Comparing Nokia Lumia 1020, Samsung GS4 and HTC One Camera Quality

Nokia's new Lumia 1020 smartphone packs a 41MP digital shooter, but is it really that much better than other high-end smartphones on the market? CIO.com's Al Sacco answers this question by comparing three sets of images taken with the Lumia 1020, Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

Nokias brand-new Lumia 1020 Windows Phone packs one of the most unique phone cameras on the market today. Carl Zeiss Tessar lens; 41MP (forty-one-megapixel) PureView camera; 1/1.5" sensor size; f/2.2 aperture; 26mm camera focal length; 15mm minimum focus range; Xenon flash with 4.0 m operating range; yada yada yada.

Nokia Lumia 1020

And the Lumia 1020 commercials suggest the device will make you want to retire your digital point-and-shot camera for good.

But how does the Lumia 1020 really stand up to other high-end mobile phone cameras? Check out the image comparisons on the following few pages to see for yourself. I pitted the new Lumia against Samsung's popular Galaxy S4 device and HTC's flagship Android phone, the One.

(Note: The iPhone 5 is one of if not the most popular smartphones on the market, and it packs a quality camera. I would have liked to include iPhone 5 images in this comparison, but I dont own one. So please don't bother commenting to tell me I should have included the iPhone.)

Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One

The following comparison is not meant to be scientific; it's meant to serve as a quick image-quality comparison. I did not use any "advanced" settings; in all cases, I used the cameras' default and "auto" settings. I also won't get into too many cameras specifications beyond the following basics. If you want details or full camera specs visit Nokia's Lumia 1020 page, Samsung's GS4 page or HTC.com.

Nokia Lumia 1020 rear-facing camera: 41MP; f/2.2 aperture; autofocus.

Samsung Galaxy S4 rear-facing camera: 13MP; f/2.2 aperture; autofocus.

HTC One rear-facing camera: 4MP; F/2.0 aperture; autofocus.

Yesterday I visited The Boston Common (this page) and the city's Public Garden (pages three and four) before work, and I captured images using the Lumia 1020, Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

The image sets are composed of single images from each device, of the exact same scene, taken at the exact same time, followed by zoomed-frames taken from the same images. The zoom frames are meant to show close-up detail and image quality. You can click the first three images on each page to see the full-size, full-resolution images captured by each device.

NokiaLumia1020_StateHouse_Small.jpg
Massachusetts State House, Nokia Lumia 1020 (Click to enlarge)
SamsungGS4_StateHouse_Small.jpg
Massachusetts State House, Samsung Galaxy S4 (Click to enlarge)
HTCOne_StateHouse_Small.jpg
Massachusetts State House, HTC One (Click to enlarge)
NokiaLumia1020_StateHouse_Zoom.jpg
Massachusetts State House, Nokia Lumia 1020 (Zoomed In)
SamsungGS4_StateHouse_Zoom.jpg
Massachusetts State House, Samsung GS4 (Zoomed In)

HTCOne_StateHouse_Zoom.jpg
Massachusetts State House, HTC One (Zoomed In)
NokiaLumia1020_GardenWater_Small.jpg
Boston Public Garden, Nokia Lumia 1020 (Click to enlarge)

SamsungGS4_GardenWater_Small.jpg
Boston Public Garden, Samsung Galaxy S4 (Click to enlarge)
HTCOne_GardenWater_Small.jpg
Boston Public Garden, HTC One (Click to enlarge)
NokiaLumia1020_GardenWater_Zoom.jpg
Boston Public Garden Swan, Nokia Lumia 1020 (Zoomed In)
SamsungGS4_GardenWater_Zoom.jpg
Boston Public Garden Swan, Samsung GS4 (Zoomed In)

HTCOne_GardenWater_Zoom.jpg
Boston Public Garden Swan, HTC One (Zoomed In)
NokiaLumia1020_GardenStatue_Small.jpg
Boston Public Garden, Nokia Lumia 1020 (Click to enlarge)
NokiaLumia1020_GardenStatue_Small.jpg
Boston Public Garden, Nokia Lumia 1020 (Click to enlarge)

HTCOne_GardenStatue_Small.jpg
Boston Public Garden, HTC One (Click to enlarge)
NokiaLumia1020_GardenStatue_Zoom.jpg
Boston Public George Washington Statue, Nokia Lumia 1020 (Zoomed In)
SamsungGS4_GardenStatue_Zoom.jpg
Boston Public Garden George Washington Statue, Samsung GS4 (Zoomed In)
HTCOne_GardenStatue_Zoom.jpg
Boston Public Garden George Washington Statue, HTC One (Zoomed In)

Now, on to my conclusion....

Nokia Lumia 1020, Samsung GS4 and HTC One Camera Comparison Conclusion

In the first set of images, the blue of the sky and the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House are bright and vivid in the Lumia image. You can see detail in the clouds that can't be seen in either the GS4 or HTC One images. The State House dome is barely visible in the HTC picture.

The second set of images demonstrates the richness of color in the Lumia 1020 image compared to the images from the other devices. The zoomed-in frame with the swan is a good example of the level of detail captured by each device; the ripples around the swan are much clearer in the Lumia images, and they're barely visible in the HTC One picture.

The final set of images also shows rich colors in both the Lumia and Galaxy S4 shots. The Lumia colors appear slightly more true to life. In the zoomed in the images of the George Washington Statue, the Galaxy S4 actually captured slightly more detail--look at the name Washington in the base of the statue. But the Lumia's light and color balance is better overall.

It's clear from the three sets of images that the Nokia Lumia 1020 does indeed consistently capture better quality images than both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. The colors appear brighter, details are more crisp and clear, and the photos look more natural overall.

That said, when you use the Lumia 1020's Pro Cam mode, the mode that captures the highest-resolution images, the device, by default, captures two images every time you snap a shot: a 5MP JPEG and a 34MP JPEG. If you take a quick picture and then send it to a friend via email, or to Facebook, Twitter or any other social network, you can only send the 5MP image--which obviously, doesn't look as good as the 34MP pic. A quick-edit feature lets you crop and zoom in on any full-resolution image you take using Pro Cam mode, so you can crop images any way you like. But the cropped images are only 5MP, not 34MP.

In other words, most of the images you share or send via Lumia 1020 are only 5MP, and they won't look as good as the images included in this comparison piece. There's good reason for that. Emailing huge photo files can take a long time, and some providers won't even let you send very large images. Most social networks also have image-file size limits--and even if they didn't, sending huge files over your cellular network wouldn't be ideal.

So to sum that all up, the Lumia 1020 camera can take noticeably better images than both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One. But you won't be able to use the highest-quality images whenever you want. In fact, in many cases you'll have to upload the images to your PC or a cloud-storage locker before you can use or share the full-resolution images. So don't expect your Twitter followers or Facebook friends to be commenting on the quality of your Lumia 1020 images.

AS

Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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