Windows Phone Camera Faceoff: HTC 8X, Lumia 920 and Olympus OM-D
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How do flagship Windows Phone 8 cameras compare to a prosumer DSLR? We find out.

Windows Phone Camera Faceoff: HTC 8X, Nokia Lumia 920 and Olympus OM-D

The other day we shared a night photo comparison between the Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone and a Canon 1D-X DSLR. While the Canon 1D-X and Lumia 920 cameras are worlds apart, the Lumia 920 didn't do a bad job of capturing night photos. All of which made us wonder how the recent crop of Windows Phones would measure up against your run of the mill stand alone digital camera.

We recently took the HTC 8X, Nokia Lumia 920 and Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera out for a comparative test drive and the Windows Phone cameras didn't do to shabby of a job. The Olympus is a mirrorless camera that is similar is design to a "point and shoot" digital camera. It has a 4/3rds sensor shares the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the two Windows Phones and the camera has in-body stabilization which is loosely similar to the Lumia 920's.

While the Olympus OM-D isn't your typical run of the mill digital camera (closest we had) the settings were adjusted to come close to both the Lumia 920 and 8X. Basically we dialed back the Olympus to come close to the typical 8MP point and shoot style camera. Just for the record, here is the tell of the tape on the cameras used.

  1. Olympus OM-D EM-5: 16MP micro four thirds sensor fitted with a 14mm f2.5 lens (28mm equivalent). The Olympus has in-body stabilization (IBIS) that stabilizes the sensor on five axes (pitch, yaw, vertical, rolling, horizontal).
  2. HTC 8X: 8MP BSI 1/3" sensor with a 28mm f2.0 lens. The HTC does not have any stabilization methods.
  3. Nokia Lumia 920: 8.7MP BSI 1/3" sensor with a 26mm f2.0 lens. The Lumia 920 has optical stabilization (OIS) that stabilizes the entire camera housing. While we can't confirm, we suspect the stabilization covers two axises (pitch and yaw).

Test images were shot with the 8X and Lumia 920 set to default settings except for the aspect ratio which was set to 4:3 on both Windows Phones.

The Olympus was set to aperture priority (camera automatically determines the shutter speed) for f2.5 to match the aperture of the Lumia 920 and 8X as close as possible. ISO settings were set to automatic and the JPEG quality to medium on the Olympus to reduce the image resolution to just under 8MP. 

All images have not been post processed beyond resizing them for publication.  Each photo sample displays, from left to right, images captured by the Olympus OM-D, Lumia 920 and 8X.  All photos were shot hand held.  You can find the un-edited, full resolution images in this zip file (about 23MB).

Outdoor Photo Sample
Outdoor Photo Sample: Olympus OM-D, Lumia 920 and 8X

Night Photo Sample
Night Photo Sample: Olympus OM-D, Lumia 920 and 8X

The bottom line is that while we won't pretend that our Windows Phones can compete with stand alone digital cameras of the likes of the Canon 1D-X, Olympus OM-D EM-5 or any other prosumer level cameras. But for the most part, they can hold their own.  You can see the advantage the larger sensor of the Olympus brings to the table in these extreme crops of the day and night samples.

Day Photo Sample Extreme Crop
Day Photo Sample Extreme Crop: Olympus OM-D, Lumia 920 and 8X

Night Photo Sample Extreme Crop
Night Photo Sample Extreme Crop: Olympus OM-D, Lumia 920 and 8X

I think the Olympus wins out with regards to sharpness and handles varying lighting situations better with regards to color balance.  The Lumia 920 still has the better balance outdoors while the 8X does better with indoor lighting.  The stabilization on the Olympus and Lumia 920 helps both cameras tackle night shots and the slower shutter speeds.

