The camera phone is currently dominating the streets. So it is time to compare all the top models within the market next to each other. The main question is "What is the best camera phone on the current market?".
The market knows the segment of camera phones as one that has been growing rapidly in the past few months. It has reached a level now that you could say; can I use a mobile phone as a replacement for my digital camera or digital video camera? Questions that should be asked now are; is this a good idea, which model should I choose from the enormous list of devices and what is the best camera phone?
In co-operation with photographer Peter de Ruiter from the website Fotomobieltje.nl a comparison is made by NewMobile which addresses four new camera phones. All these cameras are introduced by the corresponding manufacturers as if they are the top of the bill. First the new LG KG920, a device with 5.0 Mpixel camera (all the other devices have a 3.2 Mpixel camera), xenon flash (a flash which is used in normal digital cameras, not a simple LED light), video possibilities and a large amount camera settings.
From left to right: Nokia N93, Nokia N73, LG KG920 and Sony Ericsson K800i
The second model is the new Nokia N73. The direct successor of the N70 and aimed at new functionalities as shooting pictures and videos quickly and blogging them onto the website of Flickr.com. In relation to the Nokia N93 the same can be told. However the N93 is more a video camera and surrounded by the slogan DVD quality video on your mobile phone. The device makes the best videos currently on the market.
The last model is the new Sony Ericsson K800i; the first Cyber-Shot phone which reached the market some weeks ago. It will be the first step within a range of new Cyber-Shot devices with good quality and great options. The K800i is currently the easiest device you can use with respect to the camera options and offers the same blogging possibilities but on Google blogging.
All four models are put to the test. Each device made several pictures and videos of the same item and under the same circumstances. From these comparison pictures are clear view is given on which points the devices score points. Below you will find the findings of Peter de Ruiter next to the comparison pictures. By clicking on the picture the full size version of picture is shown.
General photo camera quality
One thing has become clear from this test. The opportunity to get a perfect photo with these camera phones or any other device is not high. The results of the cameras tested are not unambiguous. There is no clear winner in all circumstances. However when you succeed, the quality is not far from a simple digital camera.
The biggest drawback for camera phones is the fact that they cannot handle big differences in contrast meaning differences between light and dark. Check out the picture with the plants: the spots where the sun reflects are 'eaten away' with three of the four cameras. The detail is gone and you will never get it back. Only the Sony Ericsson K800i performs well. The 'fear of contrast' is something familiar from the beginning of digital photography and known from digital cameras. It is quite hard for a manufacturer to address this problem. Especially the quality of the sensor and the software in the camera which forms the image have higher importance.
Overexposing is also lethal for a picture. Detail will disappear from the light spots and you will never get the detail back. Check out the James Dean picture of the N73 where the device lacks detail and overexposes. The K800i has the best score again. However the picture is a little bit underexposed. But that is not a disaster: you can adjust that in the camera phone itself or by using for instance Photoshop. Overexposing cannot be adjusted.
The K800i gave a problem with backlighting. It gave an ugly haze on the screen. The lens was clean (that could have been the cause) so maybe it was the coating of the lens. This coating should prevent reflections. Maybe we cleaned the lens too many times which caused the coating to vanish. However, the lens is not the major point here when it comes to the quality of the complete set with pictures. The sensor and software are more important. You can make a picture without a lens by a gap in a shoebox; called camera obscura.
Also auto focus is not a major point on a camera phone. The sensor is really small and science tells you that the field of sharpness is then quite large.
What can be made clear is that the N93 uses a 3x optical zoom lens. When using this optical lens the brightness decreases a little bit (from f 2.8 to f 3.3) but it is not that awful. Because of the lens system which is more complicated and thicker, the contrast and sharpness decreases. Look at the picture below of the woman with modern pair of glasses. In the zoomed out picture the colors look brighter (picture on the right), but when you zoom in the brightness decreases and a soft focus occurs over the picture (picture on the left) (The other picture is made without any digital zoom). This occurrence does not pull away the advantages of digital zoom. The women will not have a water head as you can see on the zoomed picture. Optical zoom is ideal for portrait photos. The Sharp V903 was the first device with this feature, but only had 2x optical zoom. The new Nokia N93 has 3x optical zoom.
There is not one picture which fulfils the extra amount of pixels within the KG920 (5 Mpixel in stead of 3.2 Mpixel within the others). It does not lead to a higher sharpness or a better detail. On other photos the device lacks color or contrast and it makes strange decisions. It chooses a higher sensitivity of ISO 300 with the James Dean photo (which leads to more noise) and the device does not focus correctly. When you look at the photo of the shed it is weird that the KG920 does not choose a higher sensitivity. The shutter speed is quite long: 1/4 second. Next to this the device is really slow. It takes to much time to make a great picture. Interesting is the fact that this camera phone is the first device that 'diaphragmentates'. The James Dean photo is made with f 5.6 and other photos with f 2.8. Other camera phones can only change the exposure by using the shutter speed. This feature is something special in the KG920.
