Camera Comparison: Google Nexus 5 vs iPhone 5s, Sony Xperia Z1, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy S4, LG G2, Nokia Lumia 1020, HTC One
Camera interface and ease of use
Having a great camera on your phone isn't the only requirement for taking high-quality pictures. In addition to that, a lot of thought has to be put into developing a versatile camera app and an easy-to-use interface.
The camera app and UI found on the Google Nexus 5 leave us with mixed feelings about them. On one hand, we like how clean and uncluttered it is, but on the other, we find it organized poorly, with settings that are not as easy to get to as they should be. On the other hand, we like the fancy PhotoSphere mode that comes standard with it, and the lock screen shortcut is nice having.
The iPhone 5s isn't very generous on camera settings. In fact, there's very little one can adjust manually. However, the interface is extremely easy to use and can be accessed in a blink of an eye via the dedicated lock screen shortcut. What’s more, the camera is extremely rapid and requires minimal time between individual shots. For those who are into these, image filters can be applied to the photo. Special modes include HDR, which works surprisingly fast, and 120fps slow-motion videos. The handset itself is very comfortable to hold and its volume button can be used as a shutter key.
Using the Sony Xperia Z1 to take photos and videos with is a pretty straightforward process. First of all, the shape of the handset is ideal for the purpose and the dedicated 2-stage camera button allows us to instantly launch the camera app straight from the lock screen. The interface itself is set to its Intelligent Auto mode by default, adjusting the scene settings for you as best as it can. To get the most of the Z1's camera, however, you'll have to use the manual mode instead, where there are more settings to be tweaked. Sony has not forgotten to throw in a handful of awesome features as well. For example, you can stream video straight to your Facebook wall or add augmented reality effects to your shot.
Designed from the ground up with photography in mind, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is easy to hold in landscape orientation and its 2-stage button is very convenient to use. There are two camera apps loaded out of the box, namely Nokia Smart Cam and Nokia Pro Cam, and regardless of which one you choose to use, the camera's optical image stabilization will be live and running. The Smart Cam app is for casual users, allowing them to easily apply advanced manipulations to the image, such as to remove moving objects or to create dramatic action shots with motion blur and all. Those who are really into manual controls will appreciate having the Pro Cam app, which gives control over the camera's exposure, white balance and ISO speed. Even the focus and shutter speed can be adjusted manually – something most other phones will not let you do. Additional camera features, effects and filters (referred to as “camera lens”) can be downloaded from the Marketplace.
To no surprise, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 share the same UI. A whole ton of shooting scenes and modes are available for the user to play with, and most of them can actually be quite useful given the appropriate conditions. We find it convenient that two separate shutters have been added – one for taking photos and another for recording videos – so there is no need to switch manually between modes as the case is with the Z1 and the G2. Both come with software image stabilization, eliminating (to some extent) the effects of vibrations introduced by the user's hand. A solid advantage for the Note 3 is that it has the option to record extra-smooth 1080p video at twice the normal framerate – 60fps. Support for 4K videos is present as well, and that footage would look nice on one of those new, fancy 4K TVs.
There is no shortage of shooting scenes, modes, and options on the HTC One. It can take HDR photos and videos at 1080p resolution, 60 frame-per-second videos at 720p, all the while capturing stereo sound of fantastic quality. However, the UI hasn't been organized the best way possible. Most settings and adjustments are placed in a single list with lots of sub-menus, so getting to the one you need may take more steps than it should. Thankfully, the frequently used ones are placed on the very top of the list.
On the LG G2 we have a well-arranged user interface with lots of shooting scenes for photos and live effects for videos. The best thing about the smartphone's camera is that it features optical image stabilization, and it works pretty well, as our experience shows. Another awesome perk is the option to shoot video at 60 fps, and the improvement in quality is easy to notice.