Indoor Photo Sample
Indoor Photo Sample: Olympus OM-D, Lumia 920 and 8X

Outdoor Photo Sample
Outdoor Photo Sample: Olympus OM-D, Lumia 920 and 8X

As with the Canon 1D-X, the Olympus OM-D is a completely different camera from our Windows Phones. From the larger sensor, faster AF, interchangeable lenses, larger ISO range and basically more horsepower under these cameras are in a different category. While using the Olympus more or less like a point and shoot camera the two Windows Phones matched up nicely. But open up the Olympus and you begin to see the differences.

Still, the image quality coming from either the 8X and Lumia 920 is respectable in its own right. Consider it this way, Windows Phone cameras have advanced through the years from being a novelty feature to quality photographic tools. There is room for improvement (better white balance handling, boost in sharpness, etc.) and our Windows Phone cameras do have some limitations.  Still these camera are evolving into nice general purpose devices for everyday snap shots, landscapes, and people pictures. If you're planning on more challenging subjects (e.g. sports, wildlife, anything that needs a flash, etc.) then you'll need to  look to a DSLR or similar where faster auto focus, higher frames per second (burst rate) and better lens selection gives these cameras a significant edge.

Hopefully future generations of cameras will have faster auto focus systems, mechanical shutters, and more controls from the settings. We're not sure if such advancements will level the playing field but they sure would make things interesting.

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Reader comments

How do flagship Windows Phone 8 cameras compare to a prosumer DSLR? We find out.

109 Comments

Hopefully Nokia will fix that with a firmware update, as for now, we have Creative Studio or Thumba Photo Editor to enhance the sharpness :)

31 days of a phone release still does not equal "almost" 60 days, I don't care if you have ADD or not. It's just wrong.

Regardless, updates take time and if they're goingn to flash the firmware/update the phone, they better do it for more than just the camera.

If your credit card company told you on November 30 that you have a month to pay the bill, and then charge you late charge on December 1st. Would you complain?

Honestly, there's no reason not to use Creative Studio. It sharpens, it can crop, it can fix red eye and it even does some "hip" filters if you so choose. It will fix any photo on the Lumia 920 in a jiffy.

It would be interesting to see the affect on  the Lumia pics after they have been corrected by application of sharpening etc  to see how they then fair compared to the other two. Alot of these photoshop type apps seem to save at a reduced resolution which sort of defeats the object

First world problems. Ill take soft pics with my lumia 920 over anything the competition uses any day. The ois makes up for any shortcomings. You cant really fix a lack of hardware, but you can fix a software compression issue...

The downside is that the WP8 version of Creative Studio doesn't have live filters (basically in lens mode) built-in like the WP7 version, and some of the crazier ones from the WP7 version didn't make it to WP8.
 
But yeah, as a serious photo editor the WP8 version is much better.

It's a waste of time! The pictures shouldn't have anything wrong with them in the first place! Even if it only takes 10 seconds to fix each shot, if someone takes a couple hundred pictures in a weekend they shouldn't have to spend half an hour fixing them.

Where's the auto-adjust we used to have in the WP7.5 Creative Studio? In WP8, if you pick the original "filter", you can't save the photo, meaning it still hasn't done anything. The rest of the filters are the Instagram kind. And through the adjust and fix menus, there's nothing to auto-adjust. In other words, how do you get rid of the softness problem?

Seems to me, with the exception of low light, the Olympus and the 8x got a lot in common. The 920 still need work.

Hmm,  I don't think so. In the zoomed out building pics, 920 and Olympus looked closer to me. 8x looked different. 
Only in zoomed in cropped images, 8x looked better than 920. 

Agreed.  8X pics look artificially brighter or maybe over-exposed?
No doubt, L920 day pics sharpness can't compete before editing.
Just glad that most camera phones can take such good pics that I don't need to lug around a digital cam for daily pic taking.

Damn, I like the 8X but Nokia has the apps. On Verizon, but I don't like the 822. I guess I'm stuck on my trophy until my contract runs out. I'll see what's out after that.

Wow! Imagine if Nokia'd fuse with HTC. Awesome cameras + Awesome designs... Dude that low light is amazing on the 920 and the outdoor light the 8X IS BRILLIANT.
I'm so happy that I have one of these (8x) made by gods devices :D.

