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HTC One vs iPhone 5 vs Nokia Lumia 920

Andrew Williams by

HTC One vs iPhone 5 vs Nokia Lumia 920 – Camera comparison

Introduction

We’re starting to enter the age when phone cameras can replace a decent compact snapper. We’ve been saying so for years, but it’s only now that top phones are starting to incorporate tech that makes it true. Three of the top phone cameras in existence are those of the HTC One, the iPhone 5 and the Nokia Lumia 920. But which is the best? We’ve road tested the phones to find out.

Specs

On the most basic spec level, the iPhone 5 and Nokia Lumia 920 sound like the most advanced cameras of the trio, with eight-megapixel sensors, against the HTC One’s lowly-sounding four-megapixel sensor. However, the truth is much less simple.

The HTC One has larger sensor pixels than either the Nokia or iPhone, designed to improve low light performance. HTC calls it UltraPixel technology, although that's really just a marketing term. Tech-wise the iPhone 5 camera is the least interesting, and the most basic.

The ace up the Nokia Lumia 920’s sleeve is optical image stabilisation. There’s a teeny motor in the lens that keeps it stable, even when you’re not. The idea is that this enables the camera to use longer exposures, which should result in better photos.

But does it work?

Detail and Exposure

These shots of the London skyline show in an instant what these cameras photo tones are like. The iPhone 5 is punchy and bold, the HTC One is a little glum-looking in comparison and the Nokia Lumia 920 has a nice warm skew that gives shots a sort of rose-tinted view of the world.

HTC One vs iPhone 5 5HTC One vs iPhone 5 4HTC One vs iPhone 5 6

Get closer into the detail, and the shortcomings of the HTC One and the Nokia Lumia 920 become apparent. The 4-megapixel sensor of the HTC phone simply can’t relay anywhere near as much data as the iPhone 5’s 8-megapixel sensor. Check out the crane detailing for conclusive evidence.

HTC One vs iPhone 5 7

There’s more information in the Nokia Lumia 920 picture – near-iPhone 5 levels – however, there’s a slight soft fuzziness to the image. This may be down to the phone using a slightly longer exposure, in spite of decent lighting conditions. Contrast is also significantly lower, although the iPhone appears to deliberately increase contrast beyond natural levels to increase punchiness.

Macro

All these phones are fairly effective little macro machines, able to focus on reasonably close-up objects. The tone of the iPhone 5’s greens is quite far removed from those of the other phones, over-egging the tones a little to provide a punchier look. HTC One vs iPhone 5 15HTC One vs iPhone 5 16HTC One vs iPhone 5 14

Again, the HTC One provides the least detail, with the leaf looking flat, and its veins not as clearly and cleanly rendered as they are by the iPhone and Lumia 920. And again, there’s an almost soft-focus effect to the Lumia shot, making the iPhone 5 photo again the most sharpest – although fine details are most naturally relayed by the Nokia phone.

HTC One vs iPhone 5 13

HDR

The Nokia Lumia 920 does not have an integrated HDR mode – extra modes like this have to be downloaded as “Lenses” applied within the camera app. There isn’t an official Nokia or Microsoft one, which seems a missed opportunity.

Both the iPhone 5 and HTC One offers HDR modes, though.

HTC One vs iPhone 5 18HTC One vs iPhone 5 17

Although the HTC shot is arguably the more pleasant-looking picture, the iPhone 5’s is more successful technically. The clouds are overexposed in the HTC One photo, suggesting the merged exposures of the HDR composite haven’t been handled all that well - blowing out of clouds is one of the main things an HDR mode should prevent.

The iPhone 5 shot is evenly exposed, and the HDR mode has revealed masses of cloud detail that would otherwise be blown out. Well done, Apple.

Depth of Field

Shallow depth of field is a cornerstone of just about all “arty” photography. It's all about getting your subject in focus, but leaving the background a pleasantly smudged blur.

