Smartphone cameras – which one’s the best?

More and more phone manufacturers are turning to cameras as a way to differentiate their handsets. But what makes a good mobile camera?

Samsung’s Galaxy S4 has a 13-megapixel sensor, while the HTC One has a 4-megapixel snapper but more megapixels don’t necessarily make for a better quality photo. Image processing software is also key to achieving the right results, something iOS 6 for the iPhone 5 has a great reputation for.

Finally, how much money do you need to spend on a phone that will produce a photo good enough to frame? Could the budget-friendly Nexus 4 be fit for purpose?

We ran a comparative test between the four phones to see which one fares best overall. Read on to find out the results.

Mobile phone reviews – our verdict on all the latest handsets

Natural light close-up

HTC One Natural Light

The easiest of our tests saw all four handsets perform well. It involved a simple close-up shot of some of the shrubbery in Regents Park, London with plenty of natural of light around to help a variety of colours and textures show up. The HTC One (pictured) performed particularly well in showing up different shades of yellow and green. To see all the photos, click the heading above.


Samsung Galaxy S4 landscape

Truth be told no camera was perfect for landscape photos; Google’s Nexus 4 lacked detail in its shot and the HTC One produced a noticeably darker photo than any other camera. Despite the washed out sky in the background, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 (pictured) performed well. It has the largest depth of field and picked up a lot of blossom in the trees that you couldn’t see in other snaps.

Low light close-up

iPhone 5 low light close-up

For our low light close-up photo, the aim was to see which camera would capture the most light in dark conditions without sacrificing detail. It was a close run result between the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4, though the iPhone 5’s snap (pictured) looks brightest and produced a readable cover of Which? Computing. Despite being advertised as working well in low light, the HTC One’s camera struggled to distinguish between shadow and colour.

Flash close-up

HTC One Flash

Our flash close-up test involved the same set-up as our low light close-up above; the difference being that we employed each phone’s flash to illuminate the shots. Broadly speaking all the phones produced a good quality photo, with the notable exception of the HTC One (pictured). This handset captured a blur in all the test shots we took using the flash, a worrying result.


Galaxy S4 panoramaTo round up the testing we took a panoramic shot with each phone, capturing a wide view of Regent’s Park on just one photo. The key here was to see how each phone stitched together the photos it took to form the panoramic image. On this front the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4 (pictured) were clear victors offering an alluring shot of both the surrounding horticulture and water fountain. The HTC One’s panoramic photo was noticeably darker than those taken from its counterparts.

Smartphone cameras – our verdict

Although our test was far from scientific, it did prove a useful barometer of smartphone camera performance. The Nexus 4 was surprisingly poor given it features an 8-megapixel sensor, the same quality as that used by the iPhone 5. Both the HTC One and iPhone 5 performed well in some circumstances but less in others. The One’s flash shots were significantly worse than you should expect for a phone of its quality.

Ultimately, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 proved the most consistent camera across all test environments and emerged as a worthy winner. Judge all the photos for yourself by clicking on each of the categories above and let us know which phone you prefer for photography.

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One reply

  1. “The HTC One’s panoramic photo was noticeably darker than > its < those taken from its counterparts."

    Its hard to believe the results from the special low light pixels being raved over by other testers on the HTC one are not that great, but it certainly doesn't blow me away. None of them look much different from what my old Sony Eriksson k800i 3.2 mega pixel phone produces.

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