One fruit bowl, five smartphones cameras: the indoor “flash” vs no flash test shot comparison

When you're a regular visitor of the PureViewClub, no doubt you'll enjoythe very detailed comments by "bigs" as much as I have. I think on every photo comparison I published, he gave some were useful, valuable and - most important I think - impartial feedback.

Since he is just as unbiased as I try to be, and since I was pressed for time, I asked him to help me out writing an analysis of some shots I made of a classic bowl of fruit, shot in the afternoon in the LED lights in my kitchen. So the shots are mine, the analysis comes from my other end of the world, from Christchurch, New Zealand.

By Bigley Ling

The Contestants (in alphabetical order)
- The formidable nemesis, the LG G2
- Precursor Nokia 808 PureView, father of the next generation 1020.
- The Current Nokia Flagship, Nokia  Lumia 1020
- A camera centric Samsung S4zoom
- The new Sony Xperia Z1 which is meant to take out the competition.

We start as usual by showing you the overall images captured by the various phones. You know the drill: hover over the shot to see which phone was used, click on it to go the original in the dedicated set on Flickr.

Fruit - LG G2

Read the full story after the break! Fruit - Nokia 808 PureView 8MP Fruit - Nokia Lumia 1020 5MP Fruit - Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom 16MP Fruit - Sony Xperia Z1 8MP

Before we even start analysing the images there is one set of images that really stands out, and not in a good way either, and that is the Sony Xperia Z1. It does not matter if flash was used or not, but somehow the Z1 has been fooled into choosing the incorrect white balance.

It is possible the tinting on the bench top or the room illumination could have had a part in causing this poor white balance selection, but then, how did the other phones manage to get it correct?

Also, all comparisons here have been done in either 8MP PureView for the 808, 5MP pureview for the 1020 or 8MP oversampled for the Z1. The full resolution images are available in the complete set on Flickr just for interest purposes.

Color Tones no flash used
In this example you'll see the 808 Pureview, Lumia 1020, Xperia Z1, G2 and Galaxy S4 Zoom (click for a larger file)

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First looking at the no flash used shots, the Nokia 808 has the coolest tone. From past image comparisons, it is not surprising since the 808 always automatically picks a cooler color tone. From what I can see, the warmest color tones is a mixed bag between the S4zoom and the 1020. The LG G2 sits in the middle with not warm, nor cold tone. The Z1 has not chosen a good color tone at all.

Out of camera pop factor (aesthetically pleasing) no flash used
I would have assumed to be the Lumia 1020 would win hands down here, since it does have a certain processed look we have all become accustomed to, but I have to say it is a tie between the LG G2 and the Lumia 1020. The green apple in the 1020 shot may be very bright and vibrant, but it makes the rest of the fruits look not as vibrant in comparison. The apple is positively glowing in my opinion.

The LG G2 on the other hand gives all the fruits in the bowl an equal chance to be visually appealing, and it just looks right. The S4zoom has taken a slightly muted approach to sharpening, and color saturation, and has a nice realism to it. The Nokia 808, with it’s cooler color tone, combined with a very unsharpened “pure” image may not appeal to the masses, and can be considered flat looking. Last place goes to the Z1, as the wrong color balance has made the fruits extremely unattractive.

Detail preservation, pixel IQ, and water color painting no flash used
From my observation, pixel peeping and cropping, the 808, still is a winner in my eyes when it comes to natural rendering. The images are not noisy, yet, they are very detailed and do not look processed. We cannot say the same for the S4zoom or the LG G2. Both these handsets with their small sensors have issues with noise, and so in order to give a “less noisy” image, substantial noise processing algorithms have been used.

This results in a much “cleaner” image, but it usually comes with a sacrifice of textural detail. We find the LG G2 has a far more aggressive noise reduction and the result is a near noise free image. The S4 zoom with smaller aperture thanks to its optical zoom, is a slight handicap, but still manages to retain good detail, while also still retaining noise. In terms of textural detail, the S4 zoom has slightly more detail than the LG G2, but only slight.

For the consumer market, this slight improvement in detail is not noticeable, and the LG G2 image with no noise is preferable. Ignoring the Z1 for its bad color tone, its 8mp oversampled image seems to be surprisingly good. The over sized oversampled image here retains good of detail, while not being exceptionally noisy. Sadly the Z1 follows it’s peers, the LG G2 and the S4zoom with excessive edge enhancement, which tends to cause artefacts and fake edge data.

As per previous comparisons between the 808 and the 1020, the 1020 was always known for its high edge sharpening and enhancement compared to the 808. Now compare the 1020 to the likes of the Z1, S4zoom or G2, the 1020’s edge enhancement seems almost invisible in comparison. As for detail, the clever sharpening of the 1020’s image puts more emphasis on detail, but it also does seem to put emphasis on noise.

Sadly noise to the consumer market is considered unattractive, and from the users that come from using large APC-C, or full frame cameras, the detail enhancement sharpening, is also unattractive. However the ultimate winner, in this section is still the 1020. Its clever oversampling and sharpening has paid off, and it has the most preserved visible detail, just surpassing the 808. The additional enhanced noise is also very visible on close up crops, but it can be appreciated as being somewhat uniform and hence tends to look more analogue (film like)

Can the flash help with image quality?

