Six-way camera shootout: Smartphone roulette

GSMArena team, 11 October 2013.

Good light recording comparison

While recording conditions won't always be ideal, the best way to get a gauge for how much a camera can do is under good lighting conditions. Here we've taken our six competitors and shot our traditional video recording test from the same place and at the same time of day. These 30 second clips are taken with minimal time in between, so as to minimize any external factors which may affect their performance differently. Let's take a look at each device in detail.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Under normal lighting conditions, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has the best camcorder on a smartphone we've ever seen. The colors are spot on, the level of detail is unparalleled, and the exposure and contrast are nailed perfectly. It doesn't have the best dynamic range of the bunch (the Nokia Lumia 1020 has it beat there), but the Note 3 is about as good as it gets without going for professional cameras.

The Note 3 also shoots in 4K, although at the expense of dual-shot mode, still image shooting while recording, and image stabilization. We took a side-by-side look at how its 4K video stacks up to 1080p, and found that the higher recording resolution really pays off when it comes to the amount of resolved detail. Below, we've rendered it alongside the 1080p video so you can get an idea of how it stacks up.

The Galaxy Note 3 also offers 1080p@60fps video recording although that mode has a few shortcomings that we'll cover in more detail on the next page.

LG G2

For all its great recording extras (the Tracking Zoom feature is very cool), LG seemed to have lost sight of the basics required to make a decent video recording experience. The G2's exposure is so far off that it absolutely ruins the clips, and the constant refocusing quickly goes from distracting to infuriating. The colors are more or less accurate but the exposure affects them as well.

Sony Xperia Z1

The Sony Xperia Z1 has great potential, but ultimately ends up being doomed because of its poor contrast. If you can get past that, you'll see that the colors are accurate, the exposure is correct, and the dynamic range is rather good. There are a few issues with an overly-enthusiastic autofocus, but it's not nearly as bad as what you'll find on the G2.

Nokia Lumia 1020

Nokia certainly packed the most hardware into the camera department with the Lumia 1020, so needless to say big things were expected. The camera certainly records with the best dynamic range of the bunch, but it also has the most inaccurate colors. Granted, color enhancement may come down to personal preference, but there's also a slight red hue to the images, which we doubt anyone will like.

Let's also not forget that the 1020 features Nokia's advanced recording algorithm which records far better sound than any of the other smartphones by a wide margin - just compare the audio from the sample below to any of the others and judge for yourself.

Apple iPhone 5s

Apple made many new improvements with the introduction of iOS 7, and video recording was among them. While the audio is still recorded in mono for some reason, you get some very accurate colors and very good level of detail. The white balance is a little warmer compared to the iPhone 5, but colors come out pleasing..

While recording, the iPhone 5s is able to capture still images at 1080p, which in effect is the equivalent of taking a frame from the video, but since stills actually use the wider FoV from the still camera there's at least some point to them.

The digital image stabilization on the 5s is top notch, even beating out the likes of the HTC One's dedicated OIS, but it does reduce the field of view significantly.

HTC One

The HTC One is the earliest released device of the bunch by several months, but it holds its ground decently. The wider FoV means there are fewer pixels to describe the objects in the frame, but the detail level is still decent. Colors are some way off, though, and the dynamic range leaves us wanting.

The HTC One features OIS and HDR video recording. The former helps immensely if you're shooting on the move, and doesn't waste any of your precious pixels to do so. The latter will help with your dynamic range, and provides better results than the Xperia Z1, for example, but results in a significantly narrower FoV. When it comes to shooting in 60fps mode the output is in 720p, but is very pixelated and looks more like an upscaled VGA video - nothing even close to what the iPhone 5s or Note 3 can do.

Verdict

To get a better idea of how these devices stack up side-by-side, we've combined the same part from the above videos at 100%.

It's pretty easy to see who the clear loser and winner are. The LG G2 consistently failed to find the proper exposure, and its constantly-readjusting continuous autofocus is enough to ruin any video. At the end of the spectrum, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 provides unparalleled detail and accurate colors without any noise or distortion.

Second place is a bit trickier, so much so that it's a tie between the Apple iPhone 5s and the Nokia Lumia 1020. With the Lumia you get the best dynamic range and audio recording of the bunch, but the colors are way off and don't represent the scene accurately. The iPhone, on the other hand, provides good colors but can't quite match the sharpness and dynamic range of its competitor.

The Sony Xperia Z1 comes next. In still images it proved to have a capable sensor, and we would imagine it would be closer to the top three devices if it wasn't devastated by its poor contrast. The One is the most senior of the bunch by a good margin, and we would imagine a lot of engineers at HTC are rethinking the decision to go with a 4MP sensor.

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