iPhone 5S vs Samsung Galaxy S4 Image Quality Comparison

January 1, 2014

In this article I want to discuss the differences in image quality and image processing between the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S4, I have been shooting with both phones at the weekend and had a chance to examine the cons and pros of each one. However, I was more interested in comparing the images from both phones and see if there are substantial image quality differences.

Both the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S4 cameras have been praised in many mobile phone review websites.  When you view photos from each phone on its own, it’s easy to get excited with the IQ, but you don’t get to understand how one camera compare to another.  I’ve been shooting outdoors in a cloudy morning.  The sun was still shining through and the lighting was perfect for shooting, before the sun gets high in the sky.

For my surprise, I did find some noticeable differences between the image. Both the S4 and 5S cameras produced very  sharp photos, and the Galaxy S4 had a clear resolution advantage, no one gonna argue about that. However, I did notice that the iPhone 5S images have a higher contrast, more saturated, but still on the cold side compare to the warm yellowish look of the S4 images.

I first thought that this might be due to a particular lighting scenario, so I took more and more photos to verify this.  At the end of the day I came to a few conclusions:

  • S4 has a noticeable resolution advantage (13MP vs 8MP)
  • 5S produces images with higher contrast
  • 5S images look more vivid, whether the S4 look more flat
  • 5S images are “cooler” than the S4 ones — the S4 images produced more yellowish “wrammer” tones
  • Both the 5S and S4 images are very sharp
  • S4 tend to overexpose, whether the 5S exposure was spot on most of the time (especially when shooting against bright background)
  • The 5S photo looks more detailed due to the higher contrast
  • S4 better resolves fine details and texture quality was better
  • The S4 image look more natural, whether the 5S processing adds more punch to the image
  • 5S has a noticeably wider field of view, but suffers more from barrel distortions
  • 5S has much more noise in the shadow areas / dark tones, but beats the S4 in low-light.
    The reason for the noisier shadows (see sample image below) is the extra exposure of the S4

Overall I found the image quality to be very close in terms of their optical performance. I found the S4 to look better for certain scenes, and the 5S on other scenes.

Let’s take a look at some sample images. This will give you a better understanding of the differences and correlate my findings with the test shots.

iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S4 sample image side by side comparison

iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S4 sample image's comparison

The iPhone 5S vs Samsung Galaxy S4 comparison image above clearly shows some of the differences that I’ve mentioned. You can see that the iPhone 5S has more noise in the shadows, but that’s due to stronger exposure of the S4, as the iPhone 5S does perform much  better than the S4 in low light. The S4 texture details are second to none, I was really impressed with the Galaxy S4 in daylight.  The Samsung Galaxy S4 main strength was in daylight, but I was a bit  disappointed with its low light performance.

Both the iPhone 5S has a f/2.2 aperture lens, Galaxy S4 has a f/2.4 aperture lens and the iPhone 5S has a slightly larger sensor (1/3″ [4.89x3.67 mm] vs 1/3.06″ [4.69 x 3.52 mm]).   The S4 have much higher resolution and considering its sensor size, it’s pixels are smaller than the 5S ones (1.34 µm vs 1.5 µm). This and the existence of a dual LED flash all helps the 5S to gain an advantages over the 5S in low-light.

Samsung is well aware of the S4 low-light capabilities, and I think that the stronger exposure was meant to make the image look less noisy by brighten up the shadow areas. This however might result in more blurry image because of slower shutter speeds — but I haven’t done any in-depth analysis on this though. You can take a look at the sky area and see for yourself that it is much brighter on the S4 photo – In fact, the overall image itself is brighter on the S4.

There is also no doubt that the S4 image has much more details due to its higher resolution. This advantage look significant when you look at 100% size photos, but gone when you resize photo.

The Apple iPhone 5S camera does produces photos that have more ‘punch’ to them, are more vivid and have a higher contrast. The nicely compliment landscape shots, and I found the 5S to produce better looking photos in that regard.  Most people don’t view images in full scale, so I think that for many people the GALAXY S4 resolution advantage won’t matter much.  When you view a scaled-down image, the iPhone 5S details are more prominent than the S4,  regardless of the S4 higher resolution and texture detail advantage.

Take a look at the sample image below to see what I am talking about..

Picture of a miniature church, comparing iPhone 5S and Galaxy S4 image quality

The iPhone 5S has punchier colors, higher contrast and brightness and it's more pleasing to view in my opinion

The image above look quite similar to the above one in some aspects. You can see that the iPhone 5S sample image is more vivid, has better contrast and look more pleasing to the eye of the viewer overall.  The S4 image (under certain lighting conditions) looks a bit foggy. It was a cloudy day, so you can’t blame the sun for this. The thing is that it’s like that in most of the image that I’ve taken at that same place under various shooting angles, subjects and slightly different lighting conditions — The iPhone 5S images just look better overall.

Worth mentioning that in some images I preferred the flat look of the S4, while on other photos (like the one above) I preferred the iPhone 5S version.

Sunset at the marina image quality comparison

The iPhone 5S higher contrast and vivid colors are prominent in low-light as well

As you can see from the beautiful image above, the iPhone 5S also shows its punchier rendering in low-light as well. The S4 has much more yellowish tones, but it doesn’t affect the whites as you can see.   Like in daylight, the Samsung Galaxy S4 image also appears brighter here, but the water look gray rather than blue. I actually liked how the S4 image turned how to be in that particular scene, but the iPhone 5S look more colorful and that certainly works well for this particular image.

As you can see from the above sample images, both the S4 and iPhone 5S have their cons and pros, depends on the scene and the viewers personal preferences.  The S4 will definitely yield a more detailed image and I think portraits will look better on the S4 than on the 5S due to its more subtle color rendering. Landscape shots however will probably look better on the iPhone 5S due to its deep blues and greens.

All in all, we have two excellent mobile cameras, each one with its own unique look. I personally prefer the iPhone 5S look, which one do you prefer?

Continue to Galaxy S4 vs iPhone 5S Image quality test part 2

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