With a spot of expert touch focusing, all three phones can reproduce this effect to a degree. The background blur effect is known as bokeh. HTC One vs iPhone 5 2HTC One vs iPhone 5 3

HTC One vs iPhone 5

The bokeh of the Nokia Lumia 920 is the smoothest and "creamiest", boasting the most impressive depth of field effects of the bunch. It's less prounced in the HTC One and iPhone 5, which also demontrate more background grain and noise.

The degree to which the Angry Bird speaker's antenna is artificially sharpened in the HTC One is pretty clear too - it's likely that HTC uses fairly aggressive image sharpening to mitigate the paucity of sensor pixels. Again, the Nokia Lumia 920 looks downright soft, so it's not quite the flawless victory for Nokia. However, the benefits of shallow depth of field are pretty noticeable in this composition.

HTC One vs iPhone 5 19

Low Light Performance

So far, the iPhone 5 has put in a good performance, but the others – despite many strong points – have been a little problematic. Low light performance gives the HTC One and Nokia Lumia 920 a chance to fight back.

The level of detail captured in this dark scene by those two phones is much greater than what the iPhone achieves. Its shadow areas are more-or-less devoid of any detailing.

HTC One vs iPhone 5 10HTC One vs iPhone 5 12HTC One vs iPhone 5 1

However, the exposure issues we encountered in the HTC One’s HDR mode have returned. The white phone looks blown-out as the phone’s camera tries to compensate for the lack of solid lighting.

The Nokia Lumia 920 is the winner here, with less graininess than the HTC One.

Flash Performance

After pretty poor low light performance, the iPhone 5 flash once again disappoints. It leaves the scene looking cold and unnatural, and its spread is not even. It’s the sort of picture that puts us off turning the flash on unless it’s absolutely necessary.

HTC One vs iPhone 5 9

HTC One vs iPhone 5 11

HTC One vs iPhone 5 8

By contrast, the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC One flashes are pretty darn good. The HTC One is the winner to our eyes, with a good level of power, a neutral tone and consistent spread. The only issue is that pesky overexposure, which has wiped out some of the fine detailing of the phone. The line between the handset and base has vanished, when it’s visible in the Nokia Lumia 920 shot.

Verdict

There are ways in which the HTC One and Nokia Lumia 920 cameras are clearly superior to the iPhone 5. Low light performance and colour tone are often superior in those phones. However, the iPhone 5 is probably the most consistent performer of the lot, avoiding the soft images of the Nokia Lumia 920 and the tendency to over-expose of the HTC One.

Go to comments

Gavin Martin

March 13, 2013, 3:46 pm

So when's the review of the actual phone coming?

Andrew_TR

March 13, 2013, 3:47 pm

HTC One? Coming soon. I have the phone in my hands.... right now! Anything in particular you want covered?

schriss

March 13, 2013, 4:01 pm

Well, HTC Zoe probably deserves a separate larger section, as it's pretty innovative and impressive. Not only the gallery coming to life, but also the idea of sharing the composition with short URLs, I was able to open a few examples I found online and really liked the idea. https://zoeshare.htc.com/2XARF...

Gavin Martin

March 13, 2013, 4:03 pm

Welll.......everything? lol

I guess it would be nice to know if it feels as well built (or better) than an iPhone, what the battery life is like, how easy to get rid of Blinkfeed (wondering if HTC will ever give the option to completely remove it as I read the autorefresh impacts battery life...why won't these phone manufacturers give good hardware without their UI skin over Android?)...

Actually a big detail (for me) that always seems glossed over in smartphone reviews is the audio quality of music through earphones. I've got a pair of Shure SE535s and gave up carrying a separate audio player when I got an iPhone as it's just easier to carry one thing at a time. I realise they're using the (yuck) "Beats" marketing so should have decent sound processing and no hiss?

I'm looking to make the jump to Android, not a huge fan of the jumbotron phones that seem standard these days but my iPhone's falling apart and this is the first device I've seen that makes me think 'I want one'. It looks like what the iPhone 5 would have been if Apple had a bit more sense of adventure.

Gavin Martin

March 13, 2013, 4:07 pm

Also data speeds on DC-HSPA+ or LTE.

