Nexus 4 vs iPhone 5 Camera Shootout

Kelly Vieira
24 February, 2013
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A defining characteristic of any modern smartphone is the prowess of its camera – many have abandoned traditional point-and-shoot cameras for solely using those found on their phones. While they aren’t up to par with their DSLR big brothers, smartphone cameras are becoming increasingly capable.

The Nexus 4 is Google’s flagship Android phone. Manufactured by LG, it boasts top of the line specs while featuring a mid-range price-tag. But how does that excellent hardware match up against one of its fiercest competitors? To find out, we’ve pitted the Nexus 4 camera gainst the iPhone 5’s, arguably one of the best cameras on a smartphone yet. We tested across a range of photography types and features to bring you the Nexus 4 vs iPhone 5 Camera Shootout.



Nexus 4 iPhone 5
Megapixels 8 MP 8 MP
Flash Type Single LED Single LED
Video 1080p HD recording 1080p HD recording
HDR Yes Yes
Panorama Yes – Photosphere + Tiny World Yes – up to 270 degrees
Front Facing Camera 1.3 MP720p recording 1.2 MP720p recording


Camera hardware in the iPhone 5 is unbelievably small, adding to the phone as a whole being incredibly thin, while the Nexus 4 is much bulkier. You’ve also got to consider that each phone runs radically different software, the iPhone 5 natively sporting iOS 6 and the Nexus 4 touting Android 4.2 Jelly Bean – one will allow you to take photos simply that turn out consistently amazing while the latter values control and customisability to churn out astounding shots.

Daylight Shot

You can see that the iPhone 5 oversaturates its photos, the green in the leaves showing up as an emerald green rather than the natural yellowed green that is more accurately portrayed in the Nexus 4 shot. While it makes some photos much more appealing, it can also make them look fake and touched up. Which camera you prefer will largely come down to how much you value accuracy over dynamism.


The higher contrast means that some details will show up better in the iPhone 5 pictures, such as the fine veins in some of the leaves, like the one near the centre of each shot. Inversely, some sections in the iPhone 5 image will shows less detail because of this same reason: the little yellow blossoms show up better in the Nexus 4 shot because they aren’t as saturated and thus the details hold true. You can also see the same effect in the veins of some of the darker leaves, for example the one in the middle-left of each image.

We did find that the Nexus 4 takes forever to take a photo compared to the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 also had a much faster autofocus; the Nexus 4 took a while to calibrate its shot before snapping while the iPhone 5 did it near-instantly. Both camera phones picked the best focal point (the main flower in the center) and did a decent job of keeping the background in check – although the Nexus 4 has this slight doubling effect in the background rather than the soft blur effect of the iPhone 5.

You’re given much more control in the Android phone than with any iPhone. The Nexus 4, rocking Android’s Jelly Bean 4.2 system, lets you adjust the white balance, exposure, autofocus, resolution and more. You’ll also be able to set filters or frames from within the native camera app, much like through Instagram.

Indoor Photography (+HDR)


While the Nexus 4 turned out a better HDR photo here (you can tell most notably on the dragon’s eye, the iPhone 5 showing up a bit washed out while the Nexus 4 has distinct and bright contrast there), the iPhone 5 automatically saves the HDR version and the unaltered shot. With the Nexus 4, that didn’t happen. It might be a setting we didn’t tick somewhere, but we did try looking for it – so even if it is an option, it’s not one that’s easy to find.

I’ll also admit that, while the Nexus 4 HDR images look more vibrant, they also look colder than the authentic colour reproductions of the iPhone 5 – a switch from how the images show up without HDR turned on. We used the default shooting mode for the Nexus 4 rather than choosing the indoor or daylight settings, just so all we were testing was the HDR feature.

Thankfully, HDR didn’t take too much longer to process on the Nexus 4 than a regular photo, but for such high end internals, you shouldn’t have to wait more than a second for any sort of image capture on the device. The iPhone 5 was speedy too, but HDR didn’t take longer to render than an average shot (still not as long as the Nexus 4 though).

Low Light Conditions (No Flash / Flash)

The iPhone 5 is supposed to have near unparalleled low-light capture capabilities, but the Nexus 4 fares very well in this instance. True, the iPhone 5 does pick up a tiny bit more detail in the low light shot (with touch to focus putting the flame as the focal point rather than … whatever it is autofocus featured), it’s not enough to make much of a difference.

With autofocus, you can tell that the iPhone 5 takes in more of the image’s details, although the light source blooms a little more of the image and washed it out a fair bit. Oddly enough, the Nexus 4 came out with a purple lens flare, not the iPhone 5! Curious.

When we bring flash into the equation, we notice a few minor differences in the two phones. While you can tell from just these two shots, the iPhone 5 was very hard to focu – the first few shots came out blurry and the flash flooded the image more than it should. Without focusing, the Nexus 4 consistently blanketed the entire shot with flash, making most of the colours come up white, especially the closer the object was to the phone’s camera itself.

Even with touch to focus setting the cube’s closest corner as the focal point, the Nexus 4 washes out a fair bit of the shot, making the red show up as yellow instead. It did tend to produce better detailing than the iPhone 5 though – as evidenced by the distinct reflection of the tabletop pattern in the last row of red on the cube as oppose to the slightly blurred version the iPhone 5 produces of the same area. The Nexus 4 also comes up a bit more vibrant than the iPhone 5.

