As camera phones become more professional, they often take the place of dedicated point-and-click devices. But which one should you be carrying for best results?
Sony Xperia Z
The cameras on some phones are good enough to replace your digital compact, but the camera on the Sony Xperia Z would give some DSLRs a run for their money. By nature, professional photographers would rather use their own brain to judge picture settings. However, even the most hardened snapper might be tempted to stray out of manual mode and use the auto settings on the Xperia Z, such are their flexibility and the quality of their results.
There are dozens of shooting presets to help you capture the best images in many different conditions. Preset chosen, simply press the onscreen shutter button (only the lack of a physical camera button lets the Sony Xperia Z down) and the 13-megapixel camera focuses and shoots with impressive speed, even in low light and at each end of the camera’s focal range.
The images I took using the daylight auto presets were crisp with realistically reproduced colours, while gloomier shots still came out dripping with atmosphere. Auto focus was smart enough to cope with macro shots, and a range of built-in filters let me unleash my creativity without degrading the images. I got even better results in tricky conditions by switching to manual mode for greater control over ISO, exposure and white balance.
Overall, the Xperia Z’s amazing ease of use and excellent features prove that Sony’s smartphone cameras are currently best in class.
Nokia Lumia 925
Nokia’s Lumia smartphones are known for their impressive PureView cameras and the Lumia 925 packs a brilliant 8.7-megapixel lens. A camera shutter button placed handily on the edge launches your chosen camera app and can take you straight into shooting – even when the phone is locked. Standard outdoor shots and close-up macro snaps came out really well, with sharp focus and true-to-life colours, but the camera excelled in dimly lit interiors thanks to the PureView’s stable lens technology, which opens the shutter long enough to draw in plenty of light. There’s an inevitable hint of graininess, but when I viewed the results back on a monitor I couldn’t help but be impressed. Quirky bundled apps include SmartCam (which takes 10 rapid-fire shots and either keeps the best one or combines them into a trippy montage), while another feature removes people who wander into your shot. Overall, this is a featurepacked, capable camera.
Apple iPhone 5
The iPhone 5 pushed on in a few areas, but one feature that didn’t change much is its camera. An eightmegapixel lens with almost identical technology to the iPhone 4S’s snapper, it does at least now have the ability to suck in a little extra light for those evening or dark interior shots. I noticed a respectable improvement in brightness levels when taking photos indoors, while daytime shots were typically sharp with realistic colour reproduction. Unfortunately, that extra light did cause one problem. Pressing the virtual camera button causes the phone lens to tremble ever so slightly, and while this rarely affected iPhone 4S shots, it made a number of the iPhone 5’s evening snaps come out blurred. Apple has at least added a panorama function to bring it in line with plenty of rival Android phones. This is well implemented and simply panning the iPhone 5 from left to right can capture a wide scene, perfect for remembering those dazzling landscapes.
If ever you needed proof that it’s not all about the megapixels, the HTC One provides it. In a bold move, HTC decided to shun the double-digit figures seen on most camera phones and pack a four-megapixel camera into its excellent smartphone. The megapixel rating actually only plays a small part in a camera’s competence and the underlying technology makes a big difference to photo quality, while the glass used also plays an important part. Still, it’s brave, given that the original One X boasted eight megapixels. However, this smart, feature-packed camera’s secret weapon is HTC’s Ultrapixel technology, which ensures the f2.0 aperture lens captures as much light as possible. Outdoor photos rival any of the other major smartphones, capturing plenty of detail and rendering colours realistically. I particularly liked the way objects in the distance tended to ‘bleed’ out of focus, while your subject remains perfectly sharp. Only night shots struggled when there was little or no illumination, making the flash a must.
Samsung Galaxy S 4
The S 4 camera proved to be a great all-rounder, being more than suitable for the vast majority of users but offering elaborate features for those that want to dig into them. Its 13-megapixel camera (backed up by a very respectable 2.1-megapixel front camera for selfies) produced sharp and bright images with next to no lag. It’s packed with features too, although Samsung’s scattergun approach to adding in everything means some are useful and some are not. ‘Beauty Face’ (which does auto retouching) and panorama mode have made the jump from the Samsung Galaxy Camera but we could have lived without Dual Camera (which uses the front and rear camera to insert you into the image) and the twee Sound & Shot (pair an audio clip with an image). The most useful is Best Photo, which snaps eight images in one burst and suggests the best – often getting it right.
Sony Xperia SP
Sony’s Xperia SP rocks a more compact frame than the Xperia Z but still boasts a brilliant camera and a 720p HD screen. Happily, the Xperia Z’s intelligent Superior Auto mode – which makes it easy to capture bright, colourful photos in almost every kind of conditions – has been transferred to the Xperia SP and is just as effective. The Xperia SP also includes a physical shutter button on its right edge and holding it down when the phone is hibernating launches straight into the camera app. A little bit of pressure on this button allows the camera lens to focus, while pushing it down fully takes a snap. Naturally, there’s a variety of special modes such as Panorama and a bunch of funky filters and with its range of features and excellent performance, this is one of the best cameras you’ll find on a phone at this price. Best of all for amateurs, it takes no brains – just point and shoot.
Congratulations to all of the 2013 Mobile Choice Awards winners. You can find all of the incriminating photos on our official MCAwards 2013 website, and a full list of winners can be found here!