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Camera comparison: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact vs Xperia Z1, LG G2, iPhone 5s, Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One



To say that the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is a remarkable device would be a huge understatement. It is a phone that boldly breaks the status quo among Android high-ends – a phone the very existence of which proves that a top-notch Android device can come in a relatively small, pocket-friendly package. Design, however, isn't the only thing there is to like about the Z1 Compact. One should also be excited about the 20.7MP camera that the phone comes equipped with. The snapper isn't just good. It ranks among the best that we've come across recently, which makes the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact well worthy of being stacked against the big boys in the cameraphone department.

So yeah, it is time for another smartphone camera comparison, and the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is having the honor of being the star of the show. We've chosen to compare its camera against those of five other capable and well-known smartphones, namely the Xperia Z1, the LG G2, the iPhone 5s, the Samsung Galaxy S4, and the HTC One. We've also used a Panasonic Lumix GH2 in the shoot-out in order to demonstrate how a proper camera would have captured each of the test scenes we've selected. Now for those who are into digits and raw data, here's a rundown of the specs of these phones' cameras.

Before we dwell any further, we feel obliged to shed some light on the shooting process by which the images from the Sony Xperia Z1 and Z1 Compact have been produced. We chose to leave these two phones in their default Superior Auto camera mode since we believe that's what a typical user would be feeling most comfortable with. Sure, Manual mode lets one crank up the resolution gauge all the way up to 20.7 megapixels, but in reality, most people rarely need such gigantic photos. Instead, the great majority of smartphone users should be perfectly happy with Superior Auto's high-quality 8-megapixel photos of “easy-to-share” size. Keep in mind that the camera software produces these by scaling down images captured using the entire width of the sensor – that's why there's a lot more detail in them than one might expect. Plus, Superior Auto offers lossless-like digital zoom and takes care of scene adjustments automatically. No modes other than their respective default ones have been applied on the rest of the phones, unless noted otherwise. With this lengthy disclaimer out of the way, let's dive into it!

Color reproduction

Grading the color reproduction of these phones' cameras is a challenge, to say the least. Color accuracy in their photos tends to vary slightly from one scene to another so if a camera performs well under certain conditions, it might not get its job done as well in others. If you're holding on to a Sony Xperia Z1 or a Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, however, chances are that the results won't leave you disappointed. Their cameras stick very closely to the neutral color tone, just like a proper camera should.

The iPhone 5s tends to take photos that are slightly warmer than they are in real life, but it rarely goes beyond what we'd call acceptable. Actually, its photos are very pleasing to the eye because of that – the scene is more lively and likable even though it is a tad detached from the way it looks in real life. The Samsung Galaxy S4 and the LG G2 take photos that look nice overall, but some scenes end up colder than they should be. Also, their cameras tend to produce images that are a bit lifeless – brighter and even a tad overexposed at times. As for the HTC One, it has its own opinion as to how colors should look like. Some scenes are very neutral, while others are colder, greenish, or yellowish. On top of that, we don't like how it makes white objects brighter than they are, thus destroying all detail in them. Exposure is sometimes off, although that could be rectified with a tap on the object being photographed.

Camera comparison: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact vs Xperia Z1, LG G2, iPhone 5s, Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One

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posted on 03 Feb 2014, 07:49 9

1. emadshiny (Posts: 1144; Member since: 05 Dec 2012)

I can't understand why you still use One although it has a poor camera.
But overall, Sony and apple did a great job.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 07:58 4

3. MrKoles (Posts: 368; Member since: 20 Jan 2013)

It's a flagship despite it's horrible camera...
Oh yes, and I miss the Note 3.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:07 8

8. emadshiny (Posts: 1144; Member since: 05 Dec 2012)

Yep, I know but Xperia Z was a flagship as well which performed even better than One, but it was excluded from all camera comparisons from the beginning.
Of course now that Z1 and Compact are here its has no place but, you know what I mean.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:24 4

11. abdane (Posts: 494; Member since: 07 Oct 2011)

the Xperia Z is excluded because the Z1 is already out, you cant do a comparison where there is both the GS3 and the GS4...

