Comparing Cameras

The Nexus 5 was an amazing phone for its time. For $350 you could get an unlocked phone with stock Android and a phenomenal camera. It was only 8 megapixels, but it had features like HDR+ and OIS, which were revolutionary for 2013.

Unfortunately, over the summer my Nexus 5 died and I needed to get a new phone. I wanted to get a phone with a good camera, but it didn’t feel right spending $600+ on a flagship phone. I ended up trying the Moto E4. It’s an amazing phone for $129, but I didn’t like the camera, so I decided to upgrade to a Cyber Monday Moto G5+ for ~$200. It has a Sony IMX362, the same sensor that’s in the Pixel 2. The f/1.7 lens is great too. The camera doesn’t have OIS, and it lacks a lot of the hardware-based image post-processing present in the Pixel line, but it seemed like a decent compromise to me.

Meanwhile, my wife just upgraded her Nexus 5 to an iPhone SE. The iPhone SE has the same camera as the iPhone 6s, which has been favorably reviewed.

With 5 different cameras, I decided to take some comparison shots.

I started by taking a shot of one of my bookshelves. Below are 5 shots:

Nikon D5100, ISO3200, 1/30 sec (full resolution)

iPhone SE (full resolution)

Moto E4, ISO 1600, 1/17 sec (full resolution)

Moto G5+, ISO 640, 1/15 sec (full resolution)

Nexus 5, ISO 780, 1/15 sec (full resolution)

The D5100 has the most accurate color representation and exposure. The iPhone SE shot looks darker than it does in real life. I don’t know if this is an underexposure problem or a color temperature problem, but either way, the end result isn’t great. The Moto G5+ is slightly overexposed and oversaturated, but I think it works pretty well in this picture. Ditto for the Moto E4, which isn’t surprising given the fact that they’re running similar software. For some reason the Nexus 5 ended up taking a really blue photo here. This could possibly be explained by the fact that the phone was still running Android 4.4.2.

I cropped out a small part of the image so I could get a better idea of how detailed the images are:

iPhone SE

Nexus 5

Moto G5+

Moto E4


The iPhone SE did a surprsingly bad job here. There’s lots of noise in the image and much of the text is illegible. For example, the bottom book is “Robinson Crusoe”, but the text is totally illegible. The only camera it outperformed was the Moto E4.

The Moto G5+ preserved more detail than the iPhone SE with less noise, which is somewhat expected given the fact that the Moto G5+ has a bigger and better sensor than the iPhone SE. Notice how “Robinson Crusoe” is mostly legible.

The Nexus 5 seemed to outperform the G5+ here. “Robinson Crusoe” is legible in both images, but “MARBLES THE BRAIN STORE” is slightly more legible in the Nexus 5’s shot. As you would expect, a simple shot with the D5100 in auto mode outperforms all the camera phones. And if I put the D5100 on a tripod and take a 1 second shot at ISO 100, the detail is exceptional:

Now for something completely different: Wallace in the dark foreground, with the neighbor’s relatively well-lit house in the background.

iPhone SE (full resolution)

Moto E4, ISO 640, 1/17 sec (full resolution)

Moto G5+, ISO 400, 1/30 sec (full resolution)

Nexus 5, ISO 373, 1/32 sec (full resolution)

In my opinion, the Nexus 5 seems to have the best HDR postprocessing here. It has the smallest amount of overexposure, and it does a good job of preserving the colors correctly. The detail isn’t quite as good as I’d like, but I can live with that.

The iPhone SE does a pretty good job of minimizing overexposure, but I was unhappy with the resulting colors. The image is way warmer than it should be. In real life, the trim on the house is a bright white, but in the picture it is very much a brownish off-white. Wallace is also a little bit darker than I would like.

The Moto G5+ does an okay job here. I’m not happy with the overexposed house in the background, but I am happy with high quality of the foreground. Everything indoors is properly exposed and generally high quality, which makes up for the overexposed house in this specific case.

The Moto E4 has a lot of the same problems as the G5+ here, but the problems are worse. The overexposure of the neighbor’s house is worse. The camera needed to reduce the shutter speed to 1/17th of a second in order to take this shot, which resulted in a somewhat blurry picture.

I’m feeling somewhat better after my G5+ purchase after this experiment. It is a significant improvement over the E4, although I’m not sure it was worth the extra money I had to spend. But more expensive phones only seem to produce marginally better pictures. I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars for a marginally better camera, especially when I already have a DSLR that can easily outperform any camera phone on the market. I think it’s also impressive that the Nexus 5 was able to hold its own against these newer phones.