Any ideas if they're going to release the 64GB model in the UK?

hhvdblom

March 13, 2013, 4:12 pm

"Biased" to Apple, because everybody knows that the Lumia 920 is better. Clever to leave the video out of it because that would have crushed the HTC One and Apple completely.

Andrew_TR

March 13, 2013, 4:14 pm

Hmm may edit the verdict as I didn't really mean it to sound like the iPhone 5 came out categorically top. The Lumia 920 does produce generally nicer-looking images.

Nico

March 13, 2013, 5:40 pm

As a recently converted Android user to WP8, I have fallen in love with the windows 8 OS. I didn't pick up the lumia 920 due to its bulkiness but went with the 8x. I used the Lumina (14 day trial) and the iPhone (work phone) frequently and this was one of my biggest comparisons. I believe the iphone take more consistant pictures but the lumia had better quality photos. It was truly hard to tell the difference but I can say these two phones are very compatible at camera level. As for the HTC one i am interested in seeing how the ultrapixel technology plays out in both low light and regular performance. With the f2.0 aperture i believe this could be a game changing camera. It's not always the amount of megapixels in the phone but the actual software and features that make the lense tick. Overall all three phones should be up to par with the other with each having their own little perks. Great article and informative read!

35fd3et3f34t3r

March 13, 2013, 7:01 pm

@author,
can you perform a Video comparison of the 3 phones?
I ask, because it was only a short 5 months ago that the entire Media got into a frenzy about how Nokia faked a video promo of the 920 video capabilities (girl riding the bike). The media thought that the 920 could not perform real time OIS. So, I think it would be fairly easy to do, attach the phones to a metal bar... ride down the street, hit a few bumps, perhaps at dusk. Post all 3 videos in your review.

This should provide enough confidence in the video capabilities of all 3 phones.
thanks

Dat Dude

March 13, 2013, 7:17 pm

Come on! Every other review on every other site has the HTC One and the Lumia 920 equally on par. And the iPhone 5 is not even close in any of the samples. How is it that YOU are the only site that has the iPhone on top??? I'm not for any of them but I come to see the reviews so I can choose the best phone for me. I always thought "TRUSTED" Reviews was a fair site but I think Apple has slipped you a lil pocket change for a big push.

Keith

March 13, 2013, 8:10 pm

>> The ace up the Nokia Lumia 920’s sleeve is optical image stabilisation

I thought the HTC had this too. Also wondering about the image processing, hopefully this is just because of early firmware, and something they will improve on, if it's over sharpening, reducing this would also reduce noise . 4 Mega-pixels if good is something I'd rather have, too high mega-pixels would just eat into my storage space anyway. Also the extra features of the HTC camera like Zoe capture / slow motion etc sound nice, also 720p 60fpc video capture, of what I've seen looks really nice a smooth.

bmaz

March 13, 2013, 8:44 pm

Should have had a Z10 as well.

JBingham

March 14, 2013, 1:08 am

can't you accept that the iPhone 5 is the best? Why this 'Come on!'. come on what? this is the result of an objective test - if you want to pour scorn on anything that credits Apple that's a different story.

ymcpa

March 14, 2013, 2:11 am

Did you update the 920? The last Nokia update was supposed to eliminate the softness issue with the 920.

Dat Dude

March 14, 2013, 10:08 am

So you're telling me I should trust your review and every other sites findings are false? I doubt the other sites have an agenda to brainwash me and others out there...that's to much of a coincidence. I like TRUSTED REVIEWS. Besides for them not being quick enough on reviews like their competition, I still favor them. But this review is bad. If it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck and looks like a duck...it's a duck. Sorry Jonny B. its not that I can't say iPhone is a good phone, cause it has alot of pluses. I saw your pictures taken and read the review here minutes AFTER reading/seeing all the other reviews and the iPhone had been beaten in every photo review there was with the HTC One and the Lumia 920 as contenders. So are you telling me Trusted Review got a updated version of iPhone 5 or bad versions of the HTC One and Lumia 920??? Cause I doubt the contrast between Trusted Reviews and these other very popular sites have that much contrast.

