Six-way camera shootout: Smartphone roulette

Smartphone roulette

GSMArena team, 11 October 2013.

Still photo quality in good light

Those fun software features might be of interest to the Instagram crowd, but most of you are probably here for raw image quality. Since we're comparing phones of wildly different resolution capabilities (from 4MP to 38MP), we split this section into two.

First, we'll be looking at photos at native resolution, taking the 5MP PureView photos of the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the 8MP Superior Auto photos of the Sony Xperia Z1. Keep in mind that SA mode on the Z1 produces 16:9 photos rather than 4:3, so the difference in vertical resolution isn't that big. The bigger difference is the Nokia's wider field of view.

Here's the first batch of 100% crops:

And the second one:

On pixel-peeping level, the Nokia Lumia 1020 makes its superiority clear. Yes, 5MP may not be that much in terms of maximum resolution, but the level of resolved detail is amazing. Thanks to the supersampling (not to mention the large sensor and high quality lens) the 5MP shots have amazingly little noise and plenty of detail. The Lumia also wins out in terms of color balance.

Nokia Lumia 1020: 38MP photo • 5MP photos

The Sony Xperia Z1 has a fairly large sensor of its own, plus its own version of supersampling. The resolution vs. resolved detail applies to the Z1 too, though to a lesser extent. The photos are not quite as sharp and detail-rich as the Lumia 1020's images, but they look very good. If you don't mind the colder white balance.

Sony Xperia Z1: 20.7MP photo • 8MP photos

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and LG G2 both shoot 13MP stills and both resolve virtually the same amount of detail. The difference comes from processing. The LG G2 tends to overexpose photos, but has more accurate colors. The Galaxy Note 3 gets the exposure right and it looks like its photos are sharper, but that's just due to a stronger sharpening filter. There is a bit more noise in the sky too.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3


The Apple iPhone 5s photos are true 8MP shots - it gains no advantage from supersampling or similar tricks. This results in less detail than the 13MP cameras and its colors tend to be off (not to mention the consistent yellowish tint).

Apple iPhone 5s

The HTC One is firmly at the bottom. The 4MP shots don't leave much room for fine detail. We are not resolution freaks, but the HTC One doesn't stand a chance. With only 1MP less in terms of resolution and comparable FoV, the One's photos are miles behind the 5MP Lumia 1020 shots.


Okay, we've been talking about captured detail, time to get a closer look at it. We upscaled all photos to match the 38MP shots in terms of resolution (for the Xperia Z1 we used the nominal 20.7MP resolution and then upsized from there). The reason we went for upsizing should be self-explanatory. Downsizing takes away the resolution advantage of the higher megapixel cameras so upsizing all shots to one and the same resolution is the only fair way of comparing their real-life detail resolving powers (real life as opposed to shooting ISO charts in a studio setting).

The Lumia 1020 has a big advantage at its native resolution - there's noise, but still plenty of detail and looking at these huge photos at 100% feels like "seeing" more of the subject than with any other phone.

The Sony Xperia Z1 comes pretty close here - you can see some jaggies on the diagonal bars (this seems to be an artifact from the sharpening filter), but the fine texture of the plaster that can be discerned in the Lumia photos can be seen here too.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 also manages to capture them, though not at the level of the Lumia 1020 and Xperia Z1. You can also see that a lot of that sharp feel Note 3 photos have is down to strong sharpening, which gets exaggerated to an extent in the upsizing.

The LG G2's overly-enthusiastic metering results in overexposure deprived low-contrast bright of some detail, but at least its sharpening is less aggressive than the Note's.

The Apple iPhone 5s also misses the subtleties - it just doesn't have the resolution for it, but at least its self-restrained processing doesn't cause any halos.

The HTC One completely misses the mark here - yes, the large ratio of upscaling works against it as it softens and pixelates the photo, but it's clear that the detail of the higher resolution cameras is just not there in the first place.

Winner: Nokia Lumia 1020
Runner up: Sony Xperia Z1
Third place: Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Fourth place: LG G2 Fifth place: Apple iPhone 5s Sixth place: HTC One

Reader comments

  • Narayan Naik
  • 13 Nov 2015
  • U{S

Samsung galaxy note 3 is 3gb ram. But also browsing very slow.

  • kicha
  • 10 Aug 2015
  • mT@

Press n hold the power off button along with the home button....or else press the power off button n volume down button at the same time.

  • kicha
  • 10 Aug 2015
  • mT@

yes...indeed... Iam also using HTC ONE since a year...have also used samsung n apple,... HTC is the best with camera.