A six way imaging head to head: Realme X3 SuperZoom vs Nokia 808/1020, etc.

The arrival of the Realme X3 SuperZoom, another smartphone with much hyped zoom camera system had me scurrying for some zoom favourites of yesteryear for AAS and AAWP readers, plus I also threw in the current champions, the iPhone 11 Pro and Huawei P40 Pro, for good measure. Six contenders then and I'll throw various zoom and low light use cases at them. Note that it's not all about extreme zoom, as I contended in an editorial last week, sometimes it's about zoom versatility.

6 way shootout - P40 Pro, Realme X3 SuperZoom included

From left to right: Nokia 808 PureView, Nokia Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 XL with iPhone 11 Pro on top, Huawei P40 Pro, Realme X3 SuperZoom

For the record, the new Realme X3 SuperZoom has imaging specs:

So very similar to the Huawei P40 Pro here, other than the main camera not having OIS. But then the retail price tag is a lot lower than the P40 Pro's, so fair enough. The weak point here will be zoom from 2 to 4.9x, just as on the P40 Pro and just as explored in the linked editorial above. So I intend to test this, by throwing in the 'far more common in the real world' 2x and 3x zoom use cases. But I'll also award an extra point or two for having the facility to go to 5x or above optically every now and then.

Obviously, with six contenders, I can't use our A-B interactive comparator, so I'll be presenting a grid of six 1:1 crops so that you can see the quality easily without having to resort to downloading all the JPGs yourself (though you can do this with the links provided if you really want to!)

Notes:

Test 1: Sunny landscape

An urban scene, looking at detail on a distant building and crane (I love shooting cranes, so much detail!) Here's the overall scene:

Example scene

And here are the promised 1:1 central crops from, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original images in full resolution.







They're all good photos overall, as you'd expect in the sunshine, but looking at 1:1 shows differences in image processing, ranging from the ultra-natural, unsharpened Nokia 808 through to the arguably too edge-enhanced P40 Pro, with the Realme X3 SuperZoom and the iPhone 11 Pro having the most actual detail at this default resolution and the Lumia 1020 having the most potential (but artifically limited here because of the 5MP output). 

Nokia 808: 9 pts; Lumia 1020: 10 pts; Lumia 950: 9 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 10 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 9 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 10 pts

Test 2: Sunny landscape, max zoomed

The same scene, but going full on for maximum zoom. No, not the silly '60x' or whatever a manufacturer claims. When I say 'maximum' here I'm talking about maximum optical/lossless zoom on the periscope devices. So 5x for the P40 Pro and X3 SuperZoom here. Sorry, Huawei and Realme, your marketing is misleading - even 10x 'hybrid' is pushing it, I contend.

In fact, for ease of comparison, I've pushed the Lumia 950 since most of its zoom is lossy anyway, and I've pushed the iPhone 11 Pro, since its software zoom based on the telephoto output is quite decent. Don't worry, I'll cover lesser zoom settings and limiting to 'lossless' below!

Here are 1:1 central crops from the zoomed shots, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original zoomed images in full resolution.







These shots/crops, obviously, represent the perfect use case for the 5x periscope zoom cameras on the P40 Pro and the X3 SuperZoom, and it shows. Although the P40 Pro has possibly more genuine detail, I prefer the X3 SuperZoom's shot because the edges aren't so obviously artificially enhanced. As an example, look at the yellow diagonal struts in the crops, where the P40 Pro's processing adds black edges and contrast that clearly aren't there in real life.

Meanwhile, back in non-periscope territory, we have the iPhone 11 Pro shot looked all a bit pixellated at 5x, as you might expect given the degree of 'making things up' that's needed by an extra 3x zoom needed over its 2x telephoto, while the Lumia 950's effort (at about 3x, the limit in the UI) is ugly as sin and the 950's reputation at being terrible at zoom is maintained.

The two classic PureView phones do better, but obviously limited by their zoom restrictions to 'lossless' in their UIs. Which is good, because nothing's 'made up', but clearly if you want 5x (or more) zoom then the 808 and 1020 are outgunned!

