Comparison: Extreme night photography (no flash) - updated and Lumia 735 included
This is about photography in extreme dark circumstances. At night, I took several smartphone cameras with me to see what they could capture of a simple slide, only lit by a lamp post. I needed the most extensive manual settings to achieve the best results, so I was left with the Nokia 808 PureView, Lumia 1020, 930, 830 - and the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom. You'll find the update below, don't miss it.
Trying out a few other high-end Android smartphones under these conditions proved to be in vain - at least in the software provided by the manufacturer. Since the manual settings proved to be either practically absent (New Motorola X), or too limited (Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Sony Xperia Z3 - ISO settings but no extended shutter time), it's just about useless to share those results here. Using the flash didn't bring much improvement either in this case. Rest assured there will be many other conditions in which I will compare these new Android smartphones.
The best combination for me proved to be ISO 200 and 4 seconds shutter time. The shots are all handheld, but I had something to rest my hands on - that helps, as you will see. Of course, much higher ISO and less shutter time is possible, but you will get more noise in your shot. Four seconds shutter time is maximum on the Lumia-series. The Nokia 808 PureView has a max of 2.7 seconds shutter time, so for a bit more light (and "better" comparison) I had to choose ISO 400 on that one.
I will share the best shot I got first, which much to my surprise is coming from... the brand new Nokia Lumia 830! (of course, resized to fit this post)
A pretty boring scene, isn't it? I was there for about half an hour, trying to get the best results from those smartcams. Of course I made several shots with each and selected the best, as always. And I was really surprised with the ease I could get such a great result with the Lumia 830. Runner up is the Nokia Lumia 1020 - fantastic detail (even better to be honest), but you will see a bit of the yellow/green hue the 1020 still is (in)famous for.
And I don't know why, but it took me a lot more shots before I was more or less happy with what I got from the Nokia Lumia 930...
Colours are good, but it seriously took me many shots to get the details as sharp as this (I'll get to some crops later). It looks like as if OIS doesn't work properly on my device - otherwise I have no explanation for it.
Update: But now I have, and it's almost too embarrassing to admit. I asked Nokia/Microsoft for an extra Lumia 930 to compare both devices, which I did tonight. And not until comparing both, on the new Lumia 930 I noticed... the reflection of the focus assistance light on the steel slide. Something I hadn't noticed when capturing the scene with my own Lumia 930. So was the assistence light defective then? No - it was "set by flash", not on "automatic". So the reason my original results were far from sharp was my own: the focus assistance light wasn't working at all because it would only work when I would use the flash. Which in this case I didn't want to. Here's the result with the focus assistance light on (you'll see the crop below).
It proved to be even more difficult to work with the Nokia 808 PureView, which just refused to focus in those dark circumstances. And although that may seem logical since it was so dark, it's the only device that gave me this issue. Moreover, maximum shutter time is 2.7 second. So to share a more or less comparable result I had to choose what I captured at ISO 400 (at 8MP resolution).
Still a very acceptable result (considering it didn't appear to be able to get the exact focus), and the colours are accurate (as always on the 808). And here's what I got from the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom on manual settings: ISO 200 and 4 seconds shutter time, giving me the "darkest" result as I discover comparing all shots. Colours are good though, details are a bit less because of its darker result.
To conclude, I resized all original shots to 5MP, being the smallest resolution (like from the 930 and 1020). The shot from the 830 is captured in 8MP, just like the shot I chose from the 808 PureView. The result from the Galaxy K Zoom was shrinked about three times. I made the crops where I focused the cameras, and I'll present them in the same order as above: Nokia Lumia 830, Lumia 1020, Lumia 930, Nokia 808 PureView and Galaxy K Zoom.
Nokia Lumia 830 (sharp, great detail, right colours, not too much noise)
Nokia Lumia 1020 (less noise, better detail like I wrote, but too yellow, or green)
Nokia Lumia 930 (looks like a defective OIS in comparison indeed).
Update: No, it was my own mistake - the focus assistance light was set incorrectly.
Here's the crop of the new version of the nightshot, now with the focus assistance light on... And that's an enormous difference as you can see...
I'm truly sorry for the possible confusion I may have caused with the previous version of this post. I consider myself quite experienced, but nevertheless it appears to be possible to make a silly mistake like this.
Let´s continu with the Nokia 808 PureView, having trouble focusing in the dark. In case you might wonder (like I did just now): its focus assistance light was actually on.
Samsung Galaxy K Zoom (pretty dark for 4 seconds and ISO 200)
This actually concludes this comparison. Should I add the results I got from the Androids I mentioned? It's quite useless, really - they're simply not up to such a task. Let me just share two extremes. The darkest result on auto settings comes from the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 - EXIF tells me nothing about the ISO/shutter time that was used.
An unbelievable contrast is one of the shots I got from the Sony Xperia Z3 on its "Auto Superior" setting, unexpectedly choosing an ISO of 12.800 (!) in 1/8 second. Some might think even flash was used to get this much light, but in fact, when you use the flash you'll get way less of a scene like this in your shot.
Update: adding the Nokia Lumia 735
OIS or no OIS, now that I have a review sample of the Nokia Lumia 735 it's just too tempting to see what how it performs in the exact same test. ISO set to 200, 4 seconds shutter time and NO Optical Image Stabilisation gives me this result (added the original on Flickr).
Of course, with a 6.7MP sensor (using 5MP in 16:9 aspect ratio), there will be noticably more noise in the crop, although its aperture has a higher value than the Lumia 830 (F1.9 instead of F2.2). Anyway: I didn't expect this result without OIS...
As always, you'll find the original shots - better even, you'll find fourteen different results - in a dedicated set on Flickr. This is a bit like "separating the men from the boys" - it shows which device performs best under very unfavorable conditions. No doubt the difference will be less striking in better light - and you might prefer a high-end Android device over better picture quality anyway.
The coming days/weeks I'l be focusing on/with the new Android devices I mentioned above, comparing the Sony Xperia Z3, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the new Motorola X - and maybe more. So stay tuned. Meanwhile, if you appreciate what I'm doing here (without annoying ads or pop-ups), please support this club by hitting the "support' button on the right side of this page. And while you're there, you're welcome to take part in the poll as well :-)