In this article I want to compare the camera performance of three popular mobile phones: the Apple iPhone 4S vs Nokia 808 PureView vs Samsung Galaxy S3 / SIII. Three popular mobile devices, each one with its own unique offering. I won’t talk about the phone performance or features, I will emphasize on the camera performance in both stills and videos.
When we buy a mobile phone device, usually pick one based on the looks, size, operating system (ie. Android, iOS) and camera. The camera is probably one of the most attracting feature, because most of us are connected to facebook, sharing thought, image and videos that we’ve taken. When Nokia announced the 808 PureView, it actually changed our understanding on mobile phone cameras. Before the 808 PureView was announced, I viewed sample videos and images of various mobile phones, and didn’t found anything spectacular to write about. Indeed, in every generation, image quality is improved. BSI sensors have improved image quality by quite a lot. Even so, due to the popularity of mobile phones, mobile phone manufacturers always search for ways to sell more phones, and what’s better than to improve the camera performance.
Let’s start our comparison with a few opening words about each phone, introduce to you the basic specs of the cameras. I think the best way is to present the specs in a table, so you can see how the three cameras defer from one another.
|Samsung Galaxy S3||Apple iPhone 4S||Nokia 808 PureView|
|Sensor Architecture Type||BSI-CMOS||BSI-CMOS||CMOS|
|Sensor Size||4.54×3.42 mm||4.54×3.42 mm||10.67×8.00 mm|
|Total Effective Pixels||8MP||8MP||38MP|
|Sensor Model Name||S5C73M3||OV8830||N/A|
|Max. Image Reslution||3264×2448 pixels||3264×2448 pixels||7728×5368 pixels|
|Lens||3.7mm (28mm) f/2.6||4.28mm (33mm) f/2.4||Carl Zeiss Tessar lens
8.02mm (26mm) f/2.4
|Video||1080p30 Full HD||1080p30 Full HD||1080p30 Full HD|
|Camera Key Features||Simultaneous HD video and image recording|
face and smile detection
|8-megapixel iSight camera|
Tap to focus
Face detection in still images
Photo and video geotagging
Auto and manual white balance
Still image editor
Full screen viewfinder
Center weighted auto exposure
|Flash||LED flash||LED flash||Xenon Flash (4m)|
Let’s summarize it in a few words:
- Nokia 808 PureView has the highest sensor resolution and the largest sensor size
- Nokia uses high-end Carl-Zeiss optic
- All cameras can shoot Full HD 1080p videos
- Nokia PureView offers the widest angle (26mm), iPhone 4S the least side
Mobile Phone’s Sensor Size (Bigger = Better)
Without getting into too many technical details, we can see that the Nokia 808 PureView has the largest sensor, but how large is the 808 PureView sensor in comparison to the iPhone 4S and Galaxy S3? – Let’s take a look!
Look at the diagram above. There is not doubt that the Nokia 808 PureView is much larger than the sensors of the Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S III. It’s a very significant difference and I will soon explain why.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 and Apple iPhone sensors are the same size.
The above sensor size images are provided by camera image sensor website. You can use this site to compare sensor sizes of various camera models from various manufacturers.
As you can see, the Nokia’s sensor is almost as large as the Nikon 1 J1 1-inch sensor, which is a Compact System Camera, and not to small from an APS-C sensor of the Canon 650D DSLR camera.
This is important: The larger the sensor and in almost all cases, the better image quality. The image quality also depends on the quality of the lens, image processing chip, sensor technology and the experience of the photographer of course. But technically speaking, the larger the pixels, the more light the sensor can gather and that leads to higher dynamic range, better color accuracy and mire detailed image. Even if the resolution of the sensor is higher, it doesn’t necessarily means that you get a more detailed image. If you compare a 14MP mobile phone camera to a 10MP Full Frame, you will find out that the Full Frame DSLR will beat the 14MP in terms of details. Image artifacts and the lack of lens resolution are some reasons why you won’t get a very detailed image, especially when shooting in high ISO and in low light.
So without washing your brain with all the boring technical stuff, what you need to remember is that a LARGER sensor does great things to IMAGE QUALITY, for both stills (photos) and videos. We want the highest image quality as possible, aren’t we.
When you buy a mobile phone or a digital camera, don’t fall to the megapixel marketing trick. In fact, a lower resolution sensor might in fact give you better image quality, in some cases on the expense of more fine details.
Image Quality in Practice
When can talk a lot about image quality. But what is “image quality”, how do you measure it?
Image quality can be measured in lab tests. Camera reviewers usually test camera with lenses that have similar specs. This is a good way to test the performance of the sensor. DXOMark.oom is one website that make those kind of testing, mostly for Interchangeable lens cameras though. DXO checks for Color depth, dynamic range and Low-light ISO performance and give every camera a score. This is one way to measure camera’s sensor performance. Although you won’t find mobile phones there, you can download the software and run it against your photos for analysis.
Most of us won’t do that anyway. What we do care about is usually the following:
- Noise levels at high ISO (low light performance)
- Image colors and saturation (vividness)
- Image size (resolution)
- Background blur (Bokeh)
- Skin tones
We want our photos to look great. Many of us don’t know or care about the technical stuff. We look at sample images and see if we like them or not. It’s easy to dislike images that have a large amount of noise, and those that that render our skin as yellowish or bluish, which is not flattering at all. We want to look great in photos and we want to be proud in ourselves for shooting great photos like pros. We know that we are going to share those images on Facebook or print them later on. Most of us don’t want to mass around with photo editing software. We want to click and get the best results right away.
