Six-way Camera Shootout: Apple iPhone 5s, HTC One, LG G2, Nokia Lumia 1020, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Sony Xperia Z1

GSM Arena: Now this is a fairly objective and comprehensive photo quality test, unlike Laptop Magazine. I’ll focus on photos, which GSM Arena tested in four ways: good light, HDR, panorama, and low light. First up, good light.

On pixel-peeping level, the Nokia Lumia 1020 makes its superiority clear. Yes, 5MP may not be that much in terms of maximum resolution, but the level of resolved detail is amazing. Thanks to the supersampling (not to mention the large sensor and high quality lens) the 5MP shots have amazingly little noise and plenty of detail. The Lumia also wins out in terms of color balance.

Not surprisingly the Lumia 1020 spanks the competition. The Sony Xperia Z1 was the runner up and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 rounded out the top three.

Second, HDR.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 looks pretty good here – it resolves the crane even without HDR and with it, it fills in the sky better. It leaves the shadows almost untouched, perhaps for the best – squeezing too much dynamic range could degrade contrast and produce a flat unrealistic photo with poor contrast.

Number one was the Galaxy Note 3, followed by the iPhone 5s, and in third the G2.

Third, panorama.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 produced a panorama with a whopping 60MP resolution with tons of detail and very little stitching artifacts (the tiles on the ground get a little messed up and so does a moving car).

The Apple iPhone 5s managed only about half the resolution – 27MP – and the panorama isn’t quite as wide and the colors look a bit dull, but it still looks great and with almost no stitching artifacts. Best if all, new to the iPhone 5s, the exposure of these panoramas turn way better. It’s almost HDR-like, which is what puts it on par with the Note 3.

The Galaxy Note 3 and the iPhone 5s tied for first, followed by the HTC One.

Finally, low light.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 crushes the other phones in terms of resolved detail – we’re using the 5MP shots here – the full-res shots have a lot of visible noise and it makes more sense to share the 5MP supersampled image. You can see the whiskers on the mouse and facial detail. The difference between best and worst shot is minimal too, but the phone completely missed the mark on the white balance. The wall behind the mouse should have been white.

If only Nokia (or Microsoft?) could improve the indoor white balance capability of the Lumia 1020. The Lumia 1020 took the top spot, followed by the HTC One, and then the iPhone 5s.

The overall winner?

And it is, drum roll please, the Nokia Lumia 1020. It’s not a huge surprise, the Lumia 1020 is entirely geared towards camera excellence. In broad daylight it showed clear superiority for photos and it won the low-light challenge even if poor white balance betrayed it on one occasion.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 came in second, and third was the Sony Xperia Z1. I was interested in finding out how good the iPhone 5s did when it came to photography since the iPhone 5s was the new smartphone on the block. Well, it ranked fifth, mostly because it wasn’t able to capture as much detail compared to the rest (except for the HTC One, which ranked last). The good: Daylight videos went toe-to-toe with the Lumia 1020, and its panorama was one of the best. Apple has more work to do: Increase the size of the image sensor but keep it at eight megapixels to capture more light per pixel especially in low light, add optical image stabilization, and improve the aperture of the lens from f/2.2 to f/1.8.

If photography is the most important consideration in purchasing your next smartphone, which one should you buy? The unequivocal answer today is the Nokia Lumia 1020.