Two smartphones with 20MP sensors: Nokia Lumia 1520 vs Sony Xperia Z1 Compact (1)

This is the first part of a few battles between two 20MP sensors - those of the Nokia Lumia 1520 and the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact. Sony boasts it's offering a very good mobile camera and does so with a lot of technical brouhaha if I may say so.

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - and I quote - redefines the premium smartphone market by placing the best Sony technologies from the flagship Xperia Z1:  Sony’s leading camera technologies “G Lens”, “Exmor RS for mobile” and “BIONZ for mobile”; a 4.3 inch TRILUMINOS™ HD display and X-Reality™ for mobile; premium dust-resistant and waterproof (IP55/IP58) design.

Well: it's waterproof, that's for sure and I think it's amazing that the mobile industry is allowing Sony to have this USP for this long (yes, I know Samsung announced the same for the S5 at the Mobile World Congress). The HD display of the Z1 Compact is certainly better than even the FullHD screen of its predecessor in terms of visibility - black is much deeper black on the Z1 Compact. But its no competition for Nokia's FullDH ClearBlack, IPS LCD display.

Now how do the sensors compare? That's what this battle is about. In this post you will see (only) two shots from both, shot in 4:3 to get the maximum out of the sensors. Both shots were taken inside, in more or less good lighting conditions. As you know, you only need to push the button once to get two shots from the Lumia 1520: one in high-res (hence 19MP) and one in PueView (5MP).

With the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, you'll have to go to manual settings and choose 20MP for the first shot (the sensor is 20.7MP to be exact), and then choose 8MP for another shot in 4:3.

Like I wrote in an earlier post, you can't choose 4:3 in the "Auto Superior" setting on the Xperia Z1 Compact, since that will only allow you to shoot in 16:9. You'll have to wait for the Xperia Z2 to do so, but that will be a few months from now I guess.

I don't know if the camera software on the Z1 Compact will be updated to do the same by the way, and in fact I'm not completely sure if the Z1 compact uses oversampling when it makes the manual 4:3 shots in 8MP (I guess so, what else would it do?)

In this post, first you'll see the resized shots coming from the 5MP and 8MP results from both smartphone cameras. Next, you'll see screenshots I made at 100% from those same shots. Last, you'll see two crops from each shot I took at the highest resolution. So even with only two shots from each device, this will be a pretty long post I'm afraid - but quite revealing.

You know the drill, you'll find all the original shots on OneDrive. In all comparisons, you'll see the Lumia 1520 first. Here we go.

The first scene was captured inside a sports hall. The light was okay, not very bright, not too dark either. Average, I'd say, but certainly bright enough. Here are the resized results (from the oversamped shots - 5MP and 8MP).

2 Nokia Lumia 1520 Sports 5 MP 2 Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Sports 8 MPYou see colours are much deeper and more defined coming from the Nokia Lumia 1520. Next, the 100% screenshots from these oversampled results (5MP and 8MP).

Screenshot Nokia Lumia 1520 Sports 5 MP Screenshot Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Sports 8 MPOf course, with the 8MP resolution of the Xperia Z1 Compact, you'll get closer at 100% than with the 5MP result from the Nokia Lumia 1520. I'd welcome a 8MP PureView resolution as well in Nokia Camera - like on the 808 PureView - but I'm not holding my breath. Seems the Nokia imaging team is very confident the 5MP result simply offers the best quality.

I think that as far as colours and contrast are concerned, Nokia wins this round so far. Now let's have a look at the crops. I made two 640 x 360 pixel crops from the high resolution shots of both cameras. Again, you'll see the Lumia's result first,

1 Nokia Lumia 1520 Sports 20 MP 640 x 360 1 Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Sports 20 MP 640 x 360

1 Nokia Lumia 1520 Sports 20 MP 640 x 360 2 1 Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Sports 20 MP 640 x 360 2Ouch... This is quite a desastrous result for Sony, I'm sorry to say. It obviously really misses the oversampling it uses on the "low res" results.

Let's go to the second scene I captured with both devices, Inside a second hand store, I captured some musical instruments. For your understanding of the light, these  were placed directly next to a big glass door on the right in this shot. You'll see the resized versions of the oversampled shots (5MP and 8MP), coming from the Lumia first.

4 Nokia Lumia 1520 Music 5 MP 4 Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Music 8 MPSo far so good, although again the Sony Xperia's result seems a bit pale to me. Let's check the 100% screenshots again first - based on these same 5MP and 8MP shots.

Screenshot Nokia Lumia 1520 Music 5 MP Screenshot Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Music 8 MPAgain: so far so good, but still I notice a difference in how the Xperia handles the colours in this setting. Mind you: it isn't on "Superior Auto" since I couldn't get thte same 4:3 aspect ratio with it.

Next: two 640 x 360 crops from the high-res results from both cameras. Lumia first.

3 Nokia Lumia 1520 Music 20 MP 640 x 360 3 Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Music 20 MP 640 x 360

3 Nokia Lumia 1520 Music 20 MP 640 x 360 2 3 Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Music 20 MP 640 x 360 2Well... it's obvious that even in better light, Sony's Xperia Z1 Compact doesn't stand a chance against Nokia's Carl Zeiss sensor. And that still surprises me, knowing Sony is able to make some very serious cameras. Looks like, as with the Xperia Z and Z1, Sony hasn't managed to squeeze the same quality into their smartphones yet.

First I thought it must have got something to do with the sensor size, but the Xperia Z1 Compact has a 1/2.3 inch sensor, whereas Nokia's sensor is 1/2.5 inch. That doesn't seem as a very striking difference to me, but I'm just an amateur in specs like these. By the way the Lumia 1020 has an 1/1.5 inch sensor size.

Aperture size is quite a bit different: F2.4 on the Lumia 1520 and F2.0 on the Xperia. Maybe that accounts for the difference - you're more than welcome to enlighten me.

So far, the only really positive difference I can say is that the Xperia Z1 Compact is waterproof :-) And it's smaller than the Lumia 1520. There are many more differences of course, I noticed in a previous post the camera button is quite small and you'll have to push it pretty hard. But the camera button on the Lumia 1520 isn't "perfect" (as on the Lumia 1020 and 808 PureView) either. In both cases you'll have the software camera button as alternative, of course. And this post is about what you get from the 20MP sensors.

In the next battle, I hope to be making some outside shots. Also, I'll be working with the Superior Auto setting, although you can't make high-res shots using that, and you can't choose 4:3 aspect ratio. In that sense it appears the camera software of the Sony Xperia is pretty limited. I know it will improve with the Xperia Z2 (I saw it in Barcelona), but doesn't help much at this moment.

So: to be continued. Again: you'll find all the shots on OneDrive. Meanwhile: don't hesitate to tell me what you think of all this below!

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