12MP Camera Phone Comparison: Sony Xperia S vs Nokia N8

Mobile phone camera technology has come a long way in recent years, from the substandard VGA offerings of yesteryear to the compact camera-challenging smartphones of today. Even the most basic device is now able to offer a dizzying array of options for the photography-conscious consumer, including intelligent ISO, wide-angle lenses and face recognition.

At the very top end of the camera phone market, The Nokia N8 has long been considered the benchmark by which others are measured. Boasting a 12 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, xenon flash and autofocus, its arrival showcased just what was possible when taking dedicated digital camera features and placing them into a smartphone.

However, the new Sony Xperia S looks set to steal the Nokia’s crown. The Japanese manufacturer’s flagship unit not only matches the Nokia’s megapixel count, it also includes super-fast capture and the impressive Exmor R sensor technology, the very same sensor that can be found in Sony’s high-end compacts.

Both handsets certainly impress on paper, but which has the best image capturing capability in the real world? We decided to compare the devices in three key photographic areas to see which performs its duties to the highest standard. The areas under the spotlight are:

  • Point-and-Shoot Mode
  • Landscape Mode
  • Macro Mode

Point-and-Shoot Mode

When used as an out-of-the pocket snapper, the Xperia S cannot fail to impress. Its ability to shoot from standby in just 2.2 seconds by simply holding down the shutter button means the device is ready to go virtually as soon as you see the shot. This, when combined with the intuitive on-screen interface means that those special moments can be captured as they happen. Our test images gleaned high quality results showing good colour saturation and little loss of clarity.

Sony Xperia S - Snapshot Sample

The Nokia N8 wasn’t able to match the Sony unit as a point-and-shoot device, the lag when going from a locked unit being far longer than that exhibited by the Xperia S. The on-screen interface is competent rather than impressive but the compact size of the handset does aid composition when putting together a shot. Image clarity and saturation is broadly similar to that of the Sony with only marginal differences in sharpness.

Nokia N8 - Snapshot Sample

Overall, the Xperia S is clearly the stronger of the two devices in this department. Its super-fast capture alone is enough to impress the user and the ease of use when shooting quickly makes it more competent out of the pocket than the slower Nokia device.

Landscape Mode

When composing more considered shots – such as landscape photography – the N8 is really able to show its strengths. The Carl Zeiss optics system ensures a sense of realism within the image and optical performance is outstanding, with no border degradation and impressive resolved detail. Our test images produced strong results, particularly in cloud detail, where the depth of tone was clearly evident.

Nokia N8 - Landscape Sample

The Xperia S was similarly competent when composing landscape images and the Exmor R CMOS sensor really pulls out the very best of the image, with colour saturation of a high standard and tonal range balanced across the board. Additionally, the f/2.4 lens aperture gives the processor as much light as possible to work with, as is evident in our test shots.

Sony Xperia S - Landscape Sample

Both handsets excel when putting together landscape images, with each playing on their respective strengths of high quality optics and a top-end sensor in order to create photographs with clarity and depth. The larger 4.3-inch screen of the Xperia is of some benefit here; the N8’s 3.5-inch display meaning composition is slightly more difficult. However, this is a small gripe and we see it is a dead heat between the handsets in this department.

Macro Mode

For the keen photographer macro mode is a vital feature (particularly in wildlife and still-life image capture) and the Xperia S really is able to shine here. The conveniently programmed auto-macro setting captures close-ups with quite frankly dazzling clarity and exceptional detail. The Exmor R sensor really is able to flex its muscles in this mode, providing results that easily equal the majority of dedicated compact cameras.

Sony Xperia S - Macro Sample

In comparison, the N8’s macro credentials are somewhat disappointing. Extreme close-ups are simply not possible and the camera struggled to lock a strong focus in our tests, even at conservative distances. The mode is not entirely redundant but it is not one that inspired us.

Nokia N8 - Macro Sample

Although competent, the N8 really is no match for the Xperia S as a serious macro camera. The Sony device exudes quality in this mode, something that sets it apart from the pack and the auto-macro functionality makes capturing high-quality close-ups a breeze.

