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Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom vs. Nokia Lumia 1020 vs. Sony QX 10 camera comparison


Review by Andrew Kameka on Thursday March 13, 2014.

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There may come a time when the average smartphone camera just isn't good enough. You might want to take photos that jump out of the screen or capture moments in ways that are worth more than a few likes on Instagram, Facebook, or Google.

Thankfully, there are three devices that try to fit that bill in unique ways. So would you rather freeze time by taking pictures with a Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, a Nokia Lumia 1020, or a Sony QX 10?

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

All three of the phones included in this comparison are very unique devices that present their unique set of skills and challenges. With the Galaxy S4 Zoom, you get a camera first and a phone second. It has the far-reaching 10x optical zoom, a 16-megapixel sensor, and optical image stabilization to help reduce blurry photos. The large size sometimes makes it tough to carry around because it's thick and chunky. The curved lower half provides great grip for taking photos but it's a pain in the you know what the other times you try to type or just use the phone under normal conditions.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

The interface is familiar to anyone who has used a Samsung device. It has several different shooting modes for everything from fixing someone's face in a group photo to taking an HDR-style image with Rich tones. Jumping into the Expert mode brings up a dial to change white balance, brightness, and ISO, so users have more control. There's even a My Mode section so you can have shortcuts to the favored shooting modes. The Zoom name comes into play with the on-screen controls to get closer, but it's probably easier and more comfortable to zoom in or out with the physical dial.

As for the quality of the Galaxy S4 Zoom photos, they're surprisingly average. The image stabilization makes objects in motion stay focused, and they look very good in daylight, but they are often noisy, so the gains are mostly gone. You'd really expect the camera to be better in all situations, and the sad truth is that it's simply not. It's just a good camera that can zoom in and still take a decent photo, not as world-beating as one might hope.

Nokia Lumia 1020
Nokia Lumia 1020

Nokia Lumia 1020

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a different beast because it's a phone that happens to have a really good camera. It's not free from having an odd shape because it has a pretty big 41-megapixel camera on the back. It also comes with optical image stabilization and a xenon flash. Because the 1020 takes such a large photo , you're able to retroactively zoom in targeted areas to a decent degree. It's not as thorough at capturing objects from far away, but it is effective in most instances. The body is otherwise solid and very comfortable to take photos with thanks to the dedicated camera key and sturdy frame.

The interface is also easier to master than the S4 Zoom. On screen buttons provide fast access to changing white balance, ISO, brightness, and focus. There aren't dozens of shooting modes as seen on the Zoom, but Nokia has a ridiculous amount of different camera apps for focusing, action, and other "Smart" modes. Jumping between those apps is not fun, but it does help keep the main camera clean and less cluttered for standard photography. Taking photos can be a tiny bit slow, but the results will make up for it. Aside from taking sharp photos that look exceptional if you keep your eye on the white balance, the Lumia 1020 takes great video as well. Though the auto settings weren't always pinpoint, I was able to take a good photo 90 percent of the time.

Sony QX 10
Sony QX 10

Sony QX 10

Judging the interface on the QX10 is tough because there technically isn't one. The QX 10 is a lens-style camera, meaning it's capable of operating completely independent of another device. There's a nearly 19-megapixel lens with Optical Steadyshot in order to steady images and maintain focus. A shutter button on the right takes photos and a zoom dial takes tighter or wider photos with the 10x optical zoom. There's even a tripod mount on the bottom in case you decide to get fancy.

And if all else fails, you can still use the on-board Wi-Fi pairing to connect it to another smartphone and use the mobile device as a live viewfinder. I found this to be the preferable way to use the QX10 because it's the best way to see that my photo is framed properly and in focus. The downside of this method is that it takes a long time to pair up, and on one occasion, it wouldn't pair at all. By the time I grab the QX10 out my bag or pocket to connect to a phone, I may have missed the moment because so much time has passed. The QX10 must be used independently when time is a factor, but it flourishes best in the slow but useful connected periods.

There's a good chance that you might be willing to overlook the impracticality because the photos and videos are so good. Sharp, bright, colorful, clear, and above what's expected from a smartphone, the QX10 is truly something incredible. During the days that I tested these three devices, I was taken aback by how much fun it was to deal with the unorthodox style and still wind up with great pictures. It wasn't comfortable to use all the time, but those photos were definitely worth it.

Conclusion

It doesn't take a genius to see that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom and Sony QX10 are harder to use than the Nokia Lumia 1020. The ease of use factor alone is enough to sway most people towards the Lumia as a result. I still have to admit that the QX10 is the best camera of the bunch for obvious reasons. That advantage is offset by Sony's lens camera costing $250 on top of the smartphone that you already need.

The QX10 earns high marks in every category dealing with video and photos, so it's almost worth it to put up with the added bulk in your pocket and the slow start times at inopportune moments. Sadly, it didn't score high in the speed and serviceability categories, which leads me to think that the Lumia 1020 might be the best compromise. It offers the convenience of a smartphone and a camera that's better than you typically experience. Though Windows Phone might put a lot of people off, the 1020 is still preferable to the poor experience offered by the Zoom, which isn't good enough as a camera nor a phone to warrant carrying that extra bulk. For the sake of your wallet and your ease of mind, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is probably the best bet.

Photo Samples

The QX10 lacks a flash, so these photos highlight the unique challenges of taking photos in lowlight situations. Though the QX10 does an okay job, the other phones benefit from having built-in flash.

The Lumia 1020 is darker but you can change the white balance to make it better.

The QX10 and S4 Zoom have much bigger sensors and real optical zoom, so it's no surprise that they do a much better job getting closer to the subject. The Lumia lets you crop and zoom that way, but the strategy is not as powerful.

The Lumia 1020 struggles with focusing when dealing with up close images. There's an app built specifically for this situation, or you have to manually try and do it in the Pro app.

The QX10 has an obvious advantage here because you can look at the camera and line up a very good selfie or group portrait. The other images use the front-facing cameras which are significantly smaller and not as good. You could use the rear camera but it's harder that way.

 
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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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