Yeah the softness and the color balance on the 920 is definitely a downer but at least its nothing major that can't be fixed other than that I'll be happy taking pics with either phone

Color balance of the 920 seems fine to me. That outdoor night shot is just the auto whitebalance kicking in exceptionally well for Lumia 920. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Agreed. I much prefer the color balance on the 920 over the 8X, however, sharpness is a big weak spot right now. Definitely hoping to see an update for that part.
 
That said, both phones do remarkably well considering what they're designed for compared to an SLR camera. Congratulations to the Windows Phone teams working with HTC and Nokia.

I love the 920 on the first and last pictures. But man, that phone does some weird things with color.

They're both great phones, the 8X does do well with the exception of the night shots. Although still admirable. The 920 is good in low light, but needs a little work done to improve the sharpness in daylight. I think most would be happy with either of the phones for their camera abilities.

The 920 would be the best choice if it didn’t brick after a week, I have a 900 too, I went through a lot of exchanges ( more  than 5) to get a working one back when it came out, I am so furious that the 920 bricked like that and have to go through the exchange process again.
I am now happy with my 8x.

"The 920 would be the best choice if it didn’t brick after a week"

The problem here is taking your personal experience and falsely expanding that to an across the board criticism.

For instance, it's a fair criticism to say the HTC 8S may won't be a good phone for you if you need NFC (as it does not have it). That's 100% accurate and true for everyone, therefore a valid criticism for that circumstance.

Saying that the 920 bricks after a week or you had hardware issues is not an across-the-board criticism and therefore not applicable to the overwhelming majority who have that phone.

This is the difference between an actual review versus personal gripes.

No one is doubting your claim or bad experience--and it's understandable why you would switch.

But it is the exception and not the rule. Very few Lumia 920s have "bricked".  It's your criticism from your experience but not a valid criticism of the device as a whole as it's not an across-the-board problem, reproducible or uncommon with high end electronics. (There are bad batches of iPhone 5s, no?).

We have 7 Lumia 920's here at WPC and not one has had a hardware failure nor is our inbox flooded with complaints of this nature.

i wonder how you use your phones... i never had an issue with all the nokias that i had use use eversince.

So you literally went through 36 different Nokia Lumia 900s and you are trying to tell me that they kept sending you them?  Pretty sure once you got up to 10 that your carrier would start to think "Hey...maybe this guy is the issue and not the phone" and at 20 they might have said "Maybe we should just drop this guy?" and at 30 they might as well pay you to just get rid of you... 

Someone is excited, I didn't say 36, it was  around 12 times for all 3 not for each one, I bought the 3 phones online, first exchange was by mail for 2 phones, the third broke later on, the rest of the exchanges where at different ATT stores, the first few exchanges where in NY all where bad phone, the final working phones I got where from CT.
Why people are getting so upset ? What’s the problem if I don’t like the Nokia phones because of my bad experience with bad devices.

I don't see anyone upset here except you. I bought a Lumia 900 and 2 Lumia 920 and all of them have ZERO of the problems that were discussed in the forum. 2 were from AT&T and one from mail order. I am not doubting your experience but I have a completely different experience than you. You just got to be one of the most unlucky guy.

After being stuck with the HTC Incredible for two years, I would never buy HTC again! Good luck with it.

Your experience doesn't equal all. Though you've had bad experience, there is more that have had perfectly good devices.

Since we are talking cameras , Did anyone see a comparsion between the Nokia Lumia 920 & the Sony Xperia phones with Exmor R sensors ? Sony says the Exmor R sensors makes the camera takes great Low-Light Pictures. 

Try a different browser or uninstall one of your plugins...that CSS code is not from our site. I'll edit your posts to remove that coding.

