(most of) The best smartcams in lowlight photography

In this post you will find the results from several smartphone cameras that excel in lowlight photography. There's only one missing as far as I'm aware of: the LG G4, but I'm still waiting for a review sample (within weeks, I hope). Here you'll see the results coming from the Nokia 808 PureView, Nokia Lumia 1020 and Lumia 1520, Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1, Huawei P8 and Honor 6+.

i made a new test setup in my basement, so it will be very easy to make the exact same shot with the LG G4 as soon as I get my hands on it - I will add the results to this post later. Of course you have to be a little "crazy" to work on a comparison like this. Very dark scene, no flash - completely dependant on either long exposure or higher ISO settings. First, let me share the new setup like I captured it with the Nokia Lumia 1020 and flash - I hope you like it :-)

Taking the widest angle from the Lumia 1020 (same on 808 and 1520), you'll see the SX1 box on the top left corner and the comic clock on the right top corner (saying "it's time, shall we go?") On a sidenote, I've been working on this setup for days, adding tons of souvenirs and other stuff you might like. The clock should have shown 8.08 but I just noticed it shifted a bit (maybe I should have chosen another hour :-) And I noticed there is one spot left I need to fill in - will work on that too. 

Anyway, the Nokia 808 PureView "only" has 2.7 seconds at its disposal, so you'll have to work with the ISO settings. Same goes for the Lumia devices; 4 seconds maximum aren't enough either. I captured several shots with all Nokia devices, using different ISO settings. To show you how dark the scene is without any direct lamp light, here's how I captured it with the Nokia 808 PureView and ISO 100 (2.7 seconds).

This is pretty much what you see when you enter the room. Of course, your eyes will adjust to the light after a while, but this is basically what it looks like when you enter from outside.

Now the next "contenders" are the Huawei P8 (30 seconds max as far as I know), the Honor 6+ (60 seconds max afaik) and the Panasonic Lumic DMC-CM1 (60 seconds without a doubt). In these cases, I kept the ISO to its lowest value, being 100 on the Huawei devices and 125 on the Panasonic.

Since the Huawei devices are newest, it might be a thought to begin with both the Huawei P8 as the Honor 6+ (I know the sub-brand doesn't really want to be associated with Huawei, but since I find the same company in the EXIF data they'll have to live with it :-).

Fact is: both have a very hard time focussing in dark circumstances like these. Not necessarily a bad thing (the Lumia 1520 has a hard time focussing as well, some light is always appreciated by the sensors). But it proves there is no "focus assist light" (or IrDA) on either Huawei device, not even in Supernight mode - which in fact is a bit surprising. However, the second sensor of the Honor 6+ appears to be quite effective: in this setting, I got more sharp results from it than from the Huawei P8, sd you can see below: Huawei P8 first (ISO 100, 18 seconds), Honor 6+ (ISO 100, 29 seconds). Mind you, these are the best results I got:


Not only is the result from the Huawei P8 less sharp, again it shows the digital distortion I've noticed earlier - absent once again in the result from the Honor 6+

Nokia 808 PureView
Want to see something funny? Just took the result I shared above from the Nokia 808 PureView, opened it in Microsoft Office Picture Manager and used "autocorrection" twice. Then I resized the result to the same size of the 6MP result from the Huawei and made the same crop. Mind you, the original is ISO 100 and only 2.7 seconds.

Without resizing the 34MP original, you can even read the "reject" aboven the button on the turntable - in the "corrected" version that is...

I made several shots with the 808 with higher ISO as well, but it doesn't get much better than this in fact, showing the Nokia 808 PureView has quite a bit of headroom to work on a very dark shot later. You'll find all examples on Flickr as well.

Nokia Lumia 1020
How did the other two Nokia devices do? First, the Nokia Lumia 1020 (ISO 100, 4 seconds)

What does that look like if I use the "auto correct" option here - is there enough headroom?

Stil more than enough as you can see. More importantly: the result still is better than what I got from both the P8 and 6+. Once more, what does the "reject" button look like in the 34MP original from the Lumia 1020 (in the "auto correct" version). Not too good this time I'm afraid - the 808 clearly wins here, even with only 2.7 seconds exposure time.

Nokia Lumia 1520
What is quite remarkable to begin with, is the fact the Nokia Lumia 1520 captured much more light than the Lumia 1020 - both on ISO 100 and 4 seconds. Interesting to see I think. Lumia 1020 first, Lumia 1520 second.


Beats me why the difference is this big in fact. Also, for some odd reason, the Lumia 1520 even used -1.8 exposure correction (my bad, no doubt, much have touched a slider without noticing). Since there obviously is no need to use any autocorrection, without any delay: the crops. First from the resized version:

Still better than the Honor 6+, even in "only" 4 seconds. And of course the same crop from the 16MP original - not too convincing I'm afraid.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1
Now all the more interesting will be to see how the 16.8MP sensor of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 performs in 30 seconds. It will show "shutter time noise reduction ongoing" in the same amount you choose to capture the shot. So when you choose 30 seconds, it will use another 30 seconds for noise reduction. And it's clear to see why:

Here we go again: the crop from the resized original.

And the crop from the original at 16.8MP...

Conclusion
Well, it's pretty obvious to me we have a winner here - with flying colours even, the Panasonic (ISO 125, 30 seconds) offers the best performance in extreme lowlight.

Of course it's much more expensive as the Honor 6+ and Huawei P8, which do offer remarkable exposure times and bright results, the Honor 6+ being the better choice with its dual sensor (better focus) and no digital distortion.

However, the Nokia 808 PureView comes in second, even at 2.7 second (and ISO100). The first result is extremely dark but when corrected shows much more detail than both Chinese smartcams are able to. Next contender is of course the Nokia Lumia 1020, and the Lumia 1520 surprised me with an even much brighter result.

So the Honor 6+ - however impressive for a €399 smartphone - ends in fourth place, and - worse - the Huawei P8 (€499) ends last. I should add both suffer from the fact there appears to be no focus assist light (or infrared). In less extreme dark circumstances where both can acually focus better, the result is more pleasing, and even the digital distortion will be less apparant on the P8. This test is a bit too extreme for both.

You will find all the original shots (in different version) in a dedicated album on Flickr. Please join the club on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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