Camera comparison: Samsung Galaxy S4 vs HTC One, Sony Xperia Z, iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 920 and Galaxy S III

Introduction and Overall presentation


Since the Samsung Galaxy S4 finally landed at our office several weeks ago, we've been having quite a lot of fun with it. First we gave it a full-blown review treatment and then we compared it to some of the smartphones it will be going toe to toe against. Yet we haven't taken an in-depth look at its camera capabilities, so that's what we'll be doing right now. In particular, we'll be comparing it against five other high-end smartphones, namely the HTC One, Sony Xperia Z, iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 920, and the Samsung Galaxy S III. For reference purposes, there's also a proper digital camera involved in the comparison – a Panasonic Lumix GH2 equipped with its out-of-the-box lens kit.

Overall presentation:

We'll start by taking a look at all photos from the viewpoint of an average consumer. In other words, we're keeping things simple for this category, without focusing on the minute details (as we're saving that for the next page of the comparison). For fairness' sake, all of the photos below have been scaled down to a resolution of about 2.8 megapixels as that's sufficient for most people's needs, such as sharing the images online or printing out small-sized hard copies.

Although the lighting conditions weren't perfect – our outdoor samples were taken on an overcast afternoon, all phones managed to deliver satisfactory results. A few of them stood out, however. The Samsung Galaxy S4 and the iPhone 5, in particular, take photos that are very pleasing to the eye. When compared to our reference camera, it becomes evident that both phones tend to boost the exposure and color saturation a bit, but they rarely overdo it. As a result, images are livelier and better looking, without being too detached from reality. Also, both phones' photos look nice and sharp, although we'd say that the Galaxy S4 is a step ahead of the iPhone 5 when comparing overall image detail and presence of noticeable digital noise.

The Samsung Galaxy S III has always been strong in the camera department and it once again presents us with great results. In fact, it is almost as good of a performer as its successor, although its photos aren't quite as vivid. About as good of a camera as the S III, at least in this case, is the Sony Xperia Z, whose imperfections (smeared details, purplish tint around edges) aren't noticeable at lower resolutions.

The HTC One deserves credit for keeping colors as true-to-life as possible, but we noticed that its camera has a tendency to underexpose objects when shot against a relatively brighter background. Also, there's a lack of contrast in its daytime shots. The Nokia Lumia 920, on the other hand, distorts reality in the opposite way as it has its saturation dial turned way too high. That might work well in particular scenes, but others simply look unnatural.

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