Sony Xperia P vs Nokia Lumia 520 Camera Comparison

Sony Xperia P and Nokia Lumia 520 rear facing cameras

If you are on a tight budget and searching for a smartphone with a camera that can deliver very good image quality, you should certainly take a look at the Sony Xperia p. The Xperia P was announced on February 26, 2012. It’s not one of Sony’s latest smartphones, but it performs good in almost all parameters and has one of the most impressive phone cameras for sub-$300 smartphones. In this article we’ll take a closer look at the Xperia P camera and compare it against the Nokia Lumia 520 camera.

Budget Camera Phones

Both the Nokia Lumia 520 and Sony Xperia P are two budget-friendly smartphones. Nokia Lumia 520 8GB sells for $172.90 (unlocked) on Amazon and Sony Xperia P 16GB (unlocked) sells for $289.00 on Amazon as of the time of writing. The 520 is the cheaper option obviously, but if the Xperia P has the better camera, it might convince some people to pay more and get the Xperia P instead.

I am planning a vacation trip to Berlin, and I am searching for an alternative to a compact camera.  I am a very picky person when it comes to the camera. I don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars on a phone, but when comparing two or more camera phones, I want to make sure that I understand the cons and pros of each camera. I want a phone camera that ca deliver images that are sharp, have very good image quality in daylight, good low-light capabilities, natural colors and low noise.

The good news is that there are some very good and cheap phone cameras, and both the Lumia 520 and Xperia P are an example of such devices. If you pay 3 times more for a high-end smartphone, it doesn’t mean that you get one with camera that is three times better. So if the camera plays a significant role in your buying decision, you can rest assured that there are some very good smartphones out there that will satisfy your specific needs.

What to Look for in a Phone Camera?

It really depends on your specific needs, but in most part, you should pay attention to the following camera properties:

  • Sensor size (the bigger is in most cases the better, but it also depends on the pixel density as well)
  • Sensor resolution
  • Pixel size (the bigger the better)
  • Sensor technology (e.g. front-illuminated or back-illuminated)
  • Lens vendor (from a well known lens manufacturer or from a least known company. e.g. Carl Zeiss, which is well-regarded company in the camera lens business)
  • Optical image stabilization for stills and videos
  • Lens aperture (larger aperture leads to more light to reach the sensor. Smaller f-number means larger aperture and vice versa)
  • Lens focal length (the field of view, a lower equivalent focal length means wider field of view)
  • Manual exposure (being able to control the shutter speed, aperture, etc.)
  • Autofocus speed
  • Digital image stabilization for videos (if optical IS doesn’t exist for videos)
  • Built-in storage and expandable storage via memory card
  • Xenon / LED flash (whether those or not – helps illuminate indoor and close subjects)
  • amount of image noise
  • Phone display (use to control the camera app and compose the image for both stills and video recording)
  • Whether the phone has a front-facing camera or not
  • Video recording resolution and frame rates
  • Whether the phone has two-phase shutter button (half-press focuses, full press captures)
  • Bundled camera app (whether it’s easy to use and what features it provided for the photographer, for example, automatic panoramic image camera app)
  • ISO range (a higher ISO range allows photographer to get those low-light image that might not be possible to capture otherwise)
  • Shutter speed (faster shutter speed is better for freezing the subject, slower shutter speed for more flexible low-light shooting options and artistic results)

Believe it or not, these are just a few things that one should be aware of when comparing two cameras one versus the other.   Of course there is also the sample image comparison that is apart from the dry technical specs. One camera might have very good technical specifications on paper, but the result might not be satisfying.

Camera Specs Comparison

Before we start talking about the two smartphone cameras in-depth, let’s start by comparing the camera’s specs side by side.

 
Sony Xperia P
Nokia Lumia 520
Sensor technologyBack-illuminated (Sony Exmor R for mobile)Front-illuminated (1/4")
Sensor resolution (effective)8 MP (3264x2448 pixels)5 MP (2592х1936 pixels)
Lens4.5 mm f/2.428mm (equivalent) f/2.4
Image stabilizationDigital (Image stabiliser for videos)N/A
Scene ModesYesYes
PanoramaYes (3D Sweep Panoramam 3D Sweep Multi angle)Yes (Panorama lenses)
FlashLEDN/A
AutofocusYesYes
Video recording1080p30 Full HD720p30 HD
Build-in storage16 GB (upto 13GB user-accessible memory)8 GB
Digital zoom8x4x
LCD4-inch TFT
qHD (960x540 pixels)
275 ppi
- White Magic display (RGBW)
- Mobile Bravia engine
- Hard coated shatter proof sheet on scratch-resistant glass
4-inch IPS LCD
840x480 pixels
- Scratch-resistant glass
Front-facing cameraVGA (640x480 pixels)VGA (640x480 pixels)
WirelessWiFi-802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and A2DP
NFC
DLNA
WiFi-802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0 + A2DP, LE

The above Lumia 520 vs Xperia P side by side specs comparison table gives us a good comparison starting point.

