Google Nexus 5 - Camera

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams



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Google Nexus 5


Our Score:


Nexus 5 UPDATE: January 2014

Thanks to the Android 4.4.2 update, there have been significant improvements in the performance of the Nexus 5’s camera. Basic image quality remains quite similar – the Nexus 5 is a middleweight at best – but the camera is now far more enjoyable to use.

The camera app is quicker to load for starters. This sounds like a minor upgrade, but it makes a big difference when you’re out and trying to capture quick moments with your mobile.

Shot-to-shot speeds are much improved too, both in the standard shooting mode and the HDR mode. Standard shots have moved from about two seconds per capture to about 0.5 seconds when you’re trying to shoot as fast as possible.

Nexus 5 pics 2

HDR speed has changed from ‘incredibly slow’ to a perfectly fine pace, of about one shot per two seconds. The approach to HDR has changed quite dramatically. There’s now a progress bar that shows you how long it’ll be before you regain access to your camera, and following this the processing of the HDR file is done behind the scenes, leaving you to take another shot while that’s happening.

We know this because if you switch to the gallery just after taking the shot, the photo is greyed out, and displays its own progress bar. This processing is a key part of how HDR works – it stands for high dynamic range and is a mode that merges multiple exposures to produce photos with more detail in light and dark areas.

Not all the issues we complained about have changed, though. In the standard stills mode, the Nexus 5 has a strong tendency to meter its exposure based on the brightness level of the sky rather than the foreground when shooting landscape shots. This can be solved by manually selecting the foreground with the camera reticule, but it’s something that ensures the Nexus 5 still doesn’t have anything approaching the accessibility of the iPhone 5S camera. However, it's a big improvement that makes the Nexus 5 camera more fun to use.

Carry on reading our original Nexus 5 camera review below to find out more about its specs, its general image performance – and to get a look at more samples.

Google Nexus 5 – Camera

The Google Nexus 5 has a camera that mostly matches the Nexus 4 in terms of pure specs. It has an 8-megapixel 1/3.2-inch sensor and an f/2.5 lens. When the Nexus 4 camera was nothing to shout about, we were preparing ourselves for disappointment. But the Nexus 5 offers some pretty good results in practice.

Detail capture and exposure

The Nexus 5's most serious image quality issue is exposure metering. It tends to blow out bright areas, something that rival iPhones simply don't do (generally speaking).

Detail capture is roughly on-par with the iPhone 5S, as you would hope given the use of similar-resolution sensors, but the exposure issue leads to much more problematic images in scenes with strong light sources. There's also significant purple fringing around light sources in these sorts of trickier scenes, to the extent that it's visible without significant zooming into shots, when viewed on a computer.

We were left with both under- and overexposed shots during testing, suggesting that whatever imaging brain is powering the Nexus 5 could do with an update or two. Dynamic range in normal photos is pretty poor too.

Nexus 5 camera pics 2

Detail capture is very good, shown in the fine detail of the pixel-crop above

Nexus 5 comparison

1:1 pixel crops from the competition


However, these exposure issues can mostly be solved using the generally excellent HDR mode of the Nexus 5. It's a demonstration of what mobile phone HDR should be about – i.e. compensating for the technical limitations of a phone camera, not producing shots that look like they're inspired by Disney's Fantasia, with every object glowing as if the viewer had just dropped a tab of acid.

The results of the HDR mode do vary depending on the scene, but generally they significantly increase detail in shadow areas, reduce overexposure and even improve white balance/colour reproduction noticeably.

Here are some demos of HDR in action:

Nexus 5 HDR 1Nexus 5 HDR

Not only is there much more shadow detail in the HDR pic, the mode has also made the sky look more natural - turning it from a greeny shade into a bluer one.

Nexus 5 HDR 2

Here the sky is used as the exposure metering point, which is why it is quite so underexposed. Without using HDR mode, you need to choose between a severely underexposed foreground or an overexposed sky.

Nexus 5 HDR 3

HDR solves the issue. The photo now appears fairly lively, with only minor overexposed areas where the sun peeks from behind the building.


We would suggest using the HDR mode 24/7 when not shooting action, but speed is a significant issue. At the best of times, the Nexus 5 is not the fastest camera around.