Conclusion

Despite both handsets providing an engaging image capturing experience and each yielding impressive results, Sony’s Xperia S is the clear winner here. The combination of swift image capture, excellent colour saturation and impressive low-light capability make the handset a top-drawer compact-camera equivalent. There seemed to be no situation in our testing that could push the Sony handset beyond its limits. The Exmor R sensor is a revelation and as such the image output of the camera is consistently of a high quality.

The Nokia N8, although not matching the Xperia S in a number of areas, certainly does not shame itself though. The Carl Zeiss optics provide distortion-free images and the xenon flash gives indoor shots a realistic sheen. The macro setting was a letdown and out-of-the-pocket speed gave a sluggish feel to proceedings at times, but the device still felt top-drawer in most photographic situations.

Overall, both of these handsets provide credence to the argument that the modern smartphone really is a valid alternative to the digital compact camera, and with rumours of the forthcoming Nokia 803 handset suggesting optical zoom and a super-large sensor, the bar looks set to be lifted even higher in the near future.

Edit: You can now view hi res versions of our test shots (including shots testing the flash on both handsets) by clicking here.

51 thoughts on “12MP Camera Phone Comparison: Sony Xperia S vs Nokia N8

    • Hi

      We haven’t been able to test the Nokia 808 Pureview yet so we’re not able to pitch it against Sony’s Xperia S. However, from what we have seen of the cameraphone’s capabilities it looks to be one of the best available on the smartphone market.

      Thanks

      Chris, Dialaphone

  1. Are you kidding me? Or are you blind? Sony macro is better than nokia’s?:))))))))))) Look at that crappy color. In fact let’s look at all pictures, sony and it’s crappy camera has nothing against the n8. NOTHING. Here is somebody who know’s what DSLR camera is and how to take a damn picture… Here nokia is poorly configured but you struggled with sony and ups… still not good enough in front of nokia. TRolls

  2. Hi..i want to say that xperia s is not clear winner :…because nokia n8 lunched in 2010 and xperia s lunch last month ….n8 can capture only 720 p:….but xperia s can capture 1080p….but whatever i am looking old is some time looking gold.,after 2years..y should not compaire both phones.afterall if y compairing with xperia s then xperia s should be much better after using latest technology…but it’s not …..nokia is very very
    colose with x s and some time is better…… One thing more….if we talking about price then n8 is half of x s this time….after 2 years if nokia try again to modifie n8 with 12 mp camera sencer like xperia s configuration definatily nokia will do much better than sony ….but after 2 years gap sony did not do so……..according to me sony is not fully winner here 50”’50”’

  3. And once the guy besides n8 using an outdated, the unit was scratched … and also the image taken in macro mode, was taken from the nearer sony and Poor N8 was taken further, just to get out blurred and lose in this regard. dirty huh.

  4. hi, just want to say that n8 is the clear winner here, for me, well i respect your opinion here. But for me Sony’s camera is great but n8 is more capable. Only how fast and touch friendly UI Sony is very good at. But in terms of image quality n8 is the winner, in your post, do you dare to crop your photo? No, but if you atleast try, you’ll see n8 has MORE detail than xperia S.

  5. “Hi res copies of the images can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dialaphone/

    I get into that web to view the hi res photos to compare and…you said there where hi res photos ?…xD Hi res xDDD… ¬¬ where are the fuckin hi res photos ??? 1024 x 768 for you is real hi res ? then, 4000×3000 is supermegaultrahigh resolution, no ?

    just kidding xP

    now, to be serious … why the Sony XS photos look so reddish ?

    Great job, but this is better ;)

    http://www.allaboutsymbian.com/features/item/14472_Camera_shootout_Nokia_N8_vs_So.php

  6. You NEED a real photographer or at least someone who knows some photography knowledge to do this kind of comparison!! This guy clearly knows NOTHING about taking photos and comparing photos!

  7. Using the N8′s macro mode there is no honest way to get the unfocused result you are showing here. If you are not getting money from Sony please take the pic again (using macro mode) and update your review.

  8. This is the worst comparison I have ever seen.

    The author of this post shows complete lack of knowledge about the technology involved in cameras and even camera settings for shooting photos on each device.

