Powerful, fast, and now even water resistant, the Galaxy S5 is Samsung's latest offering into the hyper-competitive smartphone industry. Thrusting in everything from a crisp 1080p screen, to an agile quad-core Snadragon 801 processor, Samsung isn't holding much back to ensure that its new flagship is markedly better than its predecessor.
That includes bumping up the once 13-megapixel shooter to a 16-megapixel one. And throwing in some new editing tricks as well, like enabling users to change the focal point after they take a picture, and annotating photos.
But the mobile business is tough, and full of other devices that are marketed to be just as good, if not better, than whatever Samsung brings to the table. So when it comes to camera chops at least, we had to ask: What's better? The GS5, HTC's newly minted One M8 marquee handset, or the high-end Apple iPhone 5S?
To find out, I took all three phones out in everyday situations and captured a number of shots for real-world testing. All photos were taken within minutes of one another, at the same location and distance from the focal object or scene (though due to its different aspect ratio, pictures on the iPhone 5S appeared as if I were closer, but I wasn't.) All cameras were set on auto-mode with default settings. Two shots ("Indoor group shot" and "Inside the photographer's studio") had the flash manually turned on. Then, along with CNET mobile editor Jessica Dolcourt and photographer Josh Miller, we took a hard look at the pictures.
In general, the GS5 showed solid aptitude with low-light situations. This was much better than the previous GS4, which struggled with dim environments. Another strength was that certain hues, like blues and greens, appeared vibrant without looking too saturated, and objects were consistently crisp and in-focus.
And while each handset had their strength and weaknesses, for the most part, the GS5 outperformed the One M8, with the latter often blowing out and overexposing its photos. Compared to the iPhone 5S, however, the two devices were usually neck and neck. At times we preferred the GS5's color contrast, while there were other photos when the iPhone 5S' even lighting and tone won us over.
To see for yourself, check out the photos below (be sure to click on the pictures individually to view them at their full resolution), and tell us what you think in the reader comments below.
1. Relaxing at the pool
Given that there are zero clouds in the sky, it's a sunny day, and there's an ample amount of even lighting, this photo was the easiest scene to capture. Though there are nuanced differences here and there between the photos, especially in terms of coloring and shadows, all cameras did well, as expected.
2. Meet me at the bench
Due to the overhanging leaves and the backlit setting, this environment had its challenges. The One M8 blew out the sunlight each time, despite several shots. However, both the GS5 and the iPhone 5S did well to balance out the lighting. The latter had a slight edge when it came to retaining the details of the branches and leaves against the sky.
3. Outdoor group shot
In this outdoor group shot, we liked how much the colors popped in the GS5 (notice the radiance of the blue and green sweaters). However, faces were overexposed. On the other hand, the One M8 underexposed the building in the background as well as Cnet Espanol editor Vanessa Hand Orellana's (top center) face. The iPhone 5S had the most even exposure and true-to-life skin tones, though we weren't too thrilled about how muted the colors were compared to the GS5's photo.
4. Inside the nursery
Once again, the sky in the GS5 is lighter than the others, however the green hues do standout positively. There is also a subtle tinge of purple in the One M8's nursery. Lastly, the sky's blue hue in the iPhone 5S photo is the most accurate through the netting and beyond.
5. Hydrangeas for sale
All three photos show ample amount of details in the leaves and flower petals, though the One M8 came off darker than the rest. In addition, while the yellow accents in the hydrangeas to the left are more prominent in the iPhone 5S, the blueness of the flowers on the bottom left is more vibrant in the One M8.
6. Hydrangeas up close
In our closer crop shot, the hydrangeas looked the most vibrant with the One M8. However, there is a wider color variation with the iPhone 5S; the different gradation of purples look more distinct, whereas the GS5's petals look flat.
7. Wait, let me Instagram this
In this #nomnomnom-worthy picture, the GS5's nachos were the obvious favorite. Despite the dim lighting, the camera was able to retain many details. Furthermore, exposure levels came off more even than the others.
8. A little mood lighting
Despite several takes, the One M8's camera included a lens flare with these candles. The GS5 and the iPhone 5S both did a good job with this shot, but we preferred the latter's ability to retain slightly more detail with the red glasses.
9. Indoor group shot
With very low lighting and an indoor setting, we set up this picture to be a challenging shot for all the handsets. And while none did a spectacular job with this test, we liked the One M8's performance the most. True, it's a bit dimmer than the others, but its flash didn't blow out any of the faces and it looked the most natural.
10. Let's go to the movies
In this indoor shot, you can see how much the One M8 blew out the white pillars on either side of the picture, as well as the lights located in the middle. On the other hand, the other two phones did a satisfactory job. Furthermore, the pillar on the right in the GS5's shot looked better exposed than the iPhone 5S'.
11. A closer look
Cropping into the golden arc at the movies, you can see the details lost with the One M8. Colors are more vivid with the GS5's shot, and when compared to the iPhone 5S, there's slightly less digital artifacts.
12. Time to boop that nose
I got as close to my dog as I could without losing focus, and all photos were taken at the same distance. Using touch focus on his nose (though still in automatic mode without any sort of "macro zoom" setting), I wanted to see how much detail I could capture. While the iPhone 5S had the most overexposed photo out of the three, it gave the most detail. On the other hand, the GS5 showed more color variation, and the shade of fur was more accurate in this picture.
13. Trickle-down effect
In an attempt to capture moving water, I got up close and personal with this fountain. While the One M8 is overexposed compared to the rest, we preferred it since the water droplets look the most crisp and sharp than the other two.
14. Inside the photographer's studio
In our standard studio shot, all phones had their flashes turned on. The GS5's flash cast an unattractive blue hue over the white background. On the other hand, both the One M8 and the iPhone 5S' flashes were more subtle. The former came off a bit underexposed, while in the latter you can see the iPhone's flash near the center of the picture.
15. But last, let me take a selfie
In these (bonus!) front-facing camera photos, we compared the GS5's 2-megapixel shooter with the One M8's 5-megapixel and the iPhone 5S' 1.2-megapixel cameras. Though it cast a blue hue against the white wall, the One M8 took the sharpest photo by far and was our favorite. And while the iPhone 5S' picture overexposed the background, the portrait was brighter compared to the GS5's.