Android cameras

The new software improves the Moto X camera, but how does it compare to other Android phones?

The Moto X camera got quite an update last week. It looks as if focus, color compensation, and the magic algorithms that turn data into pictures was tweaked pretty heavily, too. There were some really good comparisons between the old and the new when the update rolled out to T-Mobile customers.

The Developer Edition Moto X also shipped with the new software, and it gave me a chance to grab a handful of popular Android phones and snap a few pictures.  Folks are curious how well the "new" Moto X camera compares to the other great phones out there, and hopefully this will help. Hit the break, have a look.

Discuss: Moto X forums; Android photography forums

It's a pretty dreadful day here, but between rain showers I was able run up to post office with my bag o' phones. I also flipped on a couple daylight color temp lamps and took some indoor pictures. My methods:

  • Everything automatic
  • Tap to focus, then shoot enabled if available
  • Auto HDR enabled if available
  • I shoot in 16:9 if available, because that's what I'm most comfortable with
  • I took five pictures of each subject with each phone, and picked out the single best

Note, these have been resized to fit the web. Click them to open a bit bigger. The full versions of all the pictures, unedited and straight out of the respective cameras, are available on Google+.

Samsung Galaxy S4 (T-Mobile)

S4close-up  S4 general indoors

S4 outside

HTC One (Developer Edition, with Android 4.3)

HTC One close up  HTC One general indoors

HTC One outside

LG G2 (AT&T)

G2 close up  G2 general indoors

G2 outside

Nexus 4

Nexus 4 close up  Nexus 4 indoors

Nexus 4 outside

Moto X (old software)

Moto X (old)  Moto X (old)

Moto X (old)

Moto X (new software)

Moto X (new)  Moto X (new)

Moto X (new)

Some random thoughts and observances

I'll let you decide which is best, and how each compares to the other. But there are a few things I noticed that I want to pass along.

  • The Galaxy S4 had a hard time focusing on the second shot (the one with the I/O bugdroid). I'm not sure why, and it's a problem I've not seen before. I call it an anomaly, but still included the image and wanted to mention it. The camera on the S4 is far better than this one picture would leave you to believe, and the other two show that.
  • The old Moto X camera software uses HDR (when in auto-HDR mode) more often than the new. Not sure if this is good or bad, but I wanted to mention it.
  • The G2 is by far the fastest at focusing and taking the picture. I'm not sure if it's the hardware or the software, but I know if I were buying a phone solely for the best camera, it would be the G2. By a mile.
  • If all you want to do with your pictures is post the to Facebook or Google+, any of these phones would be just fine for you. Even the throw-away images were good enough for the web.
 
There are 76 comments

Hard to tell the diff when laid out separately instead of side by side

gravage says:

^This! Not sure why it was done this way, but it makes for an awkward comparison.

rrasho24 says:

Please update the comparison shots... can't tell anything from this layout

Jonneh says:

right click --> open in new tab

then

right click other photo --> open in new tab

now switch between the tabs and compare. images are already loaded nicely in the tabs, so the switch is 1 second. Ta daaa.

To Everyone Above: You're welcome!

gravage says:

Most of us aren't idiots. That STILL makes for an awkward comparison. It never should have been laid out this way in the first place. It's just lazy blogging.

Not so sure about that.

The last time I did something like this and placed them side by side, people cried that they couldn't tell which one was from which device. 

This was actually harder to do than placing them together. FWIW, I have zero difficulty opening each in a tab and switching back and forth, nor did I have any difficulty discerning which was which. 

frettfreak says:

was thinking the same. Really hard to get a good read on a pic if you have to keep closing it and opening another.

dwd3885 says:

U can easily open them in a different window and look.

Posted via Android Central App

parmy5521 says:

It looks like the moto-x is about on par. I switched from an Iphone 5 and can't get over how sick this device is!! I hope AT&T get's the update soon.

drokssilva says:

Almost anything is better then an iPhone. Almost

Posted via The Android Central App

lensgrabber says:

I have to mention Touchwiz. hmm nah.. IOS is worse.

Chanlion says:

Is it just me or the difference barley noticeable? Think all the phones have reached a similar quality.

paisley99 says:

The differences to me are pretty obvious.