SO.....Trusted Review, please repost this review for your fans sake that you don't get looked at as being brought. Or was that money already spent!

Gavin Martin

March 14, 2013, 10:17 am

In all fairness though, this is just a camera comparison (And everyone's eyes appreciate images differently in any case, it's a very subjective thing), not a full review of the phone. I could take or leave the camera on my phone, so I'm looking forward to seeing the full review of the One. It's getting a lot of favourable reviews around the interweb. If the S4 is another plastic slab I would definitely be more interested in the HTC.

Dat Dude

March 14, 2013, 10:29 am

LIke I said I like Trusted Reviews but I don't like being cheated when you have my attention. It's a camera review that they TR did that most of us are interested in. The phone is probably a smash itself or not that big of a difference to what is at the top out now. I was gonna post the links to the sites but I won't completely throw TR under the bus. Please guys...no picking sides. Ya name says it all, let us believe that.

Andrew_TR

March 14, 2013, 10:43 am

Hi Dat Dude,

Umm, don't some of these tests show that the HTC One and Lumia 920 are better than the iPhone 5 in several core respects??

The detail shot may look better in the iPhone 5, but that really isn't everthing. Low-light performance in the HTC and Nokia were way, way better, and that's pretty important (and much harder to achieve, arguably).

Gavin Martin

March 14, 2013, 10:57 am

Still, at least HTC are trying something different to the usual "cram a few million more pixels into a tiny phone CMOS sensor" approach....the usual Megapixel Marketing race. I'm more interested in the audio quality as a music player.

And at least they're doing more than modest (read: boring and not worth £600) incremental generational updates like Apple. Course - opinions may vary, and that's just MHO.

mothergoose85

March 14, 2013, 11:04 am

It is weird - the pics from the HTC One used here don't look to be anywhere near as good as other sites but that's actually raises a good point.

Have the other sites used the best photo's they took (and did they try to take many of the same scene) and TR have actually done an honest job? The low light performance (with the over exposing) is actually something I'm genuinely concerned about and interested to see because it never really came up on other reviews I've seen so thanks for taking those shots!!

In the full review would it be possible to take a picture in the pub with people in it? I'm sure you guys like a drink and seeing as we know what you look like already so it's not too invasive. I'm curious to see how it handles skin tones with the LED flash as it is supposed to be better.

Nate Ebner

March 14, 2013, 11:06 am

I will be getting an HTC One, as I have said once or twice, and am keen to promote it to others, as I think it is the best device out there.
This review though was a very good look at the Cameras in different conditions, with a fair sounding conclusion.
I think Ultrapixel MkII, with a 8MP sensor, should be pretty sweet, as it does seem that four is a little bit too low, to potentially replace a standalone camera.

Nate Ebner

March 14, 2013, 11:07 am

I thought it came out balanced, as I read through I knew what the final verdict would be, because it clearly followed what you said in the individual breakdowns.

Nate Ebner

March 14, 2013, 11:08 am

All good points. I'm fingers crossed for improved image processing too.

Nate Ebner

March 14, 2013, 11:15 am

Should be interesting. It was a brave decision to forgo the spec war, and my feeling is that it will only really pay off with the second generation. That said, I don't really use the camera on my phone, and for what it is for I think I'll use the HTC One's more.

Also it is a feature that should be easy to market. Because an uniformed customer may ask why it has few megapixels, and someone wanting a good camera, will look at it because it is distinguishing its self with the camera, for better or worse. HTC need to really promote the phone well to networks, and give them good training material on it, so that sales assistants will push it.

Then a short term marketing blitz to raise awareness, rather than half hearted marketing over a longer period of time.

Nate Ebner

March 14, 2013, 11:19 am

It's all right for some! ;-)
Some thoughtful battery life coverage would be good, taking into account how much you used it etc. You will obviously mention this, but a lot of sites do a poor job of battery life review.

Oh and the key one, how well it acts when put in a jiffy bag and posted to #myaddress! Please.

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