    It is absolutely ridiculous to shoot a macro photo on the N8 using the Automatic settings which clearly says it is NOT suited for macro. For that you have the Macro mode which focuses from about 9cm to infinity. The auto mode is suited for 40cm to infinity.

    Not only you didn’t compare the cameras, photos and specs properly, you also simply decided by yourself the xperia phone would win from the beginning. Posts like this should be marked as “sponsored”. It is a shame to have such a misleading and badly researched article about cameras on Dial a Phone UK.

  9. The Nokia wins hands down due to the xenon flash!
    No doubt about it..
    The image sensor differences are minimal, both have good optics…
    I´m a iPhone 4s… (Love it but selling just to try something new, I´ve had mostly SE earlier and before that Ericsson) …owner that have just ordered a Sony Xperia S btw, so I´d never buy a Nokia, don´t like them at all.
    BUT, Sony should go back to xenon, if they want to compete for real…

  10. Just looking at the pics on the web site I chose the n8 for pics one and three, but preferred the Sony for pic two. Even then id say its pretty close to call. Saying its a clear winner doesn’t seem right. I felt the Sony pics looked a bit washed out to be honest. Still, the best camera phone is the one you like not the one one a reviewer says is best.

  11. So much talk, yet so little knowledge.
    Have proffessional experience regarding picture quality since 20 years.
    Regardin the snapshot sample, clear winner Sony.
    reg: Landscape clear winner Sony.
    reg: Macro Tie…. Not focused in the same place…….

    Best regards
    Lars L

  12. where’s the sensor of the Xperia S? I can’t see it. N8 is the king, now if you have dignity delete this post… or edit it. Investigate, dig more about specifications, colour, exposition of cameras (like All About Symbian does) then we can talk. you can’t post something that you “think” is right, something that you’re eye is saying… all readers about this are losing several points about real quality of pictures captured for both.

  13. I’ve not been fortunate enough to have a go with an Xperia S, however i have had an N8 for years now. It’s one of the best cameraphones I’ve ever had, however, the images above clearly show the Xperia S as a better device. How can you not see that the N8 macro photo is shot down by the Xperia S’ and THe n8 landscape images look dull in comparison?!

    And let’s be honest, the symbian update isn’t going to do all that much for image quality – perhaps shooting performance but nothing more.

    I’ve taken many a great photo with my n8 but I know it’s limitations, whilst i love my Nokia, we have to admit when we’ve been defeated and do it gracefully!!

  14. I use an Android, moved here from a Nokia N8. The test conclusions are quite funny to me.

    The N8 pictures are obviously better, even though it was disadvantaged by being denied its updates.

  15. No matter the firmware (as commented by many readers), the N8 wins hands down in most situations, although the S does well enough in outdoor landscapes for viewing on the phone or online. But as is often said, the N8 gives you photos, not snapshots, which you will be glad about years from now when you look back.

    Shame on you for not doing a better N8 macro shot. That one is a total fail. I have never had such a bad macro shot on mine.

  16. I like Sony Xperia S but I think that real test is not worth without comparing the camera in all conditions.The low light etc… Also, amazing is how good is Nokia N8 for “oldtimer” and how much was ahead of other mobile phone makers…

  17. What is the easiest way to get clicks on an article? By making unfair comparisons of Symbian devices.

    First of all you really seem to have sligh defect with your sight if you fail to see N8′s superior dynamic range compared to SE. That alone is making SE so much worse

    Also it is impossible to get PR1.0 FW anymore with a new N8. This has been true since last summer (July) when N8 started to ship with Anna. Current N8 are shipped with Belle which has improved camera interface (also available as a separate download for Anna). So when you say you “have to” compare shipped FW to not mislead readers, you are infact misleading them more as noone is able to get the same results you are with the tested, absolete FW version.

    Night photography doesn’t necessarily require flash, or it’s usage is limited to photographing subjects which are relatively close. Best way to ruin night photograph is to take a photo from too far with inefficient flash (like a led flash). So I think it is impossible that SE could take better night photographs.

