Camera shootout II: Nokia 808 PureView vs. Apple iPhone 4S vs. HTC One X (pictures)

As part of its rated review of the Nokia 808 PureView, CNET Asia pits Nokia's 41-megapixel camera phone against the iPhone 4S and HTC One X in a photo shootout.

Shawn Low
Jacqueline Seng
Jacqueline Seng is a presenter/writer for CNET Asia, focusing on mobile phones. Her induction into the world of IT involved typing out stories on a computer in kindergarten -- not that much has changed.
Aloysius Low Senior Editor
Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.
Jacqueline Seng
Aloysius Low
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We chose the iPhone 4S for this comparison because it has one of the best cameras in the smartphone market today. But in a change from our first 808 PureView shootout, we're doing a more in-depth and methodical comparison that will also include the HTC One X. (Note: Some readers have asked about including the Nokia N8, but we've not because it's no longer easily available in Asia now.)

Methodology: All photos were shot at 8 megapixels and on default settings, unless otherwise mentioned. For the Nokia 808 PureView, it was set to capture photos at "PureView resolution" and at its highest quality. The Nokia handset's advantage is its "pixel overlay" technology, where seven pixels on its sensor are combined together to form one "superpixel."

Blind test: All three photos were viewed on a calibrated monitor in full, then at 100 percent crop (what you are currently viewing). Note that we have included links to view the full-size images for your comparison.

Full resolution: 808 | iPhone | One X

Aloysius: The iPhone captured the nicest picture based on the exposure for me when viewed on the monitor. However, when zoomed in for a 100 percent crop, I found the 808 to deliver the best level of detail -- even down to the metal grain of the walls.

Jacqueline: The 808's color reproduction is truest to the scene, which was slightly warm. Hands down, it wins on clarity. You can even see the patterns on the glass walls in the background. I find it slightly overexposed, though.

Shawn: In dark interiors, the iPhone 4S always appears warm, while the One X seemed to be oversharpened, making it grainier than the rest. The 808 stood out with accurate colors and better image quality in low-light conditions.

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Full resolution: 808 | iPhone | One X

Aloysius: Likewise, it seems that the iPhone manages to get the colors and exposure of the image just right, but the 808 simply catches all the detail when you dig down to the 100 percent crop. The water droplets are captured perfectly without any motion blur, and you can still see the details of the rock grain. The One X fared the worst among the three.

Jacqueline: If you look at the full picture, the HTC One X's was overexposed, the 808's was too dark, but the iPhone's was the most evenly exposed. Zooming in to a 100 percent crop, though, the 808's picture had the least motion blur of the three and has the most shadow detail.

Shawn: The 808 captured the sharper image of the water with the droplets hovering in midair. I found it strange that the rest just captured a blur even for a pretty bright setting.

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Full resolution: 808 | iPhone | One X

Aloysius: The iPhone seems to do pretty well here, better than the 808. Despite its prowess in capturing detail, the 808 doesn't hold up well when it comes to focusing distance -- which means you won't be able to get up close and personal. The HTC One X's imaging algorithm seems to be overly aggressive, resulting in a very grainy image.

Jacqueline: For this test, we're also taking into account focusing distance; that's why you'll notice that the framing differs in each shot.

The HTC One X's picture is overly saturated and the edges of the petals seem to "bleed" into each other. The iPhone's shot gives the most detail on the 100 percent crop, but the 808's color reproduction is the most natural.

Shawn: Among the three, the iPhone 4S stands out, as it can focus the closest and rendered the sharpest of details such as the veins of the petal and the stigmata. The One X, on the other hand, seems oversaturated, which resulted in a loss of image detail. In terms of close focusing, the 808's minimum focusing distance was the farthest among the three.

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Full resolution: 808 | iPhone | One X

Aloysius: The One X has the most natural shot here. The colors don't seem to be overly saturated or underexposed. However, when you look at the 100 percent crop pictures, the 808's detail and clarity are unmatched. The One X suffers from too much noise, while the iPhone 4S delivers quite an impressive shot.

Jacqueline: At a 100 percent crop, the edges of the sculptures are still very clean and sharp for the 808. You can even see individual blades of grass, whereas the HTC and Apple images are grainier. Compared with pictures from the other two handsets, the colors in photos from the 808 are slightly muted.

