Galaxy S4 vs HTC One camera comparison — Mega vs Ultra

May 10, 2013
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Daytime, outdoor shots

Daytime outdoor shots are where things get more interesting and more fascinating — primarily because of the availability of enough natural lighting from the sun.

For all of the daytime outdoor shots in this section, the two cameras were set to use the highest image resolution with 16:9 aspect ratio (i.e., 9 MP on the Galaxy S4 and 4 MP on the HTC One). The HTC One was set to shoot in Normal Mode and the Galaxy S4 in Auto Mode. ISO sensitivity was set to auto.

The following photos are of the same subject, with the photographer standing in place. The phone cameras were set to Auto/Normal Mode.

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (daytime), Auto Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (daytime), Auto Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- outdoor shot (daytime), Normal Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — outdoor shot (daytime), Normal Mode, auto ISO

Both images came out crisp under bright settings. The HTC One’s image is a bit brighter and somewhat overexposed; the colors are slightly washed out.

The HTC One’s camera also has a wider field of view than the Galaxy S4’s, so the subject in the HTC photo appeared farther. This means that a wider area can be captured with the HTC One than with the Galaxy S4. But, more detail can be seen with the Galaxy S4 with its higher MP count.

Both cameras come with 4X Digital Zoom capability. To compare which camera produced better zoomed images, we took the following photos:

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (daytime), Auto Mode, auto ISO, 4x magnification

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (daytime), Auto Mode, auto ISO, 4x magnification

HTC One -- outdoor shot (daytime), Normal Mode, auto ISO, 4x magnification

HTC One — outdoor shot (daytime), Normal Mode, auto ISO, 4x magnification

At maximum zoom, the Galaxy S4 with its higher megapixel count captured more detail than did the HTC One.

We wanted to test the High Dynamic Range (HDR) capabilities of the two phones, too. The left photo in each set below is the HDR photo, and the one to its right is the normal photo captured with Auto Mode. Both were shot in daylight.

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (daytime), HDR Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (daytime), HDR Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (daytime), Normal Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (daytime), Auto Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- outdoor shot (daytime), HDR Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — outdoor shot (daytime), HDR Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- outdoor shot (daytime), Normal Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — outdoor shot (daytime), Normal Mode, auto ISO

The base (normal) images differ in color contrast. The Galaxy S4 seems to have adjusted the contrast equally, resulting in more realistic color. The HTC One’s image contrast seems sharper, making the sky bluer and the trees greener.

With HDR enabled, the Galaxy S4’s image looks nearly the same as its base image, but on closer inspection, the shadows on the HDR image have become less dark. The HTC One’s HDR image seems to have fixed the contrasted color of its base image — it actually looks nearly the same as the Galaxy S4’s HDR photo but a little brighter.

In both base and HDR versions, the Galaxy S4 still catches more detail than does the HTC One.

(For more info about HDR, see our other article on how to use HDR on your Android device.)

How well do the cameras perform when capturing close up or macro photos under bright sunlight? To compare, we took the following photos.

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (daytime), Auto Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (daytime), Auto Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- outdoor shot (daytime), Macro Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — outdoor shot (daytime), Macro Mode, auto ISO

The closeup shots came out sharp, crisp, and vibrant. I find the HTC One’s photo having sharper contrast, which accounts for the clarity of the flowers and also making the colors too vivid. The Galaxy S4’s version seems to have contrast and sharpness smoothly evened out, rendering a more realistic image.

The Galaxy S4’s photo, though, seems to capture the smaller details, such as the veins on the leaves and petals, although it seems unable to achieve the same blurring (“bokeh”) effect as the HTC One could. Note that, unlike the Galaxy Camera, the Galaxy S4 doesn’t have Macro Mode.

In the following photos, we continue to compare the image quality of the two cameras as they capture still subjects. In this round, we had the Galaxy S4 photograph the HTC One — and vice-versa.

The Galaxy S4 photographs the HTC One.

The Galaxy S4 photographs the HTC One.

The HTC One photographs the Galaxy S4.

The HTC One photographs the Galaxy S4.

The photo captured by the Galaxy S4 contains more detail, especially if you observe the texture of the stones. It is crisper, sharper, and brighter than the image captured by the HTC One. Though, there seems to be too much bright area — I might even say overexposed — near the subject’s bottom-right area that was directly hit by sunlight. The image from the HTC One seems to have attempted to balance exposure and white levels.

What about daytime outdoor videos? Which camera provides better quality? Here are sample panning videos of scenery under broad daylight:

Between the two videos, I like the Galaxy S4’s video more because it is evenly exposed. The HTC One’s video captured more light, resulting in overexposed areas in the video. In terms of stabilization, I find the HTC One’s panning movement smoother than the Galaxy S4’s.

As for snapping photos of moving subjects, we decided on a refreshing sight — water geysers that cascade down stone steps. Here are two sets of images from each phone:

Galaxy S4 -- closeup of water fountain

Galaxy S4 closeup of water fountain

HTC One closeup of water fountain

HTC One closeup of water fountain

Galaxy S4 shot of waterfalls

Galaxy S4 shot of waterfalls

HTC One shot of waterfalls

HTC One shot of waterfalls

Both cameras framed the upward-spurting water quite well. However, I like the Galaxy S4’s image because it preserves the colors and balances sharpness and smoothness levels, resulting in a more natural-looking picture. Plus, the additional megapixels in the Galaxy S4 camera do help in catching more detail. You’ll see it in action if you view the same area of a subject in full resolution. The HTC One, on other hand, tends to render washed-out colors and oftentimes smoothens outlines and edges.

