ASUS Zenfone 3 vs Honor 8 in a Taiwan Nightmarket

Mid Range Smartphone Low Light Photography Battle
by Nicole on October 5, 2016

Night markets are one of the joys of living in Taiwan. I recently stopped at Tonghua night market, aka Linjian Night Market, for a quick dinner on my way home from the office. Armed with the ZenFone 3 and the Honor 8 I wanted to see which one performed better at taking photos in low light. The bright signs are quite tough for handsets to balance exposure and white balance, which makes it a great real life test.

The ZenFone 3 and Honor 8 are similarly priced: the ZenFone 3 comes in at $299 while the Honor 8 is a little more expensive at $399, because of the high end processor.  The Honor 8 runs Huawei’s own Kirin 950 processor which benchmarks significantly better than the ZenFone. The Kirin goes toe to toe with top dogs like Snapdragon 850 or Exynos 8890 (but doesn’t win).

In day to day performance the UI performs similarly. The brute force of the Kirin comes in shortening load time of large apps and processing time of HDR photos. The very mid-range Snapdragon 625 in the ZenFone is still snappy but these tasks can take a little longer.

Zenfone 3

The Honor 8 has a dual camera, with a secondary camera that we didn’t use during this comparison. The Honor’s main camera is 12MP with an aperture of 2.2, which should perform worse. The ASUS sports a 16MP shooter that also has a lower aperture of 2.0 (lower is better). Both cameras have a solid auto mode which takes advantage of the night time photography preset.

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Let’s take a look at the first set of photo in auto.

Low Light Smartphone Photography Battle

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ZenFone 3 – Tonghua Night market entrance

Honor 8 - Tonghua Night market is also known as Linjiang Night market

Honor 8 – Tonghua Night market is also known as Linjiang Night market

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ZenFone 3 – Tonghua Night Market is very local –  it’s still crowded, but not to the levels of some of the more famous markets like Shilin.

Honor 8 - This stand deep fries everything. Unlike China the oil is always clean, it's the temperature and seasoning that make one stand more popular than the other

Honor 8 – This stand deep fries everything.

Unlike China, the oil is always clean. It’s the temperature and seasoning that makes one stand more popular than the other.

Zenfone 3 - The bright signs and low light make this a good location for a camera test.

ZenFone 3 – The bright signs and low light make this a good location for a camera test.

The Honor 8 seems to have better contrast and sharper photos.

The Honor 8 seems to have better contrast and sharper photos.

Zenfone 3 - The reds are more orange on the ASUS

ZenFone 3 – The reds are more orange on the ASUS.

The Honor 8 seems to have more accurate color respresentation

Honor 8

At first I thought that the Honor 8 was just over saturating their photos to get more accurate colors and contrast at night. However, looking at the above photos the shrimp and crab she is selling is the correct color, where as the ASUS has made them more red.

Zenfone 3 - I didn't get the rice and duck blood popsicle

ZenFone 3 – I didn’t get the rice and duck blood Popsicle.

Honor 8 - Maybe one day I'll have the courage to eat this. I hear it's delicious.

Honor 8 – Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to eat this. I hear it’s delicious.

Zenfone 3 - Shaved Peanut brittle with ice cream and cilantro

ZenFone 3 – Shaved peanut brittle with ice cream and cilantro.

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Honor 8 – This photo is a good example of the over saturation on the Honor tinting the scene with yellow.

In this case the ZenFone is more color accurate. It is a common practice – what separates the high end from the mid-range is the color representation. Over saturating photos does not make the photos technically better, but if you ask the average person, they usually select the photo that pops.

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Zenfone 3 - You can also get fruit, here are wax and custard apples.

ZenFone 3 – You can also get fruit, here are wax and custard apples.

Honor 8 - Now the Honor has better color tones and the Zenfone looks yellow. When it comes to color accuracy each handset has inconsistencies.

Honor 8 – Still nice and punchy

Zenfone 3 - socks are a nightmarket staple

ZenFone 3 – socks are a night market staple.

Honor 8 - It took everything I had not to buy the Bulbasaur socks!

Honor 8 – It took everything I had not to buy the Bulbasaur socks!