But try looking at just the white wall in the mini robot photo.

This. 

These aren't to show pretty pictures. Just different colors and surfaces to see how the cameras focus and adjust.

S4, G2 and HTC One all made the white background white, even with a 400watt HPS orange lamp glowing at it. N4 and Moto X couldn't get past the orange.

Look at the bright white spot on the bug droids head. It's a Cree LED shined directly to make that spot. It's hard to take a picture with that going on. Ideally, you want the edge of that spot AND the rest of the picture to focus. The better this is done, the better the camera.

I really wish it had been a sunny day, but there is no app to control the weather.

 

_X_ says:

True ideally you want your finals to have the white white but that is easily fixed. Especially with some of the great free app out today.

What is hard for a camera to capture and hard for many to test is the dynamic range of color and intensity. What you eluded to in your third paragraph. It's hard to tell with the pictures because they are not the same (except the newsstand). But the HTC and G2 look the best.

What I would like to see from Android central reviews, in addition to the excellent real world samples, is pictures of a color chart and dynamic range in their phone reviews. I know it's not real world but at least we would have a consistent reference.

aaronwe says:

"I really wish it had been a sunny day, but there is no app to control the weather."

Yet.

shariteau says:

I prefer a camera that captures what it is looking at. Was the wall white when you looked at it yourself? If so then wouldn't the X be better. In my experience (I do things differently) I want an orange hue I see to be captured and not "corrected" to what it might kinda sorta probably be. Not an X defender, currently with One X (EV4GLTE). It still frustratingly oranges out any skin tone.

TonyHoyle says:

Same here.. The S4 is the only one I wouldn't be happy with as it's too bright. I guess a pro photographer can see loads of differences that an average guy like me wouldn't.

Posted via Android Central App

Amir47 says:

Best camera is G2's? Kinda making my choice simple come black friday

Posted via Android Central App

My tl;dr version:

G2 is the best, by far. 

Old Moto X is the worst.

The rest are about the same. 

_X_ says:

what does "tl;dr" mean

Too long; didn't read

Posted via Android Central App

_X_ says:

Thanks I would have never guessed.

rovex says:

The N4 is by FAR the worst. No detail, hazy, washed out, poor colour, low contrast. The old Moto X is a bit over processed, but at least its clear and sharp.

The old Moto X images can be fixed in post process, but there is no fixing the N4 images.

frettfreak says:

the N4 is also by FAR the oldest phone in the mix so cut it a little break. If you wanted a fair comparison it would have been the n4, a galaxy s3 and HTC one X. lets see what the N5 has to offer!!

rovex says:

The N4 camera is far worse than the S3 or the One X, its hardly up to the standard of the generation before that.

Why bring the N5 into this? Some people are REALLY precious about the Nexus line.

Ratnok says:

And some people are clearly anti-nexus no matter what.

Posted via Android Central App

rovex says:

If they make one with a great camera it will have a great camera, the N4 camera is rubbish though.

NoNexus says:

Wow, new douche levels for you. Someone on your site posted something and you are giving a tl;dr?

I am embarrassed for you

I posted it.

My name is clearly written as the author.

In English.

In bold font.

At the very top, right after the title.

Also the same way on mobile.

And on the AC App.

Thanks for paying attention. Now you see why I bother to give a tl;dr. 

droidhead_1 says:

You got owned...

Posted via Android Central App

Jonneh says:

This comment combined with Jerry's reply is the funniest thing I have read in awhile. :-)

What's wrong with giving people a tl;dr;? Learn to just let stuff go. We're just here talking about phones for crying out loud.

TheLegoman says:

I am embarrassed for you.

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cowkong says:

Doesn't the camera on the One Google Edition not work as well as the Sense 5 version? Should have used that

ne0ne says:

Yeah. I did a side by side with gpe vs sense camera apk. But he is using sense. Just the developer edition one with 4.3. Still sense 5

Posted via Android Central App

olorin says:

Raining like cats and dogs...

