Camera Lens Distortions and Image Quality Test: iPhone 5S vs Samsung Galaxy S4

January 1, 2014

This is the second part of the iPhone 5S vs Galaxy S4 image quality comparison. In this article we’ll take a look at some more sample images taken with both phones and see if we can decide which camera has the best image quality. The test photos in this article were shot in daylight, so we are not testing the low light capabilities here, but I will do that in a future comparison. For those of you who are interested in the iPhone 5S low light performance, I recommend reading my iPhone 5S high ISO test.

We’ve seen in the first comparison that the iPhone 5S produces images that are more vivid / saturated, have higher contrast and due to that reason, the photos look much more detailed, regardless of the S4 resolution and amount of details advantage. We’ve also seen that in some type of scenes the iPhone 5S rendering look more pleasing, whether on others the S4 looks better. Some of you might prefer the other’s output, but both camera phones yield very pleasing results in daylight.

OK, now let’s examine even more images and see whether the comparison results from part 1 will repeat itself.

Miniature holly site in mini Israel

iPhone 5S sample image look punchier, less flat and looks like it has more depth

The image above repeats some of the things that we’ve seen in the first comparison. The iPhone 5S image is more vivid/colorful/saturated, contrast is higher than the Samsung Galaxy S4 photo that appears flat in comparison. On the other hand, when you look closely,you can see that Galaxy S4 image is more detailed (look at the stairs cropped image). It not a huge advantage in mt opinion, because the moment you resize the image a bit those details are gone, and how many of you really need such a higher resolution. Nevertheless, for those of you who are cropping the image and doing large prints its a good advantage to have.

Another difference that you notice between the Galaxy S4 and Apple iPhone 5S sample image is in the shadow area. The iPhone 5S resolves much more details there and it easier to see some objects in that shadow area, whether on the S4 image they are very obscure. This might tells us about the dynamic range advantage that the iPhone 5S might have over the S4, but that’s from observation only and more tests need to be done to verify this.

The iPhone 5S photo therefore seems to have more depth to it, and that’s what I like about the iPhone 5S images when compared to the S4 ones.  This is especially visible when sharing low resolution images on Facebook, Twitter or Whatsapp. No many people view the image on a large screen, and even if they do, they don’t watch it in the original size, which is much larger than the popular screen resolutions sold today.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 image looks more natural, and this is closer to what you see with your own eyes, whether the iPhone 5S image is a bit more saturated and a bit artificial, but just a bit. I’ve shot many photos in that day, and it was a cloudy day. On the S4 you can see and feel that it was a cloudy day, whether on the 5S it doesn’t look like that.

I have to admit that I personally prefer more vivid red, blue and greens, it just make the image visually more pleasing to the eye of the viewer.  For some people it will save image editing in order to ‘beautify‘ the image, make it more visually appealing.

I’ve also noticed that not everything is predictable when comparing the two side by side. The image processing might process the image slightly different depends on the lighting conditions and the subject, which might yield different results than expected.  For the most part, the different between the S4 and 5S are similar roughly 95% of the time.

Lens Distortions

In this part I also want to talk about the lens distortion. The iPhone 5S les is wider than the S4. This helps the iPhone 5S to capture more of the surroundings, both horizontally and vertically (aka larger field of view). This makes the iPhone 5S camera a better tool for landscape and indoor shots. Having said that, the iPhone 5S lens suffers from strong distortion, which is more salient when you shoot a closeup subject.

Here’s a good example of such distortion.

iPhone 5S lens distortion test photo:

iPhone 5S lens barrel distortion test

iPhone 5S lens distortion test image

Now the S4 photo:

Steeple of a church, Galaxy S4 lens distortion test

Samsung Galaxy S4 lens distortion test

In the second image you can clearly see that the iPhone 5S suffers from much more severe lens distortions compare to the Galaxy S4 lens. Both photos are aligned to the same horizon line (see the right tree as the pivot point).  I measured approximately 2.38° ∠ difference from the 90° vertical line in favor of the S4 and in this particular shot. It might not sound much, but it is certainly visible in the image above. This will make you think twice when composing the shot, and you should keep quite a distance from your subject in order to reduce or eliminate the lens distortion. This also makes the rear-facing camera of the iPhone 5S less ideal for self portrait shots, as it will distort your face and make you look like an alien.. just kidding.

So that’s something to look out for. There are software and apps that were designed to correct the distortion — some of them even do that automatically based on the phone’s type.

In test we’ve seen that the iPhone 5S was able to better maintain details in the shadow areas and produced visually more appealing images (it also depends who you ask), but does suffer from heavy lens distortions in closeup shots. On the positive side, you can capture a larger portion of the scene due to the 5S wider angle (smaller equivalent focal length). This might be less of a problem because both phones can shoot panorama images, which allows photographers to capture a much wider field of view of the scene – something to keep in mind.

Which phone camera you prefer? — share your opinion in the comment section below. Thanks.

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