Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. iPhone 5: Camera Shootout

s4i5

Late last week, I took delivery of a Samsung Galaxy S4. Sadly, I don’t get to keep it, but I’ve been loaned it long enough for me to get some comparison posts up for your enjoyment. On Friday, I published the S-Voice vs. Siri comparison, and today it’s all about the cameras. I was very intrigued to see how each performed with a variety of shots and in varying conditions. The Galaxy’s 13MP camera certainly boasts more pixels than the iPhone 5′s 8MP backside illuminated lens system. But, which is the best?

As with all my camera comparisons, I take the pictures in automatic mode, I don’t play with any settings on either phone unless I’m purposefully testing similar features like HDR or Panorama. I do my best to take the photos from the same point, manually focusing on the same part of the scene and in the same lighting conditions. Obviously there are variables like clouds and sunlight in outdoor scenes, but as the photos are taken within seconds of each other, that really shouldn’t change all that much.

sycamore S4

sycamore S4

sycamore iPhone

sycamore iPhone

The difference between the two images above is immediately apparent. Apart from the different ratios, the colors are vastly different. Galaxy’s image is a lot more vibrant, whereas the iPhone seems to filter out the bright vivid spring green of the leaves, and takes the saturation down a notch.

wall S4

wall S4

wall iPhone

wall iPhone

What you’ll notice as this comparison develops is that – in fact – both cameras are very good. Sharpness is fantastic, contrast and depth of color are good. What I noticed when using the cameras though was how much easier it was to get a good shot in daylight with the Samsung. Its larger, sharper display was a much better viewfinder and it was easier to see in outdoor conditions.

fence s4

fence s4

fence iPhone

fence iPhone

What I often find with the iPhone camera comparisons, and is seemingly a trend here as well is that the competitor has a slightly paler, washed out finish. Compare the color of the leaves in the images above, they’re a deeper orange, and the thin green later of moss on the wooden fence is much more apparent on the iPhone’s shot.

orchid s4

orchid s4

orchid iPhone

orchid iPhone

One thing I did find when taking close-up pictures like the orchid above was that the Galaxy S4 did seem to focus easier and quicker on the close up objects. I took one photo of the flower with the Galaxy, and that was first time. With the iPhone I spent about 30 seconds just trying to convince the camera to focus on the flower, and not the clock. The same was true in the images below:

bugs buds s4

bugs buds s4

bug buds iPhone

bug buds iPhone

I have to be completely honest, I found it very difficult to get the previous images to look the same. You can’t tell from the photo, but it was incredibly windy down by the river where I was snapping. But, what is particularly notable is just how far we’ve come in terms of depth of field in the past few years. Just look at the background blur on both shots. Its stunning. There’s no wonder smartphones are replacing compact cameras.

clock s4

clock s4

clock iPhone

clock iPhone

Samsung closeup

Samsung 100% crop

iPhone 100% crop

iPhone 100% crop

What you may find when taking images with the Galaxy and iPhone is that despite its heftier pixel count, the Galaxy’s images aren’t necessarily as sharp. Perhaps the extra pixels crammed in to a small space have a negative effect on the sharpness of fine details like in the images above.

I did take a lot more daytime images than those above, so if you want to see those, scroll right down to the bottom of this post and you’ll spot a fairly substantial gallery of images.

Low Light

With any camera comparison, it’s the low light shots that – for me – normally swing the balance in favor of one over the other.

Batmobile S4

Batmobile S4

Batmobile iPhone

Batmobile iPhone

You’ll notice immediately that the iPhone’s sensor picked up more light, albeit with plenty of noise to. High gain distortion levels are pretty high.

Trees S4

Trees S4

Trees iPhone

Trees iPhone

Again, the difference in light levels is pretty staggering. Clearly overcrowding the sensor with pixels meant that the Samsung struggles to pick up as much light in a quick press of a shutter. Just to see what difference it would make, I decided to have a look at the “Night” setting on the Galaxy S4 with the next shots. Now, it’s worth noting, it doesn’t boost the light sensitivity of the sensor. It doesn’t crank the ISO up, instead, it increases the shutter speed, essentially giving the sensor more time to gather the light. I could achieve the same thing with the iPhone using a free app like Slow Shutter+ (for instance). Slowing down the shutter speed does require you to have a really steady hand though.

Hedge iPhone

Hedge iPhone

Hedge S4

Hedge S4

Hedge S4 Night Setting

Hedge S4 Night Setting

The difference between automatic and “night” settings is amazing on the S4. And, if you’re okay trying a few times to get the perfectly still shot you need, you’ll get great results with the S4. But, like I’ve said, there are apps for iPhone that do the same thing. If you want to play with them, I’d suggest trying to find an iPhone tripod adapter first.

Last but not least, a quick look at the LED flash performance:

Sign Flash S4

Sign Flash S4

Sign Flash iPhone

Sign Flash iPhone

Both do an ample job of lighting up nearby objects. Personally, I never use flash in photography, but I know some of you might.

Overall

If I’m honest, I’d be perfectly happy with either of the two cameras. In certain daytime shots the S4 produced some great, sharp images. In others, it was washed out and a little faded. The iPhone had a great depth of color and contrast, but sometimes filtered out some of the natural colors and gave them a touch of sepia. I loved the difference between “night” and auto on the S4, but equally like that I don’t have to fiddle with any settings on the iPhone 5.

Which do you think gave the best results? Check over the gallery below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

A special thanks to Phones 4u for loaning us the Galaxy S4 unit and making these comparisons possible.

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  • Scottyb112

    I think the S4 looks better in most pics except the low light ones. But once you turn on the low light/night shot setting on the S4 it gets better again.  The first few pics are really bright and vivid detail with the S4.  The iPhone 5 camera is still really nice though!

  • pld940

    Honestly, if you can change the modes, then they are barley different. The iPhone 5′s camera is only slightly better. You can’t go wrong either way (they are both so amazing), even though the Fanboy in me wants to yell ” iPhone 5 wins!”.

  • SimonBerberich

    iPhone better overall but s4 does win in some cases

  • Celbofs

    Both are great. When you consider the iPhone is year old tech, the S4 should be substantially better in every shot.

  • klbsab

    Many variables involved in your tests! Even though more images are captured with cameras in phones, printing them and enlarging them have results that are horrendous compared to point and shoot cameras and higher end cameras. Great for Facebook or emailing, but that is where it ends. I found The Apple product to be superior.