Photography is not just about the megapixel count. Various factors, such as the sensor size and type, ability to capture light and deal with colours, noise management, among others play an important role in the final image that is captured. However, in the recent past, smartphone manufacturers have simply upped the megapixel count, giving potential buyers a false image of the phone’s snapping capabilities. 

Which phone wins?

Which phone wins?

So, we got the world’s most popular camera phones in our labs and pitted them in a duel against each other. In the performance section below, you can have a look at how the Nokia N8, Sensation XE, Droid RAZR, Xperia Arc S and iPhone 4S stacked up against each other. Unfortunately, we couldn’t procure an S II in time for our comparison chart, so that will have to be a battle for another day. All photographs were taken at automatic settings and no tweaks or third party camera applications were chosen for any of the tests. As a reference point, we took a mid range point and shot to gauge the difference in the quality of the photos taken. 

Performance

Test 1: Studio Test

We tested the phone cameras in our studio set up – complete with a well-detailed subject and focus lights. Here are the images from the test (Click on each image to zoom it).

Nokia N8

Nokia N8

HTC Sensation XE

HTC Sensation XE

Xperia Arc S

Xperia Arc S

Motorola Droid RAZR

Motorola Droid RAZR

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Analysis:

Studio Setup Overall:

As a complete image, the iPhone 4S produces a very bright and clear image with good colour reproduction. The N8 comes a close second, as it looks a slight more saturated, but has good detailing and focus. The Droid RAZR and the Arc S seem to have got the colours horribly wrong, though. 

Test Area 1:

Our first close up was the fine lines located at the top of our set up. We gauged the different levels of detail and here’s what the pictures look like. 

Area 1

Area 1

Simply taking into account the first band, the photos shot on the Nokia N8 appear much crisper as compared to the rest. The N8 is able to finely distinguish the lines from the whole group. On the other hand, the Sensation XE and the RAZR can barely distinguish one line from the whole band, whilst the Arc S and the iPhone 4S blur out the lines into one patch. 

White levels have gone for a complete toss on the Xperia Arc S, which gives a purplish tint to the image. The XE gives the image a slightly warm tone. The iPhone 4S is very soft and has lost all kinds of detail as the lines are merging together. 

After the Canon SX230 HS, the N8 definitely wins hands down in this category. In fact, it’s only just that tiny bit less sharp than the Canon SX230 HS. 

Test Area 2:

We chose the second area to gauge the details and colour reproduction of the cloth and its texture. 

Area 2

Area 2

The vertical line threading is visible in both the N8 and the Canon camera. On a comparative basis, the colours on the RAZR have gone completely off; the hair and skin is pale, the cream and red are completely faded out, but detail has been captured well.

The iPhone 4S is brighter of the lot, but has more noise and grain that has diluted the line details, which the N8 has been able to capture so well. The Sensation XE has an extreme saturation level and both, the Xperia Arc and the XE, have a certain smudginess in the picture. 

Test Area 3:

The next area was to figure how much detail was captured in the coins that were stuck on the set-up.

Area 3

Area 3

Each phone seems to have generated its own tint in this section. The iPhone 4S brightness isn’t helping the detail one bit and the digits on the two rupee coin aren’t visible at all. The Xperia Arc S has the same pinkish tint but detail is well noticed. The RAZR seems to have turned the gold five rupee coin into a silver one rupee coin, but it has captured detail quite well and hence comes second in what is clearly a problem with the rest of the phones.

Test Area 4:

The last area was to check the colours on our standard colour block. With so many colours next to each other, phone cameras generally tend to have problems with getting the right colour and noise often becomes a problem. Here’s how the phones in our test fared.

Area 4

Area 4

After the camera, the Arc S has pretty accurate colours, it’s slightly on the saturated side, but definitely has less grain. Others in comparison seem to be a little washed out. The N8 is slightly brighter and there’s lots of noise in the iPhone 4S. The Sensation XE has very poor colour reproduction – the blue in particular looks disastrous. The RAZR gives the pink a slight purplish hue. 