For the Xperia Z1 using the LED flash has improved the image quality. Not only does it allow the camera to use a lower ISO, but more importantly, the red cast is reduced, This is probably due to the  the Z1 must automatically selecting  a flash style color balance when the LED flash is turned on. Unfortunately the Z1 still suffers from the same excessive edge enhancement issues whether the flash is on or off, and also the flash illumination does not seem all that strong

Fruit Flash - Sony Xperia Z1 8MP

On the LG G2, the LED flash does not improve the image quality much and it is maybe due to the ISO advantage of using the LED flash is about ½ a stop. What this means is that the LED flash is not really that bright, and the image sensor still needs to use an undesirable higher ISO to compensate. Personally I prefer the no flash used LG G2 shot, as not only is the image more natural, but also the colors just seem nicer.

Fruit flash - LG G2

The S4zoom, Lumia 1020 and 808 all have xenon flashes.

The Galaxy S4 Zoom flash does a remarkable job illuminating the fruit bowl. It now only allows for a much lower ISO but also a far higher shutter speed to freeze motion, although we are not expecting the fruits in the bowl to start moving anytime soon. The lower ISO has allowed for a substantial improvement in detail.

Fruit Flash - Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom 16MP

The Lumia 1020 xenon flash works well to exposure at higher shutter speeds, as well as lower ISO, but the difference in detail attained is not hard to tell, and the visible sensor noise still remains very similar. The main difference between no flash and flash is the way the light shadow is being cast due to the powerful front flash. The 1020 also has a slightly warmer color tone when the xenon flash is used. Again, I prefer the look of the no flash used shot, as the contrast and fruits have more depth.

Fruit Flash - Nokia Lumia 1020 5MP

The Nokia 808 xenon flash works well lowering the ISO. This sees the 808 revealing alot more detail, and reduced noise.  Using different ISO’s on the 808 really has a large impact on image quality, and the xenon flash ensures that the ISO is low. The xenon flash also has had the effect of warming up the image which is nice, but has metered the scene slightly darker than I would have liked.

Fruit Flash - Nokia 808 PureView 8MP

I think the winner for the flash on fruit bowl scene goes to the Samsung S4zoom. Using the flash not only improved image quality, but also exposed  fruit bowl best making it quite attractive. The Nokia 808 comes in second where the flash improved the color tone, while improving the image quality significantly.

The lumia 1020 comes in next, with the xenon flash only really allowing for faster shutter speed, while the image quality strangely remains the same whether ISO 100 or 400 is used. The Z1, a bit too warm, has shown improvement over using no flash, and the lower ISO used does help preserve image details. The LG G2 comes last even though the flash gave a very nice exposure, it really did not add much to image quality, nor would it assist much for freezing motion.

Noise comparison
With these images I was able to make a small comparison between the phone cameras. The first set was to compare the oversampling phone cameras only in full resolution. Ie no oversampling. The Lumia 1020, the Nokia 808 and the Sony Z1 are the candidates here.

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We can see that the lumia 1020 does exceptionally well here maintaining a high standard for signal to noise at ISO 400. From historical comparisons, the difference in signal to noise in the 1020 is not really noticeable between ISO 100 and 400. So it can be assumed that the ISO performance of the 1020 does not get much better at ISO 100 for instance.

The Nokia 808, really was not designed to be used for full resolution modes past ISO 200. Although ISO 250 is past this limit, the 808 still has descent noise control, although inferior to the 1020.

The Z1 looks terrible, and the digital artifacts have overtaken the image. These artefacts and noise ruin the image, and any benefits from capturing the full resolution 20MP image would be lost, with the resultant image being unnecessarily large. Rather it would be preferable to use the lower 8Mp oversampled image, which we will later producing a far nicer image.

All cameras phones compared at optimum resolutions with flash

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The Nokia 808 produces near noise  free image here at ISO64. That combined with no visible edge enhancements, contrast or saturation, makes the best JPG for post processing. It comes as a surprise that the LG G2 at higher ISO 300 seems to have a nice low noise image with a slight hint of noise grains visible.

The Z1 noise processing looks somewhat similar to the LG G2, but it you look closely horrible digital artifacts are faintly visible but not intrusive at this low ISO. This is disappointing since the LG G2 having no oversampling and smaller sensor is nearly out performing a the larger Z1 sensor at a higher ISO.

The S4 zoom at ISO 125 gives the worst result with higher visible noise and digital artifacts present. This is a worry, since the noise and artifacts can only get worst at higher ISO. Lumia 1020 has the most visible noise. It can be forgiven that the noise is rather uniform and hence would respond well to post process noise reduction.

The issue though most 1020 users would not necessarily want to put all their images through a noise reduction algorithm on a PC/MAC. The winner here is clearly the Nokia 808, but the LG G2 deserves honours for achieving exceptional signal to noise at a higher ISO, while sporting no oversampling and no over sized image sensor

October 16, Bigley Ling

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