Shawn: At a 100 percent crop, the 808's pictures have an edge in terms of sharpness thanks to its larger sensor, while the iPhone produced images with a warmer tone. The best frame was from the One X, which produced images with pleasing color rendition with an even exposure across the frame.

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Full resolution: 808 | iPhone | One X

Aloysius: The HTC One X's picture was a tad underexposed, while the iPhone 4S seems to deliver the best-looking shot. At the 100 percent crop level, the 808 again beats the competition hands down. The HTC One X's picture was just too grainy at the same level.

Jacqueline: Overall, the iPhone has the most evenly exposed image, but its color rendition is slightly too warm. The shots from the 808 and One X fare evenly when you view the scaled-down version, but at 100 percent crop, it's a different matter entirely. I like the smooth lines of the bottle and details in the little white flowers from the 808.

Shawn: Viewing image samples at 100 percent, you can tell the iPhone is soft and the One X is still oversharpened. In terms of exposure, the iPhone 4S stands out with a more even exposure, while the One X seems a little underexposed. The best among the three is the 808, which rendered the sharpest image detail without going overboard in the noise-processing department.

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Low light

Full resolution: 808 | iPhone | One X

Aloysius: At the low-light levels, the iPhone's shot seems to have the best colors. The One X's has better details compared with the iPhone 4S' at 100 percent, but the 808's (and I sound like a parrot here) has the best details.

Jacqueline: The One X's shot fares worst here, as it is underexposed. At 100 percent crop, both the HTC and Apple handsets have "smudged" the letters on the bottle. On the other hand, when it comes to the 808's picture, you can see the detail of the wall's surface and even make out letters on the wine bottle.

Shawn: The 808 had the best of both worlds, retaining the best image detail while having the least amount of noise. The One X's picture tends to be quite aggressive in sharpening, which results in jagged edges and increased noise. However, the worst was from the iPhone 4S, which was the softest with smeared details.

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Low-light with flash

Full resolution: 808 | iPhone | One X

Aloysius: The One X's variable flash seems to deliver the best image. Everything seems well lit without the annoying whiteness that usually comes when taking a picture with flash turned on. The One X also does well with the details, but not as good as 808, of course.

Jacqueline: The iPhone's flash just flooded the entire setup with light, yet it still looks blurry. Again, the 808 wins hands down for detail. The One X isn't too shabby in this aspect, with even lighting.

Shawn: The 808's flash provided the harshest illumination, which looked more like a beam from a torch. It also created a pink color cast in images produced. The iPhone 4S's flash was merely passable. The One X's flash was the best among the lot; I felt that it provided a more natural illumination that balanced well with the ambient light.

8 of 8 Jessica Dolcourt/CNET


Aloysius: Nokia's PureView 808 is simply unbeatable in the smartphone category at the moment. Sure, it's a bulky device and it's running an OS that the company has left for dead, but if you're looking for a camera that lets you make calls and check e-mails, the 808 is it. If Nokia can port its PureView technology to a Windows Phone, that would be a lethal combination that could help Windows Phone meet predictions made by analysts about getting a 15 percent market share of smartphones by 2015.

Jacqueline: I was probably too harsh on the 808 PureView in my previous post, and overly concerned with evening the battlefield for both handsets. That ended up appearing biased, which was not my intention -- I'm not even an iPhone user. The article could also have been worded more clearly and appropriately.

Thanks to the feedback from our readers, I'm glad we've managed to put together a fairer and more balanced shootout this time. I've also taken the results into consideration for the 808 PureView's review, which will include images taken at the maximum effective resolution of 38 megapixels.

I'll come right out and say the 808 PureView has the best image quality -- the level of detail is unrivaled. One aspect I neglected to mention in my previous post was how the 808's low-light performance blows the competition away.

My only issue with it is that its color reproduction has the tendency to appear slightly muted, especially under fluorescent lighting. Those who have the time and know-how to tweak it with imaging software won't have an issue with that.

Shawn: After the battery of tests, the Nokia 808 PureView came out tops and impressed me with the high level of image detail retained even in extremely low-light conditions -- a situation that many smartphone cameras struggle with. It also produced images with pleasing color without being overly saturated. However, I wished the 808 could focus closer -- like the iPhone 4S -- seeing that many users love to do food closeups and improve its onboard flash for more-flattering portraits.

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