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Smartphone camera comparison: you choose the winner

Posted: , by Victor H.

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Smartphone camera comparison: you choose the winner
Picking the best camera among today's high-end smartphone is no easy task – sheer megapixels matter, but so does the sensor, the type of flash used and tens of other factors. While those are all relatively objective factors, there is one thing that swings decisions even more than the pure quality – call it bias, affection or fanboyism – afficionados of a certain brand will often overlook the negatives and claim their favorite product is the best out there, period.

That's why we've decided to strip down bias to the lowest level possible: we give you a blind test. But it's not just of smartphones as we're well aware that today's cutting edge handsets do well in challenging some basic digital cameras. That's why below you'll find images shot on three high-end smartphones and a point-and-shoot camera, all taken at select locations and the closest to identical conditions we could get. 

The shots aim to present typical situations when you use a camera: for shooting a landscape, moving objects, people or shooting against sunlight. In all of the cases, we have used automatic settings – no scene selections, no exposure adjustments or any other adjustments that might have changed the final image.

The first set of images has been downsized to a common resolution for viewing images online, so you can get to see the whole picture more easily and try walking in our shoes by judging which picture has the most appealing and realistic colors, which strikes the right balance when it comes to exposure, which features the best dynamic range and so on. 

1 - Photo 1 - Portrait
2 - Photo 1 - Portrait
3 - Photo 1 - Portrait
4 - Photo 1 - Portrait

1

2

3

4

Photo 1 - Portrait

Photo 2 - Full-body shot
Photo 2 - Full-body shot
Photo 2 - Full-body shot
Photo 2 - Full-body shot

Photo 2 - Full-body shot

Photo 3 - Landscape
Photo 3 - Landscape
Photo 3 - Landscape
Photo 3 - Landscape

Photo 3 - Landscape

Photo 4 - Against the light
Photo 4 - Against the light
Photo 4 - Against the light
Photo 4 - Against the light

Photo 4 - Against the light

Photo 5 - Motion
Photo 5 - Motion
Photo 5 - Motion
Photo 5 - Motion

Photo 5 - Motion

1 - Photo 6 - Macro
2 - Photo 6 - Macro
3 - Photo 6 - Macro
4 - Photo 6 - Macro

1

2

3

4

Photo 6 - Macro


Phonearena polls
sort by
Which shoots the best pictures?
20.39%
867 votes
(867 votes) Device #1
22.86%
972 votes
(972 votes) Device #2
45.56%
1937 votes
(1937 votes) Device #3
11.19%
476 votes
(476 votes) Device #4

4252 votes

Device #1: HTC Sensation | Device #2: Apple iPhone 4 | Device #3: Canon PowerShot SD870 IS | Device #4: Samsung Galaxy S II

The second set of images represents 100% crops from the original pictures on the three smartphones and the point-and-shoot camera. This allows you to get a better look at the finest details in a picture and better evaluate how much noise might have gotten in, whether some artifacts have made their way into the shot and how sharp/soft the image is. Each of the cropped images comes from one of the original pictures, but this time you can focus on the amount of detail and pick the best camera in those terms. 

From Photo 1 - 100% crops
From Photo 2 - 100% crops
From Photo 3 - 100% crops
From Photo 6 - 100% crops

From Photo 1

From Photo 2

From Photo 3

From Photo 6

100% crops


Phonearena polls
sort by
Which has the best detail?
18.86%
632 votes
(632 votes) Device #1
29.93%
1003 votes
(1003 votes) Device #2
44.49%
1491 votes
(1491 votes) Device #3
6.71%
225 votes
(225 votes) Device #4

3351 votes

Device #1: HTC Sensation | Device #2: Apple iPhone 4 | Device #3: Canon PowerShot SD870 IS | Device #4: Samsung Galaxy S II

Both polls expire on Monday, July 25th, but don't wait until the last moment to cast your votes. We'll publish the results the same day and that's when a second set of images - this time taken indoors - will follow and help us issue a final verdict about which is the best cameraphone among those we've used and does it have the guts to compete with even a digital camera. Don't hesitate to also comment and share your opinions about a close runner-up to your favorite set of images, rank the pictures or just better explain your choice.

UPDATE: Our Smartphone Camera Comparison is now over and we've revealed which the participating handsets are. First here ranks our Canon PowerShot SD870 IS point-and-shoot, followed by the Apple iPhone 4, HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy S II.

