Nokia Lumia 920 camera vs. HTC Windows Phone 8X vs. iPhone 5

A three-way camera showdown pits two new Windows phones against the iPhone 5's gold standard.

How does the Nokia Lumia 920's camera compare? Josh Miller/CNET

Nokia has trumpeted the ability of its Nokia Lumia 920's 8.7-megapixel camera with image stabilization, low-light enhancements, and PureView algorithms. Photo quality was strong and fairly consistent, though photos had a blue cast to them and the Lumia 920 had problems with contrast and absolute sharpness compared with the others.

In the meantime, HTC's 8-megapixel Windows Phone 8X took some pretty nice photos as well, though there was more swing between the highs and lows. For its part, the 8-megapixel iPhone 5 won some and lost some, but retained the most consistent.

Don't just take my word for it. Pore through these photos to be your own judge. In most cases, you can click to enlarge them. Unless stated, all photos have been cropped or resized, but are otherwise untouched, and I took all photos using automatic settings and modes -- once I switched the 8X's default from 6-megapixels to 8-megapixels, that is.

Planter box

Nokia Lumia 920 camera test
Nokia Lumia 920 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

HTC Windows Phone 8X Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

iPhone 5 camera comparison
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I'm not sure what happened to the HTC Windows Phone 8X here, but I took this photo multiple times to make sure I wasn't seeing things. I wasn't, because subsequent photos (below) came out looking just fine. In reality, the iPhone 5 did the best job capturing accurate color and sharp lines, though it blows out the whites of the smaller flowers.

Cabbage close-up, full-resolution sample

Nokia Lumia camera test
Nokia Lumia 920 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

HTC Windows Phone 8X Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

iPhone 5 camera comparison test
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Something strange happened when I took this close-up of the cabbage-looking flower on the Lumia 920. I tapped to focus, I held still, and the crystal-clear image softened before my eyes. I took the photo two more times and noticed the exact same thing. The Lumia 920 also candied the pinks. In reality, the flower is a much bluer purple.

The 8X once again muted the colors and edges, and while the iPhone 5 still didn't accurately capture the bloom, this full-resolution sample is the best of the bunch.

Socks

Nokia Lumia 920 camera test
Nokia Lumia 920 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

HTC Windows Phone 8X
HTC Windows Phone 8X Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

iPhone 5
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Each phone did a great job capturing the spirit of the man wearing business shoes and colorful socks. The HTC 8X gives my favorite of the three. I like the contrast and tight focus -- especially look at the yellow stripe and at the speckled stone underfoot. However, the 8X (and iPhone 5) blackens out some details in the trouser cuff that the 920 gets. I just wish that the Lumia 920 had perfected the sock's true berry color the way that the iPhone 5 did.

Flags

Nokia Lumia camera test
Nokia Lumia 920 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

HTC Windows Phone 8X Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

iPhone 5 camera comparison test
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Uh oh! The Lumia 920 was the only camera of the three to let the sunspot glare overtake the entire image. Again, I retook the photo twice more to eliminate my own errors. I prefer the 8X's photo here, because it best represents the sky's blue shade.

Flower power

Nokia Lumia camera test
Nokia Lumia 920 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

HTC Windows Phone 8X camera test
HTC Windows Phone 8X Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

iPhone 5 camera comparison test
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

This was one of those photos that just isn't going to work out no matter how many times you snap it. I took two shots on all three cameras, but none really represented the bright pink bloom taken in the shade. The Lumia 920 blurs the petals and manages to pull out details on the leaves alone.

The 8X's attempt is easier on the eye, but leeches the flower of its vivacious shade. The iPhone 5 similarly went berserk with oversaturated tones, and gives the flower white highlights that didn't exist when I looked at the bloom with my naked eye.

Power Downloader

Nokia Lumia camera test
Nokia Lumia 920 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

HTC Windows Phone 8X Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

This little guy has been with CNET Download.com from its earliest days, so I can't overstate the importance of nailing this portrait of a portrait. The Lumia 920 wins this round. I'm looking back and forth from the painting to the photos as I write this, and to me, the 920 best duplicates the picture's color tones. It's a little lighter, but the iPhone 5's is a tad too rich. The 8X photo is nice, but seems to pull back too much on the reds, making the gold frame yellow and the auburn paint brown.

Haring by night

Nokia Lumia camera test
Nokia Lumia 920 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

HTC Windows Phone 8X Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

iPhone 5 camera comparison test
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The results for this Keith Haring statue surprised me. The iPhone 5 turns the yellow figure more orange, and dampens down the blue while making the red red-hot. HTC's 8X gets everything right except for the red, which is not red enough. I prefer the Lumia 920's treatment of the statue, but the background buildings are overly green, and blacks don't look black enough.

Lights down

Nokia Lumia 920 camera test
Nokia Lumia 920 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

HTC Windows Phone 8X Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

iPhone 5
Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I took these photos of artistic lights in an indoor food court at night. Once again, the Lumia 920 turns whiter walls gray-green. I prefer the 8X's color balance to those from the other two; it's also the closest to capturing the real-life scene.

Faces in the dark

Nokia Lumia camera test
Nokia Lumia 920 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

HTC Windows Phone 8X Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

iPhone 5 camera comparison test
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The Lumia 920 wins this photo of a mural of faces hands down, the clearest justification of its low-light claims. The grainy iPhone 5 photo comes in second, with the HTC Windows Phone 8X trailing far behind.

Night 'falls

Nokia Lumia 920 camera test
Nokia Lumia 920 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

HTC Windows Phone 8X Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

iPhone 5 camera comparison test
iPhone 5 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I'm not crazy about any of these shots, but the iPhone 5 does the best job reproducing the contrast and drama of the waterfalls at night. There's more detail in the blue window to the left, and the stone pillars' craggy shadows are spot-on. The 8X is my second favorite because it communicates the warm tones, followed by the Lumia 920, which carries over its gray-green cast and inability to get blacks quite as inky as the 8X.

 

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