Nokia Lumia 1520 vs HTC One Max vs iPhone 5s camera showdown

08 January 2014

The 2013 phablet-wars are still in full-swing with the Lumia 1520 only recently hitting shelves. Being that we gave identical scores to both the One Max and the 1520 we thought we’d throw them up against one-another in a camera-showdown.

As a point of reference we brought along an iPhone 5s. It may not be a phablet but it does rock one of the best cameras in the market; so far second only to the 41MP Nokia Lumia 1020 and the 16MP Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, both of which are camera-centric devices.

All photos have been resized to fit the page, but clicking on each will open the original in a separate tab. If at any point we seem to be nit-picking, be sure to check out the full-res photos to better understand what we're on about.

The rules were:
  • Default camera apps only (this means the Nokia Pro Cam app for the Lumia 1520)
  • No manual refocusing
  • No manual color balance
  • Standard pictures (no use of the extra features that often go unused)
  • Two shots were taken of each location with the best one being chosen for the comparison
  • Photos are judged at maximum resolution.

This is a point-and-snap show-down. Seeing as this is how the larger percentage of users take their photos it felt like the best way to compare.

NOTE: Before beginning, it should be noted that the three devices achieve focus and take photos at different speeds. The iPhone 5s is the fastest, followed closely by the HTC One Max. The Lumia 1520 requires a half-press of the shutter button to begin focus, followed by a full press around a half-second later.

Image 1: Sydney on a sunny day

Nokia Lumia 1520

The 1520 captured a great image. Both the tree in the foreground and the city in the background are crisp and clear.

Some of the boats and waves in the middle-ground lost a bit of definition, but not enough to complain about.

Color balance is only a little bit off, with the green of the tree and blue of the water being a tad accentuated. The buildings to the left also gained a more yellow hue than in real life, but overall this was a great pic with good colors.

HTC One Max

This isn't a great start for the One Max. Colors are washed out and yellow, almost looking like a retro filter has been placed over the top (there wasn’t, we checked). The sky even noticeably changes hue from left to right.

It also lacks definition. The whole picture is comparatively grainy from the foreground to the background to the sky.

iPhone 5s

The iPhone 5s has the best color accuracy across the board. It also has impressive clarity, but not as much as the Lumia 1520.

The shorter default aspect ratio means that less is captured than in the other two images, which is a shame. This can be changed in the settings menu so we won’t hold it too strongly against the 5s. At the same time this is a default camera-comparison, so it does have to be considered.

Winner: Lumia 1520

Despite the iPhone’s superior color accuracy we’re giving this one to the Lumia 1520. The tree in the foreground, buildings in the back and the left-hand buildings in the middle are all more-defined in the Lumia 1520’s pic. The boats and water ripples are also more crisp.

The HTC may as well have not been in contention for this example. It was a much poorer showing than any of us had expected.

Image 2: Close-up

The focus area here was the middle of the shot for all three devices.

Lumia 1520

This is another great showing for the Lumia 1520. Once again colors are a little bit exaggerated, but not too much.

The foreground is very blurry, but after only a small distance the focus suddenly kicks in and we get an impressive level of definition. This fades again almost as quickly, leaving the background in an almost-artsy level of un-focus.

There’s some interesting color differences happening with the sky, which is noticeably darker between the tree branches and almost white in the open. It looks like the ISO has been opened a bit too far to increase color potency.

HTC One Max

The Max does much better here. Close-ups and medium shots are what the Ultrapixel camera was designed for. Clarity is good and kicks in around the same place. The background maintains focus in the middle for a bit longer, but still loses focus around the sides. Overall definition is good, but not impressively-so, despite how it may look in the resized photo above.

Colors are still a tiny bit yellow, but the inaccuracy is about equal with the Lumia 1520’s. Instead of being a tiny bit too vibrant, it’s instead a tiny bit washed-out.

iPhone 5s

Once again the iPhone has the best color accuracy. Unfortunately we accidentally cut out a bit of the sky, but it look like it suffers less from the whitening effect that we saw in the other two.

Definition is good, focusing on the center and blurring out the rest. It’s a bit more crisp than the One Max, but not as much as the Lumia 1520.

Winner: Lumia 1520

Once again we went with the Lumia 1520 purely for its clarity. The difference in color accuracy is only noticeable when you compare the two images directly, but this doesn’t affect every-day use.

The HTC One Max’s ability to keep the deeper objects in focus was impressive and made for a good resized image, but ultimately led to a less-impressive shot with and unevenly-focused background in the full-sized picture.

Image 3: Light-bleeding

Most cameras suffer from light bleeding when the sun is fully or partially in-view. How well a camera handles this can be a make-or-break feature for some users.

