Apple's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are the new leaders on a French optical lab's test of photo and video quality, demoting the Samsung Galaxy S5 to third place.
Apple sets the "gold standard for smartphone image quality," DxO Labs said in DxOMark Mobile scores released Tuesday for Apple's newest iPhones.
They're tied with a score of 82, a notch ahead of the GS5 and Sony's Xperia Z2 and Z3, all tied at 79. DxO bases its scores on lab testing of color reproduction, noise, exposure, contrast, autofocus, texture preservation and other attributes for both video and still photos.
"They have very good, generally reliable auto-exposure in a wide range of lighting conditions, and they have both fast and accurate autofocus," DxO Labs concluded. "Output from the 8-megapixel stills improves the high level of detail in both outdoor and indoor lighting. In low light, noise reduction is handled well with images revealing fine-grained luminance noise."
That may be a dry assessment, but it's important given how central photography has become to smartphones.
In olden days, phones were used for talking to other people. That's still important, but capturing moments in our lives is a top priority, and with phones' full-time Internet access to services like Facebook, photos are now part of routine daily communication, too. Apple has made camera quality a consistent high priority for its iPhones.
The victory over Samsung's Galaxy S5 was narrow. Samsung's higher megapixel count does better when preserving the fine detail of textures, but the iPhones pull ahead. "The great autofocus that is clearly leading today's competition directly translates into a lead in the overall score," DxO said. The autofocus advantage helps both with video and photo scores.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus share the same image sensor, so it's no surprise they fare similarly, but the 6 Plus has optical stabilization that can counteract some camera shake. The image stabilization improves HDR images, which combine multiple exposures into a single shot, and helps smooth videos taken while walking. However, DxO dinged Apple for a stabilization artifact on the iPhone 6 Plus that actually gave it a lower image-stabilization score than for the iPhone 6.
Sales of the new iPhones kicked off September 19, and Apple said it sold 10 million units over launch weekend. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are most notable for their scaled-up screen sizes of 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches, respectively. The smartphones start at $199 with a two-year contract for the iPhone 6 with 16 gigabytes of storage and go up to $499 for the 6 Plus with 128GB of memory.