Ask LH: Is The Nexus 5’s Camera A Deal-Breaker?

Ask LH: Is The Nexus 5’s Camera A Deal-Breaker?

Hey Lifehacker, My sister needs a new smartphone. I think the Nexus 5 is the best spec phone for a very reasonable price, but she wants a phone that has a really good camera for taking impromptu photos or videos when she does not have her actual camera with her. How much has the Nexus 5 camera improved since the initial problems and updates? Or should she just switch to the dark side and be ripped off by Apple for the sake of a decent camera? Any thoughts? Thanks, My Camera Never Lies

Dear MCNL,

It largely depends on the type of photos your sis likes to take. The Nexus 5 is capable of capturing decent looking photos, especially in sunny outdoor environments. However, as you’d expect from a sub-$400 phone, the picture quality takes a nosedive in poor lighting situations.

The recent Android 4.4.1 software update brings several noteworthy tweaks on board, including better image colouring, quicker auto focusing and improved exposure settings. The updated camera app also takes less time to launch, which is handy when you need to take a photo in a hurry.

So how does the Nexus 5’s camera stack up against its pricier rivals? Below are some comparison shots we’ve taken using the Nexus 5, Nokia Lumia 1020, iPhone 5c and HTC One in a variety of shooting conditions:



Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, Google


Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, Google


Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, Google

As you can see, the Nexus 5 stacks up pretty well in daylight, but struggles a little in dimmer environments. The real letdown is the inbuilt flash, which has a tendency to blow out images. With that said, this is still an excellent showing when you consider the Nexus 5 is half as expensive as the other phones in the above test.

If your sister just wants to share her snaps on Instagram and Facebook, the Nexus 5 won’t disappoint. If she plans to make large prints of her photos or regularly shoots in dim environments like night clubs, she may need to invest in something with a bit more power beneath the lens.

If I was buying, I’d personally go for the Nexus 5. With that in mind, here are some tips for improving your smartphone photos in low-light bars and clubs.

If any readers have additional camera phone recommendations, let MCNL know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • No, it’s not a deal breaker. I’ve been using one for some time and it’s a great camera. My wife switched to a Nexus 5 from a much higher megapixel Sony phone and is also happier with it. I got my N5 after one of the updates that was supposed to fix it came out and have never had problems with it. You can even access it by swiping from the lock screen.

    Holding out for the impending Nexus 6 might be a wise choice as you might want to go for that or the N5 price drop that will come with it.

  • All images appear to have come from this article from November 2013, which means all the phones in this article are quite old and don’t include any camera-related patching.

    Of the 4 phones tested, there’s a new Nexus due any time now, the HTC One must be the old model (not the current M8), the new iPhones available for pre-order and the Lumia 1020 is well over a year old now.

    My advice would be to wait a month or so, and wait for the inevitable new iPhone / new Nexus / HTC / Samsung / etc comparisons to come out.

    • Um, there was already a link to the original Gizmodo article in our post.

      The OP was asking specifically about the Nexus 5, which is why we republished these images. They may be ten months old, but they remain a pretty good indicator of the phone’s photographic performance.

      • I think the point he is making is that the software also affects the quality of the photos you take, and for some of those phones, the software has changed in the last 10 months.

        I’m not sure how much of a difference it’d make for these particular images, but I’ve been seeing better results from the more post-processed modes on my Nexus 5 with newer software (e.g. HDR+).

        The “LensBlur” mode where it fakes shallow depth of field by building a depth map for the scene is also pretty impressive.

  • Just do not get a HTC one for the camera. It’s faulty in my partners and my phones.
    Hers has a purple cast to it and mine simply does not focus 75% of the time.

    • You must have been very unlucky. In general the HTC phones are very reliable, well-built and work well. My HTC One M7 has a superb camera, and is cheaper than the M8 (obviously).

  • The Nexus 5 is pretty crappy at night shots. We tried taking a few photos of friends at night and the old iPhone 5 was much clearer than the Nexus 5. The Nexus 5 was grainy and turned the background into a black hole.

    The HTC One M8 was very disappointing – any bright lights went purple!

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