We're looking at two of the best cameras the mobile phone world has to offer. Both the Sony Ericsson Satio and Samsung Pixon12 shoot 12 megapixel images and combine the advantages of the LED and xenon flash.
On paper, the Pixon12 seems to offer more but the purpose of this shootout is to find out if any of these extra features are actually worth it or are more on the gimmick side. Let's have a look at what the two contenders claim to bring.
Samsung M8910 Pixon12 camera user interface
Basic camera features
Both the phones come with the basic set of settings available on point-and-shoot digicams - white balance, scene modes, self-timer, color effects and exposure compensation. A dedicated macro mode is available as well. The Satio inexplicably omits a setting for storage - it stores photos on the memory card if there is one and that's that.
Samsung Pixon12 has Sharpness/Saturation/Contrast settings that the Satio lacks.
Focus modes also include touch focus. Here, the Pixon12 outdoes the Satio by offering object tracking focus, but performance varies depending on the object and how fast it's moving. The Sony Ericsson in turn has an Infinite setting for the focus, which might turn useful for landscapes.
Manual ISO is useful when you want to minimize noise by setting it at the lowest or when you want to freeze the action in a low-lit scene by flicking it up to the max.
The Sony Ericsson Satio doesn't have manual settings for the ISO, instead it relies on Scene modes, which pick the proper ISO setting among other things. The Samsung Pixon12 on the other hand offers a choice between Auto and specific ISO settings ranging from 50 to 1600.
The cameraphones in this shootout boast both xenon and LED flashes. That allows them to use the high-performance xenons for stills and the continuous light from the LEDs for capturing video.
The settings associated with the flashes are Automatic, On, Off and Red-eye reduction. The Satio however doesn't have the "Forced ON" option, which could have made the flash useful as fill light in backlit portraits.
Burst shooting mode
Almost every cameraphone out there has its own approach to Burst mode. Sony Ericsson Satio uses BestPic mode to take up to 7 images in a row at the highest resolution. Once they are taken, they are pretty easy to view as the phone doesn't save them before you've picked the keepers.
The Pixon12 significantly underperforms here - its Continuous mode shoots 9 photos at VGA resolution. You'd be better off taking a shot at full resolution instead of picking the best out of nine very low-resolution images.
Panorama shooting mode
For shooting panos, the Satio has an edge again - it shoots three photos at 3MP resolution, while the Pixon12 does 4 shots at 1280 x 960 pixels. Automation on both phones is on the same level though - stitching was mostly problem-free and once you take the first shot, there are visual guides to help you better align the next shots.
The Pixon12 has a dedicated vertical panorama setting as well (holding the phone vertically), but you can take one with Satio as well just by turning the phone on its side.
Both the Pixon12 and the Sony Ericsson Sation support automatic geotagging of your photos. It's already a quite common option so we're not going to stop for further details here.
Face, smile and blink detection
Face detection is one of the high-end cameraphone features that make regular phones jealous. It automatically finds and tracks a face in the frame for better portrait photos. It can have problems with faces looking down but face detection on both phones works very well in general.
Smile detection is a nice add-on to the face detection gadgetry. When smile detection is enabled, it sets the camera in auto shutter mode, so instead of shooting right up when you press the shutter all the way down it waits for a smile on the currently detected face and snaps only when the time is right.
In this section, the Pixon12 offers one more - blink detection. It detects if someone blinked and warns you promptly - but only after the shot is taken.
Digital image stabilization
And finally, digital image stabilization helps you keep your camera steady in low light scenarios. It won't be of help if your subjects are moving, but it can theoretically help you when your hands are - it allows you to shoot sharper low-light cityscapes, for instance. Both the Satio and Pixon12 have image stabilization, but the effect is somewhat dubious - the dedicated digicams with their optical stabilization are far better.
Sony Ericsson Satio camera user interface
Samsung have their own Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) implemented on the Samsung Pixon12. The WDR mode helps with high contrast images by overexposing them a bit. You get nicely developed detail in the shadows; however the brighter areas of the photos tend to lose detail. An exposure meter setting is also present - the choice is between center-weighed, matrix or spot. There's also a "beauty shot" mode but its use is questionable.
Another interesting discovery we made reviewing the Pixon12 is that it comes with a variable aperture. It offers two aperture values - F/2.64 to let a standard amount of light in and F/3.61, which is a bit smaller aperture opening, which given there is enough light, has a few potential benefits. Technically the photos taken with a smaller aperture opening (indicated by a larger F-stop value) should be sharper and with greater depth of field than those at larger ones.
Samsung didn't provide any kind of manual control over the aperture value, so we couldn't actually test whether the shots taken at F/3.61 are indeed better. Since Samsung have not even mentioned the variable aperture in their promos, it's a fair guess the difference shouldn't be that huge.
The Satio strangely lacks the Sony Ericsson in-house equivalent of WDR - Smart Contrast. The Sony Ericsson C905 Cyber-shot had it and we quite appreciated it.
Both the Pixon12 and the Satio offer some sort of automatic scene selection. Pixon12 calls it "Smart Auto", while in Satio it's "Smart mode". These modes won't do a better job than you in picking the right settings, but at least they won't sweat it - it's all done automatically. There's a reason why "point-adjust-settings-and-then-shoot" is not a popular catch phrase.
Sony Ericsson Satio put up a good fight - the BestPic functionality is especially commendable. However, Pixon12 won us over with more manual control over the shooting process and the better assortment of high-end technologies, which hold promise of better quality given the user devotes the time to do the tinkering for each particular scene.
WINNER: Samung M8910 Pixon12