Apple's iPhone 6 compared to Nokia, Samsung and LG smartphone cameras

An acquaintance of mine was among the first Dutch buyers of the iPhone 6 - and he was happy to go for a short walk with me last wednesday to capture some scenes to compare. We had less than one hour. I was carrying six other smartphones: the "usual suspects" so to say. Nokia 808 PureView, Lumia 1020, 1520 and 930. Samsung Galaxy S5 and K Zoom. And the LG G3. The only camphone missing would be the Xperia Z2, or Z3 by now - I don't have either (yet).

Mind you: I couldn't test the iPhone 6 in any other way so this is not a review. It's just about comparing the shots I got from that short period. We captured four scenes (the first one not even with all devices, due to weather circumstances). For the iPhone owners who come here for the first time, I'll explain how I work. I make several shots of each scene with all devices. Next I select the best shot from each device and make crops of those. It's not until then that I start comparing, usually while writing my post. Like now.

I won't be sharing all crops in this post - it's simply too much (about 40 crops in total). I'll just share what I think is really interesting about them. You'll find all originals in a special album on Flickr, as usual, to have a detailed look for yourself if you'd like to.

Scene 1 (appetizer)
First scene was outside. A typical "autumn" day means clouds, wind and likely rain over here in the Netherlands. The scene I captured was in fact not good enough for comparisons like these since the wind was pretty fierce. Nevertheless I got a few shots I think worth sharing. This is what I got from the iPhone 6 1 Apple iPhone 6 - FountainNow I haven't used an iPhone since the 3GS (and that's quite some time ago), so I was completely surprised to learn the iPhone shoots in 4:3 format and apparantly nothing but 4:3. In fact I was so suprised by that I wasn't even sure if it actually was 4:3 or maybe 3:2.

Anyway, I didn't get all scenes in 4:3 on the other devices - most of them though, and when looking at the crops it's not much of an issue anyway. I made the 640x360 crops at the center of each shot. With the wind though, it was impossible to capture the exact same shot, so this first part will give you just a general impression. Here's what you get from the iPhone 6. 1 Apple iPhone 6 - FountainAnd here from the Nokia 808 PureView in its 8MP PureView resolution 1 Nokia 808 PureView - Fountain 8MPNow there was no difference in available light at all, so I think it's interesting to see the 808 PureView captured a much brighter image. Details are comparable I'd say. Here's one more crop, coming from the Nokia Lumia 1520 (5MP), which shows a similar "greyness" as we just saw coming from the iPhone 6. 1 Nokia Lumia 1520 - Fountain 5MPBut these are pretty difficult (windy) outside conditions - this was just an "entree" so to say.
Scene 2 (still outside)
Let's move on to a scene I captured very close to this fountain: a painted bench on the wet terrace. Again, this is the result coming from the iPhone 6 (resized, of course). 2 Apple iPhone 6 - BenchI'll share a few of the crops from this shot. First the once coming from the iPhone 6 itself of course 2 Apple iPhone 6 - BenchAnd since it has the exact same 8MP resolution (in my settings that is), here's the Nokia 808 PureView 2 Nokia 808 PureView - Bench 8MPNote the colours are a bit brighter on the Nokia 808 PureView once again. Looking at fine details, it looks like the iPhone 6 is showing more than the Nokia in 8MP, but this may have to do with some subtle oversharpening - I'm not sure to be honest. The Lumia 1020 captures in two sizes: 5MP and high resolution (34MP/38MP), or even raw .DNG. I rarely shoot in raw .DNG but limit myself to what I get from the smartphone's algorythms. This is what you get from 5MP. 2 Nokia Lumia 1020 - Bench 5MPAnd here's the crop coming from the high-res result (34MP in this case) 2 Nokia Lumia 1020 - Bench 34MPTo compare (like most of you are used to here): the Nokia 808 PureView (34MP) 2 Nokia 808 PureView - Bench 34MPNow there's no way the iPhone 6 could capture this much detail, and it was never meant to either. Let's have a look though, what happens with the original iPhone shot if I blow it up to comparable proprotions (7136 x 5362 pixels) and choose the same detail. I know I'm not supposed to (no-one ever will), but it's an artificial  way of comparing the amount of detail. 2 Apple iPhone 6 - Bench blowup - crop This looks worse of course, but keep in mind I just blew it up almost four times! Looking at it that way, I think the amount of detail is still admirable. Still, it shows that if you want to get detailed crops it's important to have larger sensor sizes, and it's even inevitable to be able to realize bigger prints from your work (like I offer  here).

Scene 3 (parking garage)
Let's move on to scene no. 3 - an old Volkswagen van in a parking garage, captured with the iPhone 6. Be prepared for a lot of different crops though. 3 Apple iPhone 6 - Volkswagen Now this is a very good capture of a dark scene, only lit by the neon lamps on the concrete ceiling. Many of the other smartphones did a good - or even better - job. Except for (surprise surprise!) the Nokia Lumia 1020, that appeared to have tons of trouble to cope with the light in this specific situation in multiple shots (with all settings on auto). This is one of the shots I got (in 16:9 by the way) 3 Nokia Lumia 1020 - Vollkswagen 5MP For some reason this horrible result is way too green - I'm sharing this so you'll know I'm really showing the most important shots I got from this comparison (not holding anything back that is). I'm not sure why the Lumia 1020 was behaving in such an irrational manner - my guess is I should have changed the setting from "automatic" to "Fluorescent" for instance.

