Review by Andrew Kameka on Thursday November 21, 2013.
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When the best thing that you can say about a camera is that it's not bad, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence. I wrote that the Google Nexus 5 camera isn't particularly good in my review of the device, and mentioned that it is not as good as others. Some people may have wondered just how pronounced the differences are between more favorable cameras like the Nokia Lumia 1020, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and Apple iPhone 5S. It just so happens that I brought those phones along with me as I tested the Google Nexus 5, so here are a few more camera samples that illustrate why the Nexus 5 is good - just not as good.
Looking at the photos below is a prime example of what I mean. The Nexus 5, all the way on the left, is perfectly fine. However, the other cameras do a better job by being brighter. The Nokia Lumia 1020, second from left, doesn't do as good with white balance, but it still has plenty of detail. The iPhone 5S, far right, doesn't do as well as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
All of the photos here are on equal ground but it actually took some work to achieve that. The Nexus 5 overexposed the image I originally took, but making an adjustment led to a photo as good as the others. I still prefer the Lumia 1020 and iPhone 5S in this case.
The Nexus 5 sadly lacks the detail seen when closing in on areas like the brick wall in the background and the statue. The other phones perform better in this instance.
Here's a case where you really can't find fault with any of the images. Under bright lights of a store, the Nexus 5 does very well of capturing the multi-hued flowers. Actually, all images look good, provided that you make manual adjustments to accurately set the white balance.
In this instance, the Nexus 5 handles a direct light source fairly well. The Lumia 1020 and Note 3 do a better job with the color of the doll and couch, but the Nexus 5 isn't bad. The Lumia 1020 is the best of the bunch.
Testing the flash, the LED on the Nexus 5 and Galaxy Note 3 take on a bluish tone. The Lumia 1020 has a background that's a little warmer than I'd like, but it does a good job with bringing out the gold of the statue. The iPhone 5S doesn't have as much gold shown, but the background is accurate.
The same results play out as I do my best to strike a super model pose and take a selfie in the bathroom. The Nexus 5 is too blue, the Lumia 1020 is warm, the Galaxy Note 3 is soft, and the iPhone 5S has the most balanced look. Unfortunately, it doesn't capture the red of my t-shirt as well as the Lumia 1020.
Here's another look at a close-up of a toy taken under my photo lightbox. The Nexus 5 and all the other images predictably did well under bright lights, though the 1020 was slightly out of focus because I had to switch to manual settings.
Zooming in on the Nexus 5 shows the image is just okay, but from a distance, it looks good. The Lumia 1020 looks off because of user error when attempting to focus on the statue, the Note 3 looks solid, and the iPhone 5S looks among the best.
Spoiler alert! Well, not really, because the results are predictable. The Nokia Lumia 1020, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and Apple iPhone 5S all did better than the Google Nexus 5. Of course, that was evident going into this test. However, if you look at the images prior to zooming in, you can see that there are instances in which the Nexus 5 still does good enough. It's not a great camera, but it's at least passable, which is more than people have been able to say about Nexus devices in the past. Click the images to see the full-size images of each test photo.
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.