Night Mode Shootout: HTC One M8, Galaxy S5, LG G Pro 2 and Xperia Z2 Go Head to Head

March 28, 2014 - Written By Nick Sutrich

When a new phone comes out there’s the usual bevvy of tests set up to see what’s been improved and what’s not worth mentioning when talking up the merits of the device. In general people want three main things when considering a new phone: a great screen, long battery life and a fantastic camera.  This last section in particular has caused manufacturers to come up with a lot of different ways to deal with how to take better pictures with devices that can’t be more than a few millimeters thick, and as such we’ve seen continued disparity in the way different phones take pictures.  Take HTC for instance, who’s Ultrapixel technology uses a low megapixel count but has huge pixels compared to other smartphone sensors, allowing more light to come into the sensor and take better, brighter, more blur-free pictures without hassle.  Sony and Samsung continue to push the megapixel count, with Sony’s latest sensors pushing 20 or more megapixels in full-res mode, and Samsung is using a 16-megapixel ISOCELL sensor that absorbs light differently than other sensors out there.  LG is sticking with its guns on a 13 megapixel sensor and has opted for using Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) to get better, clearer pictures overall.  While it’s fine and dandy to shoot in bright sunny conditions, what happens when we take these phones out at night and start shooting though?  Usually pictures fall apart in the darkness, so let’s examine each of the 4 new big flagship devices in night conditions to see who comes out on top.

Above you’ll find a smattering of night shots taken outdoors in various locations.  In general you’ll notice the LG G Pro 2’s shots are quite a bit warmer than the rest of the phones tested here, but the overall quality is fantastic, with tons of detail all over and very little noise.  The Galaxy S5 has some of the best image quality in these tests, with deep blacks and very little noise, as well as great focus depth.  The Xperia Z2, while being the highest resolution of the bunch, proves that sheer resolution doesn’t mean the best results, often producing softer images than the other phones here.  HTC’s Ultrapixel tech shines in these conditions, with more detail than any of the other phones despite the lack of resolution in the shots, just don’t try to zoom in though because you won’t get much more detail than what you see zoomed all the way out.

The next set of tests are indoors and show more of what you’d likely be taking pictures of at night.  While there’s no movement to test here in low light we can see how low indoor lighting without the sun can affect a shot.  LG’s G Pro 2 and Sony’s Xperia Z2 are a little soft here, pushing for a higher ISO to pick up as much light as it can, but ending up with lots of noise if you zoom in to anything, effectively erasing the high amounts of detail in all those pixels.  The Galaxy S5 is a mixed bag, with a good overall shot of the mall area, despite being a little on the dark side, but the statue picture falls apart here, dropping the ISO a little too low because of the direct light coming from the statue’s base.  HTC’s One M8 wins pretty handily again, thanks to the Ultrapixel sensor, and proves that in these sorts of conditions the pixel count doesn’t matter quite as much as the pixel size, as taking more light in means a better shot in low-light conditions.

Lastly we have a test involving the Night Mode setting on each phone.  While it’s called something different on some phones than others, the way it works is pretty similar.  A high ISO setting is used as well as some post-processing to create a fairly well lit, relatively noise-free picture vs the same scenario without Night Mode on.  The results are mixed, with the Galaxy S5 once again coming up darkest, which is normal for a Galaxy phone anymore.  Sony’s Xperia Z2 is a little brighter but doesn’t do quite as well as the G Pro 2 or HTC One M8 in these cases.  Again the HTC One M8 shines overall for brightest picture with the least noise, but the G Pro 2 gives it a good run for its money.  Megapixel count isn’t everything, as we’ve pointed out in many reviews and tests before, but it makes a difference especially when taking large sweeping shots that tend to look good when zoomed in on.  HTC’s One M8 shines in low-light conditions pretty consistently, and will likely be the best bang for your buck if you’re a night owl.