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[Gallery] Sony Xperia Z1 and Nokia Lumia 925: Low-light photography comparison

Sony Xperia Z1 vs Lumia

I’ve had a Nokia Lumia 925 in my possession for a while now, and I decided to take both it and the Xperia Z1 to Singapore’s Punggol Beach, a relatively deserted waterfront location that is poorly lit at night. I selected this venue for the comparison as I knew that it would push both smartphones to their limits and I was rewarded with views of a container port with a docked ship across the strait, and completely non-illuminated scenes where I could not see 50m ahead of me. Below, I’ve included 12 sets of photos, each set comprising of the full photo produced by each device as well as a 100% crop placed side by side allowing you to see the minute differences in image quality. While the full gallery includes many more photos than what I’ve chosen to feature below, this comparison should demonstrate the differences in how the Lumia 925 and Xperia Z1 handle low-light photography.

Generally speaking, both devices are evenly matched in such low-light conditions; while the Lumia 925’s OIS system allows it to produce shots that tend to be significantly brighter than what the Xperia Z1 can manage, the Xperia Z1 with its 20.7-megapixel image sensor produces photos that are noticeably sharper and more detailed. Another critical difference between the photos produced by the Lumia 925 and Xperia Z1 is in white balance; I find that the Xperia Z1 consistently delivers shots that look closer to the actual scene in terms of colour cast. While you may disagree with me, I do prefer realistic-looking images over images that look “artificially” enhanced. In addition, the Xperia Z1 has the advantage of lossless digital zoom, which can come in very useful in certain situations. In a nutshell, both devices have individual strengths and weaknesses in different aspects of low-light photography and unless one is into examining 100% crops, it is reasonable to say that the vast majority of people would be satisfied with the performance of either device on a dark and moonless night.

All the sets of photos featured below have been shot using the full automatic mode on both devices, with the exception of specific exposure adjustments to several sets of photos noted below.

Set 1

Slide 1

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



Both photos are pretty similar in this set, but the Lumia 925’s photo features slightly sharper edges.

Set 2

Slide 2

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



While both photos looks similar at first glance, the Xperia Z1’s photo has turned out rather poorly focused.

Set 3

Slide 3

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



It is in this set that you see the Xperia Z1 producing a sharper and more detailed photo than the Lumia 925 (see the edges around the lamp). Exposure compensation has been set to -2 in the above photos.

Set 4

Slide 4

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



In this set (shot without flash), the Lumia 925 produces a brighter shot but the Xperia Z1 is not far behind, managing to retain most of the detail on the wooden bar especially around the screw.

Set 5

Slide 5

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



In this set, it is apparent that the way each device sets its white balance differs significantly.

Set 6

Slide 6

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



Both devices manage to capture a similar amount of detail in this set, but the Xperia Z1 manages to reproduce the colour of the wooden planks more accurately.

Set 7

Slide 7

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



Exposure compensation has also been set to -2 in this set, and the Lumia 925 manages to produce a slightly sharper, more accurate and overall better-looking photo.

Set 8

Slide 8

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



The photo shot with the Xperia Z1 looks a lot more realistic than the Lumia 925’s result. The lights on the horizon are actually amber, not white.

Set 9

Slide 9

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



The Xperia Z1’s photo is more detailed and accurate than the Lumia 925’s in this set.

Set 10

Slide 10

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



While the Xperia Z1 still has the upper hand here in terms of reproducing colours accurately, the Lumia 925 has a slight edge on detail captured.

Set 11

Slide 11

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



This set of photos, shot in complete darkness where I could hardly see ahead of me, evidently turned out in the Xperia Z1’s favour.

Set 12

Slide 12

Sony Xperia Z1


Nokia Lumia 925



On balance, I think the Xperia Z1 produced the more appealing-looking photo in this group.\

Overall, I think the Xperia Z1 offers legitimate competition to the Lumia 925 in terms of low-light imaging performance. What do you think?

  • moogoo

    Alvin – have you tried shooting with the Z1 in HandHeld Twilight Mode? No reviewer seems to have brought it up or used it when taking low-light/night photos.

    • Alvin Wong

      I’ve stuck with Auto mode because the way it works is that it automatically selects what it thinks is the most appropriate scene mode to use. Another justification for Auto mode especially in this comparison is that it puts both devices on a more equal playing field where they are dependent on the strengths of their imaging algorithms.

      Also, I’m reviewing the Xperia Z1’s camera in the same way an average user would be likely to use it. A good cameraphone should be able to produce the best results it can without demanding that the user tweak the settings for each shot. The handheld twilight scene mode is merely a piece of software that adjusts properties like the white balance, shutter speed, aperture, exposure and ISO to be more suited for low-light conditions. It is probable that the Auto mode selects it without any intervention needed (that’s how the Auto mode works on the Xperia Z1).

