Smartphones have boosted their video capture functions over the years and they now make a serious play to be your video camera of choice. We asked someone who works with video every day to test our shortlisted contenders and sort the wheat from the chaff.
Shooting video on the HTC One produces surprisingly professional results. Built-in optical image stabilisation makes footage seem steady and noise is very low, even if colours occasionally wander. Only the dynamic range – the way the phone deals with the difference between light and dark sources – sometimes struggled in Full HD mode. However, the smartphone excels when shooting low-light video, with night-time footage particularly clear.
Those dynamic range issues in Full HD improved when I switched to HDR (high dynamic range) video mode. The quality dramatically increased and the images were much more balanced. However, the HTC One shoots videos at 1080p resolution at 30fps, while the HDR mode drops that down to 28fps. The field of view also changes when you switch to HDR, so we had to make allowances for the narrower area it was covering.
HTC also hopes to change the way you capture and share your memories with its new Zoe mode. This shoots a brief MP4 video clip (just over three seconds) while simultaneously snapping 20 photos. These are automatically compiled into clips, complete with music and selectable effects, providing a brief video slideshow. For those who don’t want to engage fully with video editing, this is a neat way to create a fun, good looking video package.
Samsung Galaxy S 4
While the overall quality of the video that’s shot is good, the Galaxy S 4 lacks the level of optical image stabilisation found on some competitors. However, it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. Both its 13-megapixel rear camera and its two-megapixel front camera can shoot 1080p video. Why? Because the Dual Shot mode allows you to drop your selfie footage onto the main scene you are recording. This smaller window can be moved around and even made bigger, or the two images can be flipped so you become the main footage. Naturally, this feature is a lot more impressive in video than in stills.
Apple iPhone 5
The full HD recording on the iPhone 5 delivers impressive results, with crystal clear objects and colours popping in bright conditions. There’s relatively little shake to spoil that crispness and the results have the same polished sheen as still images. The microphone has a problem filtering out background noise such as traffic or conversation, which intrudes wherever it appears, but that’s a problem for most handsets. Low light performance is also good, and even if it doesn’t quite match the results of still images the results have an impressive depth of field and quality for footage shot at night. Overall, it’s a subtle step up from the iPhone 4S.
Full HD video recording at 30fps is pretty standard across high-end smartphones and the Blackberry Z10 offers the same. However, it falls short by failing to match other handsets on features such as optical image stabilisation. Switch this on in the settings and you’d expect similar results to the HTC One, which deals with shake very well. However, the BlackBerry Z10 tries to align the frames digitally and crops an area of the image to achieve that – with poor results. Its low light setting also works by dropping the frame rate to just 15fps, often leading to blurred video when there is any amount of movement in shot.
Nokia Lumia 925
Video captured on the Nokia Lumia 925 doesn’t seem to quite hit the heights of the still images it can take, although the overall results are still very good. The video resolution is once again the now-standard 1080p Full HD at 30fps, with the secondary front-facing video camera dropping to a stillrespectable 720p. The device’s optical image stabilisation works very well and I found it easy to create smooth shots while panning around, especially when taking slow close-ups. However, it’s main problem is the dynamic range and while it works very well in well-lit areas, as I moved from darker to lighter areas this problem was very noticeable.
Sony Xperia Z
Video captured with the Sony Xperia Z’s 13-megapixel sensor is crisp and clear, producing impressive results. As with the HTC One, this phone can sidestep some of its dynamic range issues by switching to HDR mode. This made changes from light to dark areas much less noticeable in our final footage. Turning on the option to allow photo capture added a shutter button to the recording screen, so I could easily snap stills while I shot the footage. And a quick test of the Xperia Z’s famed water resistance shot some okay footage underwater, although the screen was not very responsive in that environment so we had to hit record before plunging it into the drink.
Congratulations to all of the winners. You can find all of the incriminating photos on our official MCAwards 2013 website, and a full list of the 2013 Mobile Choice Award winners can be found here!