Compact smartphone shootout: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact vs HTC One Mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
Outdoor Scene - Sunny
The picture of this cathedral was taken on a sunny and bright day. All devices do a decent job at capturing the scene but the Sony produces a slightly brighter exposure than the HTC and Samsung. The latter's color response is visibly the warmest out of these samples and the HTC produces the most saturated result. The Sony and Samsung cover pretty much an identical field of view but with its 28mm equivalent focal length the HTC One Mini is visibly wider. This can be advantageous for landscape and architectural photography but is arguably not ideal for portraits.
The combination of bright light and fast fixed apertures means that all phones shoot at base ISO in this test, only in its 8MP mode the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact chose up to ISO 64 for no apparent reason. It's not making a visible difference in the image though.
When looking at the 100% crops below differences in detail capture become visible. With its 20.7MP sensor the Sony resolves more detail than the competitors, but as you can see in the trees to the right or in some of the fine brickwork of the building, even in these very good light conditions the Z1 compact struggles with low-contrast detail. Like with the original Xperia Z1 close-up, the image looks a little too processed, with sharpening artifacts and noise-like artifacts in areas of plain color. There's also a little softness toward the left edge of the frame but overall the Sony lens is pretty sharp across the frame.
Sony's 8MP file shows less detail than the larger variant but in turn also looks a little cleaner. It's therefore arguably the better option if you can live with the 16:9 aspect ratio and don't need a 20MP file.
The Samsung lens is sharp across the frame too, and close-up the image is cleaner than the Sony. This is at least partly due to more heavy-handed noise reduction which also leads to a loss of fine detail and an overall softer appearance than the Sony.
The HTC delivers by far the worst performance in this test. Its 4MP sensor captures visibly less detail than the competitors and there is a lot of noise in areas of plain color, for example the blue sky. There is more luminance noise (grain) than in the Sony or Samsung image, but also purple chroma noise speckles which really should not be the case in an image that was taken in bright light conditions. To top it off there is also some noticeable softness in the bottom left corner.
Overall the Sony delivers the best detail in this scene and we also prefer its exposure and color rendition over the Samsung and HTC. If you don't need the 20MP of the manual mode you get a little less detail but an overall cleaner image in its 8MP mode.
Outdoor Scene - Overcast
This image was taken on an overcast and cloudy day but thanks to the phones' fixed fast-aperture lenses all cameras can easily stick to base ISO and still achieve very fast shutter speeds. Again there are minor differences in exposure and color. The HTC image is the brightest which has led to a few clipped highlights in the sky. The Samsung and Sony are pretty close to each other, but the Samsung again delivers a warmer color response.
When zooming in to 100% we can see very similar results to the sample above. The Sony delivers decent detail in its 20MP mode but captures a cleaner 8MP Auto mode image. The Samsung's noise reduction is visibly stronger than the rest, which takes its toll on low contrast detail, such as the foliage in the tree on the right.
The HTC again produces lower levels of detail than the higher resolution competition. Close-up its image output looks a little over sharpened, with a lot of noise, especially in the shadow areas of the frame, which does not make for a nice combination with the softness around the edges. Overall the Sony again delivers the best performance in this test.
This portrait was taken on a sunny day in the shade with Face Detection activated where available. The Samsung and HTC both produce a warmer image than the Sony. We prefer the latter's more natural rendering of the subjects' skin tones. The HTC again produces a slightly darker exposure than the rest but is still within acceptable limits.
In the 100% crops the differences in skin tone rendering become more obvious, with the Samsung being the warmest of the group. In terms of detail the Sony's 20MP Manual mode clearly beats the rest. The 8MP mode and Samsung are pretty close and the HTC again delivers visibly less fine detail than the competition. The soft edges aren't much of an issue in this image as the subjects are located in the center of the frame, but overall the HTC can't keep up with the Sony and Samsung in good light.
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