Test 2: Macro Test

Next up, we checked depth of field and close up shots of the cameras and how they stacked up to the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS. 

Also the vantage points slightly differ, and it's mainly because of the separate settings of each sensor, so we've tried to see which setting captured most detail. The main factors taken into consideration out here are depth of field, detail and colour reproduction.  

Nokia N8

Nokia N8

HTC Sensation XE

HTC Sensation XE

Xperia Arc S

Xperia Arc S

Droid RAZR

Droid RAZR

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Each one of the cameras performs the depth of field part pretty well, so it's the other two aspects that we've concentrated on, during the comparison. The Xperia Arc S captures both colour and detail quite well and comes a close second. The iPhone 4S does a pretty good job as well, but the Nokia N8 appears a little washed out with very average colour reproduction. The RAZR performs the worst out of the lot, with extremely dark shades and with none of the colours as accurate as we wanted them to be. The image looks over saturated and clearly isn’t one of the phone’s best points. 

Test 3: Flash Test

In low-light conditions, more often than not, smartphones generally wash out the image with an overly powerful flash, or don’t appropriately illuminate the subject. Here’s how our test subjects fared.

Nokia N8

Nokia N8

HTC Sensation XE

HTC Sensation XE

Xperia Arc S

Xperia Arc S

Droid RAZR

Droid RAZR

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Firstly, the Canon PowerShot couldn’t take a snap at the same level as the others, because of its powerful flash and hence it has a different vantage point than the others. The Sensation XE is the one that does three crucial things very well – properly illuminate the object, ensure that colour isn’t washed out and keep it in focus; and the RAZR does an awful job at that. The N8 comes a close second, whilst the Arc S gives a greenish tint to the image, which was definitely not impressive. The iPhone 4S seemed to have focusing issues at first, but we eventually managed to get the right snap. 

Test 4: Natural light Test

We tested these devices when there was ample light surrounding the subject, a natural set up and one, which you’re most likely going to be trigger happy in. Here’s how our test devices fared.  

Nokia N8

Nokia N8

HTC Sensation XE

HTC Sensation XE

Xperia Arc S

Xperia Arc S

Droid RAZR

Droid RAZR

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

The iPhone 4S emerges a clear winner in this category with brilliant detail and just the right amount of light being captured. So much so that it even betters the Canon SX230 HS. The Sensation XE also surprised us and took a pretty sweet snap, but the only difference is the amount of light that is captured. The N8 could have done better with light capture, as the image has come out slightly darker than the rest. This also is due to the automatic setting we used it at. 

Test 5: Zoom Test

Digital zoom is definitely one of the major drawbacks of camera phones. The thinner they get, the lesser the chance of us seeing an optical zoom in any of these smartphones. We tried a zoom test and none of the cameras were able to click viewable snaps. The Sensation XE, however, came the closest to getting a good snap. The only problem was that every time we pressed the shutter button, image stabilization would go for a toss. 

Poor performances by all

Poor performances by all

The N8 does focus and capture the image extremely well, but its zooming power is relatively less, so it wouldn’t be a fair comparison to the rest of the phones. In terms of zoom, it’s best if you leave it to the actual cameras. 

Performance Chart:

Based on the images, we gave the appropriate ratings to each of these smartphones. Naturally, the Canon is more of a reference point for all these smartphones and isn’t exactly competing with the others. 

And the winner is...

And the winner is…

Verdict:

So, the images and the numbers give an extremely clear answer. If you’re one of those who wants to tweak their settings and get the best shot, as per your liking, then the Nokia N8 is a clear winner. It’s accurate with all the raw power it has and leaves the other phones behind. Yes, this phone from 2010 is still better than the other ones that launched in 2011.

Still going strong

Still going strong

However, if you’re one of those casual photographers, the iPhone 4S will impress you because of its ability to make pictures look bright, crisp and clear. The phone gives the average user what they would want to see, a nice overall picture. In comparison, the other smartphones definitely need to up their ante. Over to you folks!

Cover Image Source: Getty Images

Publish date: January 10, 2012 2:37 pm| Modified date: December 18, 2013 9:20 pm

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