Upon pressing the shutter button, the phone both focuses and takes a shot, and there's about a two second pause between standard shots – longer if you're shooting in poor lighting. With the HDR mode engaged, this gap is increased to 3.5-4 seconds – about as bad as the Lumia 1020, which has to cram a 41-megapixel image down to a 5-megapixel file. It has a pretty good excuse, the Nexus 5 doesn't.

With an iPhone you're looking at about a quarter of a second between standard shots and 1.5-2 seconds between HDR shots. There are reasons beyond image quality why iPhones are fun to shoot with.

Low-light and Optical image stabilisation

The Nexus 5 never claimed to be a photo speed king, but it does claim to be good for low-light shooting thanks to its use of optical image stabilisation.

It works. What OIS lets the Nexus 5 do is to increase exposure time without resulting in blurred images caused by the natural judder of your hand. Longer exposure time equals more light, which equals less noise.

To test low-light performance we took the Nexus 5 to a concert, and compared it to the iPhone 5C, which has similar specs (1/3.2 sensor, f/2.4 lens) but no stabilisation.

Nexus 5 camera pics

Youth Lagoon playing at Islington Assembly Hall

Nexus 5 camera pics 1

The results are clear. The Nexus 5 produces far superior photos in this situation, with much more detail and far greater clarity.

Looking at the EXIF information that's a part of any standard photo, and we can see why. In poor lighting, the iPhone 5C shoots at ISO 2500 with a 1/16 second exposure. In the same conditions, the Nexus 5 uses a much longer 1/6 second exposure and a curiously exact ISO 1624 - lower sensitivity.

It can afford to lengthen the exposure (and therefore reduce ISO) because of optical image stabilisation.


The Nexus 5 drops down to earth a bit with its single-LED flash. It's nothing special, and has the usual sort of image-skewing effects that make us want to turn it off whenever possible, given the phone's use of OIS.

However, it does at least use the LED as a focusing aid when the flash is engaged.

Macro and Depth of Field

The Nexus 5 is able to produce some half-decent macro-style shots thanks to its reasonable detail retrieval, but it has no special skills in this field. It'll focus at around 15cm distance, and the f/2.5 lens isn't capable of any particularly impressive depth of field effects.

Nexus 5 pics 8

Image sharpness is good here, but exposure issues return

Google Nexus 5 - Video Capture

A few mobile phone cameras, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, have started to offer 4K video capture, but the Nexus 5 is stuck with more conventional 1080p. However, it too uses the optical image stabilisation that had such a positive effect on low-light performance. Here it quite literally stabilises the image, doing a good job of making handheld footage look less juddery.

Other phones manage fairly well with software video stabilisation, though. You also miss out on HDR video recording and slow/fast motion here – all three are either useful or fun. The Nexus 5 does offer time lapse video recording, though, which shoots a frame at pre-set intervals – such as every half-second. We'd rather have slo-mo, but it's hardly a show-stopping issue.

Google Nexus 5 - Front Camera

The Nexus 5 has a much better front camera than the Nexus 4. It's a 1.3-megapixel camera. Once again that's the same resolution used in the Nexus 4, but the results are simply much better this time around – greater detail, and it is able to cope much better with in-frame light sources.

The camera also has a slightly longer focal length than most front cameras, meaning you don't need to hold it as close to get a good selfie angle. Of course, that may not help if you're trying to get a bunch of friends in the photo as well. Nexus 5 pics 4

Google Nexus 5 - Camera App and Additional Modes

As with all of the Nexus 5's software elements, the phone uses the bog-standard Android 4.4 camera app. It's a slightly quirky, gesture-based affair that's one of the trickier parts of the system to get used to.

Navigation of the menu system isn't intuitive enough, especially as it doesn't give you control beyond that of any other phone.

You do get a few neat extra modes, though. Photosphere lets you take a 360-degree view of your surroundings – a fun extra to experiment with – and panorama is a more conventional (and more easily share-able) pan shot. The quality of the latter is nothing to get too excited about, though – it's not full-res like the iPhone panorama.


November 4, 2013, 12:00 pm

Whilst I like Android, I am no fan of Gmail, Google+ and the rest. I have a Gmail address so that I can use the Play store, and that's as far as it goes. Is this phone integrated into Google's services in such a way that you are forced to use them? You mention the Hangouts/SMS link, but I think you said you can use other SMS Apps instead? Can you store contacts on the phone only, or are they automatically hoovered up by Google? Likewise the diary. In fact, other than using the Play store, is a Google account required at all on this phone?


