iPhone 5s vs. Nokia Lumia 1020: Camera Shootout

via John Gruber. Michael A. Prospero, Laptop Magazine:

The iPhone 5s conclusively beat the Nokia Lumia 1020 in our photo face-off, taking seven out of 10 rounds–and tying one. Even after updating the Lumia 1020′s camera software, which reduced issues with the blue color cast on many images, colors were still more accurate on the iPhone. Apple’s device also excelled when delivering detail and contrast.

The advantage that the Lumia 1020 has is that you can recompose your shot after you take it because of the phone’s very high 41-MP resolution. Overall, though, the iPhone 5s snapped better-looking images in a wider range of conditions.

One of my goals—within the next 1 to 2 years—is to sell all of my photography gear and stick to a single smartphone and be thoroughly content. I don’t think the iPhone is there, yet, but it also seems the Lumia 1020 isn’t quite there yet either.

In the Bottles test the iPhone 5s had colors that were truer to life. Prospero mentioned the iPhone 5s also had “slightly more contrast” but that can be either good or bad. If it had slightly more contrast than the Lumia 1020’s photo and was closer in contrast to what was actually there, then that’s good. On the other hand if there was more contrast than the actual scene then that’s a bad thing. Prospero also mentions “more of the background in the iPhone’s image is in focus.” Whether or not this is a good thing depends on the content of the photo. If more background information is important in conveying the content of the photo then a more focused background is a good thing. Most of my photos have a single object so the blurrier the background the better because it helps to focus your attention on the single object. The only advantage the iPhone 5s has in the Bottles test is that it produced a photo with more accurate colors, and that’s a big advantage over the Lumia 1020. The same advantage applies to the Coffee Machine test where the iPhone 5s did a better job of recreating/compensating the side of the coffee machine under tungsten lighting.

In the Octopus test, the iPhone 5s photo was too pink and the Lumia 1020 too blue. I wouldn’t have picked a winner since both failed.

The Scarves test was a draw, but I want to point out a deficiency in Prospero’s inclination toward higher contrast and saturated colors. He likes that the iPhone 5s captured “more saturated colors”. Color should be as saturated as the color space it is working within. In other words, it is more important for color to be accurate within a color space than for it to be saturated. Oversaturated colors might initially be cool to look at but when it comes time to look at them on a different display or print those cool-looking colors will look nothing like the real thing and be a disappointment. Prospero also prefers the background to be in focus regardless of what the content of the photo is. The question I want to answer is: Does the iPhone 5s take photos with colors that are accurate? Prospero doesn’t answer that in the Scarves test.

The Lower Manhattan at Night test pitted grain against focus. The iPhone 5s produced a more focused but grainy photo while the Lumia 1020 was less focused with less grain. Like Prospero I prefer focus, but unlike him I hate grain. Both the iPhone 5s and the Lumia 1020 failed in my book.

The Lumia 1020 blew the iPhone 5s away in the NYC Skyline test. The photo from the Lumia 1020 had, by a huge margin, more detail. Although Prospero doesn’t mention it, it seems there is a small portion of the Lumia 1020 photo where part of the sky is blown out. But there is no doubt the Lumia 1020 can and does capture incredible detail with its 41 megapixel camera system.

Prospero’s inclination toward saturated colors and contrast comes out again in the Pumpkin Chair test. I think the pumpkins are too orange (but that might be just the way the LCD is calibrated on my MacBook Pro) on the iPhone 5s photo and just right on the Lumia 1020.

The Gover with Flash test seems to show the dual-LED flash on the iPhone 5s doing its job resulting in truer colors. I think the rest of the smartphone industry will transition to dual-colored LED flashes really quickly. The Low-Light Images (Flower with No Flash) test shows the Lumia 1020 has a color balancing problem that generates photos with a bluish cast.

Finally, the Close-Up of Gourds test not surprisingly resulted in a bluish tinted photo from the Lumia 1020. Prospero liked the contrasty iPhone 5s photo of the orange gourd, but I think I prefer the more accurate and flat colors from the Lumia 1020.

I think it is safe to say Laptop Magazine’s non-scientific analysis of the iPhone 5s and Lumia 1020 photography capabilities was quite biased and inconclusive.