One of the most debated questions among people is which smartphone takes the best photos. There are many contenders to this prestigious title, but only one can be considered as the number one. Teleguru decided to let seven famous photo experts to take part in the biggest blind test ever made and to decide once and for all which phone can be considered as the best camera phone.
We traveled with 8 of the world’s best smartphones all the way to the country that is most famous for a movie that was actually recorded in Hollywood (Casablanca) – Morocco! We spent more than a week taking hundreds and hundreds of photos, pushing the possibilities of our smartphones to the maximum. The result? A couple of camera phones to die for, but also some major over-rated disappointments.
The test consisted of the best models available in Poland – Apple iPhone 5S, Apple iPhone 6, HTC One M8, LG G3, Nokia Lumia 1020, Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Sony Xperia Z1 Compact and Sony Xperia Z3. We divided it into 10 different sceneries, each representing everyday situations like strong sunlight, bad weather and indoor photos. For each scenery we took 8-10 photos and then selected the best one. For each scene the reviewers had to choose the three best photos which were awarded the phones with points (#1 place: 3 points, 2nd: 2 points and 3nd: 1 point). Later all points were added together and the models ranked by how many points they got (percent of the total amount).
In order to not be influenced by favorite brands we mixed the removed all file information that could reveal which phone took what photo. The photos were analyzed both in zoomed-in and zoomed-out mode so that factors like colors, contrast, digital noise etc. would be able to be compared.
IMPORTANT – Even though most of the phones offer special modes, we decided to take all photos in “automatic” mode which is the most common way to take pictures with a smartphone. Research has shown that about 95% of people do not want to spend more than 5-10 seconds taking a picture. Therefore the test results cannot be considered as the full potential of the cameras. A few will take better photos in manual mode (especially the Nokia Lumia 1020), others not. Also, we used a tripod so the iPhone 6 Plus with its optical stabilization would not have produced better images than the iPhone 6.
In order to make the test as honest and truthful as possible we asked six of Poland’s leading and most famous photographers and photo editors to rate the photos as experts. Also the owner of the website, Filip Wisnander, participated as he has analyzed photos from hundreds of phones for the last years.
1. White-balance and details
2. Perfect conditions, strong sunlight
3. Photos against strong sunlight (HDR)
4. Details and contrast in shadows
5. Cloudy day
Summary – day photos:
- Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – 39.52%
- Apple iPhone 6 – 20.95 %
- Apple iPhone 5S – 13.81%
- Nokia Lumia 1020 – 10 %
- Sony Xperia Z3 – 9.05%
- LG G3 – 6.67 %
- HTC One M8 – 0%
- Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – 0%
6. Details and colors in dark settings with artificial light
7. Whitebalance and details in fluorescent light
8. Camera flash – strength, details, colors and digital noise
9. Incandescent light mixed with daylight
10. Different types of artificial light at various distances
Summary – night photos:
- Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – 27.62%
- Apple iPhone 6 – 22.38%
- Nokia Lumia 1020 – 17.14%
- Apple iPhone 5S – 14.76%
- LG G3 – 10%
- Sony Xperia Z3 – 5.24%
- Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – 2.86%
- HTC One M8 – 0%
Experts’ total average:
- Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – 33.57%
- Apple iPhone 6 – 21.66%
- Apple iPhone 5S – 14.29%
- Nokia Lumia 1020 – 13.57%
- LG G3 – 8,33 %
- Sony Xperia Z3 – 7.15%
- Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – 1.43%
- HTC One M8 – 0.00%
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 totally crushed it’s opposition in automatic mode, regardless of light settings. The Korean flagship took pictures that had natural colors, lots of details and realistic contrast in most cases. However it’s camera had problems with incandescent light, creating a strong yellowish color. A quite interesting thing is that we tested the SM-N910F version i.e. with the one with the Snapdragon processor and… Sony sensor. This is worth mentioning because the Sony Xperia Z3 and Sony Xperia Z1 produced lot worse images compared to their Korean counterpart, even though they share the same sensor producer. This supports the theory that even though Sony produces outstanding camera hardware, they have serious problems with making the most out of it in their own products.
The iPhones also received a lot of points for their high quality images, especially during night. They proved that large amount of mega pixels isn’t the key to success and that 8 Mpix is well enough for most users. Contrast, details and exposure are often spot on, however they both tended to produce oversaturated images in some light conditions. Worth noting is the rather big improvement between the iPhone 5S and iPhone 6, which was quite visible when zooming the images. However, what really impressed us was the very high ratio of successful photos. This is something that can be crucial for those that don’t like to retake pictures.
The Nokia Lumia 1020, which was considered as a favorite by many readers wasn’t able to show its impressive photographic possibilities in the automatic mode. Despite being the oldest of the bunch it still managed to claim an impressive fourth position in the expert ranking. Compared to the Galaxy Note 4 and the both iPhones it had issues with reproducing natural colors and sometimes with digital noise. It had also a hard time taking photos against sunlight (it does not had HDR mode). On the other hand it impressed the jury during night shots where it came on third place. It’s worth mentioning that the phone was able to produce significantly better photos in manual mode, especially in terms of colors and exposure, but the test was restricted to manual mode.
The battle between the LG G3 and the Sony Xperia Z3 was really fierce with the Korean flagship taking better photos during the night (the strength of the LED light was really impressive) while its Japanese counterpart produced some high quality images during brighter conditions, especially against the sun. The relatively low score of the Xperia Z3 might come as a shock as it is highly regarded by many websites and magazines with its impressive 20.7 Mpix camera. Major problems with details and accuracy of white balance resulted in a really low score. However the biggest disappointment of the test were the HTC One M8 and the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact. Both models took non impressive quality pictures and had serious problems with producing white balance, details and contrast.
Our readers did a separate test with similar results, however compared to the Experts votes the differences between all phones were much smaller.
Summary – day photos:
- Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – 34.96 %
- Apple iPhone 5S – 16.84%
- Sony Xperia Z3 – 14.47%
- Apple iPhone 6 – 12.73%
- LG G3 – 9.88 %
- Nokia Lumia 1020 – 9.31%
- Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – 1.58%
- HTC One M8 – 0.23%
Summary – night photos:
- Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – 25.62%
- Nokia Lumia 1020 – 17.18%
- Apple iPhone 6 – 16.41%
- Apple iPhone 5S – 14.93%
- LG G3 – 12.88%
- Sony Xperia Z3 – 9.29%
- Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – 2.65%
- HTC One M8 – 1.04%
Readers’ total average:
- Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – 30,29%
- Apple iPhone 5S – 15,88%
- Apple iPhone 6 – 14,57%
- Nokia Lumia 1020 – 13,25%
- Sony Xperia Z3 – 11.88%
- LG G3 – 11.38%
- Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – 2.11%
- HTC One M8 – 0.64%
For a lot more detailed review please visit the main analysis (in Polish)