Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, GoogleS

Last year's Nexus 4 was a wonderful phone paired with a miserably subpar camera. By contrast, the Nexus 5 is loaded with all the excellence Google and LG could muster, including a camera that can almost keep up with the big boys. Here's how it stacks up.

Just how good is the camera on the Nexus 5? We put it up against our other favorite smartphone shooters: Nokia Lumia 1020, Apple iPhone 5, and HTC One. Here's how they stack up in a variety of conditions. All of the cameras have different image sensors, different resolutions, and different lenses, but we did our best to make the comparisons as fair as possible.

Nexus 4 vs Nexus 5

Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, GoogleS

As I noted above, the Nexus 4 camera was a disaster. Rather than run comparisons between this year's model and last year's model over and over again for each scenario, I ran a simple rooftop side by side in the middle of some inclement weather we had earlier this week. Don't let the Nexus 5 photo's slightly darker exposure fool you; it's much better on everything from detail to graininess, even if this photo is a tad oversharpened. In the Nexus 4 photo you see its trademark lifeless white cast. This one's not even close.

Winner: Nexus 5


Daylight

Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, GoogleS

In this photo, shot in the simplest of daytime environments, we're looking for color balance as well as for aliasing on the gray corrugated surface at the top of the that lovely red building. The aliasing is clearly visible in each photo, but the top performers are definitely the iPhone 5S and the Lumia 1020, with the Nexus 5's rainbow bands being the ugliest. On color balance, the iPhone wins by a long shot as well. The sky looks pretty aqua in the other shots.

Winners: iPhone 5S, Lumia 1020 (tie)


Daylight detail

Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, GoogleS

The HTC's lower-resolution sensor can't keep up with the others on detail and distortion. The Lumia 1020's 40-megapixel PureView monster sensor handily beats out the Nexus 5 and iPhone for the top spot.

Winner: Lumia 1020


Low-light

Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, GoogleS

Here, we've caught Batman hopping into our office shower. Weirdly, the lights are off, but some outside illumination is creeping in through the door's frosted glass. How do the cameras hold up without flash? The results are similar to what we saw a few months ago: The Lumia 1020 and iPhone 5S are the best. Last time around we picked the iPhone, but this time, we like the Lumia 1020 a little better. The larger pixels on the HTC One do their job capturing plenty of light from the scene at the expense of detail. It's just not quite as sharp.

The important thing to note here is that the Nexus 5 actually holds up quite well. It's a darker and less detailed photo than the winners, but it's not total garbage, where the Nexus 4 would have been completely useless in this situation.

Winner: Lumia 1020


Flash

Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, GoogleS

Same Batman, same shower, now with the flash on each camera turned on. The Lumia 1020's xenon flash kills all of its LED competitors in this round. The HTC One's our runnerup, followed by the iPhone 5S. The Nexus 5 photo, as you can see, is totally blown out.

Winner: Lumia 1020


Color

Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, GoogleS

How do all of the colors in these flowers hold up in each of these images? The name of the game here is detail and saturation. The HTC One is nicely balanced, but it's not saturated enough so it looks lifeless. The iPhone 5S as usual has wonderful color balance. The Lumia 1020 is juiced, but there's nice hard black and good detail. The red in the Nexus 5 is just bleeding all over the place and there's a lot of missing detail.

Winner: iPhone 5S


Video:

The iPhone is the winner by a longshot in both daylight and darkness. It has the best detail and dynamic range. The Lumia 1020's excellent optical image stabilization makes that low-light pan on the beer bottles impressively smooth, even if it's not exactly a beautiful image. In daylight, the Nexus is oversharpened and lacking detail, but it's still a smidgen better than the Lumia 1020. The less said about the HTC One, the better.

Weirdly, both of the Android phones automatically reduced their frame rates in the low-light shot, which might be the processor allotting some extra cycles for noise-reduction, but we're not sure.

Winner: iPhone 5S


Bottom line

So the good news is that the Nexus 5 camera is solid enough to live with day to day. As a former Nexus 4 user, I can personally say was not the case with last year's Google handset. The Nexus 5's camera is actually functional, and in most situations it keeps up with the competition.

That said, it gets left in the dust by the iPhone 5S and the Lumia 1020. As for which of these to choose, I'll say what I said back in September when the iPhone 5S came out. The Lumia 1020 has a superior camera, but the hardware and the Windows Phone OS don't come close to the slickness of the iPhone and iOS. The choice is yours: an incredible camera with a decent smartphone attached, or an awesome phone with a very good camera.

Nexus 5 Camera Battle: Welcome to Photography, GoogleS

Photography, video, and art editing by Michael Hession and Nick Stango