New comparison: six smartphones in dull weather

In this post you'll see four scenes I captured with six different smartphone cameras in quite dull weather. Contenders are a few "classics" : Nokia 808 PureView, Nokia Lumia 1020 and Nokia Lumia 1520, from last year the prestigious Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 and two "new kids on the block": the Huawei P8 and Samsung Galaxy S6.

It has its advantages: when a sky is covered with grey clouds about to drizzle, light conditions are very constant - outside and inside. Lots of the visitors seem to like comparisons in not too bright light anwyay, and I tried several settings - like low ISO, and HDR - depending on the device I was working with. This is no science however: I picked the best results from all scenes and even several "best" in some cases, just to see what the cameras are capable of or will change the outcome depending how you use them. Of course I forgot a few settings once again as well.

Now since most of us consider the 808 PureView as the leader of the pack since 2012, I'll first show you the different scenes as captured by it (I'm not saying it's performing best though, because it's not, at least not in all cases). I captured two scenes outside and two inside - not the most exciting ones, but they'll have to do.




I made a few dozen shots and selected the best, resized them all to be able to share them here, made crops from the originals AND from resized versions (10MP). From a few scenes I selected several versions. Can't possibly share everything in this post  - trust me, it's long enough - but you'll find all shots on Flickr.

Selecting the shots was more or less "easy" - choosing the sharpest results. Most interesting to me was to see how the Huawei P8 would face this kind of heavy competition, how the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 performs in its iA+ setting in comparison, and how the Galaxy S6 stacks up against the Lumia 1520 (which according to some has become much better since the Denim update). And of course I'm sharing the results of the good old 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 to see if both still perform best under all circumstances.

Round 1
So let's start with the crops I got from the originals - here's scene number one once more.

First the Huawei P8, having the smallest sensor (shooting 10MP in 16:9).

That's not too impressive I'm afraid. The next size is the 16MP results coming from the Lumia 1520 and Galaxy S6. How do they compare? Lumia 1520 first, Galaxy S6 second.


Now I don't know about you, but I'd choose the Galaxy S6. Better contrast, detail, colors and less noise - of course, I'm using the 16MP .JPG of the Lumia 1520, not the "PureView" 5MP result (if Samsung can get great results with 16MP, Lumia should be able to as well).

Next is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1, only slightly bigger with 16.8MP. Interesting to note is it's focal length is the same as of the Huawei P8, meaning you'll get less of the scene in your crop (as you can clearly see compared with the results above, coming from only slightly smaller sensors).

Not using the manual settings, you can see the result is practically noise free and does show good detail.

Last but not least, both the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020, in that order.


As we can see, the Lumia 1020 still has an issue with the "yellow" tint. The 808 is cleaner and actually better in every respect. What does it look like when I resize all shots to 10MP and crop the results? You'll see them below in the same order.

Huawei P8

Nokia Lumia 1520

Samsung Galaxy S6

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

Nokia 808 PureView

Nokia Lumia 1020

Huawei P8 offers least quality, but it's the cheapest device (comparing the new price that is, €499) and has the smallest sensor. Nokia Lumia 1520 is not as good as the Galaxy S6 with its impressive result, but both are very close. Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 and Nokia 808 PureView appear to win this round, and given the wider angle I'd prefer the 808 - the Panasonic did an amazing job because of its different focal length as well: again, it makes the crop a bit "closer".

Round 2
Here's the second scene as captured with the Nokia 808 PureView.

Here are the crops from the center of the shot, in the same same order as in round 1, Huawei P8 first. Again, it's not too exciting, but you will see the devil is in the detail (as always). 

Hm... Again, not much detail at 100%. Second crops come from the Lumia 1520 vs Galaxy S6 (in that order).


Difference seems to be in in colour mainly, but the Galaxy S6 in fact does show more detail (as a find in the grey stones). Next up: Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1.

Yet more detail, quite surprising given what it has to work with here. Next: the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020, both 34MP results.


Funny to see how the green in these crops looks fresh on the 808 PureView and kind of old on the Lumia 1020 - there's more noise in the last crop as well. Still it's amazing to see how much detail it will capture if you consider the distance. Let's check out the crops from the resized results I got from all devices.

