Camera comparison: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8), Galaxy S4, iPhone 5s, LG G2, Nexus 5, Sony Xperia Z1

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We've tested dozens upon dozens of smartphone cameras over the past several years, and Samsung's offerings have always been among the very best. The Galaxy S II, for example, was an excellent performer for its time, producing detailed images and even 1080p videos (which was a feature rarely seen on a smartphone in 2011). Then came the Galaxy S III with its improved BSI sensor, super-fast burst-shot features, and drastically reduced shutter lag. Keeping up with the trend, the Galaxy S4 made the jump to 13 megapixels of resolution, while its set of software features received a welcome expansion – modes allowed the user to remove moving objects from the frame, and slow-motion videos were also added.

Having all that in mind, it goes without saying that our hopes for the Samsung Galaxy S5 are set pretty high. Will its new, 16MP camera manage to tackle the fearsome competition, however? Well, that's what we're here to find out – it is camera comparison time again! We've chosen to pit Samsung's flagship against some of the best smartphones out there, including the HTC One (M8), the Samsung Galaxy S4, Apple's iPhone 5s, the LG G2, the Google Nexus 5, and last but not least, the Sony Xperia Z1. Here's a quick look at what these phones' cameras have to offer:

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Color representation can make or break a photo, which is why it is important to know which phone captures the most accurate colors. The bad news is that neither of these phones is flawless in that respect. However, some of them do a better job than others. The Samsung Galaxy S5, in particular, captures most scenes in great fidelity, especially when given lots of light to work with. Gloomy, cloudy scenes have a slightly more saturated tone to them, but we're not bothered by that at all. However, brightly-lit white objects, such as the petals on the daisies in our photo sample, may turn out too bright, presumably because the software is set to boost the contrast of the image up a notch. But overall, we're very pleased with the Galaxy S5's color reproduction.

As for Samsung's flagship from last year, colors in its photos are not bad at all. In fact, we have to admit that some of its shots look better and more accurate than those from the S5, at least color-wise, while the new flagship has the upper hand in other scenes.

The iPhone 5s has an opinion of its own as to how things should appear. Its photos are very pleasing to the eye with their lively colors, but they turn out a tad warmer than what we'd call neutral. Nevertheless, the iPhone's photos are still very pleasant to look at.

The LG G2 is a strange beast. Sometimes it takes photos with excellent color fidelity and gets closer to our reference photos than any other phone. In other scenes, however, it can't get its colors exactly right, or at least not from the first shot. For example, the sky in one of our photos turned out violet, then we immediately re-took the photo only to get a much more natural image. Similarly, the HTC One (M8) delivers mixed results, but its gets its job done well most of the time. We noticed that better results may be obtained if we tap on our subject before taking the photo in order to aid the camera in setting its exposure straight.

Next up we have the Sony Xperia Z1. Its photos look nice when looked at on their own, but a quick check with our reference shots makes it clear that the phone boosts the colors' intensity quite a bit. The Google Nexus 5 is last on the chart. Not that its photos are bad, but their colors are often overly warm.


A high-resolution sensor is a valuable asset for those who value large, detailed photos – photos they can zoom in on and explore from up close. This puts the Samsung Galaxy S5 in an advantageous position, and sure enough, its photos look outstanding. At 100% zoom, some digital noise becomes evident, and we can clearly see some sharpness added to the shot, but overall, we're happy with the results.

Overall, the Sony Xperia Z1 performs about as well as the Galaxy S5 thanks to its large, 20MP sensor. Even its scaled-down images of 8MP, which the Intelligent Auto mode produces, are worthy of rivaling the 13MP cameras of the Galaxy S4 and the LG G2. The two latter devices are in the same league when it comes to details. The Galaxy S4 takes sharper photos, while the LG G2 softens them around the edges a bit, thus making details look a bit more natural.

As for the iPhone 5s, Apple's smartphone captures details really well, but it lags slightly behind the higher-resolution cameras. We're not bothered by that, however, since 8MP are still plenty. Details in the Google Nexus 5's photos are slightly softer compared to the iPhone's, but there's also less digital noise.

The HTC One (M8), unsurprisingly, is lagging behind in this category. Its 4MP sensor can't capture as much detail as the other phones used in this comparison, but still, its photos are acceptable. Even at 100% zoom, photos look clear, with a tolerable amount of digital noise.


Taking a photo in broad daylight is not much of a challenge for a smartphone's camera. Dim down the lights, however, and things get a little bit more complicated for the phones' snappers. In medium and low light scenarios, the Samsung Galaxy S5 takes decent photographs, but its LED flash usually adds a cold tone to the image. Digital noise is kept well under control, which is good to see. This is exactly how the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S4 behaves – it produces photos with rich, natural colors, but its LED light shifts the balance to the colder side. Still, the photos are perfectly usable.

The Sony Xperia Z1 is the phone we like the most, at least for this particular test. Its LED light appears to have a very low threshold level so it fires even when there's plenty of light around, but we're not complaining. Regardless of how strong the light source is, the phone's camera takes detailed photos with an accurate color balance.

Indoor photos from the iPhone 5s are detailed, but a bit noisy and warmer than they should be. The LED lights, however, illuminate the scene really well when used. Similar words can be said about the LG G2. Its indoor photos are good, but the colors are somewhat off.