The two cameras certainly have their differences.  Two spec that was missing is the Sony Xperia P sensor size, which I couldn’t find anywhere, even not in the whitepaper, and also the equivalent focal length — which from some reason was even absent from the exif metadata. Some websites reported a 1/3″, but searching for that same keyword (1/3″ or 1/3 inch) yield nothing useful in the search result. If you have that information, please spare a moment and drop me a line in the comment section below.

Nevertheless, I was interested to know how the two cameras compare in terms of:

  • Image details / sharpness (lens performance)
  • Low-light performance (amount of noise / high ISO performance)
  • How good the Xperia P digital image stabilization is in video compare to a non-stabilized one of the Lumia 520?
  • Color reproduction (color accuracy, saturation, etc.)

Image Quality Comparison — Lumia 520 vs Xperia P

Sharpness and Color Reproduction

Although there are many parameters that can be checked to compare the two cameras, I was interested to know how Sony Xperia P camera compares to the Nokia Lumia 520 camera in terms of image quality.

In order to get a good understanding of the differences in IQ between Sony Xperia P and Nokia Lumia 520 I went to gsmarena photo comparison tool. Here are my observation conclusions.

  • The resolution difference is very obvious, but the difference is not that huge as you might expect.
  • Nokia Lumia 520 produced a sharper image
  • Xperia P image has higher saturation, the Lumia 520 looks more natural
  • Lumia 520 seems to have a higher dynamic range
  • It seems that the Lumia 520 interpolation algorithm works better than the Xperia P (See gray chart)
    In the Xperia P you can see color patches in high-contrast dense line areas
  • Sony Xperia P produces more pleasing /warmer skin tone
Image size comparison: Lumia 520 vs Xperia P

Image size comparison: Lumia 520 vs Xperia P

Sony Xperia P has a resolution advantage over the Nokia Lumia 520 on paper, but it’s less visible in practice, probably due to the lens not being able to resolve such high resolution (8MP).  I personally liked the Lumia 520 color reproduction better, as well as the out-of-the-box sharpness. so although the Xperia has a slight resolution advantage in real-life photos, this slight advantage doesn’t resolve into any advantage that will make me prefer the Xperia P over the Lumia 520.

High ISO Performance (Low-Light)

Another important aspect when comparing two cameras is to see which one performs better in low-light. We do that by checking and comparing both base ISO low-light images, as well as some high ISO images. worth mentioning that there are several attributes that have a direct impact on how the camera performs in low light, including: sensor size, sensor technology, pixel size, aperture size, lens optical quality, image stabilization, flash power, etc.

A good light camera would be one that utilizes many of those features that will help photographers capture well-exposed image.

The next image from Flickr was taken with ISO 800 and f/2.4 aperture using Nokia Lumia 521, which is a T-Mobile variant of the Lumia 520, but wiuth the same camera specs and all.

Untitled

You can see that the image is very noisy, but also expected considering the camera specs. You can shoot at ISO 800 (the maximum ISO for the Lumia 520) and still get some very useful low-res images for sharing on the web — but certainly not for large prints or for any serious editing job.

The next low-light/night sample image was shot with the nokia Lumia 521 at ISO 100.

Untitled

Even shooting night shots with ISO 100, you can still notice the noise in dark and mid-tones areas in the image — but the amount of noise is much less compare to when shooting at ISO 800.

For best results, I would be shooting with the Lumia 520/521 under ISO 800, especially if you intend to print the images later on. Overall I was very impressed with the results. color reproduction is excellent. Images look natural and the camera maintained very good contrast and color saturation throughout the ISO range. I also likes the way the Nokia Lumia 520/521 handles the exposure and white balance.

Sony Xperia P produces noisier images than the Lumia 520. The next image was taken using the Sony Xperia P (LT22i) at ISO 640 f/2.4.

