone which noone in the world can hold still ? It could sure lead to misleading folks on actual performance, because that one they'll ever see in real life.

2 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 24, 2013)
  1. At dpreview we have always compared images at their original size. Arguments can be made for looking at the images in both ways but we think the original size tells you more. That said, we offer all original images for download, so you can resample to any size you want and see what they look like.
  2. All these sensors are the same size, what's different is the pixel count.
  3. On these phones Auto Mode means ISO, exposure and WB are set automatically. You still set the focus point by tapping on the screen and that's of course what we did.
  4. Our studio test is a test in a controlled environment and therefore the phone has to be mounted on a tripod to get any meaningful results (and even frame correctly). The real-world shots on the other hand are mostly shot hand-held, so just look at those if you don't like the studio ones.
  5. Just because you don't use a tripod with your phone don't assume nobody else is doing it. I do it all the time (a mini-tripod to be fair) :-)
6 upvotes
PeterH345
By PeterH345 (10 months ago)

With the iPhone 5 I usually use HDR and it makes a huge improvement in contrasty scenes. It would have avoided the blown out highlights in the indoor portrait for example. The only drawback is the longer time to process images slowing shot-to-shot speed.
Also the panorama mode is brilliant and gives much higher res images (about 25 megapixel) as it scans in portrait mode and stitches flawlessly.
Thanks for the review.

0 upvotes
spacebar2012
By spacebar2012 (Apr 24, 2013)

An update to the international HTC One arrived just a few hours ago and is being reported as having fixed a lot of colour, sharpening and exposure issues. Just wanted to put this piece of info out here.

Edit: Damn, bloodycape beat me to it. ;)

Comment edited 31 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 24, 2013)

Yes, that update was just too late for our test. That said, with dpreview being base din the US we are using the US version of the device. We'll have to wait and see when we get an update for the US version and will then assess if there are any significant differences.

2 upvotes
spacebar2012
By spacebar2012 (11 months ago)

Hopefully, you'd update the article when you get the update?

1 upvote
bloodycape
By bloodycape (Apr 24, 2013)

I'd like to see how much of a difference the just released firmware for the international versions of the HTC One would fair. It's suppose to improve noise reduction and speed.

3 upvotes
tvstaff
By tvstaff (Apr 24, 2013)

I was expecting more from the Samsung. Too bad

0 upvotes
Redteg94
By Redteg94 (Apr 25, 2013)

It seems to have the best performance of the group overall, where is it not meeting expectations?

0 upvotes
67gtonr
By 67gtonr (Apr 24, 2013)

I was expecting the video functions to be tested as well, any plans to do this?

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 24, 2013)

As you probably you know there definitely going to be videos in the full reviews (and there already are for the iPhone and Lumia 920) but we'll need to see if we can organize a similar shootout for video...we need to find some consistently moving subjects around here first :-)

1 upvote
keeponkeepingon
By keeponkeepingon (Apr 25, 2013)

Isn't Seattle supposed to get daily 10 mile long trains hauling coal for china? When they start that up , you can just sit at a railway crossing and shoot comparisons 4evah

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 25, 2013)

Yep, that still hasn't been approved though (luckily?

0 upvotes
Michael Ma
By Michael Ma (Apr 24, 2013)

I thought the iPhone 5 would do better. Still prefer iPhone 5 over HTC and Nokia's useless oversharpened images. Oversharpening is a deal-breaker if you can't disable it.

1 upvote
Cailean Gallimore
By Cailean Gallimore (Apr 24, 2013)

Bring on the Trolls.

0 upvotes
67gtonr
By 67gtonr (Apr 24, 2013)

Handheld indoors, that is how most cell phone pictures are taken! I have never seen anyone use a tripod on a cell phone it really seems that you attempted to skew the tests as much to favor the iPhone as much as you could. The results in the real world of cell phone use put the Lumia above the others with the S4 a close second.

2 upvotes
Michael Ma
By Michael Ma (Apr 24, 2013)

For me, it's about 60% outdoors, 40% indoors. Also, tripods don't matter too much. And the low light results are real life representations of pictures you get handheld. Phones of the last 2 years seem to make the assumption you have shaky hands and all default to really high ISO's at the hint of low light to make the shutter speed as fast as possible.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 24, 2013)

well, in this test only the Samsung seems to do that.

1 upvote
67gtonr
By 67gtonr (Apr 25, 2013)

I believe two of the cameras feature OIS and it is my understanding that OIS and tripods do not mix well, so using an artificial situation such as a tripod is truly unfair to two of the phones.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 25, 2013)

On the HTC you can switch it off which we did for the tripod-shots. On the Nokia you can't switch it off but the shots don't show any signs of "IS-on-tripod" trouble that we've seen on some cameras we used on a tripod. It seems the IS is intelligent enough to detect when there is no camera movement.

2 upvotes
the mono eye
By the mono eye (Apr 24, 2013)

I'll personally view this review with a pinch of salt. I don't think it accurately represent the real situation of image output, especially for the iPhone and Lumia, they certainly can do better than that if you know what you are doing. If this test was not taken with the focus point tapped on the same spot, then it is even meaningless to read.

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 24, 2013)

of course we focused on the same thing, apart from the night scene where we tried to get the exposures as close as possible but with these phones almost indefinite DoF focus is not that much of an issue with a landscape shot.

