We're getting to the point in smartphone evolution where most phones now have good cameras that take reasonably good pictures. But, what about amazing pictures?
The Apple iPhone 5s, Nokia Lumia 1020 and Sony Xperia Z1 all have earned a reputation for have a good photography feature set. All come with solid, easy-to-use software, good control and the ability to take great shots. The only question is: which of these megapixel monsters takes the best pics?
Not the same
There are a number of elements which make these cameras different. The most obvious is the resolution of the image sensor behind the lens. Nokia leads in this regard with 41-megapixels, Sony's next with 20-megapixels and Apple keeps to just 8-megapixels.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to separating them out. Nokia includes the outstanding Camera Pro software in the Lumia 1020, which includes an outstanding manual focus option. Apple scores points for making its camera interface the simplest and fastest to use. Sony's new software is packed full of features, including the dubious ability to insert dinosaurs into your photos.
But for us, it all comes down to the photos that each camera takes, so let's cut to the chase.
This photo, taken from this angle, is not an easy one for camera phones to contend with. The sunlight is bright and overhead.
The iPhone deals with the contrast of colors best, as you can see from the level of detail that remains in the tiles at the bottom of the image, but it adds an unpleasant blue hue to achieve this, probably by automatically adjusting the white balance.
The Lumia 1020 loses detail in the tiles, but keeps a rich golden color across the background and great detail in the statues face, despite the dark shadow across it.
Some will feel the Xperia Z1 should be the winner of these three photos, and we'd disagree, but we admit it is a close call. The Z1 does a good job of balance the light and giving detail to the elements in the shot. The Lumia delivers a much more interesting photo, with better contrast, though.
Winner: Lumia 1020
Photo 2 is probably the most difficult test for us to adjudicate on. All three cameras take pleasing shots in a subtly different to the others. All capture good details, especially on the cross at the top of the building, even though it is so far away from the image sensor.
The iPhone 5s is a nose in front for our tastes here, though. We prefer the deep sky tone, and there is visibly better detail across the brickwork. The Z1 probably represents the statue best, but it loses marks in the close up.
Winner: iPhone 5s
Photos of flowers may not strike you as being the best way to evaluate cameras, but this shows some interesting results.
Having actually been there to see the flowers, we can tell you that the real color is the purpley pink you see in the way the Lumia 1020 represents them. The iPhone 5s takes a lovely photo, but it over-saturates the color and shifts the hue -- again towards a blue.
The Z1 again takes a nice photo, and the soft focus in the close-up could easily be put down to human error rather than a problem with the camera. It doesn't handle the light as well as the Lumia though.
Winner: Lumia 1020
Indoor photos are the bane of camera phones; equally because they struggle with the light and it is where most photos are taken.
This location offers a good mix of natural and artificial light and is often a challenge for other, lesser camera phones.
The Z1 lets plenty of light onto the sensor, which is a really good start, and the color tone is reasonably accurate. Once we start pixel peeping, it starts to lose points though. There is clearly less detail in the background than in its competitors.
The iPhone and Lumia both show good color, great detail and good contrast, though the iPhone is a bit darker, and this gives the Lumia the edge. Comparing the backgrounds makes the decision easier, as the Lumia captures remarkable detail in the pebble wall of the building beyond the window.
Winner: Lumia 1020
It's 41-megapixel camera creates quite a bulge on the back of the Lumia 1020, but it is worth it for anyone serious about taking photos with their phone. With 3 out of 4 wins, the Lumia 1020 is our champion, and our vote for the best camera phone in the market today.
It is worth noting how close the runners-up are though. The Z1 and iPhone 5s didn't take bad photos during this testing, and both offer features that the Lumia doesn't. Much of this comparison comes down to personal taste, so be sure to follow your own gut reaction to what you see above when deciding on which to buy.