Shootout: Sony Xperia Z1 vs Nokia Lumia 1020 vs LG G2 vs Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
These sample portraits below were taken on a bright day in the shade, with the focus on the subject's face. There is some variation in terms of exposure, but overall all devices have handled this high-contrast situation pretty well and exposed for the person in the foreground. Inevitably this leads to highlight-clipping in the sunny background, but this is much preferable to an underexposed subject.
In the shade all devices produce a fairly similar slightly cool response. Only on the Samsung are the skin tones a touch warmer, giving the subject a slightly healthier appearance.
In these bright conditions slow shutter speeds and camera shake are not an issue, so in theory the cameras should be able to capture maximum detail. Despite the low sensitivities all images have visible noise in the shadow areas. The Nokia with its high-resolution sensor is the worst offender in this respect but still captures a lot of detail. The Sony lens is just getting a touch soft in our crop area but overall detail capture is decent, albeit with the same artifacts we saw in our landscape shots.
Both the Samsung and LG show the typical mix of noise reduction and sharpening that we're used to seeing from other mobile devices.
Again it's tough to pick a clear winner for this shot. From an exposure and white balance point of view, the Sony is a good choice, although at a pixel level the image looks overprocessed. The Nokia offers more detail but is also noisy because the metering system selected, unnecessarily, ISO 200 instead of base ISO which would have provided a sufficiently fast shutter speed for this kind of image.
This indoor portrait was taken in a very dim room, with only some evening light coming through the window. A look at the Exif data of these images reveals that the devices follow quite different exposure approaches in lower light situations. The LG produces the brightest image followed by the Sony and the Samsung. The Nokia captures the darkest exposure.
This is reflected in the exposure data. The Galaxy S4 zoom puts a lot of trust in its optical image stabilization system and selects the lowest ISO of 160. In combination with the the Samsung's slow zoom lens this leads to a very slow shutter speed of 1/6th second. The optical image stabilization does a decent job in counteracting camera shake but any subject movement will inevitably lead to blur at such a low shutter speeds.
The LG's bright exposure is achieved through ISO 400 in combination with 1/15 second shutter speed. Like on the Samsung, the OIS works well but the danger of subject blur is high. The Sony selects a faster shutter speed of 1/32, which is made necessary by its lack of an optical image stabilization system, but only the Nokia is fast enough at 1/50 to reliably avoid (moderate) subject blur in these low light scenes.
In terms of image detail the Nokia is the winner in this contest but the Lumia 1020's massive 38MP image also shows a lot of luminance noise when viewed at a 100%. Chroma noise is well under control though. The Samsung, using a lower ISO setting, does a decent job too. There is some more noise reduction smearing than in the Noka image and a little bit of chroma noise in the shadows, but overall the S4 Zoom captures a good image as long as your subject keeps still.
The Sony is not far off but again shows a lot of unpleasant noise artifacts when viewed up close. The LG G2 has produced the softest image, thanks to a mixture of heavy noise reduction and a slow shutter speed.
These flash pictures were taken in a very dark room that was only illuminated by a small amount of evening light shining through a window to the right of the subject. The Sony and LG have to make do with a LED "flash," common on smartphones, while the Nokia and Samsung both come with a much more powerful Xenon flash. Looking at the images below it's easy to spot the difference.
The Nokia Lumia 1020's and Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom's flash units illuminate the scene better, and also do so at lower ISO settings than the competition. In terms of exposure we like the Nokia image best. The scene is well illuminated and has a pleasant, slightly warm cast. The Samsung flash is equally powerful but has gone slightly over the top in terms of output and also produced a cooler, slightly unpleasant, color cast that is typical for many flash images.
Despite the higher ISO the Sony image is a little darker than the rest. The LG had to increase the ISO to 800 to achieve an exposure that is similar to the Nokia's and Samsung's. The LED flashes on the Sony and LG won't be suitable for illuminating larger groups or subjects more than a few feet away from the camera.
High ISO settings combined with slow shutter speeds have a detrimental impact on image detail on the Sony and LG. That said, while the Sony has produced still acceptable results at ISO 800 the LG output is just one blurry mess. In very dark conditions, for example in a dimly lit bar, you might as well leave the G2 in your pocket.
The Nokia and Samsung on the other hand can produce visibly more detail by keeping the ISO down and using faster shutter speeds. Despite the red-eye-effect in our sample, overall we like the Nokia image best in this comparison but the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is an alternative if you need a mobile device for shooting in dimly lit environments.
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