Camera phone comparison; iPhone 5, Note II, HTC 8X, Lumia 920

Camera phone comparison; iPhone 5, Note II, HTC 8X, Lumia 920

Summary: Cameras are getting more and more important on smartphones and I have had the chance to use four of the newest high end smartphones to compare their camera performance.

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Camera phone comparison; iPhone 5, Note II, HTC 8X, Lumia 920

I have spent more than a week with both the HTC Windows Phone 8X and Nokia Lumia 920, along with owning the Samsung Galaxy Note II and Apple iPhone 5, so I thought it would be appropriate to most some thoughts on the camera performance for still photos and offer up some typical sample photos. This is not an exhaustive camera analysis, just a comparison of typical photos that I might shoot on a regular basis, which is what I believe consumers are likely to do when they buy one of these devices. The photos are in the order of iPhone 5, Galaxy Note II, HTC 8X, and Lumia 920.

Check out my image gallery of the sample photos.

A LOT has been written and said about the Nokia Lumia 920 and its strength to capture low light photos. As you can see in my image gallery, it is clear that the Lumia 920 is very strong with low light photos so the claims seem to hold true. You can also see that all four did well in regular daylight with typical photos. If you zoom in and dive into the details then you may see that the Lumia 920 and iPhone 5 go head-to-head for best overall smartphone of these four for photos. I also own the Nokia PureView 808, but that is my wife's new main phone and without any testing I can tell you that one is the best. Rafe and Steve actually posted an excellent Nokia PureView shootout article comparing the Lumia 920 to the 808 Pureview, HTC One X, and Lumia 900. As I thought, Nokia really dropped the ball with the Lumia 900.

CNET also posted a camera phone comparison article that pits the Lumia 920 against the HTC 8X and Apple iPhone 5. All three had strengths and weaknesses with the iPhone 5 being the most consistent. It is pretty clear that software algorithms are pretty important and the processing of photos is almost as important as the optics behind them. It looks to me like HTC may be trying too hard with their camera software as their photos were generally of poorer quality than the other three camera phones and I know they have high end technology in their ImageChip solution.

I didn't go into all of the available software features on each platform, but know that the Note II and Samsung have an extensive amount of shooting options. Windows Phone 8 has a few available options with some additional "Lenses" for more advanced shooting modes while the iPhone 5 keeps it very simple with very few options for the consumer. 

It is tough to judge and grade photos without seeing the real life scene in front of you. Grading them is also pretty subjective and what looks good to you may not look good to me since we may have different aspects that are important (such as, I like rich color while you like sharp detail). Here are MY picks for the best photo in the six different scenes I have in my image gallery:

  • Seattle street: Lumia 920 followed by iPhone 5. Check out the sky in center back and richness of colors.
  • Leaf and flag: Too close for me to call, only 8X seems too white.
  • Seattle waterfront: iPhone 5, provides best color, lighting, and color match from reality.
  • Leaf on Puget Sound: Lumia 920 then iPhone 5. 8X again is too white.
  • Low light couch: Lumia 920 is clear winner, while 8X actually faired well.
  • Low light Halloween: Lumia 920 smoked it with this photo, followed by iPhone 5.

I honestly think most consumers can buy any of these four phones and be satisfied enough with the camera to post to Facebook, share with friends, etc. I never print my camera phone photos and these are all much better than phone cameras we had just a year ago. Feel free to view the images in my gallery. I couldn't upload the full size image for you to compare and zoom in yourself to see the fine details but that is a limitation of the ZDNet gallery system.

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Topics: Mobility, Apple, HTC, iPhone, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Smartphones

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11 comments
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  • Photo Comparisons

    It would be great if the images showed what you are saying. Perhaps this is due to the quality of my monitor or the images posted. But my own view is that many images are about the same, except for their ability to portray a good photo in bad contrast and low light. As to these, some phones are clearly superior.
    Cliff Potter
  • Low light photos matters the most.

    Low light photos matters the most...comes handy for parties and night outs... I am getting a 920 for the camera and nokia maps/drive.

    Matthew, which phone are you buying, 8X or 920?
    owlllnet
    • Maybe both :)

      It is still not an easy decision to make. The 8X hardware is fantastic and pics are fine for the most part. The Lumia 920 had many more features and software with an excellent camera. It is heavy though, but probably the better device overall. Then again the 920 is limited to only AT&T :(
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • Seriously???

        In case you didn't know Jessica Alba uses this as her primary phone. If that wafer thin buck-fifteen woman can cay it then you have some serious muscle deficiencies. So all of you flabby weakly girly men out there who complain about the weight need to get to the gym and have Hans and Franz Pump You Up!
        Drewidian
      • Picture quality

        What about the camera's blurriness? How do they compare? Who's really the best in daylight photos when you start tweaking the ISO, balance, etc?
        wynjoe
  • thanks for the gallery

    looks pretty clear 920 wins, though not by THAT much (definitely not enough to get me to get the phone over something else). iphone 5 and note 2 look totally even, and 8X is definitely too white as you said.
    theoilman
    • No way to Apple

      I wouldn't buy and iPhone with YOUR money. Apple can crash and burn, as far as I'm concerned.
      ScubaDog
  • Visual comparision maid by Eyebal Mark I Mod 0?

    That is nice and all, but YOU FORGOTTEN TO ATTACH SPECIFICATIONS.

    So can you tell us how good eyesight you have?

    No eye disabilities? No color perception problems?

    Hand shaking? Or pictures where taken with stative?
    przemoli
    • Hmm. Yeah I'm beeing a bit humorous.

      But personal comparisons ARE subject to subjectiveness ;P

      Can not imagine why nobody is putting those phone into lab to test them (and their displays, as watching brilliant picture on bad display defeat purpose)
      przemoli
  • Reference image

    What would be useful is to compare these with a reference dSLR image.
    pdskep
  • Request ... 8x vs. 810

    Matthew - thanks for the comparison photos and analysis. Like you I have been a long time T-mobile customer, and don't see that changing any time soon. That being said, my current phone is a Radar, and I can't wait to test out the new WP8's! Was wondering if you might be able to post a comparison of the 8x vs. the Lumia 810 - especially the camera. I understand the 810 doesn't have the same stabilization as the 920, but I've been unable to find much about it online. Your comparisons are quite helpful, but for those of us sticking with TMo, looks like the 8x or 810.
    kbagrows