124 Comments
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posted on 20 Jul 2011, 09:35 2

1. snowgator (Posts: 3197; Member since: 19 Jan 2011)


Very cool way to do this. My wife is big on the camera aspect of the smartphone. Very interested in the results.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 09:38 1

2. mrvid (Posts: 75; Member since: 02 Oct 2008)


My wife and I went to the zoo a few weeks ago, most people were using their cell phones to take pictures, not regular cameras anymore.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 09:51 1

3. santaclaus (Posts: 52; Member since: 20 Jul 2011)


sorry for any wrong comment, i think that

1. Digital camera
2. HTC Sensation
3. Nokia N8
4. Samsung Galaxy S II

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:58 13

17. bubba78 (Posts: 54; Member since: 23 May 2011)


I would be SHOCKED if on of the 4 tested wasn't an iPhone.

posted on 21 Jul 2011, 09:33

66. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


im pretty sure #1 is an iphone, it doesnt have the widescreen like some of the others do.

posted on 21 Jul 2011, 22:57

82. emmarbee (Posts: 13; Member since: 25 Jun 2011)


haa haa haa. @santaclaus. Do you really think phonearena missed out iphone in this shootout? Either the first one or second one iPhone.
3rd - definitely digi cam and 4th - SGS II

Sensation / iPhone in first and second position

posted on 23 Jul 2011, 09:55

100. TommyP (unregistered)


I'm pretty sure when they said it was a smartphone shootout they wouldn't include a digital camera

posted on 23 Jul 2011, 09:58

101. TommyP (unregistered)


nevermind..just saw the article sentence 1 is a point and shoot..sorry

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 09:54

4. santaclaus (Posts: 52; Member since: 20 Jul 2011)


I am very particular in choosing in a good camera smartphone. So this test would probably help me to pick the cream de la cream amongst smartphones ^^...

Would be good to add in Sony Xperia Duo in some day in the test because it says that it has 12MP camera.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 14:41 1

40. vishu9 (Posts: 251; Member since: 03 Mar 2011)


its no doubt the winner's gonna be N8,...so u might as well pick it up now...that is if u can bear with Symbian...its nothing unbearable, but just that other OSs are more refined in user experience...otherwise I've been in love with my N8 and it's camera since day 1! :)

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 17:34

50. ChiX017 (unregistered)


No doubt N8 is d best but software......not so much

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 09:55

5. chunk1x (Posts: 248; Member since: 25 Jun 2011)


No.1 is galaxy s2 and No.3 N8

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 09:55

6. belon1986 (Posts: 3; Member since: 15 Dec 2010)


1. IPHONE 4
2 Sony Ericson Xperia arc
3 Nokia N8
4. Samsung Galaxy S II

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:02

9. santaclaus (Posts: 52; Member since: 20 Jul 2011)


there is a camera tested too. not all are cameraphones.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:10 1

11. chunk1x (Posts: 248; Member since: 25 Jun 2011)


iPhone 4 would stick out since it doesn't have the best lenses which results is softer detail, purple fringing and software that tends to be over saturated pics. Believe me iPhone 4 is above average camera performance but not as good as this four. I made a mistake No.1, is a point and shoot camera since the clarity is much better that it is only possible with over sized optical lenses.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 16:38

45. 530gemini (Posts: 2198; Member since: 09 Sep 2010)


@chunk. Please read the title of the article. It says "smartphone". Now why did you say that camera number one is a point and shoot camera when this is about smartphones? Lol. Also, how much would you bet that the iphone4 is not one of the contenders here? Lol. I can't wait to see the results and slap it to your red face :)

I think this is between the N8, sgs, ip4, and xperia.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 18:43 3

53. Slammer (Posts: 984; Member since: 03 Jun 2010)


---"That's why below you'll find images shot on three high-end smartphones and a point-and-shoot camera"---

The above is from the author of this test.

John B.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 20:53

57. chunk1x (Posts: 248; Member since: 25 Jun 2011)


Read the article carefully.

posted on 24 Jul 2011, 12:46

108. kamen (Posts: 83; Member since: 18 Jul 2011)


I also at first thought that No 1 is a digital camera. On the flowers picture it is seen that with 3 and 4 the background loses focus in pretty much the same way which means a close F-number value (=smartphone with most phones being around F3). 1 and 2 are confusing me, though - they seem to have similar higher F-numbers because of the loss of focus. On the close-ups No 1 seems to have more aggressive noise-suppression. And since most of the digicams does not have such aggressive algorithms (except Sony) I now start to think of No 2 as a digital camera.

