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Cameras Compared: Lumia 1020 vs Xperia Z1 vs Note 3 Photo Test Part 1

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UPDATE: With the Xperia Z1 software updated, we’ve compared the 3 smart phones again. Check out Part 2 of our camera shootout.

As teased last week, we have compared the Nokia Lumia 1020, Sony Xperia Z1 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for its imaging capabilities. To recap on the specs, the Nokia Lumia 1020 comes with a huge 1/1.5″ sensor that does 41MP followed by the Sony Xperia Z1 with its 1/2.3″ sensor that shoots 20.7MP. Also thrown in the comparison is the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 that comes with a smaller 1/3″ sensor and a typical 13MP resolution.

The Lumia 1020 and Xperia Z1 boast one of the biggest sensor and pixel count among the flagship devices today. While it is nice to have a high resolution photos, is it any good when most photos shared online are compressed and resized to smaller dimensions? The answer lies on resampling.

With the Lumia 1020MP, the camera automatically saves 2 sizes for each picture taken – a high resolution 38MP (4:3) and a smaller 5MP photo. The 5MP photo which you would share and post online is actually a resized identical image of its 38MP shot. This results a sharper and higher picture quality despite a lower resolution image. On the downside, the resampling process on the Lumia 1020 imposes a wait time of about 2-3 seconds before it’s ready to take the next shot. For the trigger happy smart phone photographer, this could be annoying.

Moving onto the Sony Xperia Z1, the default Superior Auto mode takes a 20.7MP shot and then resamples the photo to 8MP (16:9). If you need an actual 20.7MP (4:3) shot, the option is available in manual mode. For the initial comparison, we would be taking the resampled 5MP and 8MP from the Lumia 1020 and Xperia Z1 respectively as that would be the default mode and photo that’s commonly used. This is then followed by a comparison of the original high resolution and resampled image to see if there’s any significant advantage. For the Xperia Z1 you would probably notice a different shot between the high resolution and resampled image as we had to shoot separately in Superior Auto and Manual mode.

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Check out the sample shots after the break.

In the outdoor shots, the Lumia 1020 seems to be the clear winner in both Sample #1 and Sample #2 with greater detail. Colours are more realistic as well particularly in Sample #2. The Xperia Z1 however didn’t live up to expectations as it appears more smudgy and surprisingly it was beaten by the Galaxy Note 3 in these 2 samples. Looking at the original source images, the Xperia Z1 appears to be rather noisy for a day time shot and we suspect this could be an issue with its software.

Sample #1

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Original: Lumia 1020 ( 38MP / 5MP), Xperia Z1 (20.7MP / 8MP), Note 3 (13MP)

Sample #2

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Original: Lumia 1020 ( 38MP / 5MP), Xperia Z1 (20.7MP / 8MP), Note 3 (13MP)

In the next two samples, the Lumia 1020 seems to be holding itself well ahead of its rivals. The Xperia Z1 seems to performed better in Sample #3 but the Note 3 has the edge in Sample #4. At this point, it looks like the Note 3’s 13MP shooter is giving the Xperia Z1’s 20.7MP shooter a run for its money.

Sample #3

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Original: Lumia 1020 ( 38MP / 5MP), Xperia Z1 (20.7MP / 8MP), Note 3 (13MP)

Sample #4

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Original: Lumia 1020 ( 38MP / 5MP), Xperia Z1 (20.7MP / 8MP), Note 3 (13MP)

Nokia Lumia 1020 vs Sony Xperia Z1 Resampling

The benefit of resampling is having a sharper image with greater detail. This would also help to reduce visible noise when the original image is resized to a smaller resolution. For the Nokia Lumia 1020, the advantage is clear with the 5MP image at 100% crop looking rather impressive. With images this good, you suddenly won’t mind the longer than usual wait time before taking the next shot. The Xperia Z1 however doesn’t appear to have significant difference between its 20.7MP and 8MP shot which is quite a pity actually. We suspect that the software is the culprit and certainly hope that Sony would address this issue with a new software update. At time of writing, our Xperia Z1 is running on build number 14.1.G.1.534 with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.

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Summary

From this comparison, the Lumia 1020 no doubt is the best in terms of photography however when it comes to ease of use, the Galaxy Note 3 offers clutter-free and instant point and shoot performance. Despite being a 13MP shooter, the image quality of the Note 3 is rather impressive despite being the under-spec’ed device on paper.

For the Xperia Z1, we had high hopes on its 20.7MP shooter and larger 1/2.3″ sensor with Sony’s very own G Lens. Unfortunately the Xperia Z1 samples didn’t live up to expectation. What we liked on the Xperia Z1 is its high refresh rate during camera preview and it comes with a dedicated camera button which is lacking on the Note 3. In addition, the camera button can be set to “Fast Capture” mode where it takes a picture from sleep to snap in about 2 seconds.

The Lumia 1020 offer the most photography options with manual controls over ISO, focus and exposure which is a joy for photography enthusiasts. However for first time users, it can be rather intimidating especially when there are 3 separate camera apps out of the box – Nokia Pro Cam, Nokia Smart Cam and the default Windows Phone camera app. If only they could have combined the 3 in a single camera app. It is also worth pointing out that the Lumia 1020 is the only camera in this comparison with Optical Image Stabiliser and Xenon Flash light.

Leave your thoughts of the sample shots below. Next we will be comparing more shots including the use of flash. If you haven’t seen it yet, do check out the Video Test comparison of the 3 devices.