November 4, 2013, 1:02 pm

Nice phone. Just got one. Voice to text is faster than my Nexus 7. Camera is good enough. Feels light, but solid. Not sure about Google+ yet... Worth a serious look if your considering an Android device.


November 4, 2013, 1:04 pm

The home screen is entirely Google Now and Google Search, similar to Facebook Home. That's why you can speak to Google Now from the home screen.

That said, you can replace all of Google's apps, including the home screen. And you can disable automatic background synchronisation on your Google account.


November 4, 2013, 2:12 pm

Reading the comparisons in this review you wouldn't even know the LG G2 exists. Its only £100 or so more in 32Gb form, larger battery and higher res, OIS camera. Plus mkv support out of the box, which is pretty useful if you want to make use of the full HD screen.


November 4, 2013, 2:20 pm

You can turn most if not all of it off.

Geoff Richards

November 4, 2013, 2:43 pm

Not sure about some of those: the 16GB is £439 so it's about £150 more than the Nexus 5. I guess you're comparing 32GB Nexus 5 (£339) with the 16GB G2 (£439). Neither phone has an SD slot so choose wisely.

Yes, the G2 has 3000mAh battery 2300mAh on the Nexus. Given they run the same internals you'd expect the G2 to have a longer battery life for sure.

The screens are the same resolution; the Nexus has slightly higher PPI because the display is slightly smaller. The LG camera is higher resolution: 13MP vs 8MP, though both feature OIS.

I can't comment on the MKV support, but clearly it will be a little while before KitKat is available for the G2, if that's important to you.

I like the G2. It also happens to have ac wifi (if you care) and a 2.1MP front-facing camera vs 1.3MP on the Nexus. Again, if you care.

I have suggested to the boys that we should consider a full head-to-head to see how they compare in the real world :)


November 4, 2013, 2:55 pm

Well it looks great, but possibly not great enough to upgrade straight away from my much loved Nexus 4. I'm wondering whether the slightly larger size might leave consumers deciding between Nexus 5 and Nexus 7.

What I'd really like to know is

1) Have they fixed it so you can send a contact card by text message? You can't seem to do this in jelly bean on the Nexus 4.

2) Is there now a fix for "all day events" on google calendar not appearing on my nexus 4?

3) Does it still occasionally randomly delete contacts?

William Judd

November 4, 2013, 3:14 pm

lol, why didn't you remove the back sticker? :D


November 4, 2013, 3:57 pm

RE: 3) I had this on my S2 at one point. Seems to be a non-issue on my Note II, which I am selling once my N5 arrives :$


November 4, 2013, 4:01 pm

Excellent reply and comparison - the G2 seems fantastic overall, but I think nothing will top the Nexus experience for me.

As a guy who only got the Note II because the N4 wouldn't support LTE, I am delighted to be going N5 this time around.

My father's Galaxy Nexus still zips around at great speeds for the age of the device and he uses a fair few widgets and apps; my Note II is fine in most scenarios but I don't like that the browser options, all of them, lag on start up very heavily, and other such annoyances that I never notice on native Android.

I will miss the large battery of the Note II, but the S-Pen went underused as did Multi-Window.

EDIT: One last win for the N5 for me is the form factor. Narrower is good, slim bezels are tasty, the phone should slip less than the glorious glass back of the N4 - overall I'm excited for it.


November 4, 2013, 4:52 pm

I've never had your issue in #3 with my Nexus 4, and so far with my Nexus 5.


November 4, 2013, 5:04 pm

It's disappointing that this phone was given a battery rating based on it's features but no actual data. I'm interested to see how sensor batching will improve things in 4.4, as my SGS4 is kept away for about 90 minutes a day by Google Services, which is basically the location wakelock on behalf of other apps. Hopefully GSM Arena will sort out their battery test in the near future!

Andy Whitmore

November 4, 2013, 5:19 pm

Why when anyone not just Trusted Reviews reviews a phone without an SD card slot they say it is an issue except for the iphone which has never had expandable memory but reviewers never seem to mention this? Just a thought. I can't wait to get my Nexus 5 will blow iphone 5s out of the water!! Wait for the isheep to comment


November 4, 2013, 5:27 pm

If I recall correctly we have/did mention it in the most recent iPhone reviews. There's a slightly cultural difference, too, which you ably demonstrate. Android buyers, as a general rule, a more 'pro SD' than iPhone buyers. That said, I think our review points our this isn't a major issue (for us at least), it's more of a 'something to consider' issue. For some people it's reason enough to buy a more expensive phone, but not for others.