      • randomuser

        It works very differently Alvin, HHT is actually a feature present on Sony Cybershot and Alpha/NEX cameras. Z1 is the first mobile device to have this feature. Basically It takes six shots in rapid succession using BIONZ image processing and Sony’s
        compositing technology, combines them into one beautiful photo with vastly reduced noise and camera-shake blur.

        So try it out and post a few samples if possible. Will be greatly appreciated.

        • Stylinred

          so its an HDR mode basically

          • miki69

            Nope,it doesn’t change EV. Just 6 shots and then combine each pixel from 6 shots into one sharp blurry-free image.


            • drexter05

              so its like pureview. but in 6 photos instead of 1 large photo size

              • ilya

                no. instead of shooting with long exposure with camera shake and noise. the camera shoots 6 shots that in the end will give you the same mount of light going into the image.
                but without the noise or the shake.
                even on film people shoot like that the only problem was an is to match the images right .

                • sulre

                  still don’t get it…. i think i need to see some samples :DD

            • Stylinred

              ah okay i see

        • lil bit

          Thats interesting. I would like to see samples also. iPhone 5S was said to have something similar but from my understanding it was part of their digital image stabilizer.

        • sulre

          just asking, what is that> HandHeld Twilight Mode, i didn’t hear about it….?

  • Hihi

    Looks like Lumia makes a brown thing look gray. Some photos look surreal.

    From photos I’ve seen Lumia 1020 has the same problem

    • lutt

      Yes, and in addition 1020 adds a strong greenish tint to whites in low light photos. Nokia fans dont want to talk about this, but the fact is that Nokia has poor color reproduction, and they screamed bias on all reviews that has pointed this out, and they still deny that Xperia Z beat Lumia 920 cam. The 920 never was any good, its hard to understand how it got a reputation as “best camphone” when both iphone5, Galaxy S3, Note 2 and Xperia Z beat it.

      • Ryan Gadz

        Color can be corrected. Blur and grain can not. This is where the 9xx series wins.

        • lutt

          That is so user friendly, does it come bundled with a fully licensed copy of Photoshop and a 24GB Core i7 desktop PC with a 30 inch 4k display?

          I think 920 won on OIS, for low light shots, but now the competition has caught up, both with and without OIS they can do better.

          • Ryan Gadz

            Why do you need a powerful machine to assign a filter? Phones already tweak the color anyway, any one of the OEMs could change the default white balance with a update.
            How do you get better low light shots without OIS? Tripod? Bigger sensor and aperture? But then how do you fit it into a phone? Until we get graphene image sensors (which Nokia has patents for) the basic laws of physics are hard to beat.

  • Mike Paterson

    I thought Auto mode reduces the amount of MP in the Z1. For the full 20.7MP don’t you have to select Manual or have I read from elsewhere wrong?

    • Alvin Wong

      Yes, but you don’t want to shoot in 20mp mode most of the time – you get better quality images in 8mp mode due to the software processing that is done to use the 20mp worth of data captured to generate an 8mp image.

      • xnay

        The question is: does the phone really use the data from the 20MP sensor to produce 8MP image, or if it just uses part of the imaging sensor?

        • Alvin Wong

          It uses the full sensor.

          • xnay

            Thanks for clarification, Alvin!

          • Clarence Alvarado

            So it looks ike using a Pixel Binning tech if the 8MP pic uses the full sensor itself?

      • Puneet singh bajwa

        As your clicks represents z1 has got over sharpening issues….rather note3 appeared to have better details…

  • NZtechfreak

    Interesting comparison, I didn’t have the time to check similar scenarios with the Z1 when I had it over the weekend, but it did pretty poorly on indoors low light scenarios so I don’t see this as any kind of competitor to the Lumias in low light as yet. My samples here (includes Note 3, S4, 808):

    • lutt

      Wow, you really made so much effort to make a good comparison.
      “No calories were burned that day”


      • NZtechfreak

        I have no idea what you’re trying to say there.

    • ashouhdy

      i dont know why … i see the z1 has a better color balance and dynamic range and flash output in your sets.

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  • hary536

    To my eyes, Lumia 925 wins in set 11. I agree, Lumia could do better in some sets for color reproductions, but overall seems both cameras are very good and no clear winner hands-down.

    • droidrazr

      “”but overall seems both cameras are very good and no clear winner hands-down.””

      Z1 is clearly thrashing 925 in majority of sets in low light,
      dont be a fanboy
      i am using Lumia 925

      • jabberwolf

        Um the Nokia shots are not only brighter but SHARPER.
        I might agree that if the real life shots were more “yellow” then yes the Z1 might be more accurate but the cost is a more blurry and darker exposure.
        Oh and this is only the 925 and not the 1020 which has a larger sensor. That is PATHETIC to make a comparison of 1 flag ship to a lessors little brother. Oh and fails…. Very sad for the Z1.

    • Richard Paul Francisco

      i think z1 produces more realistic colors overall. i think this is won by z1 hands down. the colors on lumia 925 looks like white while the original colors were yellow.

