Samsung Galaxy Note 4 scores a flawless victory against the Xperia Z3 in our blind camera comparison

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 scores a flawless victory against the Xperia Z3 in our blind camera comparison

Looking back at our previous camera comparisons, we can safely say that the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has one of the best cameras ever put on a smartphone. The phablet's reputation as a top shooter is further solidified now that it scored a victory against the Sony Xperia Z3 in our recent blind camera comparison – all six scenes that we asked our users to vote on were dominated by the Note 4. More specifically, the latter collected a total of 30839 votes while the Xperia Z3 attracted only 4472 votes in its favor. 

To be fair, the 20.7MP camera on the Sony Xperia Z3 isn't terrible by any means. It's a decent snapper, and as you're about to see, it might even outperform the Note 4 under certain conditions. But as a whole, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4's 16MP camera is the one producing more impressive results. Yes, even when the Xperia Z3 is used in Manual instead of Intelligent Auto mode. To see what's holding Sony's flagship back in the race against the Note 4, let us take another look at the samples from our comparison, along with a few additional shots. 

Warning: the slideshows below contain full-resolution samples, some of which exceed 10MB in size. Loading might take a while.

Scene 1 


Before we begin to comment on image quality, we have to point out that we're now including two images from the Xperia Z3 – one taken in Auto and another taken in Manual mode. We chose to do so because comments suggest that Sony's flagship produces better images when the latter mode is enabled. That's true to some extent – Manual mode lets the Z3 shoot in up to 20MP of resolution (vs 8MP for Intelligent Auto mode) and has a better vertical field of view as it uses the sensor's full area. However, that's not enough for the Xperia Z3 to outrun the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The image from Samsung's phablet looks more natural and eye-pleasing as a whole, while the one from the Z3 has a cold look to it. On top of that, upon zooming in on the images it becomes clear that the Galaxy Note 4 produces better-looking details. 

Side-by-side view

Side-by-side view


Scene 2


The same flaws are present in this scene as well. While the Note 4 is close to striking a correct white balance, which produces an image looking neither too "warm" nor too "cold", the Sony Xperia Z3 has added a cold tone to the entire scene. Obviously, switching between modes has not resulted in any difference, although results would have been different had we adjusted the white balance manually – something that a typical user wouldn't normally do. Details look sharper and clearer in the Note 4's photo.

Side-by-side view

Side-by-side view


Scene 3


Strike three for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Its image is natural in color tone and with a great amount of detail. The warm glow of the setting sun has been preserved pretty well. The Z3, on the other hand, has once again produced a "colder" image.

Side-by-side view

Side-by-side view


Scene 4


This set of photos were not included in the blind comparison as the Xperia Z3 couldn't even focus on the scene properly, although it did get the focus right in Manual mode. That's one of the thing about the Z3 that bothers us. Every once in a while, it fails to set the focus correctly, even when we instruct it with a tap. 

Side-by-side view

Side-by-side view


Scene 5


Notice a trend here? We're not sure why, but the Xperia Z3 tends to produce blue-ish images in daytime, and that's evident in our improvised nature morte shot as well. That aside, it looks like the Xperia Z3 performs well in close-ups when it comes to details. Despite the significant difference in image resolution – 16MP for the Note 4 vs 8MP for the Z3 – the latter's image looks almost as sharp and detailed as the image from the Note 4.

Side-by-side view

Side-by-side view


Scene 6


This image was taken at night, with the aid of several halogen light bulbs illuminating my living room. This time around, it was the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 that went for a colder (read: inaccurate) color tone, while the Xperia Z3 preserved the color balance more accurately. Details are a bit fuzzy in both images, but equally presentable, in our opinion. Once again, it looks like the megapixel advantage of the Galaxy Note 4 hasn't made much of a difference.

Side-by-side view

Side-by-side view


Scene 7


Now here's a pleasant surprise. Overall, this improvised real-world shot was captured better on the Xperia Z3 – it fired its flash, but also allowed more of the ambient light to enter the frame, thus producing a more pleasant image. The photo from the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 may be sharper and more detailed, but the phone's flash has overpowered the ambient lighting.

Side-by-side view

Side-by-side view


Scene 8


For this particular scene, the Sony Xperia Z3 reminded us once again that its focusing isn't perfect. We had to retake the image several times until we finally got the focus right. The Note 4 didn't experience any focusing issues whatsoever. As for the quality of the two images, the Note 4 has gone for a shorter exposure, while the Xperia Z3 has allowed more light to enter the frame. Both images look presentable, although when it comes to details, the Note 4 is the clear winner in this scene.

