Galaxy S4 vs HTC One camera comparison — Mega vs Ultra

May 10, 2013
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Phone heat

Your phone heats up when doing intensive tasks such as taking photos or recording videos. But, in my testing, the HTC One generated an unusually high amount of heat. I was caught by worried surprise when, after recording video for a few seconds, my HTC One heated up. Although not enough to burn the skin, it was hot enough to be noticed and to make me feel uncomfortable.

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Perhaps the aluminum unibody of the HTC One is the reason for the heat. Aluminum is a good conductor of heat, and the internal heat could have been conducted to the chassis for faster dissipation or cooling. It may not be a cool idea to enclose the HTC One in protective casing because doing so might trap the heat inside and damage the phone. But, then again, that’s just my ignorant speculation.

In contrast, the predominantly plastic Galaxy S4 has some good insulation. I barely noticed the phone heat up as much as the HTC One while using it, even for video recording.

Image quality comparison

Some hastily judge the Galaxy S4 to be the clear winner in the camera department, mainly because it has the higher number of pixels. But, the proof is in the pudding, so we compared the photo and video output of both phones to find out which phone’s camera gave better images.

Studio shots

In this set are photos shot in a studio setup where lighting was artificial but adequate, controlled, and uniform for all photos. Flash was not used. The image size/resolution was set to maximum on each phone (i.e., 4 MP on the HTC One and 13 MP on the Galaxy S4).

The photos in the first batch below were shot with auto ISO sensitivity.

Galaxy S4 -- studio shot, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — studio shot, auto ISO

HTC One -- studio shot, auto ISO

HTC One — studio shot, auto ISO

At maximum image resolution, the HTC One produced a 2688×1520 (4 MP) photo with 16:9 aspect ratio and wider field of view. The Galaxy S4 produced a 4128×3096 (13 MP) photo with 4:3 aspect ratio.

On Auto ISO, the HTC One decided to set its ISO to 125 and the Galaxy S4 to ISO 50. The HTC One captured a photo with somewhat subdued colors and greenish tint (or somewhat bluish on another computer monitor). The Galaxy S4 produced a sharp and vibrant image with a lot of detail.

Next, we manually set the two phones to use ISO 100. The following shots were still taken in our studio setup:

Galaxy S4 -- studio shot, ISO 100

Galaxy S4 — studio shot, ISO 100

HTC One -- studio shot, ISO 100

HTC One — studio shot, ISO 100

The differences in this batch are similar to the previous batch. The Galaxy S4 still produced a richer and more vibrant photo than the HTC One. The head of the green Bugdroid on the HTC One photo, however, was slightly clearer and less washed out than in its auto ISO version.

The next set of photos below was shot at ISO 800:

Galaxy S4 -- studio shot, ISO 800 (max setting)

Galaxy S4 — studio shot, ISO 800

HTC One -- studio shot, ISO 800 (though reported ISO is only 125)

HTC One — studio shot, ISO 800 (though reported ISO is only 125)

The Galaxy S4 still managed to produce a richer and more vibrant photo than the HTC One. However, noise has begun to appear on the S4-captured image.

The quality of the HTC photo appeared to be similar to its auto ISO version (which was captured at ISO 125). According to EXIF data, the ISO speed rating actually used for this photo was still ISO 125, even if we did manually set the HTC One to use ISO 800. The HTC One’s image is still subdued and has a greenish tint.

Below is the last batch of studio shots. The Galaxy S4 doesn’t have ISO 1600, so we just used the ISO 800 photo (maximum ISO on the S4) to compare with the HTC One photo shot at ISO 1600 (maximum on the HTC One).

Galaxy S4 -- studio shot, ISO 800 (max setting)

Galaxy S4 — studio shot, ISO 800 (max setting)

HTC One -- studio shot, ISO 1600 (though reported ISO is only 125)

HTC One — studio shot, ISO 1600 (though reported ISO is only 125)

Unfortunately, the HTC One still refused to respect my manual setting of ISO 1600. I did set the correct ISO level, but according to EXIF data of the output image, the phone still used ISO 125 to grab the photo. So, the resulting comparison is just like that for the batch of ISO 800 photos in which the HTC One still adamantly decides to use ISO 125.

As far as shots under controlled lighting are concerned, I personally find the Galaxy S4 performing better than the HTC One. For one, the Galaxy S4 consistently produced bright, color-rich, sharp, and vibrant images across various ISO settings. It respects my instruction to manually use a specific ISO rating, too.

Indoor shots

The Galaxy S4 seemed to have bested the HTC One in a setting with controlled and adequate lighting. We wanted to find out how the two phones perform in dim lighting indoors. For our indoor shots, both cameras were set to highest image resolution and auto ISO.

The first batch of indoor photos below was taken in Auto or Normal Mode and without flash. A little amount of natural light from outside was available through the open windows, but not direct sunlight.

Galaxy S4 -- indoor shot, Auto Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — indoor shot, Auto Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- indoor shot, Normal Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — indoor shot, Normal Mode, auto ISO

The HTC One’s image came out brighter and less noisy than the Galaxy S4’s image. The HTC One’s UltraPixel technology may have been responsible for the brighter image. But, with regards to detail, I can definitely see more detail on the Galaxy S4, specially if you look closely on the rough-textured background, which appeared smoother on the HTC One photo but sharper on the Galaxy S4 photo.

This next set of indoor photos was shot in Auto/Normal ModeΒ  with flash enabled.

Galaxy S4 -- indoor shot, Auto Mode, auto ISO, flash active

Galaxy S4 — indoor shot, Auto Mode, auto ISO, flash active

HTC One -- indoor shot, Normal Mode, auto ISO, flash active

HTC One — indoor shot, Normal Mode, auto ISO, flash active

I usually avoid using flash because it alters the colors of an image. In the photo set above, the Galaxy S4 gave off a bluish light that sprayed blue tint on the subjects. The HTC One gave off yellowish light and gave the photo a yellowish hue. Both photos captured the subjects clearly, but the flash seems to be isolated to the center of the field of view.

Here’s the last batch of indoor photos, captured in Night Mode:

Galaxy S4 -- indoor shot, Night Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — indoor shot, Night Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- indoor shot, Night Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — indoor shot, Night Mode, auto ISO

The Galaxy S4’s image came out brighter and clearer than HTC One’s image; the Galaxy S4 seemed to have properly evened out the exposure. If you look back to our first set of indoor images (Normal Mode, no flash), the HTC One’s photo was actually better on Normal Mode than this one on Night Mode. In this set, the HTC One’s image is a bit dull, too sharp, and grainier than Galaxy S4’s photo.

For indoor shots and for shots in dim lighting conditions, the HTC One seems to work best in Normal Mode against the S4 in Auto Mode. But, the Galaxy S4 also appears to provide better images with Night Mode enabled against the One with Night Mode enabled. Flash photography on both phones captures clear photos but result in some yellowish or bluish hue or tint.

In the next section, continue reading about the image quality of outdoor shots made by the HTC One and Galaxy S4 for both daytime and nighttime shooting.

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