The Google Nexus 5 and the HTC One (M8) are behind all phones in this category. The former can't quite get the color balance right, while the latter produces dull, lifeless colors. What's more, both take indoor photos that are quite noisy.


Well, what do you know – the Samsung Galaxy S5 is usable even at night. Its night-time photos aren't anything out of the ordinary, however. But they're good, or at least as pleasant-looking as those from the iPhone 5s and the Galaxy S4. There's a lot of noise in the S5's night images, but there's also a sufficient amount of detail captured in them. Results vary from one scene from another, but overall, we'd say that the result is a tie between the Galaxy S5, iPhone 5s, and the LG G2 at the top. Photos from the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Xperia Z1 are a hit or miss. Sometimes the former can't capture details well, while the latter might have a hard time locking the white balance in some scenes. The Nexus 5 is usable, but its photos are noisy and with less detailed. As for the HTC One, it has a tendency of overexposing the shots and there's also the understandable lack of detail. On the other hand, tapping on the object before shooting produces better results.


Now here's a surprise – the Samsung Galaxy S4 takes better panoramas than its successor. In fact, last year's model is the best of all when it comes to taking panoramic images, even better than the iPhone 5s. The panoramas from the LG G2, however, lack detail, while those from the Nexus 5 are taken at a very low resolution. The HTC One (M8) and Xperia Z1 produce even worse panoramas, with too much stitching defects in the produced image.


That the Samsung Galaxy S5 can shoot 1080p video is nothing out of the ordinary. What's worthy of being pointed out, however, is that its camera records 4K video at 30 frames per second and 1080p video at 60 frames per second. In particular, 60 fps footage looks really smooth and detailed, but the lack of image stabilization is clear to see. Similarly, the 30 fps 1080p video looks good enough, but it is also shaky unless you have a very steady hand. Shooting at night produces noisy, but very smooth video even at 60 frames per second. Still, we'd recommend sticking with the 30 fps mode should you not have a strong light source nearby. As for the captured sound, it is clear and natural, without any audible digitizing. Overall, the Galaxy S5's video quality can't blow us away, but we're very pleased with what we see.

The iPhone 5s may not have the option to shoot 1080p at 60 fps, but it has a great software image stabilization algorithm. Both its day- and night-time videos are very stable. What's more, footage is really detailed, with only traces of digital noise seen in low light. The sound, however, is muffled and mediocre at best.

The HTC One (M8) takes 1080p video at 30 or 60 frames per second. Both modes produce good results for their framerate, and although the software image stabilization isn't as good as its optical counterpart, it is better than having no IS at all. Undeniably, the One (M8) records the best audio in its videos, at least when compared to the rest of the bunch.

As for the Sony Xperia Z1, it is a worthy contender overall and about as capable as the Galaxy S5 when it comes to shooting videos. Its 1080p video is very detailed and with low noise even at night. There is no 60 fps mode, however. Sound quality is great, almost reaching the quality level established by the One (M8).

The LG G2 is once again delivering mixed results. Videos taken during the day are with excellent image quality, and its OIS feature does a great job at keeping the frame in place. Its 60 fps 1080p videos look outstanding, even compared to those from the S5. But at night, the LG G2 is pretty much unusable because of the unacceptable motion blur in the footage. Also, sound quality is below par.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a few steps behind flagships like the M8, the Z1, and the S5, but it is still a formidable shooter. Its videos might be a bit shaky, but they are with good detail and clear sound reproduction. Night videos are pretty noisy, however, so keep that in mind when shooting in low light.

Last, but definitely not least, stands the Google Nexus 5. Actually, its daytime 1080p videos look great, with lots of details and proper colors. What's more, the benefits of having OIS are clear to see. Night videos can be a bit blurry if you have fast-moving objects in the frame, and the noise is quite a lot. Sound quality is average.


So, we wanted to know how the 16MP camera on the Samsung Galaxy S5 performs, and the results from our comparison are now in. The answer is not going to surprise anyone – the phone is ideal for taking photos and videos under a broad range of circumstances. Its camera is fast, reliable, and with a rich arsenal of modes and settings to experiment with. Sure, the snapper was not a perfect performer in every single test that we put it through, but still, it ranks among the best on the market.

On the other hand, you'd be wrong to assume that the Samsung Galaxy S5 stands in a league of its own with its camera. Compared to last year's high-ends, such as the iPhone 5s, the LG G2, and the Sony Xperia Z1, Samsung's new flagship appears to be only slightly better in the camera department. That said, upgrading from one of these to the Galaxy S5 just because of its touted snapper can't be regarded as a justified investment.

The Google Nexus 5 and the HTC One (M8) are trailing behind the pack, just like the case was in our previous comparison. Their cameras aren't bad by any means, and the photos we just presented for you prove that, but if you want a smartphone with a truly great, versatile camera that would tackle even the trickiest of scenes, you might want to look elsewhere.

The final score for each phone represents its combined rating, but note that we're only taking into account the Details, Color representation and Indoor categories in the final score. We're factoring all the others (such as Night and Panorama) out, since those represent situations where users are less likely to take images in. Video recording isn't included either, since we consider it a separate thing from photo-taking. We've done this in order to end up with a final rating that is representative of a camera's performance in those areas, which we think are most important to users.

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