Super Shootout: Samsung Galaxy S4 vs HTC One vs Apple iPhone 5 vs Nokia Lumia 920
4 Studio Scene (Low Light) & Conclusion
Like the night scene on page 2 our low light studio test scene triggers very different exposure values on the cameras. The Samsung prioritizes faster shutter speeds in order to avoid camera shake and combines a 1/30 sec exposure with ISO 2000. The HTC, Nokia and iPhone all opt for 1/15 and keep the ISO in the same ballpark (HTC: 445, Nokia: 640, iPhone: 500). That said, with hand-held shooting this approach should work better, at least for static subjects, on the HTC and Nokia which both come with optical image stabilization. The Apple has to make do without this feature which means you're more likely to end up with camera-shake induced blur in your low-light images. Like in the night scene, the iPhone also has produced a slightly darker exposure than the competition.
Given the high ISO level it's no surprise the Samsung image shows the most noise and noise reduction artifacts in this comparison. However, its high pixel count still means that, at least in high contrast areas of the frame, it shows more detail than its rivals. This is easy to see in the vertical resolution bars in our test scene. The iPhone does a decent job at preserving some low-contrast detail. The images rendition is pleasant with grainy luminance noise and very little chroma noise. The Nokia image is extremely soft, with all low-contrast detail gone. The HTC image is a touch brighter than the rest and relatively clean but the low 4MP pixel count means it can't capture any additional detail over the Samsung or Apple.
Looking at the samples on the previous pages and above it is clear that not even these high-end smartphones can keep up with decent dedicated compact cameras. Nevertheless there is no doubt that mobile devices are getting better at capturing images with every generation and the phones in this comparison are arguably among the best you can currently get for this purpose.
None of the devices in this shootout are good at everything. So, if you're planning to take a lot of pictures with your smartphone, you should be clear about where your priorities are. With its 13MP sensor the Samsung Galaxy S4 clearly produces most detail in good light and shows a good overall performance. In low light the S4 tends to opt for higher ISOs than the competition, but in turn that gets you faster shutter speeds and the sensor still captures more detail than the rivals. Having 13MP to start with also means that at equalized viewing sizes the Samsung's higher noise levels will be much less noticeable than at a 100% view. That is important to keep in mind considering that almost all smartphone images are reduced in size for editing and/or sharing. The Samsung's flash performance is decent too and exposure is usually spot on.
The iPhone 5 is still a good option for mobile photographers, with good detail capture and pleasant image rendition in both bright and lower light. However, we were not impressed by the blown highlights in both our sunlight and flash portraits. The Apple device also tends to select very slow shutter speeds in low light which, given the lack of an optical image stabilization system, can lead to shaky images.
The HTC One has put a lot of focus on camera performance and while it generally produces pleasant exposures, the lack of resolution in bright light might be too much for some users. That said, it did very well in capturing the highlights in our sunlight portrait.
The fast lens combined with optical image stabilization means the HTC is a good device for capturing low light scenes -- if you can live with the 4MP output. You also need to keep in mind that the slow shutter speeds in low light won't be useful for capturing moving subjects. Flash performance is definitely one of the HTC's strengths. It did well in our comparison but we've also taken a number of flash exposure while working on our upcoming full review and found its performance impressive. The HTC is arguably the best mobile device for flash photography we've seen so far.
We weren't particularly impressed by the Nokia Lumia 920's image processing in any lighting condition but, like the HTC, its fast lens and optical image stabilization mean the Lumia's strength lies in low light capture. However, some of that advantage is diminished by the Nokia's very strong noise reduction which results in very soft images. That said, like the HTC, the Nokia is a device to look at if you are taking a lot of flash images as it did very well in that comparison.
We are currently working on our full reviews of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, so watch this space. Please read our full reviews of the Nokia Lumia 920 and Apple iPhone 5 for more information about the cameras in those devices. If you are a BlackBerry user you might find our review of the brand new BlackBerry Z10 worth reading.
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