Well, No 3 is my favourite too :)

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 12:17

26. Rooney (unregistered)


I agree with you the 3rd is N8 and 2nd is Arc. The Arc seem to widen the range while N8 have the natural look

posted on 21 Jul 2011, 05:18

65. KawaiiE (unregistered)


Paragraph #2 : "That's why below you'll find images shot on three high-end smartphones and a point-and-shoot camera" . You just named four smartphones.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:01

7. belcherman (unregistered)


Would be nice to include indoor shots, with and without flash. Outdoor shots are only half the story when comparing photo quality.

posted on 21 Jul 2011, 01:23 1

62. Victor.H (Posts: 409; Member since: 27 May 2011)


An indoor test is coming up, stay tuned.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:01 5

8. liqwidzero (Posts: 4; Member since: 20 Jul 2011)


#3 delivers the most natural images, while still keeping in the details and not over-contrasting the image as the first two do.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:12 1

12. chunk1x (Posts: 248; Member since: 25 Jun 2011)


Nokia N8

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:05

10. Guest (unregistered)


Please look at the zoomed images before voting.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 16:42 1

46. 530gemini (Posts: 2198; Member since: 09 Sep 2010)


@guest. I agree. I voted for #3. But after I opened the photos, I'm torn between 2 and 3. It seems like 2 and 3 are sometimes better than the other.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:31 5

13. cj100570 (Posts: 204; Member since: 12 May 2009)


Obviously most commentators missed the point and are trying to figure which device too which pictures instead of picking out which picture looks best.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:37 4

14. observer (unregistered)


I voted #2 for both. although Device #1 showed some nice pictures.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 12:30 1

30. AhmadAlsayegh (Posts: 253; Member since: 18 Jul 2011)


Device number 1 took too warm pictures for my taste,
Voted for device 3

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:46 1

15. jreed2560 (unregistered)


I like the test, but can we seperate each shot and vote on each "set" individually that would be a nice way to not just compare the overall quality of all the pictures, but also see which device takes the best shots in each category.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 10:55 4

16. r2212xx (Posts: 41; Member since: 18 Apr 2011)


Colours look most natural with Device 3.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 11:08

20. xenover (Posts: 171; Member since: 27 May 2011)


i noticed that too, though it doesn't have much detail

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 13:56 1

38. r2212xx (Posts: 41; Member since: 18 Apr 2011)


Yeah.. The first one has better details. But the pictures look shadowy.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 12:29 1

28. solidsnakeduds013 (Posts: 215; Member since: 20 Oct 2010)


Device 3 looks washed out

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 11:03

18. xenover (Posts: 171; Member since: 27 May 2011)


I'm guessing..
SGS II
iPhone 4
mytouch 4g slide ???
G2X/O2X

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 11:07

19. xenover (Posts: 171; Member since: 27 May 2011)


actually, scratch that
last one has to be a 5 mp camera

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 11:16 1

21. luis_lopez_351 (Posts: 951; Member since: 18 Nov 2010)


1. Its ok
2.WTF is up with the colors? it looks like its shooting in a vintage setting.
3. Its a little better than number 1, looks sharper and colors look natural
4. looks washed out...must be from an HTC device lol

my guess:
1:SGS2
2.Iphone4
3.MT4G slide or N8
4. Could be anything...it could even be a boat. lol

posted on 30 Jul 2011, 18:16

123. ladyhaly (Posts: 106; Member since: 17 Jan 2011)


I hope you know that you just embarrassed yourself, picking on HTC when you thought pictures taken by their latest flagship phone, the HTC Sensation, were taken by the Samsung Galaxy S II--- and the pictures you were so dearly insulting were taken by your beloved Samsung Galaxy S II. Meaning you just insulted the device you're biased towards, thereby making yourself look stupid.

Bottomline is that we should just respect the different companies who make these fabulous phones and to not insult something with arrogant confidence when you're not sure what it is.

Do not make the same mistake again.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 11:21 1

22. jlbrazil (Posts: 7; Member since: 20 Jul 2011)


1- iPhone 4 ( over saturated colors )
2- Camera
3- Nokia N8 because on the macro shot it was alot clear ( due to 12 MP )
4- Galaxy S II ( On the Macro shot it had more detail than the first one ( iPhone 4 - 5 MP ) but it was less than the 12 of the N8 , so 8 MP )

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 12:34

31. AhmadAlsayegh (Posts: 253; Member since: 18 Jul 2011)


I though macro shoots had nothing to do with the "MP", it is all about the lens

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 12:35

32. jlbrazil (Posts: 7; Member since: 20 Jul 2011)


I know .. but in those pictures where they ""zoomed" in the Macro Shot , the one wich had more detail had a bigger quality in MP.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 13:11

35. AhmadAlsayegh (Posts: 253; Member since: 18 Jul 2011)


ah, thanks for clarifying

posted on 21 Jul 2011, 23:11

87. emmarbee (Posts: 13; Member since: 25 Jun 2011)


Most probably N8 isn't in this race. If it is there, then pointnshoot camera isn't there.
1- arc / sensation / iphone 4
2- iphone 4 / arc / sensation
3 - digi cam (N8)
4 - sgs II

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 11:24 1

23. David Ferreira (unregistered)


I gave points to each set like in soccer/footbal: winner of the set: 3 points; loser of the set: 0 points; both photos in the middle (like a tie): 1 point. I divided in 6 sets of the major photos, then more 3 sets to the crops (Face, Building, Flower/Macro). So, for me the results were:

DEVICE 1 > 3+3+3+1+1+1+0+3+3+1 >> Total: 18 points;

DEVICE 2 > 1+1+1+0+0+1+0+0+0 >> Total: 4 points;

DEVICE 3 > 1+1+1+3+3+3+1+1+3 >> Total: 17 points;

DEVICE 4 > 0+0+0+1+1+1+1+1+1 >> Total: 6 points;

Now i'll wait to know, which devices were tested...