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:36 2

14. emadshiny (Posts: 1144; Member since: 05 Dec 2012)

Your answer is in the very comment that you answered.
Of course if you have read it, there would be no need to answer you once more.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:00 8

4. Duketytz (Posts: 534; Member since: 28 Nov 2013)

I think G2 and S4 deserve a mention too! They have some stunning shots especially the S4 even though it is one of the earlier flagship of 2013!

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:07 2

7. Finalflash (Posts: 3485; Member since: 23 Jul 2013)

Yea, it will be a year old in 3 months and is pretty much better than the other newer cameras in several areas.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 17:12 2

41. LGisgood (Posts: 833; Member since: 23 Jun 2012)

xperia z1 has 20.7mp, while G2 has 13mp

at night LG G2 BEAT THEM ALL!
G2 can records FHD@ 60fps.

LG has really done a Great job!
its a big improvement for LG!

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 21:05 1

45. DerryAhmad (Posts: 287; Member since: 05 May 2012)

Yep.. I have the S4 and I'm pleasantly surprised on how good its camera is, especially in taking night photos.

posted on 21 Feb 2014, 08:40

53. Snoobab (Posts: 175; Member since: 07 Dec 2011)

Yea and the N8 too. It's over 3 years old but still blows nearly every other smartphone camera out of the water. Super impressive!!

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 14:27 2

37. haseebzahid (Posts: 1853; Member since: 22 Feb 2012)

and the winner is 1020 :D Troll..ing.... you know we dont need samples to prove that

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 20:55 1

43. DerryAhmad (Posts: 287; Member since: 05 May 2012)

Yeah.. I'm not sure why they included a much more inferior One Camera in this test.
And where's Nokia? The 1020 is definitely a class of its own, but at least they could've included the Lumia 1520 in this test.

posted on 06 Feb 2014, 17:41

51. Hlorri (Posts: 40; Member since: 07 May 2008)

I have two phones:
- A Nokia 808 PureView, which despite its outdated OS and limited app selecion remains the reigning king of smartphone cameras -- at least for stills. Photos are completely noise free, and with higher optical and digital resolution (34 or 38MP) than any other phone out there... and ironically also quicker to shoot than the runner-up (the Lumia 1020)... I normally shoot at 16:9 radio, 8MP resolution, which gives slightly more than 2x lossless zoom...

- A HTC One, which overall is a very nice phone, but which nowadays does pretty poorly in reviews like this one (lack of both optical and digital resolution is the main culprit).

So.. there shouldn't be a question of which phone takes the better pictures, should there? If in doubt, just use the various photo comparison tools out there (e.g. gsmarena.com, connect.dpreview.com, ...), you'll quickly see the 808 dwarf anything else out there, let alone the One!

BUT, here's the rub. For most day-to-day casual occasions, I end up taking better photos with the One than with the 808! And I suspect, better than I would with ANY other smartphone out there, including the Z1!

I should clarify what I mean first. I won't claim that the One is able to produce the same IQ and noise-free detail for a nature shot or other still photo... then again, for that type of scene you really need a DSLR anyway. I also don't claim that it has the same level of manual controls, for instance to produce a long-exposure photo.

Instead, the One is best in class when it comes to one particular aspect, which I think is THE most important attribute for the type of casual photography that you'd normally use your smartphone for: Blur!

(That is, the absence of blur).

First, it has a f/2.0 aperture, i.e. a "faster" lens than all other smartphones out there. This allows for shorter exposure times, so moving people and objects are frozen in time quicker. Only the Z1 has as wide an aperture -- and even so, after comparing EXIF data from various HTC One vz. Z1 side-by-side photographs online, the One routinely produces shorter exposure times. In my own comparisons, HTC One's exposure times average about 5/8 those of my Nokia 808 PureView (f/2.4 aperture), which in turn STILL are faster than those of, say, the Nokia Lumia 1020.

Second, I do end up taking a lot of photos indoors, where high pixel resolution has next to no meaning (scenes are usually too dark to avoid noise and grains at the pixel level), but where the HTC One's UltraPixels really DO help.

