Apple didn't do much to the iPhone's camera between the 4S and the 5. Then again, it didn't really have to.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The iPhone 4S has one of the best cameras on a smartphone, and with some improved processing and other enhancements, the iPhone 5 now does, too. But it's not the only mobile device with a good camera built in, with the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3 offering up some strong competition.
All three devices use an 8-megapixel backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor. Basically, the benefit of BSI CMOS sensors over regular CMOS sensors is that their design allows more light to reach the photo diodes, which means that less light is needed to get a properly exposed photo. The result is better low-light photo quality. (Keep in mind, though, that just because they all have the same sensor type doesn't mean that the sensors are of the same quality, or that the image processing will be identical.)
To further help out in low-light conditions, all of the models have large apertures; the iPhone has an f/2.4 33mm lens, the Galaxy S III has an f/2.6 27mm lens and there's an f/2 28mm lens on the One X. Brighter lenses let in more light, so there's less of a need to use higher ISO sensitivities that introduce noise and kill detail.
All three of the cameras have very good shooting performance with no or low shutter lag and fast shot-to-shot recovery, so you're never really left waiting to take the next shot.
Shooting options are pretty basic for the iPhone 5, with no controls over things like ISO or white balance, but you do get HDR and the new panorama mode. The Samsung and HTC phones , on the other hand, are closer to using a stand-alone point-and-shoot camera, with different scene modes and more control over results (though I doubt that these things will matter to most people), and they, too, have HDR and panorama modes that essentially work in the same way as the iPhone's.
We hesitate to pick an overall winner here — our time shooting with all three was brief — but when it came down to picture quality, the iPhone 5 regularly produced excellent photos regardless of lighting. The One X is a pretty close second, however, turning out photos with nice colour and detail. The Galaxy S3 turns out very good pictures, too, but they're not as usable at larger sizes as the iPhone 5's. Take a look for yourself in the slideshow below.