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Best Smartphone Cameras 2014

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 32 comments

As smartphones become ubiquitous, they're quickly replacing traditional point-and-shoot cameras as the go-to device for taking quick photos. The quality of smartphone cameras is quite good, and smartphones make it easy to share those images with others wherever you are. 

MORE: Best Mirrorless Cameras 2014

But not all smartphone cameras are created equal. The Nokia Lumia 1020, for example, has a 41-megapixel sensor; the iPhone 5s has image stabilization and a dual-LED flash; and the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a multitude of features you won't find on even the most advanced stand-alone cameras. Here are the best smartphone cameras for 2013. (All prices are with 2-year carrier contract.)

Best Smartphone Camera Overall: iPhone 5s ($199)

Available on all the major carriers, the iPhone 5s has an 8-MP sensor that's 15 percent larger than that in the iPhone 5, and a lower f/2.2 aperture. Combine that with image stabilization and a dual LED flash, and you've got one of the best phones for taking pictures in low light — or any situation. Apple also improved its Camera app for the 5s. In addition to HDR and Panorama modes, you can now shoot slow-motion videos. Plus, there's a Burst mode that lets you capture up to 10 frames per second. 

Best Smartphone Camera for Power Users: Nokia Lumia 1020 ($199)

Come for the breakthrough 41-MP sensor; stay for the camera options. The Lumia 1020 captures so much information when you take a photo that you can zoom way in after you take a photo and still see a high level of detail. [See Lumia 1020 photo samples.] You also get optical image stabilization to prevent shaky images. The fun really starts when you fire up the Pro Camera app, which enables users to change everything from ISO to shutter speed, white balance and exposure compensation. For newbies, there's even a tutorial to guide you through all the settings.

Best Smartphone Camera Features: Samsung Galaxy S5 (Price TBA)

The one camera that could unseat the Galaxy S4 for this honor is its successor, the Galaxy S5. In addition to providing even more advanced features, it packs an all-around better camera. Not only was the resolution bumped from 13 MP to 16 MP, but the autofocus time has been reduced to 0.3 seconds. One of the biggest feature additions is real-time HDR, for bringing out more details in both highlights and shadows while shooting photos or videos. And the new Shot & More mode allows you to decide after the fact what mode to apply to your camera, such as Eraser, which can remove photobombers.

Best Smartphone Camera for Outdoors: Sony Xperia Z1s ($0 up front, $528 over two-year contract)

Want to take your phone for a swim? The Sony Xperia Z1s can be submerged in up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water for 30 minutes at a time, letting you get your Michael Phelps on. You can take photos underwater using its dedicated shutter button and even use the touch screen when it's wet. The phone's 20.7-MP camera has an advanced Exmor-RS sensor — the same type of low-light photo technology used in Sony's stand-alone cameras. HDR mode can be used for stills and video to bring out the detail often lost in parts of a scene that are especially dark or bright. Other handy modes include Background Defocus and Timeshift Burst. Colors in photos from the Z1s were a bit bright for our taste compared to on other smartphone cameras, but none of those other devices would survive a dunk.

Best Phablet Camera: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 ($279)

The Note 3 packs image and video quality worthy of display on its 5.7-inch HD screen. Brilliant colors and sharp detail are hallmarks of the device — from both its main 13-MP rear camera and its 2-MP front-facing shooter. The main camera captured equally good video, even in our tests on a cloudy, snowy New York afternoon. Photos were also pleasantly sharp in night shots, which push the limits of sensors and lenses, especially the small ones on mobile devices. Photo buffs have access to key settings, including light metering, light sensitivity (ISO) and white balance. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 also packs several fun shooting options, such as Drama Shot, which captures multiple images in succession and displays them in sequence.

Follow Mike Prospero mikeprospero. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

      

Add your comment Display 32 Comments.
  • -1 Hide
    yzfr1guy , October 4, 2013 5:33 AM
    Mike, your missing the newest Android beat, the LG G2, which stomps the Galaxy S4 and in my opinion trumps the iCrap by far..
  • -1 Hide
    lamorpa , October 4, 2013 5:50 AM
    When did the amazing Apple 5S come out with those industry-shaking new features ("In addition to HDR and Panorama modes, you can now shoot slow-motion videos. Plus, there's a Burst mode that lets you capture up to 10 frames per second.") No other phones ever had those features (except all of the ones you listed and the 4S, etc.) Amazing firsts! (first after it already being done multiple times over the last couple of years.

    You meant to title the article, "Apple iPhone 5C has the best iPhone camera Apple has ever had"
  • 6 Hide
    Bloob , October 4, 2013 5:54 AM
    Nokia Pro Cam or Smart Cam can do pretty much everything the S4 can (and more), except for taking pictures with both cameras at the same time. 1020 is simply the best out of the bunch.
  • 1 Hide
    Kieran Warren , October 4, 2013 6:06 AM
    Ha, I'm sorry, what is the iPhone doing here, I can name like 10 phones with better cameras than it.
  • 9 Hide
    doron , October 4, 2013 6:36 AM
    HTC One? Not even an honorable mention?

