Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Sony RX100, how good is today’s smartphone camera?

    [dropcaps]Many of us use our smartphones as our primary cameras.  We’re aware that they cannot compete with real cameras.  Their lenses are too small.  But that’s okay, they’re good enough.  But for the curious folk, how good exactly?[/dropcaps]

    We continually see OEM’s pushing the technological capabilities of our tiny shooters.  To us faint of heart, they look superb, don’t they?  Is it justified that we cower in submission when our buddies, who lug their humongous DSLR everywhere, scoff at our puny, insignificant excuse of a camera?

    Well, I wouldn’t dare to say that it isn’t justified from a quality perspective.  But, I can argue that they’re not as bad and insignificant as they could be perceived.  This is why I thought a camera shootout should be in order.

    The Galaxy S6 camera is one of the best (if not the best) camera offerings in an Android smartphone.  And the contender?  Well, I felt it’d be frivolous to compare it to a DSLR.  They’re no where in the same league.  But what about a renowned compact camera?  On the opposing corner we have the Sony RX100 (Mark II).

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    Yes, I know.  Sony’s compact flagship is up to the Mark IV generation currently.  The Mark II is what I have in my arsenal.  Both models use a similar Carl Zeiss lens, it’s close enough.

    Before I begin, know that I’m no professional photographer.  But for this kind of comparison, I think that’s a good thing.  I won’t overdo the analysis and bore with technicalities.  I’m more interested in what the average user is interested in:  What is the grade of the pics coming out of my flagship smartphone camera?  Should I not be using it as a dedicated camera, am I unknowingly missing out?

    These are great questions to ask, which no one is asking.  And the results from my tests are quite surprising.  I went around shooting the same shots with both cameras, of random things.

    The Galaxy S6 camera shoots 16:9 at 16MP (I’m actually using the S6 Edge variant, but they both have the same camera).  The RX100 has 20 MP at 3:2 natively, but I set it at 16:9, which lowers the resolution to a more comparable 17 MP.  Furthermore, both cameras were set to their Auto modes (on the RX100, I used Sony’s Superior Auto setting).  The settings on the RX100 are far more adjustable than the S6 camera, but most people simply point and shoot.

    Let’s take a look at the results.  The Galaxy S6 images will be on the left and the RX100 images will be on the right.  I’ve made three category of images:  flowers/landscape, indoors, and outdoors/beach.

    Flowers/Landscape

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    The details here are extremely close.  I can’t really tell a difference, other than that the Galaxy S6 image looks a tad brighter.

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    It’s the same deal here.  The detail of the butterfly and flowers are all there in both images.  Focusing is a tad different.  The RX100 appears to start defocusing at a shorter distance.

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    This image shows a more interesting result.  The sun is shinning directly on the pansies, and that seems to throw the Galaxy S6 camera off.  Not drastically, but you can say that the pedals are slightly washed-out.  The RX100 captures their colors more deeply.  Also, the RX100 has more dramatic focusing going on with the background.

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    On this landscape image, I think it’s clear too which wins.  But again, we’re not looking at stark differences.  The plants in the RX100 image have deeper colors, and the overall tone isn’t as washed-out.

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    I saw my dog laying still, so thought it’d make a good pet photo (his name is Ian).  I actually prefer the Galaxy S6 shot on this one.  The RX100 image looks slightly washed-out this time.  And that plant he’s laying on looks clearer on the Galaxy S6 image.

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    This last one shows an angry spider on a daisy.  I think the RX100 is the clear winner here.  The RX100 captures detail on the small spider much better and the purple color of the daisy is deeper.

    Indoors

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    While great detail is captured by both cameras, the RX100 wins out with truer color reproduction.  To me, the Galaxy S6 image has a slight red tint to it.

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    What came out most noticeably in this comparison is the difference in focus depth.  The RX100 actually tends to be too aggressive with its pin-pointed autofocusing, for me.  To adjust it, you have to mess with lens aperture setting.

    The Galaxy S6 camera is able to capture the detail in the waffle and the moisture reflections of the banana.  I think it looks great.

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    This was an interesting, sort of low-light shot.  Because of the aggressive defocusing of the RX100, the Galaxy S6 actually captures the spider detail better (the RX100 focused on the bottom/right area of the web).  But like usual, the RX100 captures the scene colors better.  As seen before, the S6 camera’s overall color tone can be affected largely by the lighting situation.

    For the next pair of shots, I wanted to see how far I could push low light capture of both cameras.  I grabbed my trusty R.A.T. 9 gaming mouse and cut the lights slightly, and then tried an even dimmer spot.

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    The first pair of shots show that the Galaxy S6 camera starts to become grainy at lower light, but can still pull the detail it needs out of the subject.  Being that the RX100 has a larger lens, it can pull in more light, but it does start to show some blurryness.  When the light is removed even more, the S6 shot suffers in all areas.  Impressively, the RX100 is still able to find light, but it struggles more with the blurryness.

    Outdoors/Beach

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    I was impressed with the detail of the beach logs from both cameras.  My only complaint is that the Galaxy S6 image has a slighy peachy tint in comparison.

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    To me, this one is a win for the Galaxy S6.  The colors look richer on its image.  The details from both cameras are present.

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    Very similar image here.  I have a preference for the Galaxy S6 image again, solely because it looks brighter to me.

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    When I zoomed on a traveling ferry, I already knew which device would win.  The RX100 has optical zoom, the Galaxy S6 doesn’t.  I just wanted to see how wide the difference was.

    The RX100 can zoom a max of 3.6X, so this is how much I zoomed on the Galaxy S6.  As expected, just about everything is clearer/sharper on the RX100 image.

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    More fairly, I got a shot when the ferry docked.  An interesting point is the sunlight’s reflection on the mostly-white vessel.  To me, the Galaxy S6 camera slightly overblows the lighting on ship’s body.

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    I prefer the RX100 in this image.  I don’t know if it’s the lighting bouncing off the surrounding buildings, but the color of the flowers look richer to me in the RX100 shot.

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    The detail of the gate and defocusing around it are captured beautifully in both images.  But notice the color of the lawn.  For some reason the greenery is over-saturated on the Galaxy S6 image.

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    Both of these images came out great, to me.  I think I see that slight peachy tint on the Galaxy S6 image, but at the same time, it’s brighter.  So it may come down to preference.

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    This last one was when I sat down with a cup of coffee.  This was a shaded area, on a bright day.  Interestingly, both cameras reacted differently.  The S6 camera was more concerned with the overall shot, maintaining the contrast with the buildings in the background, but dimming the closer-up subjects (brick wall and chair).

    The RX100 appears to wash-out the surrounding buildings, but captures the direct subjects much better.  Notice the floor to the left, the RX100 detail is much better.

    Final Thoughts

    I was enormously impressed by the Galaxy S6 camera.  To a causal picture-taker, such as myself, it can totally compete with a good dedicated camera.  And this is saying a lot, because the RX100 is roughly the same cost of the Galaxy S6 itself.

    Yes, there were clear moments that the RX100 won.  To sum it up, the Galaxy S6 camera can lose color richness and have a tint with certain lighting conditions, it can’t zoom well (like other digital zooming cameras), and it can’t keep up in low-light shots.

    But none of the general negatives were drastic, it’s just nit-picking.  And on some of those comparisons, I had to reach deep to comment on something negative.  Do you agree with my assessments?

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