November 4, 2013, 5:31 pm

We're working on our battery life testing, but as you probably appreciate it's an incredibly difficult thing to test in a genuinely scientific/psuedo-scientific manner given the number of variables you have to control.

Until we can come up with a test that satisfies us we prefer to rely on 'natural use' in a day, rather than run a bunch a tests that sound comparable but don't really stand up to scrutiny. I appreciate your point, however, as it's something we're keenly aware of. Our basic judgement, at present, is to provide a judgement similar to that of an ordinary user, which is typically "I use my phone in x way and at the end of the day I'm either running out of juice/have just enough left/have a comfortable amount left".

Since we're on the topic, we're open to suggestions (for everyone) about what you would find useful in a battery life test. Our main aim/preference is something repeatable but not totally exhaustive. The time/benefit trade-off for us tricky - we don't have infinite resources (man hours or money) to throw at this kind of thing at present, but our aim is always to improve our reviews as much as we can.

We don't aim to be Anandtech or GSM Arena. We want to provide enough technical insight while remaining accessible to less tech-savvy readers. It's a broad church who read tech reviews and we aim to bridge the gap between the casual and hardcore.


November 4, 2013, 5:50 pm

I ordered an hour after release and received my n5 yesterday. amazingly quick shipping. Purchase Friday received Monday.

I agree with all on this review the phone is very nice to hold. What always surprises me when I pickup the phone is just how light the phone feels. I have a mate with the samsung s4 and in comparison the n5 feels almost too light almost as if its a display model or its missing a battery. Super light and comfortable to hold

My only concern is that the soft touch rubber surrounding the phone might wear off after a year or so. I have a first gen nexus 7 which also has rubber on the back and its had no problem but the n7 uses what seems to be more durable rubber. Only time will tell I guess.

Screen is very clear, it's very fast compared to my n7 or old galaxy nexus. Camera seems decent low light handling is amazing for a phone. HDR photo feature works well. Battery life seems great so far. No removable battery a bit of a shame though I had two for my galaxy nexus.

Not sure that else I can say


November 4, 2013, 5:55 pm

Yeah no need for upgrade from n4. You'll get 4.4 soon enough anyway which Is a nice upgrade. A nice change to 4.4 is the removal of the black bar from top of the screen on desktop. This gives the illusion of a longer screen because the top bar no longer blends with the black top bevel.


November 4, 2013, 6:52 pm

The LG G2 is slippery as a soap and the edges are so narrow as to be positively unergonomic. I got one last week but I'm returning it.

LG has also screwed up the Android UI with a bunch of crap apps and constant annoying popups of LG user agreements that I'm not interested in agreeing to.


November 4, 2013, 8:31 pm

That is a fair point. Except from the very crucial fact that the Nexus line from the Nexus One to the Nexus 10 has never had an SD card slot either.

Erin Henneberry

November 4, 2013, 8:32 pm

Just wondering if you guys had any thoughts on durability of the phone. I bought a Nexus 4 and then dropped it three feet from my lap onto carpet, and the front glass shattered and the touch screen completely stopped functioning. Is the Nexus 5 any hardier?


November 4, 2013, 8:48 pm

Thanks for the reply (and StankyChikin).

Edgar Robert

November 4, 2013, 8:51 pm

I have heard there's a charger pad for the Nexus 5 but can't find it when carrying out a web search. Does anyone know when this will be available and expected price?


November 4, 2013, 9:43 pm

Please stop saying that 4.4 is like iOS7. It's false. iOS7 is like Jelly Bean.

Hope I'm missing something...

November 4, 2013, 10:58 pm

I finally got a chance to start setting up my Nexus 5 this evening and so far I have to say I am feeling very disappointed indeed compared to my Nexus 4. The previous SMS app which was fine as far as I am concerned appears to be gone entirely and all we have is the nastiness of "Hangouts". Looks like I may be forced to install a third party SMS app that I do not want. The phone dialer (which again was excellent on the Nexus 4) appears to have been comprehensively ruined. Even the contacts list displays LESS contacts on screen at one than before despite the larger screen. I am hoping I can find ways to rectify these but it isn't looking good so far.

Jacob Nørgaard

November 5, 2013, 6:21 am

But it's an Android phone if there ever was one, and they have a history of being user expandable via SD cards. iDevices don't.

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