Here, I'm not going near indvidual image pixels - the aim here is to look at the smarts in the multi-frame image processing from both Apple and Google (iOS and 'pure' Android) in terms of them helping out to render tricky scenes and lighting. After all, the vast majority of regular people's photos are only ever seen at 'screen' resolution, so let's look at photos as-is and not get too hung up on pixel level purity. Just this once, eh? As a benchmark for vanilla photos without any smarts or modern processing, I'm also throwing in some (by necessity) single exposure Lumia 1020 shots taken at the same time.
Recent Features - iOS
The titular question is one I've been asking myself now for... four years. Ahem. Back in June, so three months ago, I looked at the internals and tech feature sets of Android and iOS, declaring them much of a muchness overall. So I've ended up spending almost exactly equal time with each OS, again and again, honing my workflow and summarising my experiences below, hopefully in a way that may help others when also agonising over everyone's favourite geek party question: 'what smartphone to get next?'!
This phone camera shootout has been hotly anticipated, not least because the 2021 Xiaomi flagship promises 'PureView' quality images and with a larger (1/1.12") sensor than even the legendary Nokia 808. Add in top notch image processing and immense power, plus a high megapixel 5x periscope telephoto, and going into this first test with the Mi 11 Ultra should see it triumph overall. A lot will depend on how much emphasis I place on zooming, of course, but let's keep things sensible and balanced - for now!
I've done PureView shootouts in the past, but there are a few tweaks here. From the 2012 Nokia 808 PureView, which I've allowed to be tripod mounted here for low light shots (there being no OIS), through the trusty Lumia 1020 and the good all-rounder that is the Lumia 950, then to the iPhone 12 Pro Max in full ProRAW 'pure' shooting mode and the latest Sony Xperia 1 mark iii with 'Photography Pro' app and dual telephoto. It's the widest shootout I've ever done, in terms of timescale and is provided more for interest than to try and score generational points!
Having established that Sony's phone image processing has made major strides in the last year or so, it was good timing to get the brand new Xperia 1 iii (read it as 'mark 3') flagship in for review for The Phones Show. But, more than ever, the smartphone's reputation here lives and dies with its camera system - Sony tout a new dual-zoom factor persicope and brand new software. I'll need some reference points, of course. In this case the mighty iPhone 12 Pro Max and Sony's previous generation Xperia 5 ii (with similar camera to last year's 1 ii). Let's push all of these to their limits - just how good is the imaging in this new Sony smartphone?
It's a constant in the smartphone world that software updates arrive to improve camera performance - this has applied to many Lumias in the past, it applied to the last two generations of iPhones (Deep Fusion and then ProRAW), and it seems to have applied to the Sony Xperias. Nine months after my initial imaging comparison with the Lumia 950 XL, it's evident that Sony has fine tuned its algorithms and the tri-camera-ed Xperia 5 ii is due a re-test. Except that now we have All About Mobile*, I feel justified at using the iPhone 12 Pro Max as my imaging benchmark rather than my beloved Lumia 950 XL, which is now looking at little archaic with just the single camera/lens...
Yes, yes, I've included these devices in previous camera shoot-outs, but I haven't done one for a while, plus the Google Pixel 4a 5G here (with the same camera system as the 'flagship' Pixel 5) is now running on Android 12 and with a very different feel to the Camera app and some of the under-the-hood plumbing. But has it improved the 2020 Pixel's imaging output? I'm sceptical. Meanwhile, my iPhone 12 Pro Max has had numerous software updates, with Apple tweaking imaging all the time. So, for what it's worth, here are some end-June 2021 data points for my overarching 'SteveMark' table.
Having used the classic Lumia 950/XL phone camera as the baseline for almost forty (count 'em) imaging articles here on AAWP/AAM in the last half decade, with pixel by pixel comparisons against a wide spectrum of smartphones from all quarters, it occurred to me that it would be fun to do the maths and generate some deltas and some averages. With my article-by-articles scores, which are/have been the best smartphone camera systems of the last five years?
So we've moved on from Symbian, Blackberry OS 10, Windows Phone (in various iterations), not to mention Palm OS even further back. But which modern smartphone OS should you settle on, i.e. what are the pros and cons of each? I'm purely thinking about the two giants here: Google's Android (including Google Mobile Services) and Apple's iOS, both of which are in the middle of a major new version reworking. Note that this isn't an attempt to chat about niche OSes that almost no one uses, and that includes the China-only Harmony OS, based on Android Open Source Project, or indeed other Android forks and implementations. Maybe that's a feature for another day...
Please excuse the click-bait title, but the article's content is very real. I've tried to condense down my advice to friends and family in readable form. When I try and educate these people verbally I get loads of eye rolling and mockery, but deep down I know that their photos could and should be better. So, in case it proves useful to you - or to your contacts - here are my top 10 tips for improving your smartphone camera results.