Samsung Galaxy S4 Gordon Laing, May 2013

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 Noise

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  Samsung Galaxy S4 results
1 Samsung Galaxy S4 Quality
2 Samsung Galaxy S4 Noise
3 Samsung Galaxy S4 Sample images

To compare noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S3, within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings at each of their ISO sensitivity settings. Note when selecting the ISO manually, both handsets offer a limited range of 100-800 ISO.

Both handsets were mounted on a tripod via a Joby GripTight; this is an invaluable accessory which allows you to mount almost any smartphone onto a traditional tripod. The Micro Stand version also comes with tiny tripod legs which optionally screw into the 1/4in thread.

As noted on the previous page, the Galaxy S4 captures a slightly smaller field of view than the Galaxy S3, due to a slightly longer effective focal length. For this test I shot the scene with the Galaxy S4 first, then edged the tripod a little closer for the S3 until it matched the field of view. So on this page we can directly compare the resolution of each handset: 13 Megapixels on the S4 versus 8 Megapixels on the S3.

When set to Auto ISO, both cameras have access to a broader range of sensitivities at finer intervals than when set manually. Set the ISO manually and you can choose 100, 200, 400 or 800 ISO for either the Galaxy S4 or S3, so that's what I've done below, additionally using the self-timer to avoid any shake.

Unfortunately when using manual ISO values, the slowest shutter speed on either model appears to be 1/17, which in this particular scene was a little too short to correctly expose at 100 ISO. So the 100 ISO crops from both handsets are darker than the subsequent sensitivities. You'll also notice the 100 ISO crop from the Galaxy S3 is a little darker than the S4, due to its slightly darker maximum aperture of f2.6 versus f2.2, as reported by the EXIF data.

With all the caveats aside we can start comparing the crops, which as always were takenf rom the area marked by the red square and presented below at 100%. On the previous page the S4 showed much more detail due to a combination of its higher resolution and tighter field of view, but with the view matched here, the results are purely down to their respective sensors. And it's clear from the crops that the Galaxy S4 really is capturing more detail than its predecessor. The text on the S4 crops is simply more legible than the S3 crops, but does this higher resolution come at a cost of greater noise?

I'd say at 100 ISO, the noise levels at the pixel-level are looking roughly similar. At 200 ISO, the Galaxy S4 is visibly exhibiting more noise than the S3, but the latter is smoothing it out through processing, leaving the new model to still deliver a superior overall result. At 400 ISO there's some softening and reduction in contrast, but the S3 is still smearing out noise to a greater extent than the S4. So while the S3 appears smoother, the S4 retains greater detail and is preferred. Finally at 800 ISO the older S3 falls apart, whereas the S4, while certainly compromised, still looks far superior.

This is a great result for the new Galaxy S4. Not only does it genuinely record more detail than its predecessor at every ISO value, but I'd say the noise artefacts from the S4 are more desirable. In addition, the slightly brighter lens on the S4 allows it to deploy lower ISOs than the S3 in the same light levels, and it also has a minimum value in Auto of 50 compared to 80 ISO. The only downside is a lens on the S4 that's not quite as wide as the S3, but given the improvements in quality, I'd say it's a fair trade.

Now check out my Samsung Galaxy S4 sample images, which include the low light shots seen below.

Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Galaxy S3 (composition matched)
100 ISO
100 ISO
200 ISO
200 ISO
400 ISO
400 ISO
800 ISO
800 ISO

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