Posted via Android Central App

BigDinCA says:

I'd kill for some cool rain here in SoCal. I'm sick of the sun already. It's the autumn but it still feels like summer. On Mercury. Honestly I don't know why I live here. I f'ing hate it. And traffic is THE WORST. I'm surprised it hasn't led to more murders. The problem is that everyone here is an asshole and drives like it. Except me.

By the way, nice pics, Jerry. Except for the old Moto X - those suck balls.

jazbojenkins says:

I agree, I am ready for some rain!

Posted via Android Central App

the G2 seems to be the best of the set...
s4 exposure is way too high...
moto x gives the wall a pinkish tint (with both new and old software)...
htc is a bit underexposed...
n4 saturation/ vibrance is higher than it should be...

rovex says:

The G2 and HTC are the best in the third picture. The HTC has the best natural colour and balance, the G2 has great detail, but the colour is a little unnatural.

The S4 is a bit off in colour and the Moto is clearly over processed, but looks good, if fake.

The N4 is horrible on every level.

_X_ says:

Yep I'm in agreement on all except I the old Moto X is on the bottom. The Nexus is okay.

rovex says:

Im not seeing that at all. The N4 is a very distant last. The old Moto X is artificial looking, but its clear at least. All the N4 pictures lack detail, are hazy, washed out looking. They look like they were taken on a webcam.

_X_ says:

Are we talking about cameras or the after image processing? For instance the Moto X es are still the same camera. The only enhancements are in the software. They are color correcting and edge enhancing the photos. You can see that in the images.

What I'm talking about is the camera capability. Just the color reproduction, saturation and the depth. The nexus seems to handle dark colors well as well as white colors and also the glares.

You can always enhance your pictures later to add more natural colors and sharpen images but you cannot change the base quality.

rovex says:

No its not that, the N4 just has a poor lens. Suspect the Moto X software isnt yet optimised very well. It took HTC ages to sort out the One camera, the hardware was always capable, the software was the problem.

With the N4 you just have a bad camera unit. Software, rather than bringing out the best, is only ever going to just hide the worst.

moosc says:

Why didn't you add your iPhone 5s pics also.

Posted via Android Central App

BigDinCA says:

Because this is Android Central. If you're going to base your mobile OS decision strictly on this year's flagship device cameras then you have bigger problems.

Jerry mentioned he would get one eventually so he can compare to devices in the future. But I doubt he was living in a tent outside of the apple store to get one.

|❌_❌|

return_0 says:

What about the Z1?

Posted from my pure Google Nexus 4 using the AC app.

jakedsnake says:

Has there been a more over-rated phone than the Moto X? Googlerola pumped up the marketing and hype on this mediocre phone full of useless gimmicks. There's no way this crappy phone is going to live up to expectations.

Says the guy that never used one.

|❌_❌|

aggie says:

Funny. I have a G2, Lumia 1020, HTC One, Nexus 4, Moto X, and iPhone 5s and the Moto X is easily my favorite device to use. Couldn't care less about the specs it is the best overall user experience to me from the way it feels in hand to how smooth it operates to the touchless control and overall build quality.

jimbo says:

Hey Tex, it's a canera/photo comparison. The Moto X better have a good user experience or it would seriously hamper Motorola's comeback. Doesn't quite live up to Google's stated camera/photo objectives.

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aggie says:

If you would read the comment thread correctly you would notice I was replying to the commenter/troll above who called the X a crap phone. Jerry's camera comparison is pretty much spot on with my experience.

jimbo says:

Got it Tex. My apology.

Posted via Android Central App

jimbo says:

Decent variety of comparison photos, Jerry. Thank goodness for the significant improvement in all smartphone cameras since now the world's people use them significantly more frequently to photo record practically everything.

I think the HTC One photos look the best. Unfortunately low light advantage many shooters confront is not compared here. The S4 is close but I can't stand cartoonist AMOLED screens which isn't part of this evaluation. Moreover, the S4 has an unsufferable lack of internal memory.

Generally, none appear to be necessary to avoid.