Mobile phone cameras are designed to do just that. The are optimized for best results. Of course you have the option to edit your photos, whether its using the default camera software or by using various Android and iPhone apps that we download from the app store or other app serving online services.
Sample Images and Videos
Let’s look at some sample images taken with all three cameras, the Apple iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy SIII and the Nokia 808 PureView.
Apple iPhone 4S Sample Images
Samsung Galaxy S3 Sample Images
Nokia 808 PureView Sample Images
In order to learn to appreciate and compare image quality, you have to do some pixelpeeping work. I’ve been inspecting many sample images, enlarging each image 100% and viewed images in various high ISO settings. The Nokia 808 PureView tops the iPhone 4S and SG3 easily. The details, sharpness, colors and high ISO performance is in a league of its own. Dpreview already reviewed the Nokia 808 PureView and gave it the Gold Award. A prestige rating for the camera, and dpreview usually write reviews on conventional digital cameras, not mobile phone cameras. So maybe this is dpreview’s way to say: “We are very impressed with the 808 Pureview”, although they did say something quite similar in their conclusion: “Excellent detail resolution in all modes”, “Excellent video quality” (source). The ability manually control the ISO and WB is a bliss for enthusiasts photographers like me.
In fact, maybe it’s not such a fare comparison, considering the sensor size differences. The Samsung S3 and iPhone 4S image quality is very good. Don’t get me wrong here. Before Nokia came out with the 808 PureView, I was blow away myself with the image quality of the S3 myself.
highandroid.com compared the Samsung Galaxy S3 vs the Apple iPhone 4S in both photos and videos. The Samsung Galaxy S3 announced the winner in this comparison. Auto focus was also found to be better on the Samsung smartphone. At low light the Samsung has proven itself to be a very strong contender. In fact, the iPhone 4S struggled to provide usable photos in low light. Just to remind you that both cameras use the same sensor size, but technology has advanced, and the S3 sensor + lens provide a better image quality, sharper images, more vivid colors – and that’s for both stills and videos. This is a next generation phone that utilize a next generation camera as you can read and see.
OK, it’s time for a video quality test video comparison.
The next video has been taken by BesteProduct and it test the Samsung Galaxy S3 vs. iPhone 4S, Let’s take a look (I recommend watching the video in Full HD 1080p to really see the differences, also listen to the audio, changes from one phone to the other)..
This video might tell a difference story. If both phones are set to use the default settings for the camera it seems that the iPhone 4S handles exposure better than the S3. You can see that’s the Samsung Galaxy S3 has a much wider field of view in comparison to the iPhone 4S. Maybe this is the reason that leads to less contrast and less good exposure handling. The iPhone handles highlights pretty well. Auto white balance seems to be better on the iPhone 4S too (There is a greenish cast on white areas when filming in florescent lights)
Now lets see the Nokia 808 PureView vs Samsung Galaxy S3 test video made by BesteProduct.
In this comparison you can clearly see why the 808 PureView has the best mobile camera on the market today. At the start of the video (0:25 min) you can see moiré pattern in the building with the Samsung Galaxy S3, which is minimal, almost none existent on the Nokia. Color looks more neutral on the Nokia and a bit yellowish on the S3 (look at the grass). You can enjoy shallow depth of field in a much higher degree than on the S3, that’s because the 808 PureView has a much larger sensor (1:10 min).
(2:26 min) it looks like the Samsung Galaxy S3 handles low light better, is much less darker (that’s weird). The Nokia also having troubles with white balance there (2:29 min), see the greenish color cast on the wall.
Regarding audio, it seems that the Nokia does amazingly well in filtering background noise (2:30 min..).
At the hands of a more experienced photographer, the Nokia 808 PureView can result in some amazing footage, here’s one..
Yeh, I know.. Holly crap, the video quality is amazing! You can make an Hollywood movie using this camera..I mean phone. You can also see how important it is to stabilize the phone.. looks much better and doesn’t give me a headache when watching it.
RATING TIME: So if you want my opinion, I would put the 808 PureView first (waaaay first), Samsung Galaxy S3 second and iPhone 4S last (poor iphone, I’m sorry).
I”ve wrote about each phone, gave you some basic technical specs and gave you an insight about stills and image quality. This is not an in-depth lab-test comparison. I know that you want the bottom line and most of you probably didn’t reach this far. There are many things to consider above the image quality, and that’s the camera settings, manual controls, applications and other stuff. However, if you care about image quality, this is an easy decision.
The Nokia 808 PureView will give you the best image quality, no one will argue about that (I think, comment if you think otherwise). The Samsung Galaxy S3 (I9300) has a great camera that in some places was able to outperform the Nokia (ie. WB), but not in overall image quality (ie. sharpness, high ISO, video quality, color accuracy, yada yada..). Although it’s a bit hard to tell the differences sometimes, the S3 outperform the 4S, but not by a large margin in my opinion.
If you want the best photographic tool in a mobile device form, get the Nokia 808 PureView and finish with your dilemmas. Android or iOS operating system, I really don’t care. Most of the time I use Facebook and play angry birds (oh.. and read emails), other than that, I love taking pictures and shoot some videos. If you are like me, you will enjoy the 808 PureView much better than any other mobile phone on the market today (maybe until the iPhone 5 arrives).
Think like me or have other conclusions, please comment below and share your opinion – your opinion counts here!
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