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When Google’s Vic Gundotra promised “insanely great cameras” on upcoming Nexus devices, we took his statement to heart. Now, with the release of the Nexus 5, early reviews of the camera are decidedly mixed. It’s for this reason that I’ve decided to take a pass on the newest Nexus device, and will continue to focus on Android devices where the camera doesn’t appear to be an afterthought. I had hoped that we might see something that truly lived up to Vic’s “vision” for the Nexus line of smartphone cameras, needless to say, “insanely great” doesn’t seem to apply.

Now, I grant you, some of the pictures I’ve seen from the Nexus are good—some are very good—but the consensus seems to be for every “very good,” there’s “not so good.” As a new-ish parent, a smartphone camera is one of the most important aspects of my life, as the best camera I have is the one I have with me. I want to love the Nexus, the large display and quick updates and all the sunshine and rainbows that comes from owning Google’s flagship device. Still, the real-world tests don’t give me much hope that is the right Android device for me:

The Verge: The 8-megapixel camera on the back of the Nexus 5 is certainly capable of taking rather beautiful photos in the perfect setting. Unfortunately for us, life is not filled with perfect settings — and when you’re faced with real-world picture-taking, the camera underperforms constantly and consistently.

Android Central: We finally have a Nexus with a pretty good camera. It’s not barnstormingly awesome, but it’s above average, and you can take good pictures with it in most conditions…the Nexus 5 has a fine camera for regular use.

Gizmodo: In the normal shooting mode the camera is fast, but the photos are decidedly lackluster. However, when you use KitKat’s new HDR+ mode, that all changes. Not only is the dynamic range boosted (so highlights don’t blow out and shadows don’t get lost), but colors are enhanced and you get a lot more detail. That last note is somewhat surprising as HDR photos are typically associated with blurriness—since they’re actually an amalgam of several images— but the proof is in the pudding.

TechCrunch: The camera seems above average, but not mind blowing. I’ll save the example shots until I’ve had a chance to pit it head-to-head with a few comparable devices. The camera is also a bit crashy, though that might be my specific unit; three times now, the camera has just stayed at a black screen when I tried to open it.

TechRadar: The camera, an 8MP option on the Nexus 5, is a move forward again compared to the Nexus 4, with sharper images, faster processing and a wider gamut of options to help improve your snaps. We only had a few minutes to test, but the lower light images seemed impressive enough, and the video was shake free compared to that on the Nexus 4.  We’re not going to celebrate the feature too much, as there are many better handsets out there that will give you good images on the go that far surpass this handset. However, they’ll cost nearly double what you’ll be able to get the Nexus 5 for, so if a top-quality snapper isn’t the most important thing to you, this will be more than good enough.

Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying or advocating that the Nexus 5 camera is horrible, and I especially can’t say when I haven’t had a chance to play with one. My concern that these snapshot reviews of the camera from various tech blogs show a camera that’s “good enough” isn’t reason enough for me to rush out and pick up the device. I want to buy it; I want to get my KitKat on, but I just can’t swallow stock Android in lieu of a half-way decent camera. I’d much rather invest if the Galaxy S4 or HTC One, devices I know put forth some of the best camera experiences the platform has to offer. Given the ROMs that surround both devices, it seems like a decent tradeoff.

Perhaps I’m wrong and you’ll tell me I’m crazy, or stupid, or somewhere in-between for making a judgement like this before truly trying the camera out. You may not even be wrong in hurling insults at me. But for now, I’m passing on the Nexus 5, and it’ll take a lot to convince me I made the wrong decision.

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24 Responses to “Why won’t I be buying the Nexus 5? The camera”

  1. epitaphalfa says:

    Guys, check the nexus 5 photos on this link, and decide whether they are good enough for you :)

    https://plus.google.com/explore/nexus5photography

    Or here:

    https://plus.google.com/explore/nexus5

  2. Im disappointed with the camera. I don’t know if better cameras would add too much to the price but it seems the Nexus phones always have bad speakers and cameras. I am using a Galaxy Nexus so if I decided to get this, I hope id see some improvement on both features. I am super jealous of my friends with iPhones. My pictures often suck. It surprises me because I think the camera is a super important feature that most people use constantly. I hear the camera software is also poor. 349 with a cheap prepaid plan is hard to pass up so will have to think about it. If the iPhone had come out with a 4.5-5 inch version, Id have switched…I may now wait another year.

  3. Jan Dahl says:

    It’s not the camera itself that sucks, but the application. Modders are already working on improving the quality of the camera http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2516061

  4. Silly David, the iPhone you’re carrying around doesn’t run Android ;)

  5. I can’t believe I am being baited into leaving a comment but everyone remembers that the Nexus 5 is half the price of the iPhone 5, right?

  6. Prem Suraj says:

    I have seriously never cared about the cameras of my phones. For me its always the performance I get in apps and latest software that always matters.