Thanks Daniel !
I guess its the Pocket plugin that cuased this , (I only had Evernote plugin before I downloaded it) . I 'll unistall it

Im shocked at how bad the extreme crop for the building looked on the 920. Im hoping that Nokia release a fix for this real soon...

this is a software issue, one that will hopefully be corrected i was at an event saturday night and the pitch black photos with flash are just bad it always had a blue hue to them. images are clear and video quality is amazing which of course i compared to my friends iphone 5 a dslr and a nexus 4. the video quality compared to the nexus 4 is on a different level the iphone held its own and the canon camera well i guess you can imagine.

On that daylight building crop the 920 is showing complete destruction of the details, jagged edges of the arches and purple fringing around the windows. The 8X is not bad.

Nokia's camera makes the colors too "cool". I like the 8X's camera more, surprisingly. So, we admit that these cameras don't really match up to a DSLR, but what about point and shoots? Test against a Canon G series (like the G12, or G15), a Sony Cybershot, or something of that ilk. I mean, that's what we're really looking to replace with our phone's camera, right?

I intentionally dumbed down the Olympus to act like a point and shoot camera. The only difference would be the sensor size and software. Point and Shoots will have a larger sensor as well though. I wouldn't have a problem using either the 920 or 8x as I would a point and shoot camera. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses but nothing that can't be corrected with simple editing.

Touche. I always have a large slew of cameras with me: my phone (an HTC), a Canon Powershot G12, and a Sony A77 (have an A33 as a back-up). I find I rarely use the Canon as my phone is just as good anymore, but I find that I prefer the versatility of the DSLRs and will almost always take the time (if I have the chance) to dig one out and use it over anything else (as should be expected, and was shown, in this and previous articles).
Also, great write-up and comparison! As a photographer, I like to see these often. ^_^ I heard you guys picked up some of the attachable lenses to be used with phones. How soon can we expect to see some comparison shots from these?

920 handles lighting very well. but the sharpness in the 920 need some serious work. at the moment i am a bit frustrated with the camera and i hope that it actually is fixable by software.

I think the blurr issue could be a few factors that can be fixed easily, I believe Nokia incorporates noise reduction in their software that is not needed in day time pics, especially bright scenes where ISOs range from 100 or 200.  When I take a pic, I notice that right before it saves to the phone it looks very sharp, then becomes a bit blurrier right before it zips to the left into the camera roll, if you pay close attention you will notice it.
Another issue is the auto focus, using finger tap is sometimes better and where you tap is where the lumia will focus so you can manually pick focal points.  A lot of the shots posted online are blurry due to user error.

Its the only smartphone that can sort of hang with a DSLR, and probably beat most P&S cameras. To comapre it to other smartphones is.. not fair really.

Its funny how I looked at the pictures before reading the article and immediately thought the white washed photos were that of the HTC 8X and it turned out the be Lumia 920. Wow.

Which photos are "white washed" and what do you mean by that--Color balance or over exposure? White washed is not a technial term..

I don't know the technical term. Really I was just surprised that the colors were off. Not sure if it's the white balance or color saturation as I'm no camera expert. If Nokia fixes those things along with the sharpness, its no longer a contest.

I really hope Nokia fixed the softness on the Lumia, the picture looks great till you zoom in; the video though out of the Lumia is crisp, especially at 1080p.

In the last shot, the 920 got the exposure perfect while Olympus overexposured a bit and HTC by a lot.
 
Auto whitebalance also seems to be the best on the 920.

Don't take it personally, I suggest you (and some others here) learn a thing or two about photography before taking on topics like white balance and exposure.
 
I also recommend to WPCentral that pictures are more clearly explained in proper photography science context. I think some of those comparison articles (here and many other blogs) confuses people more than help them. The outdoor night shot above is one example. Most people have no clue what the heck is going on. They mistakenly think 920 is the worst only because it's different than Olympus's shot. They have no concept of whitebalance! Same with the last shot in terms of exposure.

