Hilversum "Old harbour" revisited: Lumia 830 and 930, Xperia Z3 and Galaxy Note 4

A comparison with several crops from the results I got with the Nokia Lumia 830 and Lumia 930, the Sony Xperia Z3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4. One of these devices much to my surprise completely blew me away, in all crops even. And it wasn't a Lumia.

I captured the exact same scene a few months ago with a lot of (almost all) different smartphones. Yesterday, I was standing on just about the same place, the setting sun in the autumn afternoon was extremely bright and there was not a cloud in sight - perfect conditions for a comparison!

I took my time to take quite a few shots with each device and selected the best at home - and I don't think I ever made as much crops as this time. Here's the resized result I got from the Nokia Lumia 930 (5MP) to give you an idea what we're looking at.

I set both Lumia's on ISO 100 and white balance to sunny, and I did the same with the Xperia Z3 in its manual settings (15.5MP) - you can't change ISO on the Xperia when it's on "Auto Superior".

With the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 I first made a few shots on auto, then remembered to chose ISO 100 as well. Picking the best shots later however, I noticed the results coming from the Note 4 were actually much better coming from the auto settings, where it chose ISO 40 instead - so I selected that shot for this comparison and the crops.

I chose not to resize all the shots to the same size this time: it's one way of comparing, but the risk of losing detail is too big. The smaller resolutions are 5MP (Lumia 930) and 8MP (Nokia Lumia 830 and Sony Xperia Z3) - the bigger resolutions 15.5MP (Xperia Z3 manual), 15.9MP (Galaxy Note 4) and 16.2MP (Lumia 930 high-res). However, focal length of the Galaxy Note 4 is a bit longer, so in the crops it appears you get a bit "closer" to the subject.

I'll share the four sets of crops like this:
Lumia 930 (5MP);
Lumia 830 and Sony Xperia Z3 (8MP);
Sony Xperia Z3 (15.5MP), Lumia 930 (16MP) and Galaxy Note 4 (15.9MP)

With the crops, we'll "wander" through the scene. First: let's have a look what we captured from the roof tops on the left. I chose the second large chimney as point of focus for these crops. 
Lumia 930 5MP

Lumia 830 8MP

Xperia Z3 8MP (auto)

Xperia Z3 (15MP manual)

Lumia 930 (16MP high-res)

Galaxy Note 4 (auto)

Only in the last crop, you can actually see the bricks of the chimneys. Next crops come from the "middle" of the buildings. And yes, that includes part of the roof in the smaller resolutions - as point of focus, this time I chose the large window you'll see behind the lamp post at the right side of the crop. 
Lumia 930

Lumia 830

Sony Xperia Z3

Sony Xperia Z3

Nokia Lumia 930

Galaxy Note 4

After this, I guess you've already seen what I'm getting at: except for the very white parts, the Galaxy Note 4 again is showing very impressive detail, especially in the tree. I have two more crops and I promise you'll be amazed. Next one is one of the parked cars in the middle of the shot. I parked it in the top left corner of the crop.
Lumia 930

Lumia 830

Xperia Z3

Xperia Z3

Lumia 930

Galaxy Note 4

My oh my. It definitely looks like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is blowing every other smartphone out of the water in bright light conditions like these. Let's make sure and make a crop on the darker side of the shot - the two men sitting on the stairs on the far right of the scene (the ones you didn't even notice until now, probably).
Lumia 930

Lumia 830

Xperia Z3

Xperia Z3

Lumia 930

Galaxy Note 4

Another way brighter and more detailed result coming from the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 - even on ISO 40? What have they done with this thing? A bigger sensor size maybe? 

I looked for it and found an answer Samsung uses a Sony sensor on PhoneArena: "The IMX240 is a 1/2.6” sensor, nearly 15% larger than the average 1/3" sensor used in top-shelf smartphones. This works out to pixel size of the rather small 1.1 microns." They have this info from a Chinese site where they tore the Note 4 apart (see here, here and   here for close-ups of the sensor used).

It's something I could have known already, since Anandtech already wrote about it three weeks ago in their extensive Note 4 review: "While the 16MP camera of the Galaxy Note 4 is mostly what we would expect, Samsung has really changed things up with the addition of OIS. Outside of this addition and the Sony IMX240 sensor, there’s really not a lot of change when it comes to the Galaxy Note 4. This means that we see the same 31mm equivalent focal length and F/2.27 aperture."

Still, I don't think OIS is the reason why these shots are so much brighter than the competition, even on ISO 40. My guess is it's the sensor size and some algorithmic wizardry - but if you have any ideas or additional information, don't hesitate to let me know. I might add though, these circumstances are pretty perfect, and with the details coming out this bright, what does that mean for the way it captured the complete scene? Would that be too bright in general? Let's have a look:

Nope, in fact it looks fine from the foreground to the horizon. However surprising sharp and bright the details of this shot are, I should repeat that some parts of the shot are in fact too bright and lose detail because of that. Also, I'd like to remind you that I couldn't get a decent shot from the Galaxy Note 4 in my extreme low light comparison at all, since it doesn't support longer shutter times. Be that as it may, I can't hide the fact I'm seriously impressed with these crops coming from the Galaxy Note 4.

How does the rest of the pack compare? Well, in short: the Nokia Lumia 830 "as expected" - not bad in fact, a bit noisy in some parts. Remember it's not as expensive as Sony's Xperia Z3 with its bigger sensor - which shows in its 8MP (auto) results. In the 15.5MP (manual) results on the other hand, the details from the Xperia Z3 get quite messy, a bit like water painting.

In 16MP, the Nokia Lumia 930´s captures a slightly better, cleaner image, but it does lack detail and contrast - in two crops even, you can hardly see the yellow leaves lying on the grass. It's obviously way behind what Samsung is showing in this case. And quite frankly, that's a conclusion I would have never expected to come to when I started capturing these shots.

Of course all shots are in a dedicated album on Flickr, so you can have a detailed look at all the results for yourself. Did I already ask you for a donation if you like what I'm doing? It might enable me to actually buy a new device to test one day. Every donation is welcome, and I'll add you to the list of sponsors (unless you don't want me to). The Donate button is on the right hand side of this page, thank you very much in advance.