  7. if you are holding out for an HTC One because of the camera, you will be more disappointed than if you bought the Nexus 5. The One’s camera is far from spectacular. My Nexus 5 arrives tomorrow evening, I will be happy to shoot some side by side comparisons for you.

    I was going to get an HTC One MAX, but since that camera is a downgrade from the One camera, I opted for the N5.

    I’m all for you buying what you think is something superior, but I can tell you first hand, that the One camera is not all that great.

  8. cappa662 says:

    Looks like the G2 for me in a month.

  9. I would never insult someone for not buying something they really don’t need/want, so I say that as an empowered consumer good for you. Don’t let a community dictate to you what you should or should not be buying. That said, the quality of the camera is fine for my needs and outside of that in the 24 hours that I’ve had it the Nexus 5 has proven to be a fantastic smartphone. 4.4 kicks all sorts of ass, in my opinion.

  10. Ryan Steddy says:

    I find it strange that in an article about the camera there isn’t a single photo from the camera. To link to text reviews of camera doesn’t really tell you anything because it is very subjective.
    Some people reviewing may be used to a DSR and find anything less not very good where as I would look at the picture and see a very good picture.
    If you are making the choice on the camera you should really make it on the photos it can take.

  11. Man you tech reviewers have a strange way to look at a product. Why scrutinize a phone that barely has any marketing presence or mass availability?!? Isn’t the camera chip from Sony? how much there are not as many “camera” scrutinizing for the S4′s and Note3s and HTC One? if you wanted a good camera get a Canon Mark III, don’t get a smartphone for that. jezuz.

  12. The key metric to judge a phone has to be the “VALUE” it brings to the table. For $350 it’s the best valued phone in the market PERIOD Yes, we do have phones with better camera’s, better displays, etc. but none at $350 price point. iPhones have a higher value because of its build quality, iOS eco-system, overall experience and thats why they offer great value even at $550 and $650. Now, if your budget is $350, its a great buy, if your budget is $650, iPhone 5S offers better value than GS4 or One.

  13. Google Nexus Phones are merely there to give manufacturers a chance showcase the latest Google OS. If I want something fancy, I will buy a Samsung GS4 or GN3. If I want the latest OS, I will buy a Nexus or use a Mod

  14. brooksbarnard says:

    Don’t act all high and mighty… you’ll buy a Nexus 5. You’re just upset that you waited so long to pull the trigger that when you do it won’t show up on your doorstep until Christmas. You’ll get tired of that *other* phone you’re using eventually…

  15. Connor Mason says:

    I just received my Nexus 5 today. Camera tests so far are more than comparable if not better in most respects to my HTC One.

  16. To each their own. I’ve never bought a phone for its camera, I have a real camera for serious photo taking. Heck, the n4 is fine in my book for snapping a quick photo here and there. If you want to go with something else and have a second rate software experience that’s your prerogative.

  17. nickmgray says:

    It’s the reason I have never owned a Nexus, even the original Nexus One. The phone’s hardware is probably more than capable of producing incredible pictures, but Google still has not found a way to take advantage of camera hardware properly with stock Android. This will be a shocker for David, but I do think Google could learn a lot from Apple when it comes to the smartphone camera experience.

    • triangle8 says:

      It’s not just the camera. I love android and the ecosystem, but as I started using the nexus 5, it was clear that Google needs to do a better job not just on the camera, but many of its own apps and the overall experience. The hangouts app is just terrible for SMS and I found that my text messages weren’t even being sent. Basic functionality should never be an issue.

      Perhaps they just rushed the software to get the phone released. Maybe this is why they didn’t have a presentation to introduce the product and features. I just wish that they didn’t use the community as beta testers.

      That being said, I think all of these issues can and will be resolved. I’m just waiting for that to happen so I can actually use this phone on a daily basis.

      For the price, this is just an unbeatable piece of hardware.

      • The problem is Google has to maintain many things with less/no profit from Android. Apple has no alternative.. their bread and butter is their iOS. That being said – if you want a near perfection buy iPhone (it also has good resale value) but if the budget is tight or buying for your mon or kid buy Nexus.. dont try Samsung. may be HTC / Sony a little better. Samsung software is crap – I use Note1 with pure android custom rom. I hate lags…

      • Strange, I haven’t had any problems with Hangouts and SMS. In fact, I like the unified messaging a lot (it’s something that I’ve been waiting for; if only they had integrated Voice…that’s the elephant in the room as far as Google communications goes in my opinion), but then again I don’t have contacts who use both Hangouts and SMS so the split conversations (which is a terrible, terrible oversight) isn’t an issue for me.

      • triangle8 says:

        I actually went back to my galaxy s4. In terms of polish, that phone is still way better than the nexus 5, despite the drawbacks of touch wiz.

  18. Would you buy it if it ran iOS? ;)

  19. There is no phone that is $350 or less that comes close to the nexus 5.