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Battle of the super camera phones: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom vs Nokia Lumia 1020

Posted on 23 September 2013

For the last couple of years cameras on smartphones have been pushed aside as a top feature by bigger, brighter screens and faster processors. But now Nokia and Samsung have announced, in spectacular fashion, the return of cameras as a main selling point for their smartphones.

Boasting super high end camera specs while maintaining great smartphone features the Galaxy S4 Zoom and Lumia 1020 have waged war on blurry Facebook photos. But which takes the best photographs?

What's supposed to make these camera phones so great?

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, as you might have guessed from the name, has a lens that can zoom like a digital camera. In fact, it has a 10x optical zoom lens, which means you can zero in on your subject from a very long way away. The awesome lens is paired with a 16MP digital camera sensor so your pictures are sharp. And because it's all proper camera hardware, not miniaturised and compromised smartphone versions, you can change all the settings just like on a normal digital camera. So if you're a budding photographer you'll be able to perfect your shots.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 has tried to get the same digital camera features that the S4 Zoom has without the bulk and awkward shape. Nokia has therefore given its camera phone a massive 41MP camera sensor and a miniaturised version of optical image stabilisation (OIS). The idea is that with so many pixels you can zoom in on your pictures without losing quality and without a big zoom lens.

Which gives the best colour representation?

In our sample photos the Nokia Lumia 1020 produced the best colours in almost all situations, the one exception being the HDR photos when the sun was behind our subject. In all the others photos, though, the S4 Zoom produced very pale, washed out images. This meant bright colours were quite far from reality and whites were so bright they became blurred, losing detail.

Which takes the sharpest photos?

When it comes to the sharpness of the photos the S4 Zoom wins the fight. The Lumia 1020 photos don't have quite as crisp an edge to them and fine detail is lost as you zoom in on the image. It could be that Nokia's tiny OIS can't keep the camera lens quite as steady as the system on the S4 Zoom.

Which is best if what I'm shooting is a long way away?

There are no prizes for guessing that the S4 Zoom was the best for this test. Even though Nokia claims there's no need to zoom before taking a photo when you have 41MP to use afterwards, the Lumia 1020 was a long way off capturing the detail the S4 Zoom could. We put the zoom on these phones through a pretty extreme test, shooting the arch of Wembley stadium from around three miles away.

Which copes best with different lighting?

We wanted to test the phones with and without flash in low light, but both were abysmal without flash so we gave up on that (if you really want a phone that can take a photo without the flash try the Nokia Lumia 925). With flash, however, they both performed very well. Colour and clarity were very good and the Xenon flash that they both use has fantastic range. The only problem was with the S4 Zoom, where we often got a lot of glare from the flash when objects were too close.

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