“What an oddball pair of smartphone cameras to compare!” I hear you say. “One from several years ago, one with greatly different ambitions from the current month!” Indeed, though the question I was really asking myself was whether improvements in sensor technology and image processing since about 2011 could compensate for a seven times smaller sensor. In other words, could refined tech and intelligence trump physics?
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As an AMOLED fan for years, it's been fascinating seeing the way technology in the LCD world has caught up in terms of contrast and colours. In fact, judging from my tests and tables below, it seems that the choice of screen technology for smartphones is now pretty clear cut. My advice to go for AMOLED three years ago was sound, but it seems that things are now reversed. This article features the Lumia 1020, 830 and 1520, by the way.
Is it the shiny, shiny phenomenon of something new? Or the feel of cold metal and the satisfaction of larger screen and as much storage as I wanted? Either way, I find myself compromising one of my deeply-held 'must haves' (in the 1020) and using the Nokia Lumia 830 as my main smartphone, following on from my review and other tests. It's an Autumn miracle, perhaps?
The headline might lead you to suspect a horrendous mismatch, but there's more to the story than this. The 1020 is the gold standard in currently-sold camera phones, of course, but the new Lumia 830 turns out surprisingly well against it for most shots, despite being massively outgunned in the physics stakes. Xenon-aside, once the matching software turns up for the 830, we could have a rather tasty little 'affordable flagship', to use Nokia/Microsoft's marketing term.
Notable at the Lumia 830 launch was the tag line "the affordable flagship", and Microsoft was right, the Nokia Lumia 830 is terrific value for what you get, as you'll see soon in our hands-on review. However, what's evident from both comments across multiple stories here at AAWP and from the perception of Windows Phone in the tech media, is that what's needed is a genuine flagship, something that has everything but the kitchen sink thrown into it and never mind the price, or indeed eventual sales figures.
It's hard to pick up a Sony Xperia Z3 (as I did for my recent camera comparisons) and not be reminded about the current Windows Phone flagship smartphone, the Nokia Lumia 930. The sizes are very similar, then there's the metallic feel in the hand and positioning in the market as well. Here's my blow by blow comparison...
With slight apologies for the cumbersome headline.... You see, the exact same camera unit is used in each of the two sets of smartphones, meaning that this test applies to any combination. Nokia/Microsoft seems to have standardised on the 20MP, 1/2.5" PureView oversampling camera for its latter day flagships, while the Sony Xperia Z3/Z3 Compact uses a similar 20MP, 1/2.3" oversampling system, in theory outgunning the Nokias (for a change). And, this being me, you just know I'm going to throw in a wildcard....
I may get mocked for my 'party' mock-ups when testing smartphone cameras, but my tests represent a better look at real world photos, i.e. of people indoors. Moreover, I also take into account facilities like lossless zoom, whereas this slightly questionnable set of test results from the usually reliable DxO mark folks shows the new Apple iPhone 6 models to both be top of the tree, with the classic Nokia 808 in 6th place and the newer Nokia Lumia 1020 down in 10th place overall! Remind me to take the DxO testers down the pub sometime and explain how to really test phone cameras....
I have to apologise if I'm producing too many editorials which classify as 'rants' these days, but it's hard to keep one's strongly felt opinions inside sometimes. In this case, the trend towards ever-thinner smartphones in the wider industry (Windows Phones aren't, thankfully, the worst offenders here), as evidenced by the recent launch of the mass market Apple iPhone 6, at under 7mm thick, and the current record holder, the imminent Gionee Elife 5.1, at 5.1mm thick. Is it me, or is this march to 'thin' both counterproductive and impractical?
I noted from yesterday's lengthy Apple announcements (of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus) that the cameras in each had been upgraded, to (allegedly) 1/2.6" sensors and, in the Plus's case, OIS as well. Which, in imaging terms, brings the iPhone at last up to near the top of the Nokia photography tree - the Lumia 1520/930 camera is very similar in size and specs (even if the image processing techniques are very different). Have smartphone cameras plateaued? And can anything be done to improve LED flash results?