Macro Photos (+ 100% comparison)


The amount of detail that both of these cameras pick up is astounding: both the iPhone 5 and the Nexus 4 do a great job of highlighting each bump on each swirl of these columns. The iPhone 5 shows up a tiny bit better contrast, the shine being more distinct and the Nexus 4 edges being ever so slightly blurred, but you’d only notice if you look at the 100% view, which you’d never realistically need to use.

The Nexus 4 does have better colours, the white showing up brilliantly despite being indoors. It’s brighter, more dynamic and still true to life. The iPhone 5’s colours are still somewhat realistic, even if they’re not as eye catching as the Nexus 4’s.


The iPhone 5 panorama shot is 7-8 times the size (in digital storage, MB) of the Nexus 4’s, which doesn’t show up clearly in this example but would become apparent if you were to print them both out. The amount of detail in the iPhone 5 shot puts the Nexus 4 panorama to shame, although you can only notice it at a very close view.

If you’re just viewing the shots on a screen and not at full resolution, they’re quite comparable. The iPhone 5 is darker and the colours aren’t as bold, but they actually show up more realistic in this case – the sky looks a bit ‘electric’ along the horizon in the Nexus 4 shot as opposed to the more natural hue offered by the iPhone 5.

They’ve both done an excellent job with stitching, the end result being a seamless panorama that captures the Sydney harbour quite nicely.


One thing the Nexus 4 has that the iPhone 5 doesn’t is Photosphere. While the technology is somewhat imperfect (the stitching process leaves a fair bit to be desired), the idea is pretty cool: a complete, spherical panorama that captures 360 degrees in every direction. Laying it out in a 2D format is a bit tough, but you can send these panoramas via Google Maps or G+ for others to view, which is when the technology really shines. If they manage to find a way to save the image for more platforms, like any mobile device or as an interactive, virtual ‘room’ for PCs, then I’ll be completely sold on the feature. Until then, it’s more novelty than anything else.

We really like the new Tiny World option though – turning those stunning full sphere panoramas into cute little … tiny worlds. It works better when you’ve got an open sky as your background, but essentially, it turns your panorama into a spherical representation of that one vantage point. Some people have done amazing things with the feature.

Video Recording

The iPhone 5 is a powerful video recording device, it’s stability a much touted feature – even if the Nokia Lumia 920 does outstrip it in that regard. It proves to be much more stable than the Nexus 4, which is disappointing since you’d think a Quad-Core processor and 2 GB RAM would be able to cope with rendering video much better than it does. It may just be stock Android software that’s holding back the Nexus 4’s video recording capabilities rather than a purely hardware driven issue. Either way, the iPhone 5 fares much better here.

In this example, you can see the iPhone 5’s ‘Purple Haze’ issue quite apparently when it pans past the light source (the sun, in this case). Even so, it actually beats out the Nexus 4 in terms of how capably it can cope with light-intensive situations, the colours holding true at angles where the Nexus 4 is saturated by lens flares and light blooming.

We didn’t really test sound here, as that’s a microphone issue, not the camera, but the iPhone 5 fares much better than its predecessors,thanks to the addition of two new microphones that cancel out background noise. Whether or not it beats out the Nexus 4 is hard to tell just form this example.


So there you have it – two excellent smartphones, each with a very capable and feature rich camera attached. In terms of superiority, it’s very hard to discern between the two: while the iPhone 5 was a clear winner in the video recording test and the Nexus 4’s panorama scene not being as print-friendly as the iPhone 5’s, their even footing in the rest of the categories prove that these two phones are very much on par with one another.

The main differences are concerned with how each phone renders an image, most notably with the iPhone 5 over-saturating some shots to come up with an incredibly dynamic, if not realistic, shot. Using a different app will get you different results and the Nexus 4, being the Android flagship handset, comes pre-equipped with adjustable settings and filters to change the contrast and temperature of its photos.

The level of detail is more or less equal in all of the conditions we tested them in, so it really comes down to personal preference: do you prefer the simple, easy usability of the iPhone 5 that turns out consistently great photos or are you more of a fine-tuning wizard who likes to control each shot to get authenticity or vibrancy, depending on your desired style?

If you want to see the iPhone 5’s camera up against the Samsung S3, the HTC One X and the iPhone 4S, head to MobilePhoneFinder’s 2012 Camera Phone Championships page.




5 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. J says:

    Of course you failed to mention how the Nexus 4 is $299 without contract and the iPhone 5 is double that price…

  2. a user says:

    if your job is to blindly praise apple, mission accomplished. however if you are supposed to be a true reviewer, you fail. I phones panorama mode does not put nexus 4 to shame. over saturated photos are bad. you can easily use an app to get that effect, however vice versa is a lot harder…hence nexus 4 wins that. your sample video shows nexus to be far superior in terms of quality. all in all nexus is the better camera, and like the previous commenter said…for about $200 less

  3. me says:

    the article is attempting to compare the less tangible aspects of the cameras. it’s a big DUH that the prices are different– that’s the more simple part to understand. but does the price change the capabilities of the camera in this comparison of quality?

    and I’ll take a camera that shoots 30fps 1080p video with better stabilization over one that typically shoots 22fps.

  4. Taha says:

    Do you expect for a site named macworld to make a true preview between Samsung and mac?

  5. Taha says:

    The site’s name is macworld, why would you want to see a review between mac and Samsung?

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