Side-by-side view

Side-by-side view


Scene 9 


Here's another photo of a tricky indoor scene, where light wasn't exactly plentiful. Overall, both cameras did a pretty good job, although the Note 4 has the upper hand when it comes to details – from up close, details in the Z3's photo are much fuzzier. On the other hand, the Xperia Z3's wider field of view is evident in this shot. Thanks to that, the smartphone can capture wider images than the Note 4 from the same distance, which is an advantage in some situations. 

Side-by-side view

Side-by-side view


Scene 10


And lastly, a night scene. This is where the Galaxy Note 4's optical image stabilization comes in handy as it allows the phone to slow down the shutter speed instead of increasing the ISO to let more light hit the sensor. The Xperia Z3 is quicker than the Note 4 at taking shots of scenes like this, but at ISO of 1600, as the case is with the image in Auto mode, details don't look pretty. 

Side-by-side view

Side-by-side view


Conclusion


Sony is known for making some of the best image sensors that go into today's smartphones. As a matter of fact, the Galaxy Note 4 unit used for this comparison packs a camera powered by a Sony sensor. Yet ironically, Sony's own flagship smartphone lags behind many of its competitors, the Note 4 included, in terms of image quality. This is especially evident in daytime images, where light is plentiful. Is it because of the software or DSP in charge of the Xperia Z3's camera? Or because of the optics used? Or because the phone's lack of optical image stabilization? Well, we're not entirely sure, but it is probably a blend of all these factors behind the inferior performance of the Z3's camera. 

Nevertheless, the camera on the Sony Xperia Z3 should not be underestimated. On several occasions, it managed to produce eye-pleasing indoor images, and its wider field of view is definitely an advantage when shooting in tight spaces. Besides, the 4:3 aspect ratio of the Z3 gives it a wider vertical field of view versus the Note 4's 16:9 camera. On the other hand, we experienced focusing issues on multiple occasions, and focusing is something a flagship smartphone's camera should not have problems with. 

Regarding the comments claiming that Xperia Z3's Manual mode produces better results, these are true to a certain extent. The phone's Auto mode downscales images to 8MP of resolution, while Manual mode lets you shoot up to 20MP stills, which could theoretically produce better details, all while giving you more freedom to zoom in or crop your images. In actuality, images shot in Manual mode are only slightly different in terms of overall quality and have the same color inaccuracies as those images shot using the camera's default Auto mode.  

This concludes our camera comparison between the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Sony Xperia Z3. Keep an eye out for our next camera comparison as it is coming sooner than you think.

Related phones

Galaxy Note 4
  • Display 5.7" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 3.7 MP front
  • Processor Samsung Exynos 7 Octa, Octa-core, 1900 MHz
  • Storage 32 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3220 mAh(20h 3G talk time)
Xperia Z3
  • Display 5.2" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 20.7 MP / 2.2 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, Quad-core, 2500 MHz
  • Storage 16 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3100 mAh

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68 Comments

1. mistercarter

Posts: 360; Member since: Sep 01, 2011

when i see how poorly Sony's image algorithms perform, it really infuriates me... they could easily have the best camera phone in the market yet it seems they dont want to

6. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

ikr its ridicules

9. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

I knew the Note 4 was going to win like always, but a 30839 to 4472 score is just down right slaughter.

17. waddup121 unregistered

Note 4 vs the world...coming to a theatres near you! Funny how Sony has great sensors but their imaging process is always wonky. It's weird, actually.

23. Rick_Deckard

Posts: 27; Member since: Oct 31, 2014

I believe is the Image Software processing in the Z3 is crap...

19. SonyFTW2020

Posts: 311; Member since: May 03, 2012

Exactly, its slightly embarrassing.

22. bahtosaius

Posts: 2; Member since: Mar 22, 2015

I think this article is quite bias. Galaxy Note 4 using sony sensor too (IMX240) which is 16 MP while Xperia Z3 use older image sensor (IMX220) 20.7MP. It is more complex for algorithm for higher pixel in xperia Z3. The higher MP, the more challenge for noise. This article just like comparing apple n lemon. Simple.

33. maherk

Posts: 6660; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Slow down on the hate kiddo, or else you will end up with hemorrhoids.

42. refillable

Posts: 1071; Member since: Mar 10, 2014

No. These phones are both 2H 2014 flagship.

49. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

But if the Sony phone would have won, what would you be saying. As you said, Sony made both sensors. Even if the sensor is older, at 20MP it seems Sony should have won. Even if it uses the same IMX240, I think the Sony one would have lost. In fact those pictures are so bad, I am better the S4 and S5 both would still take a better picture and they have even older sensors.

2. Neros

Posts: 1016; Member since: Dec 19, 2014

FATALITY

4. datguyglad

Posts: 98; Member since: Aug 29, 2014

Now all the people who were complaining about the Z3 not being shot in manual mode can be quiet. Clearly the lower megapixel sensor of samsung is better, this just goes to show that just because you have more megapixels doesn't mean that you have a better camera. I honestly want PA to do a camera comparison with the Z3 to a iphone 6 plus.! I think that would be a very good comparison, considering how well the iPhone 6 shoots with only 8 megapixel..!

10. JesseJames

Posts: 225; Member since: Feb 22, 2015

You do realize that the lower megapixel sensor on the note 4 is a Sony sensor right? You also realize the sensor on the iPhone 6 is also a Sony sensor right? What this shows is that Sony sucks ass in the camera software department plain and simple.

28. maherk

Posts: 6660; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

You do realize that there is a lot more behind a camera module other than the sensor?

35. pegasso

Posts: 285; Member since: Nov 27, 2011

you do realize that the image sensor is made by Sony Corp., not Sony Mobile right? it's basically two different companies.

45. datguyglad

Posts: 98; Member since: Aug 29, 2014

I know it's sony sensor..! But i guess samsung knows how to implement sony's own sensor then sony themselves.!

5. mawhob2222

Posts: 219; Member since: Mar 22, 2014

Z3 is better than note4 but the software!!!!

8. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Clearly it isn't if Manual mode still performed worse than the Note 4 auto.

43. refillable

Posts: 1071; Member since: Mar 10, 2014

'Software' still affects manual mode.

50. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Can you list 10 things the Z3 is better at that the Note isn't? I want to see them. I will wait patiently.

55. buccob

Posts: 2946; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

- Water resistance - Low light without flash pictures (ISO 12800) - Zooming - Stereo Speakers - Magnetic port for charging while using the USB as something else (I.e. USB Otg) - Eyelet hole. Specially useful for taking pictures and preventing falls - Battery life (at least for my experience with the Z3 Compact) - One hand usability - UI fluidity (comparing both on KitKat) - Native compatibility with PS controllers and streaming. - Shutter button (there are A LOT of things where the Note 4 is better but you only asked the opposite)

7. Donbenie

Posts: 242; Member since: Aug 04, 2013

Knockout..

11. g2a5b0e unregistered

Let's be real here. Was anyone expecting otherwise?

12. JMartin22

Posts: 2313; Member since: Apr 30, 2013

This is what the Note 4 is capable of. The Galaxy S6 with an aperture f1.9 lense will be even better. It's going to rule the market for the first half of the year I'm sure until the Note 5 and iPhone 6S show us their results. Samsung just needs to issue a firmware update to address the redish white point in the camera.

13. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

This is it. Sorry Sony, getting me a S6 edge.

14. twens

Posts: 1154; Member since: Feb 25, 2012

Sometimes the comments I read over here just make me wonder. Is the hate for samsung so serious to the point that people can't simple accept the fact that they have up the game when it comes to mobile photography. I haven't seen any image that satisfies me as much as the images from the galaxies do even including the iPhone 6 plus that I own. It lacks that sharpness and wowness the galaxies pack. Camera is samsung period!!!

15. mrej201

Posts: 226; Member since: Feb 04, 2015

note 4 bb can't wait for the note 5

16. SonyFTW2020

Posts: 311; Member since: May 03, 2012

The company that fails to know and understand what exactly the consumer wants and needs, is the the company that will always be 2nd, 3rd, 4th or not even place at all. Samsung is winning, Apple is winning because they know, pay attention and LISTEN to what its fan base wants. And then they deliver it to them. Sony makes professional cameras and also provides the camera lenses to samsung and apple yet with majority of blog sites we visit we see those same companies out doing Sony when it comes to photography. Smh If someone from the Sony company would read and watch these articles and videos about their products being compared, I don't think it would sit well with them knowing that their best is not better than the competiton. Its like apple and samsung are taking their products (camera lenses) and embarrassing them and they don't even know it.

34. pegasso

Posts: 285; Member since: Nov 27, 2011

no, sony doesn't provide its camera lenses to samsung and apple

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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