Smartphone camera showdown: Google Pixel vs. LG G6

Smartphone camera showdown: Google Pixel vs. LG G6

Last year, we named the Google Pixel the king of all smartphone cameras, besting the Samsung Galaxy S7, LG V20, and iPhone 7. This year it has to defend its top spot against a whole slew of new phones, the first of which is the LG G6. Let’s put these cameras head to head!

One camera versus two

First, let’s go over specs. The Google Pixel sports a 12.3-megapixel sensor, an f/2.0 lens, and some serious image-processing muscle. LG’s G6, meanwhile, sports two cameras on the rear. Both use the same 13-megapixel sensor, but the main camera has an f/1.8 lens and optical image stabilization, while its wide-angle brother has an f/2.4 lens and no OIS.

For our tests, we primarily concerned ourselves with the superior standard-format camera on the G6. But as we saw last year with the V20, specs only tell half of the story, and great software can overcome superior hardware. 

It’s important to note that we tested these cameras the way most people use them, in auto mode. That means straight out of the pocket, using the stock app, with HDR set on auto. If a phone defaults to something less than full resolution, we rectify that, but otherwise this is the “out of box, out of pocket” experience. I should also mention that the Pixel does have a wider field of view, so we tried our best to match framing when possible.

We’re going to look deeply at the cameras across three areas: color, clarity, and range. We took dozens of photos with each phone, and what you see here is just a representative sample.

Color quality

When examining the color quality of the shots these phones produce, we’re concerned with accuracy, vividness, and how well the camera balances color temperature.

Our first test is of a back alley in San Francisco. You can immediately see that the G6 produces a more vibrant and colorful image. However, it also missed the white balance a bit, producing a somewhat orange tint.

lg g6 alleyway Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 is vibrant, but slightly orange.

pixel xl alleyway Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Pixel is a little more dull, but white balance is more accurate.

This shot of a storefront tells a similar story. The G6 is a bit more vivid, but the color temperature is too cool, making it bluer than reality.

lg g6 storefront Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 produces vivid colors, but the white balance is a little on the blue side.

pixel xl storefront Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Pixel isn’t quite as saturated but the color accuracy is spot-on.

Finally, this broad cityscape shot once again shows more vivid colors from the G6, but a bluish cast that doesn’t quite reflect the real scene.

lg g6 city Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Again, pumped-up color saturation from LG, and a somehwat bluish cast.

pixel xl city Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Google’s phone produces more natural and accurate color.

When it comes to color, the vividness of the G6 is nice, but the Pixel is more accurate—and so it wins. Next let’s look at clarity.

Clarity

When we talk about clarity, we’re looking at both the sharpness of the image (resolution and fine detail) as well as image-processing artifacts. We want to see an image that retains small details and fine textures, without introducing a lot of noise or edge artifacts from over-sharpening.

Let’s start by looking at this picture of a brick wall.

pixel xl wall Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Zooming in on this brick wall should prove interesting...

When we look closely, we see it’s no contest. The Pixel retains a ton more detail in the bricks.

pixel g6 brick comparison Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Up close, we can see a lot more detail in the bricks in the Pixel shot.

Let’s take a look at this macro of a gin bottle.

g6 gin Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Let’s take a close look at the label...

Zooming in close, we can see that not only is the Pixel sharper, but the G6’s image processing has introduced a lot of artifacts around the text on the label.

pixel g6 gin comparison Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Again, the Pixel delivers a sharper image, and with far fewer artifacts, too.

The situation totally reverses when we get into the dark. The wider aperture in combination with OIS gives the G6 a huge advantage. Let’s look at this shot down the storage area of our offices. 

lg g6 cage Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Our grungy IDG storage area makes a great low-light detail test.

Just look at the fence in the background. It’s a blurry mess on the Pixel, and you can barely make out the door handle. On the G6, while it doesn’t look amazing, it’s still perfectly usable. 

pixel g6 cage comparison Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

A wide aperture and OIS give the G6 an edge in low light detail.

The Pixel comes out on top in bright light, but all the image processing mojo in the world can’t overcome a wider aperture and OIS in low light. For the clarity test, it’s a tie. Finally, let’s look at range.

Range

Here we’re going to look at the dynamic range captured by the camera (the difference between the brightest and darkest possible areas captured in a single image) and the way the camera chooses to expose the image, including tone mapping and HDR.

Looking from a bright outdoor area into a dark interior is a great test of dynamic range. Here, the Pixel chooses a higher overall exposure, showing more across the entire range from light to dark. This is good for later editing, but it creates a flat and unpleasant default image. You can see on the very right edge of the histogram, the Pixel is blowing out the highlights entirely. 

pixel xl doorway Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Pixel’s higher exposure shows more, but looks flat.

The G6, on the other hand, keeps everything exposed properly. It may not be as “even” but it isn’t flat, and properly captures the star difference between the bright and dark areas of the scene, without letting the dark areas get crushed or the bright areas blown out.

lg g6 doorway Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 does a better job of representing the extreme bright and dark areas without under- or overexposing them.

Moving on to this shot of sodas in the cooler of a food truck, the Pixel crushes the dark areas a bit in an effort to hang on to the bright highlights in the reflections. Notice how the histogram runs right off the left edge.

pixel xl sodas Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

It’s a good looking shot, but detail is lost in the dark areas in order to keep highlights exposed properly.

On the G6, not only does the vibrant color of the cans come through, but detail is kept on both the bright highlights and the dark rear of the cooler, with the histogram falling off neatly on both ends.

lg g6 sodas Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 does a better job with this shot, keeping bright highlights and dark areas exposed properly.

If we look down this row of tires, we can see the Pixel once again blowing out highlights (see the spike on the right of the histogram). It pulls up the exposure of some of the dark areas, so you can see the tire treads in the dark, but its really dark areas are just crushed.

pixel xl tires Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Pixel blows out highlights and overexposes dark areas a little bit.

While the G6 doesn’t make the dark areas as easy to see, it’s more true to life, and doesn’t totally blow out the highlights.

lg g6 tires Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 looks more like we expect it to.

Overall, while the Pixel does a good job of making dark areas visible, the LG G6 more often gives us the exposure we’re hoping for in high-contrast scenes, and doesn’t blow out highlights or crush dark areas as quite as often. The Pixel might technically have higher dynamic range, but the G6 more often correctly exposes for the scene and has more realistic tone mapping. That gives the G6 the win in our Range category.

Overall winner: LG G6

We find ourselves in a bit of a conundrum. Both cameras are amazing. The Pixel won our color tests, the G6 won our range tests, and it was a tie on detail (with Pixel far ahead in bright light, and the G6 doing much better in low light). Neither phone can be said to take better shots most of the time—it really just depends on what you’re shooting.

But ties are boring. We have to declare a winner, so we’re going to look to some outside factors.

And that’s where we give the nod to the G6. With its second wide-angle camera, you have more options. And the Pixel still suffers from occasional lens flair, while the G6 does not. LG’s camera app is superior to Google’s, too, making good use of the 18:9 display aspect ratio and offering a bevy of pro features.

The G6 won’t go unchallenged for long. The Galaxy S8 steps up next to challenge it, and we’ll have that head-to-head matchup soon.

IDG Insider

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