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Galaxy S4's Camera Wins Shootout With iPhones

Galaxy S4's Camera Wins Shootout With iPhones

First came a report that gave higher grades to the Samsung Galaxy S4's display over the iPhone 5. Now a French digital optics firm says the new Samsung smartphone's camera does better than the current and former iPhone models when it comes to image quality and color reproduction. The report, however, does highlight the question of how many megapixels is enough for the average consumer.

By Richard Adhikari
05/25/13 5:00 AM PT

The Samsung Galaxy S4's rear-facing camera beats those in the iPhone 5 and 4S as well as other Samsung smartphones, according to a report from digital image specialists DxO Lab.

The 13 MP GS4 camera tallied an overall DxOMark score of 75, while the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S III all scored 72.

First place was taken by the Nokia 808 PureView, which has a camera with 41 MP resolution for a DxOMark score of 77 points.

The improving quality of smartphone cameras could force digital cameras into a niche.

"As camera quality continues to improve in smartphones, the use case for carrying a dedicated camera continues to decrease over time," Michael Morgan, a senior analyst at ABI Research, told TechNewsWorld. "My girlfriend has an iPhone 5 ... and she is a Mac head to the core, and when she saw the shots I was taking with the S4 she was strongly impressed."

Some Details of the DxO Report

In bright light, the S4's camera makes good use of its fast, efficient [autofocus] and robust and reliable auto-exposure systems to maximize image detail from the 13 MP sensor and deliver images with fully saturated color, DxO Lab said.

Overall image quality for the Galaxy S4 is good, but its camera still has some of the typical flaws that differentiate smartphone cameras from the better digital cameras, according to the Lab's report.

Plus points for photo mode are good detail preservation in bright light; fast, accurate autofocus in both auto and trigger mode with little overshooting; good auto-exposure even in tricky lighting conditions; pleasing, rich colors in a variety of lighting conditions; and good image quality with flash.

Cons for photo mode are a significant loss of detail in low-light due to excessive noise reduction, strong ringing artifacts which lead to oversharpening halos, and slight color shading which is noticeable under low-level tungsten lighting.

Pros for video mode are good colors and good texture reproduction. Cons are visible aliasing and a staircase effect, strong noise levels in low-light conditions, "disappointing" video stabilization, and the occasional failure of the autofocus feature.

General Observations on Smartphone Cameras

Inadequate functioning in low light "is currently one of the biggest weaknesses of today's cellphone cameras," Morgan said. "Other issues are stabilization and the frame rates of video capture."

Improvements will come over time from software -- better noise reduction techniques - and the faster, more powerful processors that can handle full 1080p and even 4K video at 120 frames per second, Morgan said. Camera sensors will also improve.

Still, "Why would you go with a 12-16 MP digital camera that costs between $100 and $200 when you can get a smartphone like the GS4 which can give you a similar quality of pictures but with more value added services, like the ability to make phone calls -- unless you're into photography and prefer using a high-end camera with detachable lenses?" asked Julien Blin, a directing analyst at Infonetics Research.

Further, the popularity of apps like Instagram lets consumers "pretty much recreate neat DSLR-quality pictures without having to buy a high-end digital camera," Blin told TechNewsWorld.

How Much Better Will We Get?

Whether smartphone cameras with more than 12-16 MP resolution will really be that much better for consumers is open to question.

"Additional MPs permit better clarity of pictures and how well they zoom, and let you preserve detail," Morgan said.

However, the 41 MP camera offered in the Nokia 808 PureView "is overkill," Infonetics' Blin noted. A 12-13 MP CMOS "is probably enough for 90 percent of mobile consumers."

Most people look at images on displays with 1-2 MP of resolution, Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies, told TechNewsWorld. Facebook images "are probably 0.5 MP," he added. Further, "the lens and sensor quality [of smartphone cameras] do not warrant it."


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