BlackBerry Z10 camera versus iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3

Three 8-megapixel smartphone cameras face off around downtown San Francisco to determine the most accurate click in the west.

BlackBerry Z10, Samsung Galaxy S3, iPhone 5
Samsung Galaxy S3 (far right), BlackBerry Z10, and the iPhone 5. Josh Miller/CNET

BlackBerrys haven't always had the top cameras in the industry, but with the BlackBerry Z10 's 8-megapixel camera, things are turning around.

In my tests so far, the Z10's shooter largely succeeds. Over the course of my testing period, I got some really nice outdoor shots, plus some crisp indoor photos of everything from food labels to receipts. Of course, not every indoor picture or portrait turned out great, but I found the images usable overall (check out my Z10 review for even more photos).

So let's see how it compares with two other high-quality smartphone cameras, the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3.

The rules

Before I launch into the comparisons, a few notes and disclaimers. First, why only three cameras? Practicality for both our parts. It takes a long time to shoot, process, upload, and format 36 photos. Three also happens to be the magic number for the number of images that will fit into your browser screen at once.

Second, I took all photos using each camera's automatic settings: no fancy filters, modes, nada. I want to see how the raw sensor and algorithms do without any fiddly settings, and besides, I had to keep things fair. While there's a deep pool of post-production editing tools on the Z10, you won't find ISO settings or white balance presets in the camera app.

Oh yeah, I also tried to stand in and focus on the exact same spot and took the photos seconds after each other.

Third, unless I explicitly label the photos as full-resolution image (cropped, of course), expect that the picture has been resized and cropped, but it otherwise untouched. In many cases, you can click to enlarge the image.

Finally, I am not a professional photographer. In fact, I'm about as average a smartphone photog as you can get. That means that if you're a budding pro, you'll probably be able to take every photo better than I did. If you're more of a casual clicker, these images will be about what you could expect if you were snapping a picture of a friend, a landmark, a funny sign, a pretty skyline.

The pictures

Keith Haring statue

Taken with the BlackBerry Z10
BlackBerry Z10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Taken with the iPhone 5
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Taken with the Samsung Galaxy S3
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I was happy with all these photos, taken in the mid-afternoon winter sun. You'll notice a huge discrepancy in the way each camera handles the blue tones. The Galaxy S3 tends to lighten the background most.



Haring up close (full res)

BlackBerry Z10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Up close in this full-resolution crop, the noise patterns really come to the forefront for all three.



Flowers

BlackBerry 10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I see the most flower petal detail in the Z10, but am taken aback by the crazy candied green leaves. The GS3's color reproduction is also off -- too pale for the richly hued purple flower.



Waterfall

BlackBerry 10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

On the whole, the Z10 and iPhone produce the clearer, more detailed images to my eyes. Samsung's camera seems more whitewashed.



Water, full resolution

BlackBerry Z10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

To me, the iPhone and GS3 edge the Z10 in the detail around the streams of water (the Z10 looks a tad "softer"), but you'll also notice that the top two once again share a more similar color palette.



Buildings

BlackBerry 10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Taken from a distance, all three photos of these downtown buildings look similar.



Metreon lights

BlackBerry 10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

To me, the Z10 is slightly softer than the iPhone 5 and GS3; take a look at left edge of the largest coppery orb, and the X pattern reflected on the top.



Howard Street (full resolution)

BlackBerry 10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The iPhone 5 is the hands-down winner of this close-up of a street name etched into the sidewalk. It captures dark blacks, the most details, and the sharpest lines. The Z10 takes second place.



SF Weekly

BlackBerry Z10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The Z10 gets my vote here. At the focus point, the paper's logo, it's bright and clear. Though the GS3 offers similar light on the stand, its has a hazy quality.



The reader

BlackBerry 10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

CNET car tech reviewer Antuan Goodwin is always game to sit for test shots -- even when I bark at him to sit perfectly still. I prefer the top two photos.



The reader, full resolution

BlackBerry 10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

In a closer look at these photos, the iPhone 5 did slightly better capturing the focal point (the center of Antuan's face). The Z10 keeps more of his face in focus (like the brows), but its lens likely has a different focal length as well.



Kate O's

BlackBerry 10 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Samsung Galaxy S3 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The Z10 created the photo I'd like to look at most, though the iPhone 5 did a better job capturing the background behind an to the right of the neon tubes.


What do you think of camera performance on these three phones? Leave a comment below to chime in.

 

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