Nokia 808: 5 pts; Lumia 1020: 6 pts; Lumia 950: 2 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 5 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 8 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 9 pts

Test 3: Overcast, HDR test

Shooting this overcast church, first unzoomed, against a brighter sky (hey, it was sunny somewhere!) Here's the overall scene, as shot by the Lumia 1020 (which doesn't have any multi-exposure HDR):

Example scene

And here are the promised 1:1 central crops from, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original images in full resolution.







Apologies at making you all stare at tiles and drain pipes, but all the crops here are pretty decent, despite the tricky HDR conditions. The Lumia 1020 perhaps gets closest to natural textures and colours on the church itself, with the lower output resolution also meaning that there are no nasty 'interference' artefacts from the tightly packed tile lines. The Nokia 808 struggles most, with its older sensor producing a duller image than I remember.

But this is a case when it's also important for you to perhaps download the originals, since the 808 and 1020 struggle with their single exposures, over-exposing parts of the bright sky behind. While the all the other contenders here make a good job of exposing both bright blue sky/clouds and dull foreground equally well. The X3 SuperZoom in particular goes out of its way to 'brighten' up every scene. I may come back to this later in this feature!

Nokia 808: 6 pts; Lumia 1020: 7 pts; Lumia 950: 8 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 10 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 10 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 10 pts

Test 4: Overcast, 2x zoomed

The same scene, but zoomed to 2x (approximately, in the 950's case!), to better fill the frame with the church building (and not so bothered about HDR and the sky). Here are 1:1 central crops from the zoomed shots from, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original images in full resolution.







Without wishing to seem too smug, I could have predicted all the results here from the specs! The two Nokia PureView devices are maxed out at 2x zoom, i.e. there's no PureView oversampling and as a result the photos are natural and satisfactory, but without the usual 'purity'. The Lumia 950's shot is lossy even though I didn't actually get to 2x - and the UI is no help here, so the details are one notch behind.

The clear winner here is the iPhone 11 Pro, unsurprisingly, with its dedicated 2x telephoto lens, with a virtually perfect result. While the new P40 Pro and X3 SuperZoom struggle to get both colours and detail right, since at 2x they're doing what the 808 and 1020 are but without the benefit of an RGB filter, so colour information is being interpolated and generally guessed. So I'm not surprised to see different colouration for the church's stonework.

Nokia 808: 8 pts; Lumia 1020: 7 pts; Lumia 950: 6 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 10 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 7 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 6 pts

Test 5: The NHS colour test (daylight)

One of two shots of NHS-supporting craft and artwork. Here's the overall scene, as shot by the Lumia 1020, shot at about two metres in shade (but daylight):

Example scene

And here are 1:1 central crops from, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original images in full resolution.







An easy subject in good light, and top marks across the board, with the main differences being in resolution, which I don't necessarily score. The only one to miss out is the new X3 SuperZoom, which is yet again determined to 'lighten' every shot - in this case to demote red to pale red and black to black-ish, and so on. Worth docking the phone a point, at least!

Nokia 808: 10 pts; Lumia 1020: 10 pts; Lumia 950: 10 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 10 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 10 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 9 pts

Test 6: The NHS colour test (daylight), zoomed x3

Given that I couldn't get closer to the clock, it's an obvious example of using some camera zoom - 3x seems to work nicely - see the full image, etc. Here are 1:1 central crops from the zoomed shots from, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original images in full resolution.







As with test 4, the zoom tech used plays a predictable part. The iPhone 11 Pro's 2x telephoto and an extra factor of software zoom produces the best result overall, with the venerable Nokia 808's lossless result just behind. The Lumia 1020 was really missing its oversampling here - or perhaps the primitive PDAF just didn't focus precisely enough, so that's in the next tier, perhaps just pipped into third by the P40 Pro - which, despite being in the 'murky' area leading up to the 5x telephoto, still produced a crisp enough image. In last place are the Lumia 950, as rubbish at zoom as ever, and the Realme X3 SuperZoom, which renders colours better than in test 5 but which looks just a little imprecise when viewed at 1:1.