But with all devices on auto, it would be unfair to use specific settings on one device, wouldn't it? Moreover, given the very limited time I had with the iPhone 6, it's quite logical to choose for "automatic" settings. Looking forward to a longer trial period with the iPhone 6, since its settings menu looked quite limited to me anyway (like it looks very archaic only to be able to shoot in 4:3 aspect ratio?). As far as colours are concerned, I got good shots from all other devices, like from the Nokia Lumia 1520 (from 5MP) 3 Nokia Lumia 1520 - Volkswagen 5MP You'll find the usable shots from all smartphones on Flickr (see link below). Now let's move on to the crops. Here's the 640 x 360 crop from the 8MP shot from the iPhone 6. 3 Apple iPhone 6 - Volkswagen First, let's compare it to the 5MP shot from the Nokia Lumia 1520. 3 Nokia Lumia 1520 - Volkswagen 5MP Since it's smaller (5MP), no wonder it looks "sharper". But Nokia's PureView technology uses a much bigger sensor for oversampling. The information of 19MP go into this 5MP image, eliminating as much noise as possible. So let's blow up the original 5MP shot as well (to roughly the same size: 3264 x 2438) and crop from there: 3 Nokia Lumia 1520 - Volkswagen 5MP crop Now when I compare this result directly with the crop from the iPhone 6 (once more below), it obviously is a different story. 3 Apple iPhone 6 - Volkswagen It's plain to see the iPhone 6 shows more noise and artefacts due to light oversharpening - and I'm not too thrilled about the colour of the Volkswagen either (too grey) Let's compare this with the 8MP shot coming from the Nokia 808 PureView (exact the same size as the iPhone 6). 3 Nokia 808 PureView - Volkswagen 8MPYou see it's less "grey" and shows less noise and over sharpening on the edges - but it's not the sharpest result either - in fact, the Lumia 1520 (see above) is doing a bit of a better job. Next up, the Lumia 930 - here's the crop from the 5MP shot I blew up to (about) 8MP. 3 Nokia Lumia 930 - Volkswagen 5MP cropYou see it has exactly the same smoothness as the result from the Lumia 1520 - no wonder, since the sensors are identical. There only is a slight difference in colour rendition (a bit too dark to my taste). While we're at it, let's have a look what it looks like in the shots captured in higher resolutions. First, here's what the LG G3 captured in detail (cropped from its 13MP capture) 3 LG G3 - Volkswagen That's quite a remarkable smooth result, only a bit lighter in colour. Once more, the Nokia Lumia 1520, now in it's original high-res size (19MP, so no oversampling used). 3 Nokia Lumia 1520 - Volkswagen 19MPThen the shot becomes a bit noisy, but shows more detail. Now let's see if you'd be better of with the Samsung Galaxy S5 (16MP in 16:9) 3 Samsung Galaxy S5 - Volkswagen 16MP That's a surprise: less noise than I would have expected under these circumstances. A remarkable clean and smooth crop coming from the Galaxy S5. So how does the Galaxy K Zoom do? 3 Samsung Galaxy K Zoom - Volkswagen 20MP Definitely more noise and artefacts - I think it's the first time I see the Galaxy K Zoom being outperformed by the S5... I think you've seen more crops than you care for, but it has shown that under difficult light conditions, I'd probably prefer the Nokia Lumia 1520's PureView result (5MP). It's a close call compared to a few other devices, but the iPhone wouldn't be my first choice in this case.

Scene 4 (plastic bottles)
Last scene for this post. A few plastic bottles in a cantine refrigerator. Here's how I captured them with the iPhone 6. 4 Apple iPhone 6 - Bottles Again, I chose a crop with much information to crop. Here's what I got from that 8MP shot from the iPhone 6 4 Apple iPhone 6 - Bottles Now that kind of detail is impressive! Let's see what the Nokia 808 PureView got in 8MP 4 Nokia 808 PureView - Bottles 8MP Details are comparable, but I'm really surprised to see what I got from the iPhone 6 here. Again, there's a difference in brightness... Like we've seen on the Lumia 930 in the past comparisons for instance: not as bright, but good details.

