We’ve seen many smartphones claim that they produce the best image, but which one actually does? The two most niche camera phones on the market, the Lumia 1020 and Galaxy S4 Zoom have been out in the wild for quite some time, and we’ve been able to see merits for both, but it was about time that we once and for all saw who really made the best camera. The Galaxy S4 Zoom has been slated for its poor design, with the phone resembling a camera far too much, but of course this has been done in order to provide an optical zoom which should mean that you don’t lose too much quality when zooming in. The Lumia 1020 has gone the other way though, with Nokia touting that you don’t need to zoom in before hand, as the massive 41 megapixel sensor on the Lumia 1020 can be used to simply zoom in after you’ve taken a full shot. Could they both be right? Well we’re going to find out once and for all in the What Mobile camera shootout.

Round 1 – Artificial Lighting

Galaxy S4 Zoom

Galaxy S4 Zoom

Lumia 1020

Lumia 1020

It wasn’t a good start for the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, the artificial lighting was beating down on our subject and the camera just couldn’t cope – causing the image to look extremely washed out compared to the one on the Lumia 1020. The colours on the 1020 were a lot more vibrant although they too were a little brighter than the real thing. Thankfully it managed to get some deep reds and greens, a feat that the S4 Zoom failed to do.

WINNER: LUMIA 1020

Round 2 – No Light with Flash

Lumia 1020

Lumia 1020

S4 Zoom

S4 Zoom

The Galaxy S4 Zoom and Nokia Lumia 1020 both have Xenon flash, which is extremely powerful and Xenon is well known for its incredibly quick burst. The S4 Zoom again coloured with colours, with the overall feel of the photo looking extremely underwhelming. The bottom of the image also looks incredibly disappointing with a lot of blur making it very hard to make out the cross-stitching on the boots. The Lumia 1020 went a bit far the other way, with it looking incredibly bright and vibrant. Whilst this isn’t the results everyone will want, it definitely does make for a better, more detailed photo – with lines on the box clearly shown and the whole of the nutcracker doll looking incredibly clear.

WINNER: LUMIA 1020

Round 3 – Low-light, no flash

S4 Zoom

S4 Zoom

Lumia 1020

Lumia 1020

This was a much tighter race between the Lumia 1020 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, with the team taking a long hard look at both the photos before deciding that the Lumia 1020 is once again the successor. The S4 Zoom did a good job with producing a visually pleasing photo, but unfortunately it did so at the expense of focus and quality. The image is quite grainy when looking closely, and there’s extremely dull colours. The door has been exposed nicely, which isn’t the case for the 1020, but the 1020 managed to get vibrant colours and far more clarity in the image.

WINNER: LUMIA 1020

Round 4 – Outside

S4 Zoom

S4 Zoom

Nokia Lumia 1020

Nokia Lumia 1020

With the lighting coming directly from the side into the camera, it looks like both phones managed to struggle – with the Lumia 1020 trying to darken the image, which in a way worked with much deeper reds on the brick facade of the St Pancras Hotel, but it also did so with a greenish tint at the side of the image, as well as a severe degradation in quality. The S4 Zoom on the other hand decided to use the light to its advantage, which washed the colours out a little with the reds seeming a little understated and the sky not being as blue as it was, but overall delivering a much more visually pleasing image.

 WINNER: S4 ZOOM

Round 5 – Panorama

S4 Zoom

S4 Zoom

Lumia 1020

Lumia 1020

Samsung is the clear winner here, maybe not in quality – with the Lumia 1020’s panorama looking absolutely great in terms of vibrant colours and little grain, but the S4 Zoom has definitely tied this one up as its panorama mode is both quicker and offers a much larger range. With the Galaxy S4 Zoom we were able to capture almost the entire width of the tube station, whereas the Nokia – which doesn’t have an in-built panorama mode, struggled to get even 50 percent of the station. Another problem with the Lumia was that it was extremely slow and it didn’t quite align properly.

WINNER: S4 ZOOM

Round 6 – HDR modes

S4 Zoom

S4 Zoom

Lumia 1020

Lumia 1020

Both photos are all kinds of wrong, with the Lumia 1020 delivering an underexposed image whilst the S4 Zoom managing a rather blinding over exposed photo. Whilst we were tempted to call this one a failure, we ended up deciding that the Lumia 1020 had the better photo overall. With the underexposed image looking more pleasing to the eye, and whilst the tree was a bit dark – the HDR worked wonders on the walls of St Pancras station, with brick red looking really deep. On the S4 Zoom however the overexposure causes them to look almost white. One thing to note is that the Lumia 1020 doesn’t actually have a built in HDR mode, unlike the S4 Zoom, so we had to turn bracketing on and then combine the three photos in Photoshop.

