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Best of Android 2015: Camera
What is Best of Android?
In Best of Android, we take the hottest devices of the moment and compare them in-depth. For this first edition, we picked up the following Android flagships:
- Sony Xperia Z5 Premium
- Nexus 6P
- Motorola Moto X Force
- Samsung Galaxy Note 5
- LG V10
- BlackBerry Priv
What about the Galaxy S6 or the HTCOne M9 or the OnePlus 2, you ask. Those are all great phones. But, to keep this comparison manageable, we selected only the phones we feel are the most representative for the ecosystem right now.
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The next section in our Best of Android 2015 series, where we put the latest and greatest Android phones through a series of tough tests, is our camera shootout. For a recap, we have the Blackberry Priv, LG V10, Galaxy Note 5, Moto X Force (Droid Turbo 2), Nexus 6P and the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium at hand, and we took them out for a spin around London’s Southbank to put the handsets through a selection of lighting environments and shooting scenarios.
Photography results can be pretty subjective, so we sent the pictures around the office for everyone to vote on their favorites. There are some split opinions on some and consensus on others, but in the end we have been left with a clear winner.
A quick note on the pictures before we jump in. Each of the phones was left on their default settings, but we made sure to set each phone to Auto HDR, with the exception of the Z5 Premium which has Auto HDR always on. We also shot each of the pictures in a 4:3 aspect ratio because for some reason a 16:9 option was missing on the BlackBerry Priv until a recent update, which didn’t come in until after our tests. Manual modes were not used, this is an “out of the box” test.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the pictures. Starting from top left, we have Z5 Premium, and moving right, we have Nexus 6P, Moto X Force, then on the bottom left we have LG V10, then right we have Note 5, then finally on bottom right we have the BlackBerry Priv.
We’ll start off with some daytime shots on a typically English overcast day, which offers a tough challenge for our phones to balance the bright skies with darker details on the ground. Right off the bat there’s a notable blue tint to the LG V10, Nexus 6P and Z5 Premium’s images, while the Priv, Moto X Force, and Note 5 have a warmer tone. There’s certainly no lack of detail in any of the pictures, but the Note 5 and X Force seem to produce the brightest results from this scene.
Moving on to a different picture in similar lighting conditions, we can see some softening on the images produced by the Moto X Force and Xperia Z5 Premium, although the Premium’s colors really do pop in this picture. A closer look at the Note 5 reveals some sharpening on the building details that is considerably stronger than on other phones.
The best looking results come from the LG V10, Priv and Nexus 6P, but each seems to have judged the picture worthy of slightly different exposures. The V10 loses some detail in the brighter clouds, while the Priv is perhaps a little too dark and is slightly off with the color temperature. The Nexus 6P produces a good all-round result, with details and exposure holding up well in the clouds, the foreground and background, without any distracting noise or sharpening.
With a close up focal point, we picked the “International Brigade” plaque, and we can again see each phone exposing the pictures quite differently and overexposure in the background is a key thing to look out for here.
The Z5 Premium is the standout phone in this regard, managing to retain detail and color in the clouds and background trees. However, the subject is lacking some detail. The Moto X Force performs reasonably well, but the image is very soft, verging on blurry as soon as we look beyond the plaque.
The Note 5 seems to have again over sharpened the image to try and bring out foreground detail, but this worsens the look of the background and both it and the Nexus 6P struggle with the bright sky. The LG V10 produces a lot more detail on the statue than these phones without the sharpening problems. The Priv also offers excellent detail, albeit with a very different color tone to the picture, but the Priv’s results are quite impressive.
For our fourth daylight shot we are trying to capture the distant detail of Big Ben across the river. The Priv really isn’t as clear this time around, there’s a distinct lack of focus when we crop down the image for a closer look. The Moto X Force is sharp and contains some additional detail over the LG V10. The foreground and sky color is lovely with the Xperia Z5 Premium, but Big Ben, our focal point, just seems a tad less detailed than with the Moto X Force. You can see this more clearly in the cropped images below.
