Nexus Camera Battle: 5 vs 4

A shiny new Nexus 5 landed on my front porch today. I enjoy photography, so I was hopeful the Nexus 5 would significantly outperform my Nexus 4. I managed to dual wield the 4 and the 5 to snap off a few comparison shots this evening. You can see the results, below, along with some initial thoughts on how the 5 performed.

TLDR: More Light + Better Sensor = Happiness

Nexus 4 (ISO 1000, f/2.7, 1/20s) - Full Resolution

Nexus 5 (ISO 172, f/2.4, 1/8s) - Full Resolution

The Good News

Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) allows the Nexus 5 to choose slower shutter speeds. Its autoexposure algorithm makes aggressive use of this. Shooting with a phone, hand-held, with a 1/8s exposure, and having minimal camera shake blur is pretty amazing. Almost across the board, the Nexus 5 chose a shutter speed around a full stop slower than the Nexus 4.

The Nexus 5 shoots sharp while wide open at f/2.4. In theory, the Nexus 4 also has an f/2.4 maximum aperture, but in none of my reference shots did it choose to open up beyond f/2.7. Combined with the longer shutter speeds, the Nexus 5 is soaking its sensor with more than twice the light of the 4.

The Nexus 5 optics and sensor are better, too. In only one test shot did the 4 choose ISO 100 and the 5 went higher. The 5's result was still sharper. With a wave of the hands, this is some evidence that the optics are improved. Once shots get beyond ISO 1000, the Nexus 5 is much less noisy than the 4. The sensor is certainly an upgrade.

Image quality is improved. Color looks better than the 4 (I'll come back to this in the bad news). Images are sharper. The front-facing camera improved by an even bigger margin than the back.

The Bad News

Too saturated. All of the shots felt on the saturated site, some especially so. The Nexus 4 tended to do a better job faithfully reproducing the colors of this cold, cloudy day. That said, the saturated pictures overall look better than the Nexus 4's dullness. It'd be nice if saturation could be dialed down.

Shutter release lag is pretty awful. Using the stopwatch on the Nexus 4, I unscientifically measured around 1s to 2s between pressing the shutter release and the exposure actually being taken. Even with focus locked in, it takes a full second. The Nexus 4's reaction was closer real time with focus, and still faster without focus.

The lag should get better with software, but there's a part of me that's nervous it's there to enable the slower shutter speeds (or, perhaps, a period of time in which an algorithm decides if the camera is stable enough for such slow shutter speeds).

Longer shutter speeds are a gamble. A decent number of shots were blurry. I'm guessing my dual-wielding hands were too shaky for the OIS to overcome it. Combined with the shutter release lag, it's quite a long time to maintain a frame. I'm doubtful the Nexus 5 will be able to shoot moving targets.

Auto white balance is slow. Simple solution: don't use auto white balance. Lazy solution: in warm/incandescent environments, give the camera around 5-10 seconds to adjust. Fun exercise: flip to the front camera and back indoors and watch how long it takes to find white balance. There's a good example of what happens when you don't give it enough time, below.

Comparison Shots

All but one of the comparison shots are scaled down from an arbitrary cropping to help highlight differences. These were shot using Android's default camera app. No additional post processing was done beyond crop and scale.

Natural Light

Nexus 4 (ISO 100, f/2.7, 1/25s)

Nexus 5 (ISO 227, f/2.4, 1/50s)

Nexus 4 (ISO 100, f/2.7, 1/25s, 1:1 pixels)

Nexus 5 (ISO 227, f/2.4, 1/50s, 1:1 pixels)

Nexus 4 (ISO 1100, f/2.7, 1/20s)

Nexus 5 (ISO 216, f/2.4, 1/8s)

Incandescent Light

Nexus 4 (ISO 1200, f/2.7, 1/25s)

Nexus 5 (ISO 706, f/2.5, 1/17s)

Nexus 4 (ISO 1600, f/2.7, 1/13s)

Nexus 5 (ISO 665, f/2.4, 1/8s) - White Balance: fail.

Nexus 4 (ISO 1400, f/2.7, 1/20s)

Nexus 5 (ISO 337, f/2.4, 1/8s)

Low Light

Nexus 4 (ISO 1700, f/2.7, 1/13s)

Nexus 5 (ISO 1624, f/2.4, 1/6s)

Nexus 4 (ISO 1600, f/2.7, 1/13s)

Nexus 5 (ISO 1624, f/2.4, 1/6s)


(Snapchat friends, watch out. My front-facing camera just got a massive upgrade.)

Nexus 4 (ISO 500, f/2.7, 1/10s) Nexus 5 (ISO 379, f/2.9, 1/17s)


I'm pleased with the Nexus 5's camera improvements. Sure, it has some limitations, but there's plenty of headroom to take great photos within those limits. The Nexus 5 is capturing 2x-4x the light of the Nexus 4 and with much better image quality. Well lit exposures will be much higher quality photos, and lower light exposures are now possible. My Instagrams of coffee are going to look so sexy.