Huawei P8

Nokia Lumia 1520

Samsung Galaxy S6

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

Nokia 808 PureView

Nokia Lumia 1020

Well, what do you know... Which one would you prefer from the "best" smartcams? In this case, the Nokia Lumia 1020 and Samsung Galaxy S6 give me the most detail and best colour, closely followed by the Lumia 1520. Maybe I should have paid more attention to exposure correction with the Panasonic and 808 PureView, but I didn't and I'm not going to hide the results from you. Combining all, I'd say the Lumia 1020 and S6 win this round, Lumia 1520 in third place. 

Round 3
Light conditions are becoming more and more difficult in the following rounds. The next shot was captured in more or less dark corner in a restaurant. Most difficult was to capture the details in the flower on the table, due to the bright light shining on it. 

I've noticed there are many ways to capture a scene like this and I even selected nine different versions... Not going to share them all in this post, but you will find them on Flickr to see the differences (sure, some of them are too dark but I think they show great atmosphere). Here is the first set of crops from center part of the originals, Huawei P8 first.

Not bad, but hardly overwhelming either. Next are Nokia Lumia 1520 and Samsung Galaxy S6.


Yes, I definitely do prefer the crop coming from the Nokia Lumia 1520 this time. Feeling the "auto" shot was too bright on the Galaxy S6 Edge, I gave it another try with settings on Pro and choosing ISO 100. The shot came out too dark in fact, but I'll share the crop anyway

Does look more attractive, but as far as detail goes, differences with the Lumia 1520 are marginal. Didn't capture the same scene with the Lumia 1520 on ISO 100 though (for some reason I figured it already had, but it chose ISO 400 - so it's pretty hard to compare anyway).

Next up, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 with a very noisy result at ISO 1600...

Now I wasn't planning to use the manual setting until Panasonic comes up with an update (see my previous post), so I tried to work with exposure compensation (-1), with the following result:

Well, it does help a bit, but noise is still awful and it's obvious you'll prefer longer shutter times in Manual settings for a scene like this. In fact, I should have used Manual anyway and live with the limited quality of the crops - I'm sure they would have come out better than this...

Finally, here are the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020. The Nokia 808 PureView is on ISO 500 and 1/8 second. YES I tried to capture the scene with much lower ISO but it didn't work out - I didn't bring a tripod (and should have used it with all other devices in that case). The Lumia 1020 chose ISO 800 even at 1/13 of a second but shows less noise. Nokia 808 first, Lumia 1020 second.


Now in this case it's plain to see there is some madness in my system. No one in their right mind would probably check these shots at pixel level, not under these light conditions. Just have a look at the resized originals from both.


Both are pretty nice, aren't they? Most noticable (but not surprising) is the fact that the Lumia 1020 again appears to be a bit too... yes, yellow. There are quite a few other differences in fact - which probably have to do with where I focused as well. Check out all versions on Flickr to see which ones you prefer. I did resize the shots to 10MP size but I won't share the crops in this post - differences are simply not interesting enough.

I can't really decide which device wins this round, not based on these crops. Looking at the general atmosphere of the originals, I'd say I'd choose the Lumia 1520 and Galaxy S6 in this case, with a preference for the latter. That's all quite personal though, and I'm sharing all originals on Flickr so you can make up your own mind. Time for the last round of this post.

Round 4
Respect if you made it this far! You must really love smartphone photography as much as I do. Here's the last shot I'm going to share as captured with the Nokia 808 PureView... In a dark bar with strong backlight - I've been capturing it numerous times.

In the previous example, I've only been sharing the crops directly from the originals. In this case, I'll share the crops from the resized (10MP) results - I've got too many different versions to share all here.

I'll be focusing on the leather sofa on the right. It's interesting to see which one shows the most attractive kind of detail I think. I'll share them in the same order as above.

Huawei P8

This in fact is the result I didn't have to resize since it's the smallest anyway. It looks okay but not very attractive, so I'll share the HDR result of the Huawei P8 and the crop as well - just to show it can do much better depending on the settings you choose. Check out the windows too.
Huawei P8 HDR


That already looks a lot more attractive - but you'll see some leather you can almost touch. Let's continue with the crops from the resized results coming from the Lumia 1520 and Galaxy S6. Lumia 1520 first, Galaxy S6 second.