WINNER: LUMIA 1020

Round 7 – Zoom

S4 Zoom

S4 Zoom

Lumia 1020

Lumia 1020

Even Nokia’s massive 41MP sensor couldn’t beat the optical zooming power of the Galaxy s4 Zoom, with the Lumia 1020 looking rather washed out and lacking the detail provided by the S4 Zoom’s almighty photo of the Kings Cross clock tower. Rather than taking a picture of the clock tower already zoomed in with the 1020, we took Elop’s advice and zoomed in after taking the photo. Unfortunately for Elop and Nokia, the optical zoom on the S4 Zoom was able to get an altogether better shot.

WINNER: S4 ZOOM

Round 8 – Light Contrast

S4 Zoom

S4 Zoom

S4 Zoom

Lumia 1020

How would the two phones deal with a challenge of two different degrees of light? Turns out that it was like child’s play for the Lumia 1020, keeping the shadowy section suitably shadowy whilst also allowing enough light in to see the deep blue sky and the outside of Kings Cross station. The S4 Zoom wasn’t anywhere near as lucky, with it compensating far too much for the darkened section causing the whole photo to be lighter and the sky to be white. On the full resolution shot of the Lumia 1020, we were even able to zoom right in to the 476 bus to Euston of the opposite side of the road without too much of a quality degradation.

WINNER: LUMIA 1020

Round 9 – Shakey Hands

S4 Zoom

S4 Zoom

Lumia 1020

Lumia 1020

Like round seven, this is another night and day comparison – with the Lumia 1020 proving its optical image stabilisation is far superior to that on the Galaxy S4 Zoom. Nokia went on and on about the ball bearings keeping the camera steady and it proves that it’s more than just hot air with the Nokia Lumia 1020 delivering a usable shot, whereas the S4 Zoom delivers one that may be artistic, but little more. The 1020 is still a little grainy, which is understandable given the shaking, but it manages to capture the architectural wonder that is Kings Cross station.

WINNER: LUMIA 1020

Round 10 – Night time

S4 Zoom

S4 Zoom

Lumia 1020

Lumia 1020

This was by far the hardest challenge for both cameras, the night time shot was always going to be testing – with Nokia opting to promote the Lumia 925 as the ultimate low-light camera rather than the 1020. It’s obvious that the 1020 did struggle on this test, with a lot of orange hue for the overall photograph, something that believe it or not wasn’t anything like the conditions we saw at 11pm on Rochester high street. The Lumia 1020 did manage to capture a lot more detail though thanks to its large sensor, The sky was a bit too dark and black for my liking, with very little stars actually showing up on the camera, and the spectacular christmas lights of Rochester seem to be turned off, despite being very much on at the time the photo was taken. The S4 Zoom didn’t do all that much better, once again choosing to overexpose the image, although we have to admit the colours are a little more real. This test was far too close to call, with the S4 Zoom producing a really grainy photo proving it does not cope in night time or at lowlight, and attempts to cope with a high ISO. Overall we like the detail of the Lumia 1020, but we’re put off by the orange hue. The S4 Zoom on the other hand has a far more accurate colour representation, but the detail just isn’t there and it’s a little too over exposed for our liking. In the end we had to choose the Lumia 1020, with it looking a little more vibrant and despite the orange hue, the colours were still warm. The S4 Zoom on the other hand had colours looking extremely cold and looks like it’s been taken by an old camera, rather than what’s meant to be one of the best camera phones on the market.

WINNER: LUMIA 1020

Verdict

Well it seems that the Lumia 1020 was able to win most of the rounds this time round, but the S4 Zoom proved that it can more than hold its own. Whilst it may not be as impressive as the 41 megapixel Lumia 1020 in some situations, it does have all the features of a great camera. But that’s just it, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is a camera and little else, whilst it may have phone functions, it’s in no way a decent smartphone — being far too big to carry around in your pocket comfortably for day to day use, and not being as powerful as its S4 moniker. The optical zoom is always welcome, but the Lumia 1020 can often get similar results with its 41 megapixel sensor — something we saw in our review. Right now it seems that the 1020 is the smartphone to get if you’re looking for the best of both worlds, but whether or not it will be able to continue the dominance remains to be seen. Sony is also trying to push its smartphone cameras even more, with the launch of the Z1 the company’s first steps towards that goal. Both Sony and Samsung are trying to use their existing camera know-how and apply it directly into a phone, although Sony is using the technology rather than just combining the two outright. We’d be excited to see if Samsung can come up with a suitable successor for the S4 Zoom, but for now it’s just not doing all that much for us.

Disagree? Get involved

There are no doubt many of you who disagree with the decisions that we have made at What Mobile, so we want to give you the chance to make up your mind for yourself. Of course the photos we’ve posted here are just the low-resolution alternatives to the massive files that are actually from these phones, so we’ve put together two handy zip files for you to download them both. If you want to see the Lumia 1020 in action you can do so here, or if you want to see if the optical zooming Galaxy S4 Zoom produces great results, you can do so here.

When you’ve made a decision let us know in the comments below!