Lumia 1520

Some fair bleeding and with a purple tinge that is often associated with the iPhone 5 and 5s. There is also a reflection ring about two-thirds of the way up the pine cone on the left that inhibits color accuracy and detail.

The top of the tree is lost where the sun is brightest and the background is quite unfocused.

Overall this image is still attractive and usable, but it’s far from perfect.

HTC One Max

Huge light-bleeding here. A large portion of the top of the pic is completely lost to the glare. The rest is made grainy and washed-out. Colors are poor and there’s very little definition compared to the other two shots.

iPhone 5s

Some fair light-bleeding with a pinkish-hue, but not as strongly-colored as the Lumia 1520. The leaves at the top are still visible, but are almost reduced to silhouette.

The background has very little definition, but the pinecone still has decent focus.

Winner: Lumia 1520

The iPhone 5s showed less direct light-bleeding, but the overall quality of the rest of the image was reduced by the glare. The Lumia 1520 suffers from slightly worse light-bleeding, but it maintains overall focus and color much better. The pinecone in particular is far better defined than in the other two pictures, as are the closer leaves.

Image 4: Night shot without flash

Lumia 1520

To be fair to the other two we disabled the focus light for the Lumia 1520 for this one.

The photo is grainy and green like something out of Paranormal Activity. This was a surprisingly poor result from the Lumia 1520, considering that the tree was lit by a nearby lamp-post.

Further shots with the focus light turned on but with flash still disabled yielded similar results.

HTC One Max

The HTC One Max did well here. The photo is grainy but that is to be expected from any night-shot. The image is considerably brighter than the park was in actuality. In fact, the difference is so great that you got a better view by looking at the screen than by looking with your own eyes.

There is considerable light-bleeding, which could be problematic in some instances. Still, for this particular photo we were very impressed.

iPhone 5s

This photo may be as or less-grainy than the One Max’s, but it’s difficult to tell thanks to the dim lighting. This is closer to how dark the park actually was, but is still just a tiny bit brighter.

There is very little light bleeding, although there is a touch of a greenish hue. Decent but not amazing color accuracy.

Winner: HTC One Max

Image 5: Night shot with flash

Nokia Lumia 1520

This isn’t a joke. This is actually the best photo we could get with the flash turned on. After taking way more than two shots (we thought that perhaps we were doing something wrong) the best we came up with was a darker shot than when the flash was turned completely off. Once again adding the focus light did nothing.

The problem appears to be that the shutter is out of time with the rapid-fire bursts from the flash. This is absolutely one of the worst flash-assisted photos that we’ve ever seen and we hope for Nokia’s sake that it’s patched soon.

HTC One Max

Interestingly, the One Max also did a bit better without flash. In this shot the discoloration is quite pronounced with everything gaining a distinctly yellow hue. The light bleeding problem is still there and graininess seems to have increased.

Moreoever, off to the left behind the tree has some odd green discoloration which is a bit odd.

iPhone 5s

Grainy, but with the edges of objects still quite distinguishable. Colors are accurate, albeit slightly washed-out by the white flash. The left-side green discoloration is also present here, but due to the thinner image it’s difficult to say if it would have been as bad as with the One Max.

There is almost no light bleeding.

Winner: iPhone 5s


We’re giving this one to the Lumia 1520, despite its utter lack of night-time shots. We feel it did well-enough over the iPhone 5s in the daytime photos to justify a victory.

If you’re after taking a lot of after-dark shots then you might want to consider another device.

The Lumia 1520 won the daytime portion of the battle fairly decisively. In every picture it had the greatest clarity in the fore, middle and backgrounds. It did have the problem of over-stating colors a bit, but not enough to appear gaudy.

The iPhone 5s came second with daytime shots. It had the best color accuracy, but fell behind in terms of sharpness.

The One Max did fairly poorly in the day, suffering from poor definition and light-bleeding. It was ok for close-ups, but failed to impress.

At night the Lumia 1520 was appalling. No matter what settings we tweaked we couldn’t get a half decent photo out of it that didn’t look like something out of a horror movie.

Both the HTC One Max and iPhone 5s were far superior at night, with the One Max showing strength without flash and the iPhone 5s being better with it on.

Not-taken in to consideration in these tests, but still worth a mention, is another weakness of the Lumia 1520: speed. The half-press focus method is much slower than that of the iPhone 5s and HTC One. This makes it a little less of a casual camera and a bit more of a considered photo-taker.

We found we got used to it pretty quickly and only noticed it when taking multiple pictures side-by-side with the other two units.

The Lumia 1520 may have won this battle, but it was close. If Nokia does end up patching the night shots then we can see it taking its rightful place alongside, but just below, the Lumia 1020. As things stand right now it's an impressive shooter with a glaring and obvious hole in its functionality.



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