Third, and this is perhaps where the HTC One has the biggest advantage: Its "Zoe" mode. Especially when snapping photos of kids in play, it is often very difficult to capture the ideal moment. With Zoe, you get 30 frames within a 3 second interval, which often has helped me capture moments that would otherwise be lost due to blur or to missing the precise frame.

Those things are of course not reflected in side-by-side comparisons like these.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 07:55 1

2. MrKoles (Posts: 368; Member since: 20 Jan 2013)

I wonder why does the same camera produce seemingly worse pictures...
Hope they'll fix it with 4.4.2.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 09:04

17. buccob (Posts: 2699; Member since: 19 Jun 2012)

It is probably software differences... The Z1 and Z1 Compact might be in different firmware versions on the Sony side...

This test is missing Macro shots, and HDR comparisson. Those are as important as Panoramic shots...

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:03 1

5. bucky (Posts: 3100; Member since: 30 Sep 2009)

Seems like a fair comparison. I had the s4 for a few weeks and I it was a great camera. Now with the 5s, it's much better in low light and mixed light but lacks the zoom in detail of the s4

posted on 04 Feb 2014, 21:22

49. Bioload25 (Posts: 213; Member since: 12 Nov 2012)

Bro,can I ask why did you change your S4 for an iPhone 5s? Didnt make sense to me..

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:05 4

6. ArtSim98 (Posts: 3535; Member since: 21 Dec 2012)

Sony you really need to update the Z1 Compact! It's simply UNACCEPTABLE that a phone with same camera and everything as the Z1 still produces much worse pictures!

And PA, you should make your blind comparisons this big, because you usually put just a few pictures in them. It makes it hard to decide.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:18 1

9. strikercho (banned) (Posts: 156; Member since: 20 Mar 2012)

Good job in comparing. I'm surprised by Sony. Finally nice cameras. I won't ask why Lumia 1020 is not included, though. :)))

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:23 3

10. emadshiny (Posts: 1144; Member since: 05 Dec 2012)

I think now that every one agrees that Z1 is the best android camera phone, we must have a deep comparison between Z1, 5S and 1020.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 09:23

20. buccob (Posts: 2699; Member since: 19 Jun 2012)

Well... here I give you a shallow comparisson:

1020: Best details, best camera features, best night shots, best low light.

Z1: Best color reproduction, best macro (8cm minimum focal distance vs 14cm on the 1020)

5s: Best Panoramic pictures

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 10:09

24. adecvat (Posts: 312; Member since: 15 Nov 2013)

"best camera features"
No, where is HDR or burst?

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 11:04 4

25. PapaSmurf (Posts: 10457; Member since: 14 May 2012)

S4 takes way better Panoramic pictures. Just saying.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 11:33 1

31. buccob (Posts: 2699; Member since: 19 Jun 2012)

I know Papa, but I was just comparing what emadshiny asked...

@adecvat, you are correct, I should have place Z1 as best camera features... but what I meant, is Camera settings... EV, Metering, WB, Focus... etc
Sorry for the confusion...

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 20:58

44. DerryAhmad (Posts: 287; Member since: 05 May 2012)

I'm not surprised they didn't include Lumia 1020.
But why omitting the Lumia 1520? It's has almost the same camera specs as the Z1 and Z1 Compact - making it more comparable than the 1020.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:24 3

12. PapaSmurf (Posts: 10457; Member since: 14 May 2012)

S4 was running 4.2.2 when the 4.3 was pushed around the globe already... Why?

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:31 1

13. PootisMan (Posts: 259; Member since: 02 Aug 2013)

No Nexus 5

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:46

15. Joshing4fun (Posts: 1237; Member since: 13 Aug 2010)

Yeah surprised to see the Htc One and S4 here over the Nexus 5 as the two formers are about to be replaced by new models.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 08:49

16. Lauticol (Posts: 370; Member since: 25 Jun 2011)

HTC One got the lower grades, but in the blind comparison it scored better than the S4 and even the Z1 Compact.

posted on 03 Feb 2014, 11:05 2

28. PapaSmurf (Posts: 10457; Member since: 14 May 2012)

The last blind comparison was just a mess. Everyone chose the iPhone due to the color of the bench.

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