Ever since the iPhone 4, the flagship Apple smartphone has always had one of the better cameras on the market. Sony, in days gone by, used the CyberShot brand to include some great snappers in its own devices, and the 13.1MP camera in its latest Xperia phone promised a lot.

And then there’s the big talking point of the current day: HTC’s “UltraPixel” sensor with “only” four million pixels, which supposedly let in a lot more light than any other device. I couldn’t think of any better three devices to compare with each other. So, which is going to come up with the goods? The Sony Xperia Z, HTC One or Apple’s iPhone 5?

As you know if you’ve read any of my comparisons before, with each scene/shot I try to grab the image from the same spot with each device manually focussed on the same area. Obviously, I can’t get it exactly right every single time, but they’re as close to identical as I could get it.

They’re all also taken at the same time, in the same lighting conditions, without any extra tweaking. All phones are set to auto. The main reason behind doing it this way is to assess which camera gives the best result when it comes to general use.

Not ever user posting images to Facebook is going to run their images through PhotoShop to hone and perfect the image. It’s about seeing which camera delivers the best end product without any editing.

The first shot was outdoors in sunlight. The scene had plenty of variety in color, light levels and perspectives so it felt a good opportunity to see how they replicated the scene. Sony’s camera has an “intelligent auto” mode, which selects the best kind of image for the scene it detects, and in this instance it comes out shining.

The sky’s nice and bright, and the detail is pretty good too. Rather unusually, HTC’s sensor didn’t take in as much light as I expected and came out looking very flat, both in contrast and saturation levels.

The iPhone 5 came up with a good result, however, it was also lacking a little in color vibrancy. It seemed to filter a lot out. It’s not all positive for Sony’s camera though. I found that in virtually all the images, whatever processing it does during taking the image tends to over-sharpen almost everything giving it a slightly less natural look.

Once more, the One’s end result is washed out. The iPhone 5 and Xperia were closest to the colors of the pots in this one, and both got the green on the left had side almost perfect.

Although the end result of the Xperia Z’s photographs is generally quite good, the experience of using it wasn’t. In the model car images above, the Xperia image is probably my 5th attempt at getting it to focus on the driver’s helmet. It just didn’t want to play ball.

And in almost every case, the gap between pressing the shutter and getting a finished image in the gallery was a couple of seconds each time, instead of feeling instantaneous like it is with the other two phones. Below is a crop of all the images. Same crop settings, same area and you can tell the difference in sharpness/focus:

Yet more evidence of Sony’s over-sharpening in the image above. The image looks incredibly grainy (click it to view full size, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.) Since it has fewer pixels, HTC’s image is clearly much smaller, but also less clear.

Close-up you can see it’s lack of ability to pick up the smaller finer details. In this occasion, the iPhone’s gives a much smoother and sharper finish.

As you can see from the Sony’s image above, its attempt at bringing in light was pitiful. Considering that there was direct sunlight on a bright white wall, it should have done better. With each phone, the focus was on the same point.

I chose a darker part of the scene to specifically see how it would boost the light to create a high contrast between the white wall and the shadow of the plant. The HTC’s came out better in regards to contrast, color and detail this time around.

The two sets of images above were mostly to show up how the cameras coped with brighter and more vivid colors. You can’t get much more difference in colors than in a bag of jelly beans.

Also, I took the opportunity to try and grab the same image of a bright red fish in a vivid blue tank. Both times, the Xperia toned down the color and light. Some may argue that’s a good thing, not over-exposing the images.

Depth of Field/Perspective

I was impressed with all three in regards to the close-up/depth of field test. All phones kicked in the auto-Macro mode, and focused on the text and logo on the side of the wine bottle’s cork, softening anything further away.


Next up I took some photos of my daughter rocking backwards and forwards rapidly on a park ride, to see how well they coped with motion:

Thanks to good light levels, all images came through with little to no motion blur. All in all, none of the cameras were particularly bad. In fact, I’d say they were all great compared to previous cameras available from the manufacturers. None of them is perfect. The Xperia over-sharpens and often doesn’t grab enough light.

HTC One often washes out the color, and the iPhone can be guilty of the same thing. The HTC’s biggest strength is supposedly the amount of light it can pull in. So, I took a shot in the dark to see how much of the streelight’s rays it could capture vs. its rivals.

It’s quite clear to see the HTC’s dominance when it comes to low light. The iPhone is probably the worst at gathering in light. The Xperia manages to boost light more than the iPhone, however, it does so to the detriment of the image quality by boosting gain and adding quite a lot of noise, resulting in a very fuzzy image.


Each camera has extra functions, but as always in these comparisons, the iPhone is the least manually adaptable. While both Android devices will allow you to tweak image quality settings, and select specific scenes presets, the iPhone has auto mode or nothing.

Apart from having Panorama and HDR, the iPhone 5 has very little else to offer someone who wants a little more control. Thankfully, there are apps that help you achieve more. As I mentioned before, I found the Sony frustrating to use. It took too long to process images, and often left me with an image I wasn’t really that happy with.

It just goes to show, you can cram in all the megapixels you like in to a sensor, it doesn’t mean it’s going to come out with the best images. Far from it. Although, in conclusion I preferred the iPhone’s end results, I would quite happily use the HTC One as my daily snapper.

If you want to ask me anything, or have any comments feel free to use the usual section below or – as always – I’m happy to respond to tweets at: @TiP_Cam

Once more, thanks to Phones 4U for loaning me the Xperia Z. Very appreciative.

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