Nokia 808: 9 pts; Lumia 1020: 7 pts; Lumia 950: 6 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 10 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 8 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 6 pts

Test 7: The NHS colour test (low light)

The second test of two shots of NHS-supporting craft and artwork. I was struck by the vibrant orange hair of the central spoon - how would each phone camera handle this in poor light?

Here's the overall scene, as shot by the Lumia 1020, shot at about two metres in deliberately low light (i.e. dusk):

Example scene

And here are 1:1 central crops from, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original images in full resolution.







Top marks to the Lumia 950 and iPhone 11 Pro, both of which captured the shocking orange perfectly(!) With the Lumia 1020 not far behind and doing a great job on textures generally. Then there's the rest: the P40 Pro  renders the spoon's hair as orange-tinted yellow, while the X3 SuperZoom goes for pale orange in yet another shot that's processed to be too 'bright'. The Nokia 808 also struggles here, though with no OIS and an eight year old sensor it's not altogether surprising.

Nokia 808: 6 pts; Lumia 1020: 9 pts; Lumia 950: 10 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 10 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 7 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 7 pts

Test 8: Lower light still, landscape

Down at the aviation museum a good half hour after sunset and in very low light. Here's the overall scene, made to look lighter than it was to my eyes:

Example scene

And here are the promised 1:1 central crops from, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original images in full resolution.







Ten years ago, point any phone camera at this scene and you'd get a rectangle of black. It just shows how far we've come. The iPhone 11 Pro, P40 Pro, and X3 all go out of their way to lighten the scene, including an artificial blue cast on the plane's metal, plus there's a thickening of the barbed wire with edge enhancement. While the 808, 1020 and 950 deliver accurate colours and believable lighting and I'm honestly not sure which of the three I prefer. I should add that I cheated very slightly with the Nokia 808 (with no OIS) and took several photos, picking the crispest. While the X3 also doesn't have OIS but does have enough processing power and a fast enough sensor that the technology is less essential.

Nokia 808: 9 pts; Lumia 1020: 10 pts; Lumia 950: 10 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 8 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 8 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 8 pts

Test 9: Low light zoom

Another plane shot, through the fence, so I couldn't get closer, hence a good test for zooming in low light - very demanding!:

Example scene

And here are the promised 1:1 central crops from, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original images in full resolution.







The P40 Pro and X3 SuperZoom both do smart-cropping on their sensors but with very different results. The P40 Pro's software is mature and keeps things very crisp, too crisp, with visible sharpening and edge enhancement artefacts. The X3 SuperZoom's is much softer but too much so. Was the focussing slightly off? Or is this the sort of 2x zoom uncertainty one might expect in low light from the Quad Bayer sensor?

Elsewhere honours are even, with the Lumia 950 having some visible noise and artefacts due to needing around 0.5x lossy digital zoom, while the Nokia 808's older (non-BSI) sensor also shows noise, there being no oversampling when zoomed into 1:1 on the sensor. Leaving the Lumia 1020 and the iPhone 11 Pro to take a slight win. Though the only real loser here is the brand new X3 SuperZoom.

Nokia 808: 8 pts; Lumia 1020: 9 pts; Lumia 950: 8 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 9 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 8 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 6 pts

Bonus point time: I also tried using the x5 zoom on the P40 Pro and X3, but the P40 Pro decided there wasn't enough light to use the telephoto, while the X3 SuperZoom went ahead anyway, despite the f/3.4 aperture. Grab the result here, with relevant crop here:

So not amazingly impressive, though two bonus points from me for the X3 SuperZoom for trying anyway.

Test 10: Night time

Very dark now, with just the church door light glowing to my eyes. Again, it was darker than the 'scene' shot here makes it look:

Example scene

And here are the promised 1:1 central crops from, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original images in full resolution.