SONY XPERIA P 002

Compare ISO 640 to the Lumia 520 ISO 800 and you can see that the Lumia 520 just blow the Xperia P out of the water when it comes to its high ISO performance.  Even when you stop it down at ISO500 the image is still very noisy.

I was expecting the Sony Xperia to outperform the Lumia 520 due to its BSI sensor, but it seems that the pixel density has its negative effect here.

It’s worth mentioning that the Lumia 520, unlike the Xperia P, lacks a LED flash for the rear-facing camera. I never shoot with a flash — but there are times that a flash can certainly help get those indoor and portrait shots that otherwise would force the camera to bump up the ISO or result in an underexposed image. So this is certainly an advantage in favor of the Xperia Z.

Shooting in Bright Daylight

No doubt that both the Nokia Lumia 520 / 521 and Sony Xperia P can’t match the low-light performance of cameras like those of the HTC One, Nokia Lumia 920 or Samsung Galaxy S4.  However, when it comes to shooting in bright daylight — both the Lumia 520 and Xperia P look very impressive.

Take a look at this amazing Panorama image taken with the Sony Xperia P and tell me that this isn’t an amazing shot.
Panorama by SONY Xperia P

Outdoor shots look very impressive do due the vivid color reproduction. The next images was taken at ISO 50 and you can see that the Xperia P did an excellent job with the exposure and colors although more vivid than the Lumia 520, still look natural — not over saturated.

Sony Xperia p kiki 拍攝作品

Nokia Lumia 520 is not less impressive (ISO 100  f/2.4)

WP_20130608_006

Both Nokia Lumia 520 and Sony Xperia P take great quality images in daylight. The Sony Xperia P result in more dramatic and more pleasing shots due to its higher saturation. This of course can be changed on the Lumia 520, but out of the box, the Xperia P produced more saturated images.

It’s a very tight fight, and I personally think that both the Xperia P and Lumia 520 perform roughly the same in low-light. The detail resolvement advantage that the Lumia 520 has isn’t noticeable in real life shooting — both produce very sharp and great looking images in daylight.

Video Quality

Nokia Lumia 520 can capture only HD 720p videos, compare to the Xperia P that can capture Full HD videos. Let’s take a look at two videos, the first one taken with the Sony Xperia P in Full HD resolution, and the second one taken with the Nokia Lumia 520 with HD 720p resolution.

Nokia Lumia 520 video sample by phone arena

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-QhlH05oR8

Sony Xperia P video sample by phone arena

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k18hWtm9W0k

Same as stills, the Xperia P produces sharp and highly saturated videos. The first half of the video is out of focus, so don’t pay attention to do. At the second haf the camera focuses correctly and you can see that the video is very sharp.

Sony Xperia P low-light test video with stabilization on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8tFG–fNH4

The digital image stabilization works very well for minimizing camera shake and blurry videos.  That’s certainly an advantage that the Xperia P has over the Lumia 520.

Nokia Lumia 520 lacks the resolution power as it can only record HD videos, but the video quality is very good, and I personally prefer the more natural less saturated rendering.

the Sony Xperia P has the advantage over the Lumia 520 when it comes to video, but as I said earlier, the Lumia 520 produces more natural rendering which some people might prefer better.

Conclusion

I was impressed with both the Sony Xperia P and Nokia Lumia 520 camera’s performance — especially considering the fact that we are dealing with two cheap smartphones. You can pay twice or third time the price for a better phone, but it doesn’t necessarily means that you get one that has camera that is twice or three times better.

If you a person that care about the phone’s camera and image quality and cannot afford getting a better camera phone, I highly recommend checking both the Lumia 520 and Xperia P. Those are among the best camera phones that you can find for that low price range.

Image quality wise, the Lumia 520 got a higher score, but the difference is very small between the two when shooting in bright daylight. In low-light, the Lumia 520 result in less noise but as I mentioned, it lacks a LED flash.

Both of those phones got very high rating in professional reviews and on Amazon customer’s opinions rating section. So when you buy one of these phones, you know you get a very good camera, but you also get an excellent smartphone for the price.

It’s worth mentioning that I only talked about the image quality, and there might be other specs that can be not less important for your specific needs (e.g. expandable memory, mobile platform, etc.).

Have a different opinion? — please share it with us by writing your opinion in the comment section below. Thanks.

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