    Only questionable “win” based on your photos is macro, where either the old FW of the N8 made it not succeed, or the unit was faulty. On the other hand N8′s macro isn’t as good as the other aspects of its camera, but surely not as bad as the photos made it seem.

  18. @Dan Nixon Pr 1.0 eh? ah well I can understand the reasoning behind that but if you went out and bought another N8 apparently they’ve been shipped with Belle pre-installed for a couple of months now :D

    thanks for the flickr link

  19. Why do You keep repeating that it would be an unfair comparison if You updated the N8 to the latest firmware Dan? It’s the same as indirectly admitting that the hardware of the N8 is superior to the Sony, and the Sony barely wins because the N8 runs an outdated version of Symbian! Would Your conclusion have been the opposite if the N8 was updated to Belle, or would You still say that the Sony is best?
    BTW: if You buy a new N8 these days it comes with Belle preloaded, hence the average consumer will get at product that clearly outperforms the brand new Sony! (If You don’t agree then make a new comparison wit an updated N8) ;-)

  20. There is so much wrong with this review it is unreal.

    Firstly PR1.0 isn’t the N8′s out of the box state If you purchase an N8 now, it will be loaded with Belle.

    The resolved detail on the N8 in image comparison 1 is superior to the SE. There is clearly more software processing going on in the SE.

    The macro shot clearly isn’t focused on the N8, you may say that it should focus in 1 half press but if it didn’t, would it hurt to do the half press again to get focus.

    Clearly the N8 has better dynamic range and this isn’t mentioned.

    What puzzles me is that normally cameras with smaller sensors and inferior optics tend to over saturate images when post processing. SE have not done this but they have used significantly more noise reduction than the N8 does.

    Where are the low light shots, night shots with/without flash, moving object shots, macro shots of a decent subjects?

    Try doing a proper test before concluding that the more fashionable Android device can do a better job!

  21. New, out of the box Nokia N8s ship with either Anna or (if they’re very new) Belle firmwares – PR1.0 is over 18 months old, so you’ve picked up a box from a distant corner of a warehouse rather than reviewing a genuinely NEW device.

    A firmware update is something that comes with the territory on a smartphone, so you should test the devices as a user would use them.

    Would you review an iPhone with an old version of iOS? Of course not. So why treat Symbian any different?

    But regardless of that, the landscape shot is definitely better on the N8 – the SE is okay, but is washed out and looks pretty bland.

    Still, arguably not as bad as an Engadget review …..

  22. seems a little too washed out/over exposed for me (the sony)

    will be interesting to see other tests between the two

    which version of Symbian do you have installed on the N8 btw? as there were some updates to the camera and ui since it was released

    other than that Sonys done a great job sticking a good camera in their phone, overtaking the throne? i dont know about that yet

    it will be short lived though if you believe it is the crown holder as the N8 successor is getting announced in a little over a week @ MWC :)

    • Hi

      Thanks for your message. We have hi res versions of the images (including examples of flash) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dialaphone/

      In answer to your question regarding software, we are using Symbian^3 PR 1.0 on the N8 in our test as we are required to test the handset in its out of the box state, therefore allowing for software upgrades would make for an unfair comparison.

      We are very excited to see the announcements at MWC as well!

      Thanks

      Dan (Dialaphone)

  23. no night or indoor shots using the flash?
    macro shot on the n8 was taken without it being focused?
    white balance on the sony seems off.
    older version of symbian being used, newer versions have less compression and would yield higher details.
    all that being said, n8 isn’t that fastest at taking pictures, but what it lacks in speed it makes up in quality. and is almost 1.5 yrs old!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi

      Thanks for your message. We have hi res versions of the images (including examples of flash) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dialaphone/

      In answer to your question regarding software, we are using Symbian^3 PR 1.0 on the N8 in our test as we are required to test the handset in its out of the box state, therefore allowing for software upgrades would make for an unfair comparison.

      Thanks

      Dan (Dialaphone)

      • I sold my iphone4 to buy the xipera play and i have to say that it’s one of the best things iv’e ever done. It’s a fantastic mobile and a fantastic games console at the same time .much better than the iphone. It came with in-ear headphones/mic and a 16gb memory card pre-installed (expandable to 32gb) and it also had 6 games already on the phone memory. A must buy for any gamer due to the slide out controls.