If the goal was to snap reality 'as it was' then the Lumia 1020 photo strikes a good balance between seeing the dark and also bringing out believable details. Top marks. The 808 struggles again with no OIS, but still keeps things sharp enough thanks to my steady hand, braced against a wall! Then we have the Lumia 950's trick of seeing in the dark taken to the next level by the P40 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro and X3 SuperZoom. In fact, the iPhone has an auto-night-mode, which triggered, giving a daytime feel and also a porch light that's too orange. There's not much to choose between the P40 Pro and X3 here, though the Huawei edge and contrast enhancement is again evident and I prefer the X3's snap.

Tough to award points though, because you could argue that the phone with the lightest, brightest image should 'win', or that the most accurate should win. I'm going to tip my hat to the 1020 and X3.

Nokia 808: 7 pts; Lumia 1020: 10 pts; Lumia 950: 8 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 9 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 9 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 10 pts

Test 11: One last time... zoom, zoom...

It occurs to me that I haven't given the zoom systems quite enough time to shine - only one of the tests above even consistently used the P40 Pro/X3's periscope zoom system! Mainly because - and I'll say it again - most real world zoom use cases don't need 5x zoom factor or more. What's needed is a main lens, a 3x zoom telephoto, and then a 6x or 10x periscope for wildlife or crane shots! Or that variable zoom linked earlier.

Anyway, here's another tricky zoom shot, made harder by shooting into bright sun, so HDR and exposure come into play as well. Here's the overall unzoomed scene:

Example scene

And here are 1:1 central crops from zoomed shots from, in order, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, and the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, click on the device names to download their original zoomed images in full resolution.







The obvious winner here is the P40 Pro, whose 5x periscope system has higher resolution - plus more mature image processing - the clarity here is astonishing. While the X3 SuperZoom does well but it's clear that a little more tweaking to the image processing is needed by Realme in order to get the most out of the 8MP telephoto sensor.

I took the iPhone 11 Pro to 5x too, despite the filename, just for fun - how close could intelligent interpolation take a camera? Well, it's not terrible, but it's also nowhere near as clear as the genuine optical zooms. Meanwhile, the Lumia 950's result is typically blotchy and the Lumia 1020 produces a very serviceable 2.5x zoom at 5MP. No complaints. The 808 ditto, though it's struggling with the HDR lighting conditions more than the other newer phone cameras here.

By the way, ignore the sky colouring behind the crops here - the clouds were flitting across at a rate of knots behind the crane as I was taking these photos over a five minute period!

Nokia 808: 5 pts; Lumia 1020: 7 pts; Lumia 950: 5 pts; iPhone 11 Pro: 7 pts; Huawei P40 Pro: 10 pts; Realme X3 SuperZoom: 9 pts

Verdict

Adding up the scores gives us (drum roll, please....):

Which is about as I'd have expected given the mix of test shots and conditions. The range of scores isn't massive, so all the phone cameras did pretty well, but the once-mighty 808 is showing its age in terms of a non-BSI sensor and lack of OIS, plus there's limited dynamic range, while the Lumia 950 scores poorly here purely because it just can't zoom for toffee. It never has. And there are several zoom tests on this page, so....

The seven year old Lumia 1020 stars as usual with excellent results across the board, ultra-natural photos which delight, and is let down here only by poor dynamic range and a 2.5x limit on zoom, and that at only 5MP.

Leaving the two Android phones with 5x periscope zoom lenses roughly equal overall, as one might expect, but both outclassed for general photos by the far more versatile iPhone 11 Pro. Or, indeed, any phone that I'd chosen to incude which had a main and 2x or 3x telephoto lens, since that combination really is the 'sweet spot'.  The 11 Pro is helped by Apple's excellent image processing, neither too sharp nor too soft, and usually very aware of texture and details.

As for whether I'd recommend the new Realme X3 SuperZoom, if you often shoot wildlife, perhaps birds or animals without wishing to scare them, then a 5x periscope system (with 10x hybrid software zoom) is just about essential - and the Realme phone ships with the Google Play Store, while the Huawei one ships with all the Microsoft services, so just pick your ecosystem here!

Published by Steve Litchfield at 6:39 UTC, June 22nd

Section: Articles
Categories: Comment, Hardware
Platforms: General, Symbian^3, General, Windows Phone 8