While the smartphone market starts to level off in terms of growth, smartphone manufacturers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their competition. One of the biggest and most obvious ways that they are starting to differentiate is by putting a focus on photography and videography. However, photography and videography cannot simply be improved by just improving the camera sensor and the lenses as that approach has been the primary way that most OEMs have improved on photography and it has mostly been minor and incremental. At this year’s MWC 2016 in Barcelona we started to see smartphone manufacturers sink some real R&D into their smartphones’ camera systems. Handset brands like LG are starting to employ new technologies and features thanks to new processors like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 to enable a broad set of features, some features that may have existed in past processors but weren’t taken advantage of and others that are entirely new.
What we tested
Today we’ll be reviewing LG’s new G5 smartphone. We managed to get ahold of a pre-production device which means that it has early software and won’t fully represent the final polished software of the LG G5. Taking that into consideration, I wanted to go over the different things that we should be looking at when reviewing these new smartphone cameras and evaluating their new technologies and features. Unfortunately, we were unable to get ahold of the LG G5’s LG Cam Plus attachment which is designed to assist in the use of the LG G5 in photography. Even so, almost all of the G5’s capabilities work without that grip so we can still get a fairly good idea of how it will perform. For this review we will actually be looking at the LG G5 versus the LG G4, giving existing users a good idea of what the improvements are while also showing how LG has improved over the previous generation.
How we tested
In this review, we will be shooting in multiple camera modes, auto, manual, and HDR. However, most of the shots will be taken in auto and HDR because the reality is that most users will be using their phones in auto. In this review, I’ll be attaching side by side images and also test results taken by my colleague Anshel Sag and showing zoomed 100% comparisons to show you exactly what the image quality differences are as well as what to look out for when looking at a new smartphone. All images will start top to bottom or left to right with the LG G5 first, followed by the LG G4. All images are pulled directly from the camera’s JPG files and not modified in any way other than to crop and fit the images side by side and done at full quality in Photoshop CC 2015 v1.2. Both cameras can shoot RAW, however, RAW processing can vary the images drastically and the JPG processing done on the phone is extremely important to test since most people will be using those JPG files.
LG G5 feature adders
The camera itself has a lot of modes which go beyond the standard set of capabilities. The Multiview capability has been done before but on most cameras didn’t enable simultaneous capture. It also has a time lapse capability which the LG G4 didn’t have either. The LG G5 brings in a lot of features that the G4 didn’t have and enables other features only handful of others have like Multiview and time lapse. These modes are only available in auto camera mode.
The first image is an HDR image, there’s a lot to look at here, but it mostly shows how the cameras deal with very bright situations and provide a better picture through computational photography. Most HDR images are multiple exposures of the same image stacked onto one another computationally in order to create a more perfectly exposed image. In many cases, this can result in images that actually have deeper colors and tone mapping that are not representative of the real world.
In this image, you can see that the white balance of the LG G4 is slightly off and has a slight tan tint to the entire image while the LG G5 almost perfectly represents the colors. Both phones are able to deal with the bright sunlight without underexposing the text from the sign. However, it appears that the LG G5 may require some more tuning as the text when zoomed to 100% isn’t as sharp as the LG G4. This appears to be limited to HDR as almost all other images with the LG G5 have superior image sharpness to the LG G4.
In fact, anticipating something like this, Anshel actually took a second image of the sign from a slightly different angle without HDR and was able to get the LG G5 to render the sign perfectly. However, the LG G4 appeared to continue to have the same white balance issue as the previous image of the sign.
Moving on to the next image, we have a picture of the ocean overlooking the coast and beaches.
This image was shot in auto mode with auto focus as well. The LG G5 pulls out more color and more sharpness out of the photo while the LG G4 seems to be a bit on the blurry side and slightly out of focus around the edges.
The one thing that I noticed while reviewing the LG G5 is that it stays in focus almost throughout the entire image, even around the corners and edges, something that the LG G4 simply couldn’t do. The colors once again were slightly off on the LG G4 compared to the LG G5, the G5 had almost perfect color reproduction while the G4 once again had a bit of a tan tint. The G4 also gave the sky a different blue color than the G5 did and that day the sky was more light blue than dark blue. The easiest way to see that is through the flowers in the lower lefthand corner of the image, zoomed to 100% you can see the difference in sharpness and color.
The next image, shot in auto mode shows how differently the two cameras interpret the sky’s colors and show off the LG G5’s dynamic range as well as superior sharpness. The LG G5 can show off the sky with varying gradients of blue within the same image while the LG G4 mostly sticks to one gradient of blue. You can also see without zooming that the plaques of people’s pictures and the text are a bit sharper in the LG G5 than the LG G4.
If you want to see how drastically the two images really are in terms of sharpness, just take a look at the stairs leading up to the cross. In that image, you can see the sharpness between each step in the grout and the lack of detail between each brick. Also, you can actually make out some text on the plaque on the flag pole itself while it is almost impossible to see on the LG G4 image.
Next, we switched to low-light shooting in manual mode with automatic white balance and ISO and manual spot focus on the Gaslamp sign. This shot was taken around 10 pm at night in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. It’s absolutely necessary to shoot low light with any smartphone to evaluate how it handles low-light and if it has any issues taking photos in low-light. It’s also important to take multiple different low-light scene photos in order to see how it handles bright lights mixed with low light.