I definitely prefer the Galaxy S6 here - like I said, you can almost touch the leather. But I have two other versions of the same shot. The Lumia 1520 focusing on the light coming from the right window. Colour differences in the window might surprise you (like in the HDR shot from the Huawei P8), but are in fact correct due to coloured plastics on the glass.
Nokia Lumia 1520 (focus on the right window)

and the Galaxy S6 in Pro Mode and ISO 100 (no HDR in case you might wonder)

Yes, again these shots are very dark but show great atmosphere I think. Below are the crops from the resized results. Nokia Lumia 1520 first, Samsung Galaxy S6 second.


You see focusing on the window with the Lumia 1520 did influence the colours - it's too dark, the sheep skin has become brownish. From all examples above I prefer what I get from the Galaxy S6. Detail in the couch simply is best to my taste.

Why am I sharing all these versions in so much detail? Well, I guess since comparing smartcams is a matter of sometimes a bit too many factors. It all depends on which settings do you have available and which you use when to get the best result. And it's not always easy, as you've already seen in the last results.

Next the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1, from which I only selected one shot.

Not bad at all, but I still can't  "feel" the leather as in the shots I got from the Galaxy S6. Last: the Nokia 808 PureView (on ISO 50) and Lumia 1020 (on auto, ISO 800).


From these last three, I definitely prefer the result coming from the Panasonic. Yes, I should have captured the same scene with the Lumia 1020 on ISO 100 - I simply forgot, like I always appear to forget at least one thing when working on a comparison like this. So that's why it's a bit disappointing in comparison as well, probably.

Conclusions so far
- the Huawei P8 really is a very nice smartphone, but it simply can't keep up with the best smartcams out there. I shouldn't forget to mention it has very long shutter times (over 30 seconds) so it will beat many other devices in nightshots;
- the Samsung Galaxy S6 is at least as good as the Lumia 1520 on Denim, if not better. Must note that settings on both devices are quite different and of course it's possible to choose up to 4 seconds shutter time on the Lumia 1520;
- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 has the same obvious advantage of longer shutter times (up to one minute even), but since I'm not going to use its Manual settings at this moment, I can't choose longer shutter times and that has proven to be a disadvantage. Of course I should have used Manual in dark situations like these anyway, since letting it choose higher ISO doesn't give a good result anyway. And of course, one can always work with its raw .JPG output (I know I'm funny that way);
- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 has the same focal length as the Huawei P8, capturing less of the scene in front of you than all other competitors in this post;
- the Nokia Lumia 1020 still suffers from its yellow tint and since the fact it's way past its "end of life" stage I don't think Microsoft will spend any time on the issue anymore (I recently checked for updates);
- the Nokia 808 PureView is still considered to be King by (me and) many readers here and I'm pretty sure it still is a benchmark in smartphone photography. I have to admit though that both the Lumix DMC-CM1, Galaxy S6 and Lumia 1520 sometimes give me more pleasing results, and I'm not even using the raw capacity of the Lumix (or Lumia).

If you have come to some conclusions, don't hesitate to share them below. As a "bonus" I'll share to more crops from the last scene, both from the resized results. They are the ones offering the most detail, and they come from the Nokia 808 PureView and... the Samsung Galaxy S6.


Sure, the 808 PureView gives a more "pure" result - but the Galaxy S6 is doing a very impressive job as well. You can have a look at all results on Flickr, there might be even more than you care for with 32 shots...

To conclude, I'm reading many very positive stories about the LG G4 here at the club - and I didn't even have the chance to test it myself yet :-) I hope to be able to do so soon though, looking forward to receive one by the end of this month. Moreover, I hope to share quite a few shots from the Honor 6 Plus in comparison with the Huawei P8 - you'll see some interesting stuff, I can promise you that already.

So much for this post - about time I'd say. All the originals are in a dedicated album on Flickr as promised. Let me add that if you like what I'm doing here please hit the donate button on the right hand side since this site doesn't support itself. I'll add you to the list of sponsors. If you'd like to get something else in return, please check out what Ringcredible has to offer below. Thank you very much in advance.