Samsung, Sony and HTC have all launched their new headline smartphones for 2014. And one of the things that they’re all shouting about is the camera. We’ve compared the Galaxy S5, Xperia Z2 and One (M8) to find out which takes the best photos.

Normal daylight photos

The first photo we took was of a well-lit scene. It was a sunny day and the sun was behind us, so all of the phones should have been able to give us good quality shots.

You can see that the photo taken with the Galaxy S5 looks the most natural, with great colours and excellent sharpness. The Xperia Z2 is a little too bright, but this means we can see a lot of detail in the shadows. Finally, the One (M8) seems to lack detail and everything looks too pale.

Backlit photos taken in auto mode

Next we took a photo with the sun directly in front of us. We left the phones in auto mode to see if they could automatically adjust the settings to deal with the shadows and sunlight at the same time.

The Sony handled this test best. Its auto mode tweaked the settings well to bring out the detail of the bush. Things look a bit pale, but it’s still better than the relatively undetailed photos from the Samsung and HTC. Although the Galaxy S5 still managed to get the best colours.

Backlit photos taken in HDR mode

To cope better with bright sunshine, top phones now come with a HDR (high dynamic range) mode. HDR creates photos that show detail in both bright and dark areas. So we took shots of the same scene in HDR mode.

The Galaxy S5 clearly took the best photo here. The entire shot shows good detail and very good colours. The One (M8) has done a decent job, but the photo is too bright in places and has lost some detail. The Xperia Z2′s photo is a little too dark.

Low light photos without flash

In our next test, we took the phones to a dark room to see how their cameras perform at night. This first set of photos was taken without the flash turned on.

The Sony’s photo is amazing. It looks like the lights were on in the room! By contrast, you can see very little in the Samsung’s photo and what you can see is extremely fuzzy. The HTC has found a decent medium that you would probably be satisfied with a lot of the time.

Low light photos with flash

Most of the time, if it’s dark your phone will automatically fire the flash. So here’s how each phone did shooting the same scene with the flash switched on.

The Galaxy S5 lit up the room very well and the colours actually look extremely accurate. The HTC looks good too, although everything seems slightly yellow. By contrast, it looks like the Z2 actually takes better, brighter photos without the flash.

Close up photos

Our final test looks at how much detail the phones capture with close up photos.

We really like the Galaxy S5 photo here. The colours are perfect and you can see some really fine detail. The Xperia Z2 only seems to be let down by the fact that it only takes 8MP photos in auto mode, so it doesn’t get as much detail as the 16MP photo of the S5. The HTC suffers from the same problem, with its 4MP camera missing the sharpness of the Samsung.