As you can see from the images, the LG G5 produces a much sharper more naturally appearing image with fewer blown-out lights. It doesn’t handle all of the lights perfectly, but it does so much better than the G4. In fact, I would argue that many people wouldn’t be able to identify the LG G5 image from a DSLR image. The noise on the LG G5 is also slightly less noticeable until you go down to 100% crop compared to the LG G4.
Next, we covered something that is one of the most commonly photographed things these days, food. We went to one of the best taco shops in the US, according to Yelp, Tacos El Gordo, and took a picture of one of their beef tacos with both phones. In the image, you can see the G4’s colors are a bit muted while the G5 has more natural colors that pop. Both handle lighting really well and even show the light reflecting off the guacamole, but the images are quote clearly not the same in terms of color and sharpness.
Next, we went back to the night scenes and went to take a night time city skyline photo. This was shot in manual mode and the difference between the LG G5 and LG G4 was a bit surprising. The LG G5 was a bit yellower than the actual scene and the LG G4 got the scene almost perfect in terms of white balance. The LG G4 also had slightly less noise than the LG G5 which is interesting considering that our other night time images showed the LG G5 being superior.
This very likely has to do with the complexity of the lighting in the scene and that the LG G5 isn’t quite tuned as much as the LG G4. Hopefully LG has already addressed this in the final software for the G5 and we’ll revisit it once the device becomes available. Overall, though, both devices produced a pretty attractive image even if the G5 could have done better in white balance and noise.
The last night time image was a great illustration of the LG G5’s photographic capabilities against the LG G4 at night. In the exact same spot in auto mode with spot metering and focus, the LG G5 simply handled all highlights much better than the LG G4. It’s a huge improvement to realism and you can simply see a huge difference in almost every part of the image. The cameras were supposed to focus on the Ghirardelli sign and you can see a huge difference in how both cameras handled that scene.
At 100% crop, which should be included in every camera review, you can see the drastic difference in color and lighting. The LG G5 could easily be confused for a DSLR once again while the LG G4 would be easily identifiable as a smartphone image. The LG G5 is clearly narrowing the gap between smartphones and DSLRs. However, both cameras could improve in sharpness at night.
Also, Anshel used an X-rite ColorChecker to compare the two cameras color reproduction and it appears that the two cameras are almost identical in terms of calibration although you can see in some colors like the turquoise square the LG G4 is a little deeper color. The orange color is also slightly more full on the LG G4, which makes me think that the LG G5’s color tuning isn’t quite finished yet. It’s extremely important to use some sort of reference image with a color checker when comparing different cameras to identify any glaring issues or weaknesses. Since we’re only comparing two cameras we didn’t use a standard image alongside the ColorChecker, but having a control is always good and easier than taking tons of photos.
Dual cameras provide a wider dynamic range of quality
One of the crowning features of the LG G5 is its dual camera with a 16MP f/1.8 and 8MP f/2.4 image sensors and lenses. The purpose of the 8MP camera is to give a wider angle image at 135 degrees which makes taking close up pictures of things much more easy. Here are a few examples of the 16MP picture next to the 8MP image. Side by side, you can see how much more resolution the 16MP image has as well as how much more of a scene you capture with the wide angle lens. It’s really important that other reviewers make use of the unique features of the camera they are testing because each camera is going to be different.
Speaking on that, we also managed to take a few pictures on the LG G5 using all three of the cameras on the LG G5. We found it to be an interesting feature, but didn’t immediately see the value in capturing two images of the same scene unless you’re trying to capture something like a concert and want to have the wide angle image, the narrower large resolution image and yourself all in the same frame.
However, this phone isn’t only capable of photos, it also takes video. For video testing, Anshel took a video of a train going by at the beach without moving out of place which tests the frame rate of the camera at 4K. The best way to test any phone’s video capability is to just crank the resolution to the maximum and record relatively high framerate video with moving objects like trains or waves.
In addition to that, we decided to test the camera’s ability to compensate for vibration by walking while recording. It wasn’t able to fully smooth out all of the walking, but it was much less jittery than a camera without any OIS or smoothing.
We also tested out the dual camera capabilities of the LG G5 which allows you to record using both cameras in 4K. Anshel switched between the two cameras back and forth while at the shooting range and you can see that it seamlessly switches between the two cameras which is really impressive. You can see that during the video it takes a few milliseconds to refocus the camera which switching to the wide angle camera, but other than that the experience is perfect and Anshel didn’t actually realize it was even refocusing until we went back to watch the video.
Oh those selfies
Anshel also tested the front-facing camera on the LG G5, in both a low light scenario as well as a well-lit scenario. One picture has the camera’s computational skin smoothing and the other does not, it should be quite obvious which is which.
LG G5 has a great camera
Based on all of these images and videos you can see that the LG G5 does a fantastic job of handling almost any photography task you throw at it. Even though this was a pre-production device, it is showing some serious photography promise especially when paired with LG’s new Cam Plus accessory which adds an additional 1200 mAh of battery as well as a physical grip and buttons. The LG G5 is a clear upgrade over the LG G4 and if you are serious about photography and thought that the LG G4 was a great camera, the LG G5 simply takes smartphone photography to the next level. Hopefully some of the things we noticed are already ironed out in the LG G5’s final software version, but even if they aren’t there’s a very good chance LG will resolve them down the road thanks to the programmability of today’s smartphone camera platforms. If you are looking to buy a smartphone with a great camera, there is no doubt that the LG G5 will satisfy your needs and do so in a great and easy to use way.