The Note 5’s sharpening is better in this picture, although perhaps it’s still a little heavy, and there’s still a notable warm color shift. The Nexus 6P offers up some finer detail thanks to its sharpening, and has a better color balance and nice exposure.
A modern camera shootout wouldn’t be complete without a selfie and we aren’t surprised to see that these front facing sensors can’t keep up with the main rear cameras.
The Moto X Force is incredibly blurry, while the Priv and the Premium have this fuzzy noisy look about them and highly overexposed backgrounds. Here the 6P is better, but also suffers from an overly bright background.
This leaves us with the V10 and the Note 5, which are far better exposed. However, the Note 5 seems to have added some bizarre skin softening “make-up” effect which just looks weird, leaving the V10 as the winner, despite not quite offering optimal detail.
Low light is where small smartphone camera sensors have historically struggled. We’ll be keeping a keen eye out for decent exposure and low noise in the next series of tests.
Our first low light test reveals a considerably darker picture with the BlackBerry Priv than all the others, followed by the Z5 Premium. The Moto X Force and Note 5 look ok, although don’t quite offer up the full color and details we can see in some of the other pictures, with the latter looking oddly foggy compared with the rest. The LG V10 and Nexus 6P are the best performers in this shot, with excellent colors, but the detail and depth on the wooden floor captured by the 6P really is a cut above the field.
The next set of shots are quite tricky as there are several light sources, lots of color and the sky in the background to try to balance correctly. We took this shot twice, first with the darker background bush as the focal point and then again by selecting the four foreground lights.
Beginning with the lights as the focal point, we can see that the Xperia Z5 struggles with the exposure, resulting in too much bloom from the lights. The Moto X Force suffers from the same problem, although not quite to the same extent, and we see some slight blurring on closer inspection. The Galaxy Note 5 performs better, but again we see a warm color tint and some very distracting sharpening on the leaves behind the lights, which really ruins the depth of the picture. The Priv handles the lighting much better but the picture is too dark, washing out much of the color. The crops below provide a closer look.
Again the LG V10 and the Nexus 6P are the top two performers in this low light shot, with the V10 providing excellent detail, colors and just the right amount of sharpening. However, the Nexus 6P offers up an even better exposure, which may be a little darker but still retains an incredible amount of detail and contrast.
Taking the picture with the focal point on the dark spot behind the lights sees many of the cameras correctly adjust their exposures. However, the Z5 Premium and the Moto X Force produce much the same result as when focusing directly on the light source.
The results here are much closer, but there are similar trends as before. The Priv looks a little washed out, while the Z5 Premium again seems to struggle to hit the right exposure. Here the V10 could use a bit more contrast, while the Moto X Force’s picture is perhaps a little too dark. The Nexus 6P again shows the best detail and contrast out of the bunch.
We have another tough test for our handsets with this very dark night shot of a carousel. The movement of the carousel is a real test of our camera’s ability to quickly capture light in these night shots and again it’s the Nexus 6P which comes out ahead, this time by quite a way, with the Note 5 probably coming the closest to matching it.
The Z5 Premium and Moto X Force produce much softer results with this moving shot, while the LG V10 seems to suffer from some major flare from the lights. The Priv really isn’t bad, but has overexposed the main light source a little.
It was starting to get a little chilly by this point, so we had a sit down by a fire and decided to see how well each phone could capture color and movement. There’s quite a difference in how the phones have lit the picture, with the Priv a little on the dark side and the Note 5 really washing out the colors. It’s tough to call due to the motion in the image, but the Nexus 6P seems to offer up the most detail without too much exposure and blurring of the flames.
Here’s another picture with plenty of different light sources, so keep an eye out for flare and focus. This time around, the Nexus 6P is not the best performer, as its lack of image stabilization leads to some notable blurring across the light sources and even in the foreground. The Moto X Force produces a similarly softened result in the lower half of the picture, while the Note 5’s orange tint crops up yet again and there’s notable flare on the right too.