    Anyway this article looks more than advertisement than actual information.
  • 6 Hide
    cknobman , October 4, 2013 6:52 AM
    LMAO cannot give an ounce of credibility to an article that has the nerve to say the iPhone 5 camera is better than the Nokia Lumia 1020.

    More paid iPhone advertisements masquerading as non biased reviewers.
  • 4 Hide
    hardcoreplur , October 4, 2013 7:02 AM
    Sorry, the Lumia 1020 wins on all the categories. Windows Phone with the Lens feature dwarfs all the other phones in the list. My 920 can do animated gifs too. And the iPhone 5s is a joke including its camera.
  • 4 Hide
    jonnyhuk2 , October 4, 2013 7:26 AM
    I haven't used them but seeing how the article is purely about best camera phone and Samsung S4 is listed as a winner, wouldn't the "S4 Zoom" beat the S4 is terms of the camera? But not a single mention anywhere?!
  • 2 Hide
    Cryio , October 4, 2013 7:37 AM
    I've read the description of the Galaxy S4 features and you can do all of that on any Lumia Phone. They're not ALL tied into one nifty arranged interface, but you can still do them.
  • 8 Hide
    grantwar , October 4, 2013 7:56 AM
    What a joke, iphone beating the lumia 1020 for best smartphone camera overall award.

    I'd really like to know the justification behind this as the award implies that its based on the best smartphone CAMERA... the iphone 5s is not even in the same class of camera as the 1020, both in low light and pretty much every other category I can think of.
  • -5 Hide
    blackened144 , October 4, 2013 8:37 AM
    "How much apple paid you to write this article?"

    My guess would be that they get paid by Apple just as much as Google and Microsoft pay you to go around second guessing other sites that dare mention Apple in a good light.
  • 7 Hide
    Marcus52 , October 4, 2013 9:09 AM
    Finding any excuse to put any phone camera above the Nokia 1020 is - very questionable. It is so far above any of the others there simply is no question at all.
  • -4 Hide
    norkkron , October 4, 2013 10:00 AM
    so many rectal ranged android users, lol
  • -4 Hide
    norkkron , October 4, 2013 10:00 AM
    so many rectal raged android users, lol
  • -4 Hide
    mprospero , October 4, 2013 10:13 AM
    Hi guys - Mike Here. Thanks for all your comments. We've actually been testing the iPhone 5s and Lumia 1020 side by side and the iPhone's image quality is actually better thus far. However, when you take advantage of the Lumia 1020's manual settings, you can get fantastic results (http://blog.laptopmag.com/lumia-1020-amazing-pictures-samples). That's why we believe the 1020 the better camera phone for power users, but the iPhone 5s is best overall.
  • 0 Hide
    hotice , October 4, 2013 10:21 AM
    I think the phones that were chose to compare are good but I also think there should be two more, the HTC One since it uses a very different approach to capturing good low-light images by having three sensors in parallel, and one of the new Moto's like the Moto X or the Droid Maxx. These also use a new "Clear Pixel" technology that sort of does a PenTile thing and replaces some color subpixels with subpixels that collect brightness data - from what I understand. None of the phones you covered use either of these technics and it would be nice to see them compared. Also, I believe the HTC One has the largest sensor at f/2.0 which should give it an advantage. The Nokia may be tied with that.
  • -2 Hide
    hotice , October 4, 2013 10:23 AM
    I think the phones that were chose to compare are good but I also think there should be two more, the HTC One since it uses a very different approach to capturing good low-light images by having three sensors in parallel, and one of the new Moto's like the Moto X or the Droid Maxx. These also use a new "Clear Pixel" technology that sort of does a PenTile thing and replaces some color subpixels with subpixels that collect brightness data - from what I understand. None of the phones you covered use either of these technics and it would be nice to see them compared. Also, I believe the HTC One has the largest sensor at f/2.0 which should give it an advantage. The Nokia may be tied with that.
  • 2 Hide
    hotice , October 4, 2013 10:26 AM
    Does the iPhone 5S still use a Sapphire lens? Apple should have learned was a bad idea from the iPhone 5. Apple doesn't always learn things very well or quickly. The Sapphire lens causes nasty purple lens flair in some lighting conditions.
  • 4 Hide
    adimeister , October 4, 2013 10:29 AM
    omg you forgot the z1. haha i think this is a paid ad
  • 1 Hide
    hotice , October 4, 2013 10:34 AM
    Does the iPhone 5S still use a Sapphire lens? Apple should have learned was a bad idea from the iPhone 5. Apple doesn't always learn things very well or quickly. The Sapphire lens causes nasty purple lens flair in some lighting conditions.
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