Welcome to Part 3 of the Smartphone Camera Showdown, where I’m testing out the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: the two top cameras on the smartphone market. They were lent to me by AT&T, after I expressed a desire to do away with my camera entirely, in favour of a smartphone that can carry its weight as a semi-professional camera.
Click here for Part 1: My review of the Nokia Lumia 1020.
Click here for Part 2: My review of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.
In this episode of the Smartphone Camera Showdown, the Samsung and the Nokia will go head-to-head, as I compare various features and determine an overall winner (for me).
For a little history on why I’ve decided to do away with my “real” camera, check out my review of the Nokia Lumia 1020 in Part 1 of this series.
As A Smartphone
Out of the box, here are some differences between the two phones:
The Samsung is much heavier and bulkier than the Nokia, which is quite thin and light.
The Nokia’s screen is much bigger, which makes for nice big tiles and buttons and easy readability. Comparatively, the Samsung’s screen is small, and the icons even smaller.
Because of the Samsung’s protruding camera lens, using it as a smartphone feels more awkward.
The Nokia Lumia 1020 uses Windows 8, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom uses Android. iPhone users will find using Android a little more familiar, although I haven’t had any difficulties with the Windows 8 operating system.
However Android has way more flexibility, and infinitely more apps available. Windows 8 is really lacking in this area.
Compatibility with Mac
Neither one of these phones is stellar in playing nicely with my Macbook Air laptop, but Samsung is better overall, with just one program (Kies) that syncs everything and few if any “hacks” required to transfer information.
Samsung however, loses points by being very finicky connecting to a computer. The cord they provide in the box doesn’t work at all, and with a different cord it still doesn’t work 100% of the time.
The Nokia has 32gigs of storage space, in comparison to the Samsung’s measly 12gigs. Apparently the Samsung is expandable to 64gigs by using a micro SD card, however I’m not sure what information (other than photos) can be stored on the card.
Both phones have 1.5mH dual core processors, but the Nokia has 2gigs of ram as opposed to Samsung’s 1.5gigs of ram.
If you want to travel the world with one of these (unlocked) smartphones – as I do – Nokia has quad band GSM compatibility, whereas the Samsung is only a tri-band phone.
However, because of the Windows operating system on the Nokia, not all SIM cards can offer data plans (as I recently discovered in Peru).
As a Camera
Since I’m doing away with my “real” camera entirely, it’s important that the cameras on these smartphones are worthy replacements. Here’s the head-to-head analysis:
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom looks and feels like a real camera. In fact, it feels more like a camera than a smartphone. If you care about looking like a serious photographer using only a smartphone, the Samsung is better.
Nokia’s 41 megapixel camera offers a couple of different shooting modes; hi-res pictures are about 10mb in size, and lower-res pictures (meant for internet sharing) are about 2mb. If you have the Nokia set to take hi-res pictures, it saves one of each.
Samsung’s 16 megapixel camera takes pictures right in the middle, at about 5mb in size.
All in all on a computer, it’s difficult to tell the difference in terms of photographic detail between any of the three modes, but larger picture sizes allow for cropping and post processing of photos without undue loss of size and quality.
Samsung’s 10x optical zoom (which rivals many “real” cameras) is awesome, and a joy to use.
Technically the Nokia’s 41mp lens takes in enough information to allow cropping to a similar degree, but in practice there is a wee loss in quality when you get to 10x, as shown in the pictures below.
Apparently the Nokia is better in low light, but because the Samsung is a little heavier, it’s easier to hold steady for sharper shots with fewer tries. Both cameras have night settings, but Samsung has three night modes including light trace and fireworks (as well as party/indoor shots and other settings to help you adjust to your circumstances). With a tripod and some knowledge of exposure and other manual settings, both cameras are equally capable.
Sometimes you lose that kodak moment while futzing around with camera settings; you just gotta snap n go. Nokia takes much richer shots on auto; the Samsung is consistently somewhat over-exposed, as you’ll see in the shots below.
Both phones have fully customizable manual shots, allowing you to adjust everything from exposure to shutter speed, white balance, aperture, ISO, and more.
The Samsung offers 25 (oh yes, 25) different shooting modes; the Nokia considerably less.
Nokia falls down entirely with macro focusing. This seems to be a bug with the software, as the camera should be more than capable of letting you get close for detailed shots. Technically you can compensate with the Nokia by holding the camera farther back and cropping, but it’s not ideal.
A solo traveler has to be good at taking “selfies”, and Nokia wins hands-down with a much wider angle.
Nokia takes the cake with the on-board Creative Studio, which makes up for the lack of shooting options in my mind; in many ways it’s easier to just get the shots on the fly and edit them to your liking later. With Nokia’s most awesome 41 megapixels, there’s enough shooting information in the photo to accomplish lots of effects afterwards and still come out with a photo the same size as a Samsung shot (before editing).
Samsung has the ability out of the box to accommodate a tripod, which is necessary for most low light and long exposure shots. For hand-held photography, the Samsung’s heavier weight helps you to hold the camera steady, despite Nokia’s built-in image stabilizing options.
The Nokia can’t accommodate a tripod, but their camera grip accessory allows for one, and adds the extra weight and ergonomics to take steadier hand-held shots too.
Winner: Samsung (out of the box)
The Bottom Line
Every bottom line has a price attached to it; the budget conscious will prefer the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom at $400 factory-unlocked, as opposed to the Nokia Lumia 1020 at $600 for a factory-unlocked model.
If price isn’t your final determining factor, you might agree that these two phones are quite comparable. Neither one screams out as way better than the other; a lot of it boils down to personal preferences and what you need your smartphone/camera for.
What’s my verdict, you ask?
I must admit, the Nokia Lumia 1020 stole my heart right from the start, and although I tried to like the Samsung better, I just couldn’t manage to. The Nokia takes better shots overall, it feels nicer to use as a smartphone, and despite the Windows operating system (which I hope will improve with more apps and flexibility over time), it does everything I need a smartphone to do for my full-time travel needs.
Winner: Nokia Lumia 1020
I would like to extend a special thank you to AT&T for lending me both phones complete with SIM cards for one month so I could test them to my heart’s content and perform these comparative reviews. They rose to the challenge when I told them of my mission to get rid of my “real” camera and replace it with a smartphone that could produce quality semi-professional shots, and also be a useful smartphone for my full-time travels.
It’s not often you get to test-drive the goods in this fashion, and I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity.
Imagine my surprise, when after the comparison was complete, I was offered a brand new Nokia Lumia 1020 of my own! Both AT&T and Nokia were so happy to have the feedback I personally sent them, that they got together and sent me a phone, camera grip accessory, and extra battery pack! I am now the proud new owner of a Nokia Lumia 1020.
May the awesome photos begin – and continue!