    • Hi

      Thanks for the message! Thanks for your message. In answer to your question regarding software, we are using Symbian^3 PR 1.0 on the N8 in our test as we are required to test the handset in its out of the box state, therefore allowing for software upgrades would make for an unfair comparison.

      The macro images for the N8 were taken whilst in macro mode.

      Thanks

      Dan (Dialaphone)

  24. If you guys can’t see the horrendous blow out at the top of the Sony Snap shot sample when compared to the tremendous detail in the equivalent N8 shot, then why are doing a test, at all? What about the terrible white balance in the Sony?

    Fine, give the ergonomics points to the Sony, but even from the images above the N8 (still!) trounces this other device.

    • Hi

      Thanks for your message. Thanks for your message. In answer to your question regarding software, we are using Symbian^3 PR 1.0 on the N8 in our test as we are required to test the handset in its out of the box state, therefore allowing for software upgrades would make for an unfair comparison.

      Thanks

      Dan (Dialaphone)

  25. 1. You use Symbian^3 PR 1.0 software which is from 2010 and you show it as a perfectly normal thing on the video. You didn’t update to Nokia Belle PR 3.0 which has DRASTICALLY improved Symbian AND the Camera SOFTWARE. With Belle Symbian is as good as Android. That tells me everything about how professional you are.

    2. I’ve seen hundreds of close up images from N8 and what you showed in this video is pure BS. There is no way Macro images from N8 are that blurry.

    3. At the end you offer a link to buy Xperia and you expect us to believe you’re impartial?

    THIS IS THE QUALITY OF N8 CAMERA, THE CAMERAPHONE KING:

    http://dragoborn.deviantart.com

    Shots taken by me with N8. UNEDITED!

    • Hi

      Thanks for your message. In answer to your question regarding software, we are using Symbian^3 PR 1.0 on the N8 in our test as we are required to test the handset in its out of the box state, therefore allowing for software upgrades would make for an unfair comparison.

      Hi res copies of the images can be found at:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/dialaphone/

      Thanks

      Dan (Dialaphone)

  26. Funny, how it takes nearly 2 years from others to come even close to N8′s quality. Just wait until Nokia shows its Nokia PureView™ cameraphone in a couple of weeks, and prepare to be stunned. It is going to be epic.

  27. I disagree. The Xperia S seems to have too much light and the skies seems washout unlike with N8 wherein you can see the dark parts of the clouds. Also the branches of the trees in N8 have more detail in comparison with the S. The S has definitely one of the best camera today and definitely one of the best handset this year but its plastic lens and Sony’s lazy and cost-cutting approach could never surpass Nokia and Damian’s brilliance in the imaging dept. At least until they release a Cybershot Android phone.

  28. Sorry to say,but this comparison looks like its done by a Sony representative. It’s clear even from the tiny shots posted that the Nokia has a better composition and overall quality. Not to mention the low light situations which you conveniently skipped,where Xperia S dissapoints greatly. All this is due to the bigger sensor used in N8.

    • “I can only hope people flock away from Orange in ovdres. Orange may get a few quid extra now, but it’s goodbye forever from me! Don’t forget, ‘material detriment’ is for you and your circumstances to determine, not for Orange.” From: Ofcom are not going to investigate Orange’s price rise

  29. Thanks for the comparison I am looking forward to the sony, but once again a camera review in the day time, virtually every mobile phone can produce ok or good daytime photos but it is indoor or at night they really shows which camera is the best.

    Can you please do a review indoors & at night to see if sony made a mistake not putting a xenon flash on the phone, or is the r sensor & 1 led flash good enough??

    Thanks.

    • Hi Paul

      Thanks for your comment. We were hoping to carry out filming on night shots but due to location restraints were unable to, however our reviewers commented that the both the N8 and Xperia S performed well in both night and low light shots. The N8′s xenon flash gave a soft glow to night images but the Xperia S captured more of any natural light in the low light image.

      Thanks!

      Dan (Dialaphone)

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