Zenfone 3 - Taking a look at skin tone with such bright lights.

ZenFone 3 – Taking a look at skin tone with such bright lights.

Honor 8 - The auto HDR mode that kicked in on both handsets does a better job on the 8.

Honor 8 – The auto HDR mode that kicked in on both handsets does a better job on the 8.

Zenfone 3 - Finally! What I came to eat for dinner.

ZenFone 3 – Finally! What I came to eat for dinner. Here the squid is getting dropped into the seasoned flour.

Takoyaki is actually Japanese Street food, not Taiwanese. It’s Squid Ball: a wheat batter with tempura scraps and a piece of diced squid is rolled in this hot metal tray until golden brown.

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Honor 8 – Cabbage, ginger and onion top the squid and you can see at the back the top layer of batter is being poured on top.

close-up

I was surprised with the close up performance with the back light on the ZenFone, it’s clearly better than the Honor 8. The color representation, clarity and detail and all far superior on the ASUS, this is a very challenging photo for the handset because of the extreme back light, moving subjects and broken effect that the handset has to reproduce. Perhaps the Honor would have taken it back if I had turned on the dual lens. Sadly, I was so hungry it didn’t last long enough for another round of pictures.

One feature that I didn’t use while in the Night market was the Night time mode, since Auto usually does a decent job of adjusting the photos and night time mode on both handsets involves long exposure –  it’s not good for moving subjects.  The Honor has the same software as Huawei devices, which means that it takes several photos and layers them. It’s impossible to take portraits in this mode, and the ZenFone 3 works in a similar fashion but only takes 2-3 seconds to take a photo not 15 seconds. I even selected locations that I could rest my hand on a railing to improvise a tripod. The Honor photos are blurry and dark and took forever to take and the ASUS photos are bright and in focus.

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ZenFone 3 – low light mode.

Honor 8 - night time mode

Honor 8 – night time mode

Here is a shot of a dark alley.

ZenFone 3 - Night time mode

ZenFone 3 – Night time mode

Honor 8 - Night time mode

Honor 8 – Night time mode.

Specification wise both the Honor and the ZenFone are comparable. What are the technical specifications?

  Honor 8 ZenFone 3
Display 5.2″ LTPS 1920 x 1080 pixels (423 ppi) 5.5″ Super IPS+ 1080 x 1920 pixels (401ppi)
SoC Kirin 950 (4 x 2.3GHz Cortex A72 + 4 x 1.8GHz Cortex A53 + Always-On I5 coprocessor) Qualcomm MSM8953 Snapdragon 625, Octa-core 2.0 GHz Cortex-A53
GPU Mali T880 Adreno 506
 RAM and internal memory  4 GB / 32 GB, 4 GB / 64 GB + 3 GB / 32 GB  32 GB, 3 GB RAM or 64 GB, 4 GB RAM
USB v2.0, Type-C 1.0 reversible connector Type-C 1.0 reversible connector
Camera (rear) 12MP, F2.2, dual lens (1 B & W, 1 RGB) 16 MP, f/2.0, laser/phase detection autofocus, OIS (4-axis), dual-LED (dual tone) flash
Camera (front) 8PM, F2.4 1080p 8 MP, f/2.0, 1080p
microSD card Hybrid microSD (Dual nano-SIM + microSD)
battery pack 3000 mAh
software EMUI 4.1, which builds on Android 6.0 Marshmallow Asus ZenUI 3.0, Android OS, v6.0.1 (Marshmallow)
housing “2.5D” glass front and back, metal frame
Measurements & Weight 145.5 x 71 x 7.44 mm, 153 g 152.6 x 77.4 x 7.7 mm 155 g
 Colors  White, Gold, Black, Pink, Blue  Sapphire Black, Moonlight White, Shimmer Gold

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Winner – Honor

Each phone mis-stepped in Auto, which is where most people will spend their time shooting quick lifestyle street shots (to be expected in mid-range smartphones). The Honor 8 provided a more consistent photo that was punchy, but the ZenFone 3 pulled ahead and frequently delivered a more color accurate photo. At the end of the day the Honor 8 shook off a hazy film that I felt plagued most of the ZenFone 3 photos.

What do you think? Leave me a comment and let me know.