1) They are good camera phones but comparing them to any DSLR is like comparing a point and shoot to a DSLR.  Only people inclined to wishful thinking will view them as even being in the same ballpark. 
2) The Olympus camera, in spite of their marketing, has neither a prism nor a mirror and is, therefore, not an SLR camera at all.  It is a mirrorless interchageable lens camera with a sensor bigfer than a point and shoot but smaller than a DSLR. 
3) The Olympus cameras are not in the same league as even the basic DSLR offerings from Nikon and Canon.

Gotta disagree with you on the last point.  The OM-D is just as capable as the basic DSLR offerings from Canon or Nikon.  It can even hold it's own against the upper end DSLR offerings from Canon or Nikon.

Agree with George about #3. Not to venture too far off topic, but the Olympus has usable ISO up to 6400, and I don't think twice about ISO 3200. Virtually no shutter lag, fast autofocus, etc. And the IBIS isn't just best in class, it is probably the best out there. About the only area where it is objectively worse than dSLR is in autofocus tracking e.g. for sport photography.

I understand this isn't a photography forum, but holy cow your third point is wrong! Dpreview themselves said the only step up in image quality from the Olympus OM-D is to go full-frame (and put down $1500+ more). DxoMark rates the OM-D's sensor higher than even the Canon 7D, 60D, and entry level series, as well as above the Nikon D300s and D3100. The OM-D is also as (in most cases more) customizable than any of those cameras with a number of features that only the highest end DSLRs include.
And this isn't the only Olympus in that league. The lesser priced E-PL5 and E-PM2 score 1 point higher than the OM-D (they're slightly newer), putting them even with the D5000 and one point behind the D90.
It's a common misconception, so I can forgive, but hopefully you are now better educated.

+1 on the thumbing down the EM-5 isn't as good as a low end DSLR.  Even a humble E-PL1 can keep up with the entry level SLR offerings on raw picture quality.  Not performance, mind you, but picture quality.

An EM-5 can do both.  Well.  It's a big boy camera.

I went into a local Costco (Manitoba) and their Wireless Etc... store had a Rogers Nokia 920. Got to play around with it for a bit (no sim in it, no live account linked so no store downloads for some of the Lens apps). 
I liked the phone, but the black matte was slippery. I'm going to wait for a gloss skin to reserve judgement.
Took a few pics with it - found some low-light situations which it did fantastic ...but....
It was frustrating to see the screen take a normal-light pic, and the screen shows it focusing and getting really sharp, but the image produced is far too soft.
 
I am holding off on any of them at this time - I want a different colour, and lets see what Nokia can do to fix this.

it's so frustrating seeing the Lumia blow away other cameras in exposure and color reproduction, but be unusably blurry. The firmware update can't come soon enough.

you said it once i get that color balance and sharpness with my photos ill be taking photos every day for no reason. OH a coffee mug *snap OH a pizza box *snap OH a fly honey *snap Oh a flash light *snap. LOL

The firmware update should hopefully be here before Day Light Savings time... For people up north whatever our days are short nights are long the L920 is great right now.

. I'm a Lumia 900 owner and I got burned by Nokia's overhyped camera.  I am so happy I didn't go out and pay full price for a 920 cause frankly once again they let us down in delivering the ultimate camera phone.  Clearly the daytime pictures are not as good as the 8x.  You would think that getting the daytime pics right would be given concidering they got the night time pics right .  But no.  Nokia once again fails to come through in the one area they are suppose to excell at.  The 920 is a very good phone but a platform like Windows Phone with little market share really needs Nokia to come through.  And that means making the ultimate camera phone, wich they have not.  And to make matters worse we have 920s bricking left and right.  Unacceptable.

Call it bias because I own a 920, but I've been super happy with the 920 daytime and medium-to-low light shots. The 8X daytime shots are sharper by default when you zoom in, but that's a pretty meaningless metric to me. Also, the 920 video recording w/ HAAC mics is MILES beyond pretty much all of the competition, and Nokia's Creative Studio and Smart Shoot software is fantastic and unavailable on HTC devices. 
I love the "rampant" reports of 920s bricking. I've had to do one - ONE - hard reset in 31 days. I did one or two soft resets due to a sound bug. Otherwise, it's a dream. 