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 11:25

24. really? (unregistered)


Really? Even when it's been said multiple times that there is a point-and-shoot camera in the mix?

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 11:49

25. gregoryyy3 (Posts: 108; Member since: 10 Nov 2010)


Iphone 4
mytouch 4g slide
Htc sensation
Evo 3d

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 12:26 5

27. Penny (Posts: 1128; Member since: 04 Feb 2011)


Hmm, so this was a bit mixed and difficult for me. Here are my observations:

1. This camera is over saturated, and appears to have a very aggressive noise suppression algorithm, which makes its photos lose detail.
2. This camera seems to have the most detail in the majority of the photos, but over saturation and just off colors tend to ignore details in dark areas. This camera probably has the least aggressive noise suppression, so more detail is visible but so is more noise.
3. This camera has the most natural colors across the board. I also think it has the best balance of noise suppression, neither washing away all the details nor allowing a lot of noise. It however doesn't seem to have the same level of detail as camera number 2, although it does get more details in the shadows. This one would be my pick for best overall.
4. This camera didn't really stand out to me. It has more natural colors than cameras 1 and 2, but not more than camera 3.

Conclusion: I'm confused between cameras 1 and 2, because in the first picture I thought camera 1 clearly had the best detail, but in subsequent photos and the cropped photos it did not appear that way. No matter how much detail, though, cameras 1 and 2 are too over saturated for me.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 12:36

33. AhmadAlsayegh (Posts: 253; Member since: 18 Jul 2011)


I like your analysis +1

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 19:08

56. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


we noticed a lot of the same things but i chose number 2 because i didn't mind it's saturation.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 12:29

29. solidsnakeduds013 (Posts: 215; Member since: 20 Oct 2010)


Its mostly between device 1 and 2

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 12:57

34. Rooney (unregistered)


One of the useful link with full res for reference:http://www.gsmarena.com/htc_sensation_vs_galaxy_sii_vs_optimus_2x-review-608p3.php. As you can see, the Galaxy S II can get may of fine detail but the color is a bit light and cold. It could be stand at 4th place. The N8 has the natural look and fine detail also. It could be the 3rd one. The 2nd might be the Arc because they have vivid color although more noise(you can see in the 3rd crop) due to the high compression(1.3MB in average).

posted on 21 Jul 2011, 23:05

86. emmarbee (Posts: 13; Member since: 25 Jun 2011)


First this was my prediction. I guess I missed Arc in this race.
1 - May be HTC Sensation / iPhone
2 - May be iPhone / HTC Sensation
3 - Digital Camera
4 - SGS II

So now its
1 - May be Arc / iPhone
2 - May be iPhone / Arc
3 - Digital Camera
4 - SGS II

posted on 30 Jul 2011, 18:20

124. ladyhaly (Posts: 106; Member since: 17 Jan 2011)


Your first guess was the correct one. There is no Arc in this race.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 13:32 2

36. Gsmalltheway (Posts: 147; Member since: 15 Aug 2009)


mytouch 4g slide is in there somewhre

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 13:50

37. chrys (unregistered)


nr3 is n8

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 14:23

39. Thump3rDX17 (Posts: 2160; Member since: 10 May 2010)


i liked no. 2. 1 had the best close-up detail in crops 2 & 3 but i still voted for 2 because it had good enough detail considering how much better the pictures looked with the best contrast with the truest light conditions, i thought that about all of 2's. 3 & 4 looked too washed out but 3 did almost have my vote for best close up detail.

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 15:11 4

41. Man2006 (unregistered)


This article is very interesting, this allows you to investigate which has the best quality BEFORE a review makes you shape an opinion. Who agrees?

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 15:16

42. Vitaliy (unregistered)


there is no nokia n8 in this comperison, nokia n8 doesn't use any software prossesing and the third contestor clearly has it.
1. iphone 4
2. sensation
3. galaxy s 2
4. Experia Arc

posted on 20 Jul 2011, 15:34 1

43. jlbrazil (Posts: 7; Member since: 20 Jul 2011)


ONE of them is a point and shot camera .. why thats so difficult?
...

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