Design

Phone Camera Shootout: Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One vs. iPhone 5 vs. Lumia 920

Which flagship smartphone has the best inbuilt camera? We compare the photographic chops of four cutting-edge models: the Samsung Galaxy S4, Nokia Lumia 920, HTC One and iPhone 5. Check out the results for yourself to see which phone comes out on top.

The ability to take a decent photo is one of the most important strengths a smartphone can have — especially if you use it as your main camera. In the following article, we pit four of the latest high-end smartphones against each other in a handful of photography tests, ranging from low-light to macro. But first, lets take a look at the specifications of each phone’s camera…

iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 camera retains the same 8-megapixel shooter as previous models, but with a radically improved low light performance and enhanced video stabilisation. Other features include a Panorama tool, 1080p video recording at up to 30 frames per second, FaceTime HD camera with 1.2MP photos, tap-to-focus, face detection in video or still images, an inbuilt LED flash and photo/video geotagging.

Samsung Galaxy S4

The Samsung Galaxy S IV has been decked out with a 13-megapixel camera capable of shooting Full HD (1080p) video. It can also take 100 photos in four seconds, although we’re not sure what the practical purposes of this would be for a mainstream user. The most interesting thing about the new camera is its inbuilt editing software, which includes an auto-album creation tool, “talking” photos (via embedded audio files) and an ‘eraser’ function which lets you to auto-remove unwanted people and objects from your photos using the S IV’s touch screen. You can also simultaneously shoot with the front and rear cameras and then insert a Polaroid-style frame of yourself into the main image.

HTC One

The HTC One is equipped with a modest-sounding 4-megapixel camera with Ultrapixel technology. According to HTC, because the One’s 1/3-inch sensor has bigger pixels than the sensors of other cameras, it’s able to pick up light better. (Check out the low-light comparisons below.) Other highlights include simultaneous HD video and image recording, geo-tagging, face and smile detection, optical image stabilization and an inbuilt LED flash.

Nokia Lumia 920

The Nokia Lumia 920 comes with a 8.7-MP PureView camera with a Carl Zeiss Tessar lens (this was the cause of some controversy last year when Nokia produced a video that purported to be shot using the PureView technology. The company later admitted that the footage was fake.) Camera features include touch focus, landscape orientation, face recognition, automatic motion blur reduction, geotagging, optical image stabilization a true 16:9 sensor and LED flash.

Low-Light

To test each phone camera’s performance in low light, we shot a Hyosung GT-R 650 motorcycle speedometer in a darkened garage. Both the HTC One and the iPhone 5 produce solid light where there is barely any to speak of, but the Nokia Lumia 920 still produces great low-light shots with barely any noise or blur by comparison to the other three. The S4 fared a lot worse, however. [Note: We shot the low-light sample shots in full Auto mode for fairness.]

Macro

To test the macro mode of each phone, we took the cameras in to a distance of about 15- to 20-cm away from a cup of coffee (taken outdoors in high-light). As we can see from the image comparisons, the HTC One and the Galaxy S4 turn in fine performances, giving us great tones and colour in our caffeinated art. The iPhone 5 tends to overexpose the frame, somewhat, while the Lumia 920 does the opposite, and seems to be bucketing in contrast to make up for it.

We’d give this round to either the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One — it’s pretty much a dead-heat.

Landscape

We took the phones into Sydney Park to shoot around the duck pond, and found these great subjects just waiting to be snapped.

The iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S4 are the star-performers here — both rendered crisp, beautiful images. The only thing that puts the S4 slightly over the top is a better result in the highlights of the image. The light looks better on the top of the sleeper when captured on the Galaxy S4, even if it’s slight.

The HTC One caught glare from somewhere (each photo was taken in the same position within seconds of each other), meaning that the some of the colour and detail is washed out, but still impressive. The Lumia 920 had a few focus issues, constantly grabbing the scenery behind the subject. It’s still the most vivid of the four, however.

Here are the rest of our comparisons:

Click to enlarge…

Samsung Galaxy S4


iPhone 5


Lumia 920


HTC One

So there you have it. Based on our tests, we’d probably give our highest praise to the HTC One, despite being saddled with a four-megapixel camera.

Although the Lumia 920 was best in low-light situations and the Galaxy S4 excelled when it came to well-lit landscape shots, we think the HTC One provides the best all-round experience. This goes to show that you can’t always rely on pixel counts or fancy features when it comes to choosing the best camera phone.

You can read a full review of the Samsung Galaxy S4 over at Gizmodo.

Photos by Luke Hopewell


Have you subscribed to Lifehacker Australia's email newsletter? You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.