The Xperia Z5 Premium and BlackBerry Priv do an excellent job of taming all those light sources. Both produce some nice colors in the sky, but are perhaps a little too dark and there is some very noticeable noise in the Priv’s sky. The LG V10 produces a warmer, brighter picture and there is the least amount of noise present across the image and plenty of detail in the lower half.
A longer distance lowlight shot shows off what the Xperia Z5 Premium and BlackBerry Priv are capable of, given the right conditions. The sky, colors and lights stand out on both these phones and the Z5 Premium boasts some excellent contrast and sharpness. The tree in the Moto X Force and Nexus 6P shots is less well defined, while the Note 5 sharpening filter has completely taken over in this one. The V10 just looks washed out by comparison.
Moving on to some closer shots we are looking to see how clearly the wording comes out from this sign. The BlackBerry Priv comes through very clearly, as does the Galaxy Note 5. The only notably poor performer here is the V10, which doesn’t seem to have quite focused the image properly, despite boasting laser autofocus technology.
With even less light it’s the Note 5 that manages to bring out the most detail, while the BlackBerry’s image becomes much darker. The Nexus 6P also made the most of this very dim environment, but there’s some notable lens flare, which also appears with the Z5 Premium, the Moto X Force and especially the LG V10.
To wrap up our extensive selection of lowlight pictures, here are some longer distance building shots. The trends that we’ve spotted in previous picture remain the theme here, with the Moto X Force really struggling to focus with the distant light sources. The Nexus 6P and Z5 Premium are the noisiest of the remaining phones, but it’s between the 6P and Note 5 for the best detail in the distance.
Interestingly, the Nexus 6P and LG V10 both produced darker pictures when focusing on this bright light source in the distance. However, this does allow the two, the 6P in particular, to actually pick out the minute details inside the store. An impressive feat given the distance and lighting environment. The Note 5 sits somewhere in between the two exposure extremes.
We haven’t neglected the front facing cameras in our low light test. We have another adorable set of selfies for you, which sees a number of the front facing cameras really struggle in this scenario. The Priv is just awful with very little detail and the V10, Z5 and Note 5 all offer up smudged looking images.
The Moto X Force does better in this test, although there is some noticeable noise in the darks. The Nexus 6P knocks this one out of the park, with superior detail, no blur and all round good lighting.
If you’re into your landscapes, then you’ll probably be interested in Panorama mode performance too. We a shot across the Thames in both daylight and lowlight environments, with the rippling water and moving boats providing a real test for the software’s stitching algorithms.
In daylight, the 6P offers a good balance of color and exposure, although you can spot a slight stitching error on the railing on the bottom right. The V10 also performs well, although the image is a little darker and there’s a seam on the water too. The Galaxy Note 5 offers up some nice warm colors and distant detail, and is definitely the most well balanced picture.
The Xperia Z5 Premium’s Panorama Mode is very blurry, likely down to the movement of the camera. The Priv has a different problem, as the image appears warped and bent, and there’s a misalignment on the right hand bridge. The Moto X Force has the most obvious software issues though, as there’s a strange series of lines streaking down the picture and the resolution is very poor.
In the lowlight pictures, the Moto X Force is an even worse performer, with notable blurring across the image. But it’s the Z5 Premium that completely falls apart here, producing major smearing that is quite ridiculous. This wasn’t a one off fluke either. The Priv is much better, but also shows some smudging on the left and is far too dark.
The Note 5, V10 and 6P are the best performers. Image quality holds up reasonably well across all three and they even handle the distant lights quite well. The Nexus 6P is definitely the brightest and clearest image, but this comes at the expense of some heavy noise in the clouds.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the Android Authority staff tally awards the best camera to the Nexus 6P. It offers a very competitive daylight performance, but it really shines in low light pictures thanks to its HDR+ capabilities. The software does an excellent job at piecing multiple exposures together and adds just the right touch of post processing to bring out some superb detail.
The Galaxy Note 5 came in second place, followed very closely by the LG V10. Both of these handsets put in consistently good performances across the majority of our tests, but just couldn’t keep up with the 6P’s low light results. That said, any of these three smartphones are a sure to see you capturing some great looking snaps.
All the comparisons: