Apple’s iPhone 5S remains immediately user friendly, thanks to its smart AF anybody can pick it up and just start shooting with it. Power users wanting more control will have to seek out third-party apps however, as Apple’s Camera app is fixed on Automatic.
Some might prefer more pumped up colors, but we like the 5S’ color rendition, which is more true to life and still rich in subtle tones. The camera has a good resolution score at low ISO, but once we hit the mid to high ISO settings it’s clear that the 5S prefers to sacrifice fine detail to reduce image noise. Still, we find that it does so in quite a balanced way and we like the final results.
The camera’s strength however, lies in its glass, which has an impressively consistent sharpness from edge to edge. It also has minimal flare and chromatic aberration - count us surprised that an electronics company knows its glass so well. The True Tone flash is truly an innovation, at least from a photographer’s point of view, the more natural results makes direct flash more palatable than before.
The Sony Xperia Z1 is disappointing. Consider that the Z1 has a digital compact camera-sized sensor inside it, larger than the one in the 5S. Consider that it also has a G-branded lens, which is the brand Sony uses for its DSLR lens line-up. It also has a Bionz-branded processor, which is the same name that Sony uses for its digital cameras, from compacts to DSLRs. It should be great, but it doesn't live up to the hype.
When it comes to pure image quality, the Z1 seems to have been built to get the best results from shooting in Superior Auto and saving at 8MP. The 20MP full-resolution images are full of image noise and artificial-looking checkered artifacts, which make pictures look jittery at best and artificial at worst. The lens is soft in places and further reduces the overall image quality. The best thing about the Z1's camera are the colors, they're rich and natural-looking.
The perplexing bit is that Sony is perfectly capable of doing better than this - this is the company which has been making terrific breakthroughs in digital imaging, with the ground-breaking RX100 (and its sequel) and the RX1, the world’s smallest full-frame compact camera. And, well, the 8MP CMOS sensor inside the Apple iPhone 5S? It’s made by Sony. It baffles the mind as to why their camera-centric flagship produces results like we’ve seen in the preceding pages.
To be fair, most users will probably stick with Superior Auto and 8MP, and thus won't see as much of the destructive effects of the overly aggressive post-processing. However, for the photographers among us, that means that we won't be able to take full advantage of the 20MP, and we'll also be forced to shoot in 16:9 all the time, as you can't switch aspect ratios in Superior Auto mode.
If neither the iPhone 5S nor the Sony Xperia Z1 appeals to you, check out our expansion of this comparison with the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom in the November issue of HWM. But at the time of publishing, if you're truly looking for the king of camera phones, it's quite likely going to be the Nokia Lumia 1020 judging by it's photographic performance (and a head-on comparison with the Xperia Z1).