Posted via Android Central App

frettfreak says:

not to get too far off track here.. but the s4 is one of the only phones listed up there to have an SD slot... not much of a memory problem. loved having the sd on my s3. 64gb card and set everything to store there not on internal. You will almost never realize its not internal storage.

jimbo says:

INTERNAL memory necessary for the smooth functioning of apps their data and cache that are required to fit on the balance of available internal memory. With the S4 it's a little over 8 GB. I'm currently using 5.5 GB and only keep installed what I use. External memory (SD card) is irrelevant to the problem. Takes a lot repeated education for some to learn why certain handsets get slow, sketchy, force close and reboot.

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Ratnok says:

You're right about people needing to learn more. Too bad the problem is not what you think it is. The real problem is with fsTrim. It has nothing to do with sd cards.

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jimbo says:

A small amount of available INTERNAL memory is a significant "capacity" problem that results in serious performance issues exactly as I described above.

fsTrim is different issue that causes degradation of performance. The average user has no control of fsTrim when making a handset (hardware) purchase decision. Newer versions of Android will better manage fsTrim issues.

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rampage1979 says:

Def the G2 wins followed by the HTC one.

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jimbo says:

Yes rampage, the G2 has the best gradient detail in the blacks of the lens cover and camcorder. The IPS display has been reviewed as gorgeous yet the auto brightness is wonky constantly changing which is irritating. Hopefully LG will quickly correct that.

With that said, I change my ranking to G2 and HTC One contingent on low light photos - not compared.

If you like large form factors with the latest awesome Snapdragon A800, and a great camera the LG G2 is the standard to beat. Forget the S4 for the reasons stated in my previous post.

Posted via Android Central App

aaronwe says:

Too bad LG's changes to Android are so fugly and the AT&T version is filled with crapware.

This has me very excited for the Nexus 5, if only because the similarities should make it relatively easy to get a CM or a stock ROM running on the G2, with all the camera goodness.

frettfreak says:

Hey Jerry, wondering why you didn't use an HTC one with the Sense software? Sounding like you used a GPE? Just wondering cause i have teh One, and have used both GPE and Sense and IMO, the imaging software in sense makes a pretty nice difference. Just curious.

dwd3885 says:

He used an HTC One Developer Edition. That's not a Goole Play Edition device.

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Amir47 says:

In wondering why you don't know the difference between Google edition and dev edition.

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Is there any reason (other than Space and Speed) for phones not to have RAW shooting mode? (I suppose camera sensors in phones can still capture more than 8bit/channel and that would be a good alternative to HDR in some situations)
BTW, now that G+ support RAW image formats could this be a sign for Nexus 5 being able to shoot in RAW? I'm hopping it gets the same OIS as in G2;)

jimbo says:

Interesting thought regarding G+ and RAW leading into the N5 and perhaps Google achieving their canera/photo objectives.

Posted via Android Central App

Mo ZedEl says:

I'm willing to wager that the g2 is the best android camera phone out there at the moment

Check out the lowlight shots in this comparison
goo.gl / DEevM3

Posted via George Foreman Grill

tantai says:

Thanks Jerry. Nice job.

joeynox says:

Ive had the g2 for a week and the camera is good in bright surroundings but in low light and dim settings its horrendous. My nokia lumia920 blows it out of the water. Also the view finder has to be the worst view finder ever on a phone in dim light.
Once again any lumia or iphone is realtime with no lag when the G2 is laggy

http://forums.androidcentral.com/lg-g2/318888-poor-low-light-view-finder.html

We know. Except you're not being truthful, as the evidence in this forum thread shows. Unless you would like to share your examples, complete with the full EXIF data, of course.

robtani says:

Sooo lame to have such a layout!! It's really hard to compare the pics..why not have them side by side??

ro_bro says:

What would be awesome in future camera tests is moving objects, like a dog or a kid. I'm always trying to take pics of my kids, who can't seem to stand still like a newsstand. Can you please include moving object pictures in the future? Thanks for a great post otherwise.

Sandrajn says:

After the big update, now when I click on the just-snapped picture to view it, it stays bright for only a few seconds before darkening. I have looked in every type of setting I can think of, but I can't find a way to get back to the better, brighter view of pictures. Can anyone help?

Nat Novak says:

Sandrain - I'm having the same problem, but only in the "photos" app. If I open the same pic in the "album" app, the photo is the correct brightness. Trying to figure out a way to make the album app the default viewer within the camera app...