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iPhone 5s camera comparison test

iPhone 5s camera comparison test

I don’t know about you, but I find that one of the most popular topics at parties is what kind of phone we carry and how one-sided the conversation can be if there is a phone preference. Nobody really wants to believe that they bought the lesser phone. Most people just stick with their phone contract and upgrade. Who really takes the time to research the best camera in a smartphone anyway? Well, I did, along with a few friends and here is what we found:

One of the new features of the iPhone 5s is its improved camera with a larger sensor and more pixels. Apple decided this was the best approach to improve its new camera. It’s certainly a much different approach than one of their competitors, Nokia, which went with a 41-megapixel sensor — a number that dwarfs the Apple camera’s 8 megapixels.

Since I don’t have any way to technically compare the quality of the sensors, it seemed best to compare the images each smartphone camera produced.

It was a beautiful day and what appeared to be a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon was testing smartphone cameras. Somehow, the list of cameras grew to the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5, Samsung S4, HTC One and Nokia Lumia 1020. This was the perfect opportunity to see if there was enough reason for me to update from the iPhone 5.

I needed help with this project, as testing so many cameras in a short time was going to be difficult. I asked Allison Sheridan of the NosillaCast Podcast to help me out. I needed her expertise, energy and organization. Also, this would give me a second opinion, plus her husband, Steve, just got the new iPhone 5s.

According to Apple’s marketing, which I wrote about in a previous post, there’s a major upgrade to the new camera using more pixels. I needed to see this for myself.

We decided to shoot in the automatic mode, shooting photographs more like snapshots, to see how the cameras fared. The test included: Outdoor contrast scenes like boats in a marina, colorful flowers; indoor in low light using available light and flash.

The most noticeable difference when we first started was the screen real estate. I am used to the Apple screen, and it’s noticeably smaller. I am certainly ready for a bigger screen when taking and viewing photographs. But that’s not enough to make me change brands just yet.

There were a few technical glitches, which included a way to download photos to the computer for comparison using three different smartphone operating systems: Windows, Android and Apple OS7. Not a problem, but just something we had to work out to conduct our test.

Flowers. The first test was the easiest: Photograph flowers with bright, vibrant color in bright sunlight. We found some fuschia-colored bougainvillea growing along a fence. The iPhone 5s gave the best rendition of colorful flowers with the most detail without blowing out the highlights. It almost gave a slightly muted color, but it was the most accurate. The other cameras were pretty much the same, with more saturation and a lack of detail in the highlights. It was probably most noticeable with the Nokia phone.

Kayaks. Next, it was off to the marina. We spotted two colorful kayaks tied next to a sailboat. This was a great subject, plenty of high contrast along with some deep shadows in the rocks underwater. Again the iPhone 5s was the winner in this category. It performed flawlessly with an automatic exposure, producing the vibrant blue and yellow color of the kayaks, a perfect exposure on the white of the sailboat and great detail of the rocks underwater. The iPhone 5 came in a close second; the Galaxy 4S had the least amount of dynamic range, which looked great until you noticed the rocks disappear in the shadow; the HTC was a little blown out in the highlights; and the Nokia phone seemed to have the worst problem with its automatic exposure, but would have been fine it we had changed the manual exposure compensation.

Jetty. We tried photographing a scene which included rocks at the jetty with boats in the background. This is a typical photograph you might take on vacation and should be no problem for most smartphones. The Nokia Lumia 1020 was the winner here. It seemed to shine the most in well-lighted scenes with a blue sky. It also produced the most detail as we zoomed into the photographs. The other phone’s images were very close, but we had a difficult time with the Galaxy S4 — it locked up and needed to be rebooted. As we looked closer at the HTC One image we noticed noise artifacts in the blue ocean.