7 upvotes
Bon K
By Bon K (Apr 24, 2013)

I am pretty certain that the reviewers know what they are doing, probably much more so than the people who would be using the phones.

Comment edited 57 seconds after posting
8 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 24, 2013)

Hey Bon K, I like your comment, we need more of those :-)

5 upvotes
Redteg94
By Redteg94 (Apr 25, 2013)

In what way is the article not representing the "real situation of image output"?

There are both handheld and tripod shots in good light and bad light, tests in contrasty light and shade and a flash test. All are on their default settings, same focus point chosen, etc.

What else must be done exactly?

1 upvote
the mono eye
By the mono eye (Apr 25, 2013)

It's not mentioned clearly in the review on the testing condition (or i have missed it somewhere), therefore I have doubt on the result initially. Now since the moderator has cleared the testing condition, then I will be able to know better how to judge on the result. There has been a lot of comparison review out there which are having all sorts of result and own interpretation, therefore I'm being a little skeptical on which result to be taken seriously and which is not.

0 upvotes
SHood
By SHood (Apr 24, 2013)

What a smearfest. Even the HTC with the much larger pixels completely smears the woman's hair and this is with good light at low ISO. Either not enough processing power or poor software.

I don't see a phone replacing my compact for a long while unless a phone can output to RAW.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
2 upvotes
Jon Rty
By Jon Rty (Apr 24, 2013)

I find it very disappointing that the test doesn't take different focal-lengths in to account. Looking at 100% crops is very misleading when the focal-lengths vary from 26mm to 33mm. Naturally the longer focal-length will show more detail of a subject in the crop, considering that the magnification is higher.

2 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 24, 2013)

This is accounted for in the studio shots. The real-life shots were all taken from the same position because that's arguably what you would do in real life. You cannot walk over that cliff just to match the focal length :-)

3 upvotes
GabrielZ
By GabrielZ (Apr 24, 2013)

I thought the iPhone's camera would perform a lot better than it did here. Overall it seems to be worst than the others.

3 upvotes
TheProv
By TheProv (Apr 24, 2013)

Day Galaxy S4, night Lumia 920. End of games.

If I had to do only a name, Lumia 920. Even if in the morning light it doesn't perform well, thanks to CRAZY nokia's noise-reduction and sharpening algoritms, it's still more than adequate for web (@2mpx) and little prints.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
7 upvotes
ingram98ab
By ingram98ab (Apr 24, 2013)

If you can buy S4 for daylight and Lumia 920 for night, I say choose one, with the rest of the money buy a camera that will perform better than both, in day and night. It will cost you the same and take the same space, cuse you are still carrying two devices.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
9 upvotes
photoguy622
By photoguy622 (Apr 24, 2013)

Seems to me that I'll be waiting a bit longer until I can truly leave my camera at home for day-to-day shots. I will continue to carry my well loved Canon A570 IS with me wherever I go.

1 upvote
BrianHalcYoN
By BrianHalcYoN (Apr 24, 2013)

Curious what rev firmware is on the Nokia? Recent updates have improved the quite a bit, especially wrt detail.

7 upvotes
WildSammy
By WildSammy (Apr 24, 2013)

what? "We weren't particularly impressed by the Nokia Lumia 920" ? for me the pictures from Nokia looks the best from the rest of junk..

Comment edited 46 seconds after posting
12 upvotes
spacebar2012
By spacebar2012 (Apr 24, 2013)

Try harder next time.

5 upvotes
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (Apr 25, 2013)

Then you've found your next phone. I found them over-processed to a distracting degree. Oversharpened, too contrasty, just ugly. The HTC images lack detail, but are otherwise quite pleasant. For a phone, less detail is fine with me. I have a real camera for serious photography. The phone just needs to give nice-looking low-res pictures for viewing right on the phone, or on a Facebook update. The HTC has plenty of detail for pictures of my dinner. But overall the Samsung seems the most capable. I was very surprised the iPhone had so many problems.

3 upvotes
ingram98ab
By ingram98ab (Apr 26, 2013)

i guess that implies it just delivered the picture quality spected from a smartphone... wich, being the best right now, is still not impressing

0 upvotes
Goodmeme
By Goodmeme (Apr 24, 2013)

Interesting review. As you can tell from previous posts I will - unless they change unexpectedly to be a much more open system - never buy Apple, yet the iphone appears to have much nicer noise characteristics than even the large sensor HTC.

I'm currently happy with my Samsung Note, and don't want to change. But I hope HTC continues to put pressure on competitors with larger sensors. Still they need to sort out the noise characteristics in my opinion. The only night shot I liked was Apple's though it pains me to admit it! :)

Edited to add: Scratch that, just looked at the actual photos and Apple's is way underexposed as you point out. The HTC is very good. It looks like my first digital camera Olympus C8080 would have at ISO 400!

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
peevee1
By peevee1 (Apr 26, 2013)

" But I hope HTC continues to put pressure on competitors with larger sensors."

They don't have larger sensors. They only have fewer pixels. Only Nokia 808 has larger sensor.

2 upvotes
vlad0
By vlad0 (Apr 26, 2013)

And the N8

1 upvote
Total comments: 148
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