One could argue it's even better in fact, since due to its brightness a few details - like the text on the bottle on the right - have become "invisible" in what the Nokia 808 captured in 8MP. On the other hand: the orange juice looks more drinkable in the latter crop :-) So how did the other devices do in this case, again in not so easy light conditions? Let's have a look in a different order than above. Here's what I got with the LG G3 - 13MP, so you'll get "closer" if you crop. 4 LG G3 - Bottles Again, great detail, I'd say. Usually I find you'll loose some of the sharpness due to the fact that you're cropping "closer", but this result is still convincing to me. You can see how well it performs in comparison with the best I got from this scene with the Samsung Galaxy S5. 4 Samsung Galaxy S5 - Bottles 13MP Hm... that seems to be underperforming quite a bit this time - this is the best shot I got and it's not "unsharp" or anything. Now, cropping even "closer" with Samsung's Galaxy K Zoom (from 20MP)... 4 Samsung Galaxy K Zoom - Bottles 20MP Another very convincing result I'd say - great detail and a very smooth capture! (Of course, no zoom was applied). In this case, the Galaxy K Zoom obviously is a lot better than the Galaxy S5 - goes to show "your mileage may vary" in smartphone photography as well... While we're "around" 20MP - how did the Nokia Lumia 930 perform? 4 Nokia Lumia 930 - Bottles 19MP A pretty smooth shot once again, with accurate detail - but the same or even more "dull" color as I got from the iPhone 6 - it just doesn't wet my appetitie for orange juice. Like I said - I'm not going to share all the crops here, but you'd blame me for not sharing the two crops from the Nokia Lumia 1020's 5MP result. Why? Because it's not that good in fact. 4 Nokia Lumia 1020 - Bottles 5MP Not so good how? It's not as detailed as I'd hope. I guess it's my fault in some way, but it simply the way it is. You can tell by comparing it with the 5MP I got from the Lumia 930 4 Nokia Lumia 930 - Bottles 5MP And again, you see there is something to say for a bit moderate, less bright lighting I guess: you'll see (way) more detail in the bottles on the right. For the last time: let's compare it with the crop from the iPhone 6 once more 4 Apple iPhone 6 - Bottles with the blow up I got from the 5MP PureView result from the Lumia 930 4 Nokia Lumia 930 - Bottles 5MP blowup crop In this case, the iPhone 6 wins with more contrast and detail. So where's the Lunia 1520 in this last comparison? Sharing what I got is pointless since for some reason I didn't manage to get even one sharp shot with it at all from this scene. I have no idea why that didn't work out, but there's nothing I can do about it now.

Conclusions It's a bit early to come to conclusions I guess. You've seen many crops, but only from a few scenes. There are so many shots I haven't made yet: no close-ups for instance, no flash. But for only 45 minutes with seven smartphone cameras, I can think of a few conclusions already - and you are welcome to disagree of course.
1. The iPhone 6 is performing very well - better than I expected it would, but I have to admit I lack experience with its previous editions.
2. I have a hard time getting over the fact that you can't change the aspect ratio from 4:3 on the iPhone 6. It's a limitation that reminds me of the goold old N95 - a fantastic smartphone camera back then of course, but more than seven (!) years old. Nowadays, depending on the scene I want to capture, I really do change the aspect ratio a lot. I can't believe it isn't even possible on the iPhone 6. Oh and what's also confusing, is that on the display it looks like you're shooting in 3:2 - why?
3. Personally, I'm not completely convinced by the colour rendition of the iPhone 6, like I'm not convinced about it on the Nokia Lumia 930. Guess I just like my colours to be more bright - to make orange juice look like orange juice for instance, but I do realize you may loose some detail.
4. With its extremely thin design, I understand the iPhone 6 can't have more than an 8MP camera module. I'm surprised this kind of high-end technology fits such a thin design anyway at all (guess that's why the sensor sticks out a little). I understand the consumer's desire for thin smartphones, but to be honest, the iPhone 6 is so thin that holding it made me feel a afraid it would slip out of my hands in no time.
5. Having said that, I'd prefer a bit thicker smartphone anway if it would offer a larger camera module. But that's coming from someone who has no objection whatsoever to carry the 808 PureView or Galaxy K Zoom.

Final words
In all, based on these four scenes, would I choose the iPhone 6 as my future smartphone camera? Not likely. But it's doing a much better job than I expected and I do compliment Apple for that. This appears to be a good 8MP shooter and I totally understand most users will be very happy with it. But it's still an 8MP shooter - and yes: I want more. I can already hear one million iPhone users hollar I don't need more. But I do, and I think these crops have shown why.

I have shown what you can achieve with effective oversampling as well as with bigger sensors. We're living in a digital age, sharing digital images. The assumption that I'm "not going to print my shots in large formats" (I do read that a lot) doesn't really make sense, since I'm not going to print them myself anyway. I share my shots per email or WeTransfer, or on Flickr in full resolution - and everyone will be able to see even the tiniest detail.

However, I do want to be able to print photo books or (like I already wrote) have large prints to sell - and for this I need a minimum resolution. And no, I don't want to carry a DSLR: I want the best possible quality from my smartphone. I know it's possible, because I've seen so already: for more than three years in fact, with bigger and better sensors. Size does matter - but that goes for the size of your smartphone as well, so I really understand when people are fully satisfied with this camera in a smartphone as thin as the iPhone 6.

As usual, you'll find all originals on my PureViewClub Flickr page, in a dedicated album here. I'm looking forward to your reactions below.