May 04 AT 2:23 PM Clark Wimberly 167 Comments

The Incredible Camera Showdown: Droid Incredible VS Nexus One

Before we get started, let me begin by saying I’m not a photographer. I’ve owned half a dozen cameras over the years, along with another half a dozen cell phone cameras, but I’m no photographer. I’m a hobbyist, I’ve filled my share of Flickr pages, and I love taking pictures.

In the latest wave of the good enough revolution, however, I’ve almost given up on carrying my Canon DSLR in exchange for the camera phone in my pocket. Sure, when I need a real camera, I’ll use one. But lately, my camera phone has been good enough.

Ironically, even when something is good enough, we still want something just a little bit better. Enter the HTC Droid Incredible, packing an 8MP camera with auto-focus and a dual LED flash. Its specs suggest The Incredible is the absolute top of the line when it comes to camera phones, but is that really the case? We took our Incredible demo unit and took shot by shot comparison photos with the Nexus One, the current reigning Android camera king. The results? Surprising to say the least…

Sample Photos

To try to compare the two cameras fairly, I took pictures in quick succession, with the same settings (auto), and of the same subject. If a picture came out poorly, I’d try to shoot it again. All the pictures in this test represent the most satisfactory shot I could manage with the current surroundings.

These photos weren’t edited in any way, just downloaded, watermarked with a label, and saved. You can see the complete, full-resolution originals in our Test Shots collection on Flickr.

Also, please pardon my non-photographer ways. I’m sure a pro would be comparing the white balance and aperture of each shot, while I’ll be using words like crisp or dark. Instead of delving into why each picture looks like it does, I’ll simply post the comparison and respond with my observations. This review is less about hardware and settings and more focused on image quality and end result. Maybe some of you camera nuts out there can help me fill in the gaps.

Note: after I completed my test, I noticed the Incredible was taking pictures in a wider format (5:3) than the Nexus. I would’ve preferred to shoot them all to match but overall I doubt the ratio has any affect on image quality.

Indoors, without flash

These coins were shot on my desk, without flash, using just sunlight through the window across the room. It wasn’t perfect lighting, but the room was well lit. The Nexus shot looks brighter and sharper and was achieved on my first attempt (took three Incredible shots to get one I was satisfied with). The Incredible seemed to be much more susceptible to noise and blurriness in less-than-full-sunlight situations.

This is the Incredible instruction book, shot on a footstool right next to the window. At this point the sun had shifted above my building and while I didn’t have direct sunlight, the entire area was very well lit (had my lights on as well). The Incredible shot has a slight blue tint, something you’ll be seeing a lot in the upcoming photos. Both cameras did a pretty respectable job of capturing the text crisply at such a close distance but the Nexus shot just feels more natural.

Edge: Nexus One

Indoors, with flash

To test the flash, I took these shots later in the evening, without the assistance of sunlight. The Incredible is sporting a dual LED flash, which I assumed would be much (twice?) brighter as the Nexus One flash. I didn’t find that to be the case though, at all. The Nexus One flash is easily brighter and produces a better low-light photo.

This ketchup example is almost a toss-up. They are clearly different results but I think this one could fall to personal preference. I find the Nexus shot to be a bit more full and natural looking, even though the flash created a sort of vignette effect around the edges. The Incredible photo, while decently lit, again just looks flat. The flash wasn’t nearly as bright and seemed to throw a less-natural looking light. To test, I took two Incredible photos for comparison, one with and one without the flash:

The photo with flash is on top (the one with the blue and purple tints) and the non-flash photo is on the bottom. Without flash, the camera captured a natural-looking, detailed image. With the flash active, the photo is still crisp but the lighting is wildly inconsistent from the top to bottom of the image.

Edge: Nexus One

Outdoors, indirect light

These shots were taken outdoors on a patio at Carmelo’s (as I enjoyed one of the finest steaks in recent memory). We were outdoors but it was the early evening. It wasn’t dark by any means, but we weren’t exactly in the sun. Again, the Incredible shot came out extremely blue. Along with the blue tint, the photo is darker as a whole, which makes some of the details in the center of the photo hard to make out. The Incredible photo is still sharp, it just doesn’t look natural.

These photos were shot in basically the same settings as above, probably about 20 minutes prior. I’m just including them so you can see again how blue the Incredible gets in natural light situations. I know these photos weren’t shot in totally ideal situations, but they were loads better than the dark bars and late night concerts camera phones usually make an appearance at.

Edge: Nexus One

Outdoors, direct light

These photos were taken around noon, in full sunlight. Distance shots with full light are really where the Incredible shines. It was the one area of the test where I was consistently satisfied with the image quality and tone. That being said, the Nexus was right there, holding its own.

Again, the shots with good light and a wide angle are both completely satisfactory on both phones. But honestly, if you can’t take a good picture in perfect light you might as well just pack up shop.

One interesting thing I noticed, though, was that the Incredible seems to sharpen its pictures much more than the Nexus. Now I know sharpening is necessary to some degree (happens when a JPG is saved, even when uploading to Flickr) but it seems like the Incredible might be over-sharpening it’s photos for dramatic effect. Check out these full-res close-ups:

Now, neither looks perfect. The Incredible shot looks too sharp and bit jagged in places, the Nexus shot looks a little bit blurry. Neither of these issues is really a deal-breaker, I just thought I’d point out the different approach to sharpening.

Edge: Draw

Camera settings

One area the Incredible fully dominates is settings. It has one of the deepest sets of options I’ve seen on any Android camera. You can control ISO, white balance, multiple effects- all in a slick and useful UI. Perhaps if I had fully tinkered with the settings and adjusted them for every shot I could’ve yielded better results.

But for me, fiddling with settings with each shot sort of defeats the purpose of a camera phone. I use the camera phone because I can get it ready quickly, shoot quickly, and repeat. If I’m willing to trade convenience for image quality I might as well carry my DSLR.

For those of you without a real camera, the settings might come in much more handy. If you’d like an in-depth review of the Incredible camera options, Phandroid has a solid video up on YouTube.

Edge: Droid Incredible

Final Verdict

While I’m sure this could draw some heat, I’ll gladly say it based on my time with both phones and all the comparison shots I just posted: The Nexus One takes better pictures than the Droid Incredible.

How is that possible?! you say? The Incredible is 8MP, thats a whole THREE MORE MEGAPIXELS you say. Well, I think it boils down to the megapixel myth: the common belief that more megapixels equals a better camera, which isn’t always the case. There are a wealth of other factors in play here, the lens, the flash, the CMOS sensor- all of which can contribute to better overall image quality.

Oddly enough, while writing this post I tried to hunt down the specific sensors in each of these phones but couldn’t find any hard information. Do any of our readers happen to know specifically which sensor is in either of these phones?

I’ll leave the post with another disclaimer that in no way am I a skilled photographer. I’m just some guy who likes to snap photos. As are most other users relying on a camera phone. As a point-and-shoot option, either of these cameras is more than capable of capturing quick moments you want to remember. One is just a bit more capable than the other.

Poll

What do you think? Does the Nexus take better and more natural-looking photos?

Clark is a developer living in Austin, Texas. He runs ClarkLab, a small web firm with his wife, Angie. He's a big fan of usability, standards, and clean design.

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