The N73 and the N93 do not differ a lot on photo quality. However the N73 shows an ugly haze on the picture of the still life. The K800i scores the best. However the KG920 shows some great quality in close up, the full size picture shows a different story.
Striking is the fact that the N73 reacts differently in relation to the color setting. It is disturbing in the photo of the canal and quite good in the picture of the street. The photographer could not keep the camera still due to the low shutter speed. The absence of noise is also striking within the N73, because the N93 shows the opposite story. A lot of noise is a normal thing to happen with sensitivities of ISO 400 and higher. The N93 and K800i react the worsest: there are small white dots in the photo. The KG920 has the highest score with little noise but that is due to the high amount of pixels. The device has the lowest shutter speed due to the ISO 400 as maximum. It means keep it steady for quite some time. Also the red light compensation is not that good: the photo is too red.
Surprisingly all devices use the same shutter speeds on both pictures. That is their maximum. With a shortage of light the photo becomes to dark. A digital camera would keep the shutter opened until it received enough light.
We can keep it sort with respect to the flash: all other models do not offer the quality that the K800i can achieve. The K800i flash is a real xenon flash. The KG920 uses also a xenon flash but it lacks real quality in relation to the K800i flash. The other LED lights in the N73 and N93 should not be called a flash and can only be used in sort range. The N93 has the lowest score and has a range of some centimetres. (All pictures are made from a distance of two meters from the object.)
By Peter de Ruiter
General video quality
Video is not the most important part which is discussed in this review, but we cannot ignore it. Video recording is a part of these four devices in which the N93 is mend to record DVD quality video. Unfortunately the quality is not DVD quality. However the N93 has the best video quality of the four devices and offers an image stabilizer as the K800i and N73 do. The VGA resolution and the quality are really high with respect to a phone, but a simple digital camera shots better video than the N93. The N93 is followed by the N73 and KG920. Both record video in reasonable quality. A drawback of the KG920 is the fact that it does not record video in the MP4 format and the maximum resolution is 320 x 240 pixels. The K800i ends the line. The video functionality in this device cannot be related to any of the other devices.
Example videos of the camera phones in 3GP and MP4 format:
When we sum up a complete conclusion of the complete photo quality then it becomes clear that the Sony Ericsson K800i sticks to the number one position. There is no reason to buy the KG920, due to the fact that it takes to much time to make a photo and there is no extra quality in relation to the amount of available pixels. The N73 and N93 are nice devices with a reasonable quality. The N93 is too fat and too large, but has 3x optical zoom.
Especially the easy controls make the difference with respect to the K800i. It is something the other devices cannot match. Taking a picture with one of the three devices from a nice object or current situation is not possible. There are too many steps that need to be addressed before the devices are ready. The current situation is then already gone. The menu of the K800i is also one the easiest ones. All functions have the correct name in any language translation. Something that Nokia should address better.
There are not that many differences in relation to the settings in the devices. The N93 does not have the options pre-flash and red eye reduction. The N93 and N73 do not have a xenon flash. The KG920 has all you need, but the quality within the settings is not the same as the K800i. Options like BestPic, the possibility to shoot panorama photos or frame photos are strong points in the Sony Ericsson device. All these options are not available in the other devices. The BestPic system is something that should be placed in any camera phone. You shoot nine photos and choose the best photos from this set. You will never experience failed photos.
The winner on the flash is the K800i. With a distance of at least several meters the K800i makes the best pictures with enhanced flash. The xenon flash in the KG920 is not as good as the K800i but reaches a distance of one meter. The N93 and N73 have a simple LED light. There is a major difference between the two. The N73 has a higher range than the N93.
Are they no weak points in the K800i? Yes, there are! The video camera is really weak and is not the quality you would expect in such a device. The other three make better video and N93 is the best video camera device in the market currently. However the device does not offer the quality as suggested in the slogan DVD quality video. Next to that the size of the device is something that should be considered.
Can we address the question mentioned at the beginning of this comparison? Yes, we can. The Sony Ericsson K800i is currently the best camera phone. The complete camera quality, control and easy way in which Sony Ericsson build-in the camera options make the device the absolute winner. A drawback is the video. The K800i is closely followed by the N73 and N93. Both offer a stronger video quality than the Sony Ericsson device, but leave points behind on other items. Finally the KG920 suffers on easy control and does not show extra quality in relation to its specifications.
Check out the test photos and test videos make by each device. Below you will find some links to each page where you can check out those photos and videos. At least 18 photos are made by each device. All comparison photos used in this review are also shown on the pages below.
About Peter de Ruiter
Peter de Ruiter is a travel photographer and writer of books about digital photography. He already wrote three books: Digitaal fotograferen zonder handleiding (2005) www.peterderuiter.nl, Pixelskids (2004, voor ouders) www.pixelkids.nl and Digitaal fotograferen onderweg (2004) www.digitaalopreis.nl.
In November the new book Fotograferen met je mobieltje www.fotomobieltje.nl will come out.