    • lil bit

      Set 11 depends on what you factor in, if you go for brigthness then Lumia wins, but look at the lights far away, they are so blown out due to over exposure. Then look at the trees against the night sky, no detail from the 925 here, the Z1 is far ahead.

      925 sum up in set 11: Overexposed, blurred, very noisy, colors are very off, not exactly what i would call a winner?

  • Stylinred

    Is this a production unit or a prototype/review unit? still hoping for vast amounts of improvement by the time the Z1 is available

    • Alvin Wong

      I assume it isn’t on final launch firmware yet.

      • Stylinred

        ah okay thanks

  • kip

    wow nokia

  • Ignacio Martín

    The Z1 wins hand down here.

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  • Rogue

    Mr.Wong just a few questions i’d like answered if you don’t mind.
    1:What is the average size of a photo from the Z1 cause sony is known to compress there photos way to much as we can see they see their sensors to the competition but can never match them.
    2:How do you find the 3x lossless zoom to work is it what it’s cracked out to be?
    3:Apart from the surreal over exposure Nokia does during processing I can’t help but notice the noise level in the shots are less than on the sony Z1 so this leads to me asking if the processing alithogrims can be fixed by a software update from sony cause personally i’ve seen shot where the LG G2 kill this phone but as a sony user as they are the most supported by the developer community the Z1 will be mine in a few weeks time.
    Your response is appreciated thank you in advance. {I enjoy your work btw you seem not biased toward any particular manufactuer or os}

    • Alvin Wong

      1. The average size of a photo is between 1.7MB to 3MB.
      2. The 3x lossless zoom works very well in my opinion. There is no artifacting despite it being digital zoom.
      3. Perhaps it can, but I don’t think the grain on the Z1’s 100% crops are a cause for concern because it’s not the horrible coloured specks that you get shooting low-light photos with a phone like the Xperia Z. In fact that Lumia seems to smooth out detail aggressively, a result of its noise-reduction algorithms.

      • Rogue

        Don’t you think 1.7 to 3MB is way to much compression I mean hat’s been the major problem with sony phones to begin with the over compression that cause huge loss of detail when the photo’s are cropped. The phone is impressive however and the colours are more true to life but i feel photo sizes between 5-10MB would of be better for cropping as the phone comes with a micro sd slot capable of carrying a 64gig memory card. Well it is what it is guess sony can change compression with the final release or fix it should I say. Now I’m hoping this isn’t true but if it is I hope you get to test it as well I personally don’t like how Sony cannibalises there own phones but this is interesting

        • APai

          I think the image size (MBs) don’t matter too much, just the compression shouldn’t be too aggressive. case in point slr output in jpegs is way smaller and since the course is pristine, the output too is – even at very low file sizes.

      • Rogue

        Something I’ve just realised is that the size of the pic doesn’t matter to much it’s really how the software is tweaked as i’ve seen with the iphone 5 it’s photo’s are a mere 2mb and less but it packs way more detail than any xperia i’ve seen interesting.

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  • APai

    from the images you can clearly make out that Nokia has the more sensitive sensor & captures more details, but it’s white balance is horrible and colors surprisingly are off. sony’s sensor is noisy, but not bad at all. overall, i’d say sony’s the winner as it completes the phone. If I were in the market looking for a great camera, i’d go for a dslr, if its a phone then lumia/ microsoft/ nokia lost the only edge they had.

  • ashouhdy

    Blue cast in the lumia ??? is it the normal condition or Z1 add warmer color balance ????????????

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  • Rishy

    Hi, could you please do a comparison with Xperia Z1 and Lumia 1020?

    • Alvin Wong

      No, because I won’t have both phones at the same time.

  • meaningfull

    Any tests on the mic and sound recording quality of these two combined?

    I want to use this phone basicly for recording and fast publishing images and videos at concerts out to our music pages on Facebook.

    I am aware that these are just mobile phones, but I´ve seen some impressing sound and concert recordings done by a Nokia phone before. See this clip:

    I´m actually very close of trying to get one of these old Nokia 808´s since this is my main usage for this.

    Though: How does these two compare to that one? Are there any other mobile phones or recorders that can compare to this?

    Especially with photos is practial to just upload them directly via the phone to social media channels.

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  • JoonasF

    With my Xperia Z1 I almost always get blurry pictures with alot of white dots when I take pictures in dark or grey landscapes or in rooms with strong light but dark outside the, for examples. Not to mention the front camera that always is blurry even when having best lightning possible. Looking like a painting.. Also the black turns blue while using the front camera. VERY bad details.


  • hello

    You should at least compare the z1 with lumia 1520, because 925 doesn’t have the similar sensor as the z1, it’s not fair.

    • Clinton Jeff

      This post was created before the 1520 was available sooooo

      • meaningfull


        28. apr. 2014 kl. 18:36 skrev Disqus :

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