The smartphone camera wars continue, with the LG G4 hotting things up in the photography department. But is its latest camera the one to plump for? We've handled the G4 at its London launch to get a taste of what it's all about.
In 2014 the LG G3 made headway in the camera feature set with an impressively fast laser autofocus system - a system that the LG G4 adopts, but builds upon with a larger sensor size and faster aperture lens. The two autofocus systems are identical - achieving focus in a purported 276ms - so there's no detectable speed jump between the two. However, given its speed - and it really is fast - it didn't really need to be any quicker. We're really impressed with how quickly subjects snap into focus.
Principal to the G4's camera is the larger sensor size, opting for a 1/2.6in sensor, rather than the 1/3.0in sensor typical in many competitors such as the iPhone 6.
Thing is, that "inch" description doesn't describe the size literally: a standard compact camera sensor has a 1/2.3in sensor, which is approximately an equally large increase in size again, or the same size as the sensor found in the Sony Xperia Z3. It's not nearly as large as that found in a DSLR camera, which is what LG's marketing wants to make you think.
So does a little bigger mean better? We've taken shots that look great on the G4's screen, but a 5.5-inch panel Quad HD panel isn't going to look the same as a print or a larger monitor display. Saying that, the shots look great from this 16-megapixel sensor. And with Sony's 20.7-megapixel offering, the on-sensor pixel size between the two is approximately the same, which ought to mean similar quality.
What the LG has, however, is a faster aperture. At f/1.8 it's among the fastest lenses going, delivering around sixty per cent more light than the iPhone 6's f/2.2 optic (two thirds of a difference in f-stops). More light means more to play with: faster shutter speeds, less processing to achieve exposure, thus avoiding the worst of image noise and processing.
Above all else, using the camera really shows off its abilities. In the daylight-lit room that we experienced the camera the on-screen image looked great on the 5.5-inch Quad HD panel, delivered in super-smooth real-time with plenty of colour and punch to the image. The autofocus is as good as it gets, the resulting image is gunning for the smartphone camera crown - and, you know what, it might have it within reach.
Three modes are available for shooting: Simple, which shows next to nothing on screen to keep things ultra simple; Auto which adds in touch-to-focus autofocus; and Manual which opens up every available option - from manual focus (if desired), to ISO, shutter speed, aperture value, white balance and exposure lock.
There's even raw file capture in the DNG format to get the utmost from images after shooting - open in an application like Photoshop and full capture information and adjustment is possible, without causing as significant loss to quality as from a standard JPEG file. And there's no reason to not shoot raw if you have a large capacity microSD file slotted into the G4.
In the manual shooting mode, there's a single click-to-scroll virtual slider used to adjust the in-play setting. So whether that's focus or ISO you can see what you're doing and the equivalent exposure shown on screen in front of you. Long exposures are also possible from 1 to 30 seconds, should you have a mount or tripod to keep the G4 steady.
Elsewhere there's an tri-axis optical image stabilisation system. Most sensors work on dual X and Y axes, which works well to counter certain movements, but LG has added in a Z axis to compensate for a third rotational dimension. We've seen five-axis stabilisation in some higher-end dedicated cameras, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, which are very impressive for steady video and still work.
On the rear is one of LG's big guns: a colour spectrum analyser. Yep, it's not a dual flash, even if it happens to look like one. This is used to recognise objects using infrared light for focus, while exact colour is extracted from the shot using the analyser - the first in a smartphone. It's an interesting idea, matched with a display capable of showing 98 per cent of the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) standard, so if anything this is LG's way of trying to make even more of a point about the importance of colour. How well does it work? We'd need to take a stack of images before passing judgement. Besides, all imaging sensors have colour filters as a method to extract colour information, so how much better this is will need to be derived from far more use.
When it comes to viewing your images the gallery looks, well, a lot like Apple's as found in the iPhone. The ability to view pictures by year, month and date can be shifted from large thumbnails to small ones with a pinch of the screen. Snaps are even arranged into smart galleries, as judged by the Smart Notice feature of the phone's UX 4.0 user interface.
First impressions of the LG G4 camera are good. LG has grown the G3's already impressive offering by adding a larger sensor, faster aperture and responsive software. Whether you're a point-and-shooter or do-it-all-manual kind of snapper, there's depth here at every juncture. Good job all round.