I would be interested to see how the 920 and 8X compare to a point-and-shoot camera. I am a little shocked at the poor coloring across the board from the 920, but hopefully will be fixed in an update.

Poor coloring on the 920? The night shot and indoor shot are actually the correct white balance. The yellow wash in the others is inaccurate.

As fate would have it , last night I was taking the annual "picture of the house decorated at night" that I trouble friends and family with. I have always used a tripod mounted DSLR in manual with no flash to get the proper effect. I was a bit more impatient than usual, my 920 was in my pocket so I gave it a whirl. The metering in low light for this phone is pretty darn good. Not as good as a DSLR but better than most point and shoots plus you don't have to fiddle with f-stops and shutter speeds to get a passable image. I do a lot of night photography and can attest; the camera in the Lumia ain't to shabby!

Just have to say, I amazed a few iPhone users at dinner the other night by taking pictures in a candle lit resturant with no flash or focus assist.  I was suprised myself how well they turned out.  iPhone people were wondering how I did it and what kind of phone I had.  Very pleased with my 920 and the abilities of the camera.

I'm curious where the auto-focus region was set on all the photos and whether these photos were taken by pushing the camera shutter button or pressing on screen and whether there was any associated shake or movement in the phone as a result.   Were the phones mounted on a tripod or supported in any way or were they handheld shots?
 
 

The indoor/night shots have shutter times of 1/10 sec and slower and have decent amount of motion blur. Sure that might be how most people take these shots but makes 1:1 comparison impossible. It seems 920 IS is working somewhat here.

I think that cameras in phones have been 'good enough' for a while. Most people show their photos to their friends and families right from the phone. Hi-res screens we have now sure help. Anyway, I'm glad to see the progress in mobile photography, and two powerhouses like Nokia and HTC are gonna make the next few years very interesting.

I really truly think that any issues the Lumia 920 has with sharpness is 100% fixable in their JPG processing of the daylight "scene" as autodetected when shooting.  A bump in sharpness and a smaller bump in contrast should do the trick and a little tweaking of saturation.  I'd like to see these controls return to the menu so users can make some adjustments to suit tastes.
In the end, I do think the hardware of the Lumia 920 is superior and when they adjust the JPG processing, we'll see more positive results.  In the meantime for any pics that I intend to be seen somewhere other than my phone screen or Twitter/Facebook, I'll just add those tweaks myself in editing software.  I'm been nice this year, so maybe Nokia will see fit to gift me the update before Christmas.  Otherwise, I'll have to have everyone turn down the lights so I can get the best pictures possible! :)

 

In some pictures, the Lumia 920 lacks detail. I also see this on my L920. I compared pics taken from iPhone 4 and my Lumia, the lumia's color is more cool, while the iPhone 4 was closer to the naked eye. Somewhat disappointing. Hope Nokia have a fix.

Great you offer full download. I checked and see right away indoor and night comparison are impossble due to motion blur.
If you look for example at HTC 8X night.jpg you see shutter time 1/13 sec. So of course the picture failed unless you used a tripod or stabilized against something (or increased ISO). The 920 is even worse at 1/5 sec but didn't fail as badly (I guess IS seems to be working or shot was done differently).
So that leaves you with daylight pictures. The 920 has decent amount of CA (look at purple fringing especially in the middle). I don't think 8X post processed that away. Nokia could do more PP but I doubt it will have eventually the sharpness of the 8X lens (at least not the resolution).

I'd say in ideal light the Nokia Lumia 820 held its own, but in lower light, it was terrible and colors are too washed out. I'd like to see the color histograms compared in Photoshop. I don't knock the detail provided by these cameras, since you can only do so much with the current technology relative to the size, but it looks like the Lumia took the middle ground there. There's always going to be some compromise when going for a Point-And-Shoot or a phone camera versus a full fledged DSLR, but I'd really like to see a firmware upgrade or better photo processing software on the Lumia. Thanks for the comparison!