Clash of the Titans Part 4: Samsung Galaxy SIII vs HTC One X - Camera
Now we're onto one of the biggest features of the two phones and the two tightest areas of competition. Both the One X and SIII are equipped with 8 megapixel cameras, and while that might not be the top end you can buy in terms of pure pixel count, there's much more to it than that. Both have sensors that are backed up with high quality optics and software to maximize the potential of the images produced to the point where images from both phones will already be some of the best you've seen.
But which is better? Read on to find out which one takes the camera crown.
- Jerome Fraser asks "Since you can't play/pause/skip from the lock screen on the S3 can you at least do that from the headphones they provide? On my desire you can skip/play etc from the lock screen which comes in handy as the stock headphones are really cheap and always break."
The headphones supplied have volume up and down buttons, and one 'multifunction' button. Press once to pause, press again to play. Double tap it and it will skip forward a song Hold it down to bring up the music app from wherever you are. As far as I can tell, there's no skipping back.
And you can actually play/pause/skip like on your Desire, from the notification bar, only if you have no security lock on your device. This is because there are music controls in the notification bar that you can access while on the lock screen. Obviously security reasons prevent you from doing this if you have a screen lock of some kind.
Here's a screenshot of what I mean:
- Ian Cameron asks "Does the music player still give you access to Google Music in the cloud?"
Are you from the US? If so, I can't answer your question! Google Music has not officially come to the UK as far as I know. So unless you have an account and can find the apk, you could use that - but since the UK has never had Google Music I can't comment on that, and so obviously my UK spec SII doesn't have Google Music access from the music player. Sorry!
Let's start with the Samsung Galaxy SIII. It packs an 8MP camera with an LED flash, so nothing special there, and neither is the aperture at f/2.6. The One X also packs an 8MP sensor, but it's paired with a faster aperture of f/2.0, and you can tell from just looking at it - the little lens inside the casing is noticeably larger. It does protrude more out of the body though, and it's also not as well designed into the rest of the phone. I'd definitely take a faster lens though if it meant better low light performance. The One X also has something called ImageSense - a collective set of software technologies designed to make the camera better, and also a dedicated image processing chip. Surprisingly, the SIII boasts no equivalent marketing buzzwords, but that's not to say that it's missing some of the features that the One X has. Let's talk about the speed for example. One of the parts of ImageSense is Instant Capture - the clue is in the name. The One X is definitely very, very fast at capturing images (though not zero shutter lag like HTC claim). The problem here (for the One X) is that the SIII is just faster. While there is still some lag with the SIII, it is so nearly instant that it behaves like a mid-range point and shoot, a feat achieved with its quad core processor no doubt. The difference in shutter speed is small, but definitely noticeable. This is probably the part of the camera experience that wowed me the most.
A technically great camera is useless if the camera app sucks, and fortunately it doesn't. Loading up the camera app carries on the speed trend - it is the fastest camera app to launch that I've used, including the One X. The interface is much the same as the SII before it. In fact, it is the same, including the option for customisable shortcuts on the left bar. The One X has a rather unique interface in that it has no mode switch between photo mode and video mode. You have both buttons at the ready to give you the flexibility to choose either. This is a really useful feature, that the SIII lacks, which can help you capture that definitive moment that you may have missed if you had to change modes.
Another feature is the ability to take a photo while recording a video, and not just a frame of the video - that would result in a maximum of a 1920x1080 resolution photo, which is a measly 2MP. Much of the information around the internet is that the One X takes full 8MP resolution photos while taking a video, but that's not true. Since the video is in 16:9 widescreen, it takes photos in widescreen too; the sensor records 8MP in the 4:3 ratio, but at 16:9 it actually results in pictures that are 3264x1840, which is 6MP. That's not really a big deal, but it's worth mentioning. It's also interesting that if you set the camera to widescreen photos, it changes to 3264x1840, a widescreen aspect ratio, yet it still says 8MP even though that resolution is now actually 6MP; again, this is minor, but it's still misleading. Maybe the software on my One X isn't final - even if it isn't it will most likely be fixed in a software update. The SIII also has the ability to take 6MP photos during full HD video, so both are equally matched in this department.
Both cameras offer an impressive amount of control even though they are 'only' phones. The SIII offers control over ISO, metering, and exposure compensation as well as the usual white balance adjustments. The One X only falls behind on the metering adjustments between centre weighted, spot and matrix. Both have touch to focus too, but the One X likes to do its own thing much more, so there's no option to lock the focus and exposure by holding the shutter release, recomposing, and letting go to take the picture. That is really quite annoying if you want to compose your shots exactly as you want with what you want with the correct exposure. Instead, holding the camera button starts taking photos in burst mode which may or may not be an advantage depending on which feature you value most. Speaking of burst mode, the SIII allows up to 20 frames in a single burst, but since it's so fast, it only takes a couple of seconds to write before you can take another burst of 20. There's a best photo mode too - it takes up to 8 shots in a burst, then you choose which one(s) you want to keep. The One X on the other hand allows 20 shots in the best shot mode, but you can only choose one. The rate of capture is also slightly slower.
Both phones record at up to 1080p at 30 frames per second. Both have stabilisation, but don't expect it to do much. It does help to reduce the shakiness that is typical of smartphone video, but don't expect great things from it. The video is actually very good from both phones, which use autofocus during video that does a good job of knowing what it is that should be in focus. It does hunt for focus which is quite a distracting effect when trying to watch video from it, but the footage is some of the best I've seen on any smartphone, and the smoothness and colours are certainly impressive. Audio is the main part of the problem - as ever, the sound recorded using the phone is far from perfect, picking up plenty of wind noise and it generally doesn't sound great. But that's true of every camera phone, and when compared to them overall, the SIII will record footage worthy of a top-notch smartphone.
What the images actually turn out like in the end is what matters most, and I'm pleased to say that both cameras produced excellent results. To the everyday user, the interface is easy enough for a beginner to use, and even with settings on full automatic, you'll still get some marvellous shots. Whichever one you choose, it will negate the need to take your point and shoot camera with you for most situations thanks to their speed, and that's a pretty significant milestone for mainstream smartphones.
The following images are unedited, directly produced jpegs from the phone. The only issue I had was with macro focussing on the One X - it could never get as close as the SIII, no matter how hard I tried. Check out the purple flower to see the difference (no photo is cropped) - the left column is from the SIII and the right column is from the One X.
I found that dynamic range was a bit lacking in both cameras, with the SIII faring slightly better - the skies were bright, but the SIII produced slightly less overblown areas than the One X. Of course you could get around this by using their HDR modes, but that does require non-moving subjects and it never looks quite as good as it would otherwise be if the dynamic range was wider.
Other than that, both cameras are so close in picture quality that I can't definitively say that one is better than the other, even in low light. I edge towards the SIII for its speed and macro performance where it beats the One X, but the One X produces equally stunning photos in every other situation, and sometimes with better colours. The wide aperture of the One X should give it the edge, but the SIII has software tricks to help make up for that. You'd really have to zoom in and pixel peep to see any improvements that the One X has on the SIII; that photo of a Nikon lens was taken in much lower light than it looks.
I know the photos themselves aren't great, but I can partially blame the Great British Weather and the short time for review. Look out for another post dedicated to more camera samples in the future.
Review by: Vince