While enjoying the refreshing sight of water on that terribly hot day, we also decided to check each phone’s slo-mo video capture powers. Here are sample slo-mo videos from each phone:

The HTC One’s slo-mo camera can record up to only 768×432 resolution, but the Galaxy S4’s slo-mo camera can do up to 1280×720.

To compare how well each phone’s image stabilization feature works, we recorded this video while walking around the stone fort:

For the set of videos above, I was surprised that the Galaxy S4’s Digital Image Stabilization outsmarted the HTC One’s Optical Image Stabilization. I observe more minor jitter in the HTC One’s video than in the Galaxy S4’s. As for colors, the Galaxy S4 video captured dull but realistic colors, while the HTC One showed more contrast, creating more saturated but less realistic colors than does the Galaxy S4.

Some cameras perform well under direct sunlight but not well enough in the shade. So, we tested the two cameras under partial shade and full shade. In the photos below, the Galaxy S4’s camera was on Auto Mode with 13 MP (4:3) resolution. The HTC One was set on Normal Mode with 4 MP (16:9) resolution.

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (daytime, partial shade), Auto Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (daytime, partial shade), Auto Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- outdoor shot (daytime, partial shade), Normal Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — outdoor shot (daytime, partial shade), Normal Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (daytime, full shade), Auto Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (daytime, full shade), Auto Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- outdoor shot (daytime, full shade), Normal Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — outdoor shot (daytime, full shade), Normal Mode, auto ISO

In the partial shade photo, the Galaxy S4 tried to compensate for the bright areas by decreasing light sensitivity, resulting in evenly exposed bright areas. However, this made dark areas darker because of the lowered sensitivity to light. Fewer details are caught here because the image is darker. In contrast, the HTC One equally balanced out light from the sun while keeping the dark areas well-lit.

Under full shade, the Galaxy S4 produced a slightly overexposed image with washed-out colors. I find the HTC One’s photo to be equally exposed and having realistic colors.

Nighttime, outdoor shots

Not all photos are shot during the day. Some folks need to use their smartphone cameras at night, when lighting can be potentially scarce. Can the HTC One and Galaxy S4 prove to be excellent even for nighttime use?

The first photo in each set below was taken with Auto Mode, the second one with Night Mode enabled, and the third with HDR Mode enabled.

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (night), Auto Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (night), Auto Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- outdoor shot (night), Normal Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — outdoor shot (night), Normal Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (night), Night Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (night), Night Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- outdoor shot (night), Night Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — outdoor shot (night), Night Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (night), HDR Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (night), HDR Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- outdoor shot (night), HDR Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — outdoor shot (night), HDR Mode, auto ISO

The common problem of night shots is noise and grain. Cameras tend to max out light sensitivity to let more light in, making images brighter. However, higher ISO levels also make images prone to noise.

Attempting to make images brighter, the Galaxy S4 and HTC One increase their respective ISO levels to produce bright yet noisy images. Light from the streets and nearby buildings tend to be blown out because of the high ISO level. Between the two pictures, the HTC photo showed less noise and is an overall cleaner image than the one from the S4.

Enabling Night Mode doesn’t solve the noise issue on both photos. Both images were a little brighter with this mode enabled, but noise is still there, with more noise on the Galaxy S4’s photo. I also noticed that the intensity of overexposed lights on the HTC One increased in Night Mode.

Lastly, we checked whether HDR can remedy the image quality. On the Galaxy S4, it still produced noisy image but HDR fixed the overexposed background lights. HDR was not too helpful on the HTC One as the image grew noisier and created an eerie glow from lights in the background.

Below are test images demonstrating image quality on night shots captured on each phone at maximum zoom:

Galaxy S4 -- outdoor shot (night), Auto Mode, auto ISO, 4x magnification

Galaxy S4 — outdoor shot (night), Auto Mode, auto ISO, 4x magnification

HTC One -- outdoor shot (night), Normal Mode, auto ISO, 4x magnification

HTC One — outdoor shot (night), Normal Mode, auto ISO, 4x magnification

Between the two images the Galaxy S4 produced a cleaner, detailed image compared to the HTC One photo.

We also took close up photos of a still subject. The first set below was caught with Auto/Normal Mode but no flash, and the second with flash firing.

Galaxy S4 -- closeup shot (outdoor, night), Auto Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 — closeup shot (outdoor, night), Auto Mode, auto ISO

HTC One -- closeup shot (outdoor, night), Normal Mode, auto ISO

HTC One — closeup shot (outdoor, night), Normal Mode, auto ISO

Galaxy S4 -- closeup shot (outdoor, night), Auto Mode, auto ISO, flash active

Galaxy S4 — closeup shot (outdoor, night), Auto Mode, auto ISO, flash active

HTC One -- closeup shot (outdoor, night), Normal Mode, auto ISO, flash active

HTC One — closeup shot (outdoor, night), Normal Mode, auto ISO, flash active

Both phones produced acceptable photo quality even without flash. However, the Galaxy S4 appears to provide a brighter and sharper image than does the HTC One. The HTC photo is a bit dim and has washed-out colors.

However, with flash enabled, the HTC One appears to preserve the subject’s colors much better than the Galaxy S4 does. The Galaxy S4 produce a bluish light that sprayed a bluish layer on the subject.

Finally, we wanted to see how well image stabilization worked at night for videos. Here are the results:

Both videos were stabilized well but the Galaxy S4’s video came out smoother than the HTC One’s. More minor jitter can be observed on the HTC One.

With regards to video quality, the HTC One handled itself well in a dark environment. The Galaxy S4 tried to compensate by increasing light sensitivity, resulting in a bright yet noisy video.

In the next and last section, you can watch a comparison video of the HTC One and Galaxy S4 cameras.

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