Low light. Now we are getting to my least favorite categories after viewing the results. I guess my expectations are still high after looking at the marketing of these cameras. While there are promises of great low-light photography with  more pixels and faster lenses, the improvements are slight compared to previous versions. The iPhone 5s did the best and is an improvement over the earlier iPhone 5 model. Again, not enough to make me upgrade just for the camera. Most of the photographs were dark, with only fair color balance. The Samsung looks the worst, producing a very grainy image. We did try the manual exposure compensation with the Nokia 1020 and it made an amazing difference. It proved that with a little work and exploring the controls with each camera, you can really improve your images.

Flash photography. It’s the best of the worst here. It only went downhill with this test. I guess I expect too much from these cameras, but they do call them smartphones. The iPhone 5s with its dual flash system produced the best results. The others ranged from a green to pink to a yellow cast over the image.

Here are the results after testing the cameras:

1-iPhone 5s
2-Nokia
3-iPhone 5
4-Samsung S4
5-HTC One

After spending two days shooting and then reviewing the photographs, the results were unanimous: Overall the iPhone 5s proved to produce the most high-quality images using the automatic setting. Realistically, this will be the way most people will use the camera. The Nokia placed second; it took great outdoor photos especially with a typical setting with lots of blue sky or water. If you used the manual setting, it produced some great images with fine detail. It was just a little inconsistent with its color balance, especially in low light.

The iPhone 5 was close, coming in third, with nice results which are good enough to keep me from upgrading just for the camera. Of course, the fingerprint unlock feature and faster processor have me tempted.

Overall the Samsung S4 produced consistent images in bright light with its nice large screen. It was the weakest in low light.

The HTC One images were fine for a smartphone, but we noticed small artifact noise in the water of the outdoor photographs, which dropped it in the standing.

Most noticeable for me is how weak these cameras scored in low light and the flash when compared to most compact cameras. I also miss an optical telephoto lens. It will be tough for me to use my smartphone for all my snapshots. I still turn to my high-quality compact camera for many of my photographs. Check out the results below from our tests.

Flowers

Flowers600px

Kayaks

kayaks

Jetty

jetty

Low Light

Low Light

Flash photography

flash_600px

Video by Steve SheridanPhotographs by Allison and Steve Sheridan

robert.lachman@latimes.com

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Read more reviews and photography tips by Robert Lachman

9 Comments

  1. September 28, 2013, 11:42 pm

    Thats a great post! I personally feel the iPhone 5S colors are more realistic and the image quality is great too!

    By: Elixir of memories
  2. September 29, 2013, 7:15 am

    Really good video. Robert and Allison have great on-screen personalities. I know that has nothing to do with the content of the video, but it made me watch to the end even though I am not in the market for a new phone. Nice job.

    By: kds
  3. September 29, 2013, 7:16 am

    Thank you very much, this is exactly what i was looking for:)

    Rebecca

    By: rebecca
  4. September 29, 2013, 11:36 am

    Should have tried the Z10 Blackberry

    By: martynGB@gmail.com
  5. September 29, 2013, 2:22 pm

    None of these cameras really outperform each other except in the case of low light. This is the only situation where the 5s really stands out. Otherwise, same old same old.

    By: cochi@loco.com
  6. September 29, 2013, 11:03 pm

    Nice work I all way wanted to know the best camera of a smartphone. Now I have the answer. IPhone is the best option

    By: Yunik
  7. September 30, 2013, 5:16 pm

    I'm an old geezer and about to get my first smartphone (sheesh). The camera is VERY important to me, so I guess it's the 5s. I do wish the screen were larger for my clumsy hands to text on, but you can't have everything. I take way more photos than I do texting. Thanks for your very informative and entertaining comparison!

    By: Lee
  8. October 5, 2013, 9:30 am

    Can you please include all the original pictures in one ZIP file for us to download and view full screen? Having resized small pictures to view, it's difficult compare in ideal lighting conditions.

    Thank you.

    By: Paul
  9. October 9, 2013, 4:26 am

    This "test" doesn´t do justice to 1020. For instance, the kayak-picture is over-exposed and can easily be adjusted on the phone which will give a better result.

    The test is a test of the auto-functions in four smartphones – not the quality.

    By: Rasmus

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