Smartphone camera shootout: LG G6 vs Samsung Galaxy S8

Smartphone camera shootout: LG G6 vs Samsung Galaxy S8

Last year, we named the Google Pixel the king of all smartphone cameras, besting the Samsung Galaxy S7, LG V20, and iPhone 7. Last month, the Pixel tried to defend its crown against the LG G6, and lost.

Now, a new contender tries to knock LG off the top spot. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 may appear to have the same camera specs as last year’s Galaxy S7, but don’t let the megapixel numbers fool you: it’s got a new sensor, new optics, and new image processing algorithms. 

Can Samsung’s latest and greatest knock LG off its perch? Let’s find out.

What we’re testing (and what we’re not)

Before we begin, how about a quick specs recap? The main rear camera of the Galaxy S8 uses a Sony IMX333 sensor with dual pixel autofocus. The resolution is 12 megapixels (with 1.4 micron pixels) and it’s all behind an f/1.7 lens. It’s got optical image stabilization, too. The LG G6 has two rear cameras, one standard and one wide-angle. They both use the same Sony IMX258 sensor, at 13 megapixels with 1.12 micron pixels. For our tests, we’re mostly concerned with the standard camera, which has optical image stabilization and a superior f/1.8 aperture. The wide-angle lens, for the record, lacks OIS and has an f/2.4 aperture.

Simply looking at the specs, Samsung has the upper hand. It should perform better in low light with a wider aperture and larger sensor, and should focus more quickly.

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. 

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.

It’s important to note that this is not a comprehensive review of the entire camera experience. We’re looking at final shot quality across three main areas, but there are many other factors that go into a great smartphone camera. The speed at which the camera app loads and is ready to take a photo (the “pocket to photo” time), shutter lag, shot-to-shot latency, burst speed, the camera app interface and features, and that’s all without even diving into video features or quality, or the front camera.

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.

It’s a cloudy day at SFO, and while it’s good to see the Galaxy S8 back off on the typical Samsung oversaturation, the image is far too blue. The G6 has far more accurate color temperature. This is a big stumble for Samsung—the color tint here is well beyond typical “viewer preference” white balance.

g6 gs8 camera shootout gs8 airport Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Galaxy S8 isn't oversaturated, but the white balance is way off here.

g6 gs8 camera shootout g6 airport Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6, by comparison, delivers an accurate color balance.

This next shot is challenging. The light emitted from the table is a cool blue, while the ceiling lights are a warm yellow. LG gets it right, accurately capturing the stark contrast between them, not just on the tables but reflected on the black camera lenses. Samsung locks on the cool blue table and tries to compensate for it, turning it white and the background lighting positively orange.

g6 gs8 camera shootout gs8 lenses Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Samsung tries to correct for the blueish tint of the table light, and ruins the background.

g6 gs8 camera shootout g6 lenses Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

LG accurately captures this complex lighting situation, with blueish table light and warmer environment lighting in the background.

Finally, let's look at this orange traffic cone in the grass. Yes, you might think the GS8's image is more pleasing, but it's really "greenifying" everything. The G6's colors may be more dull, but it's far more accurate. And if you zoom in and look closely at the grass you'll see a lot more variation in color.

g6 gs8 camera shootout gs8 grass Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Samsung's color's pop, but far too much. This grass isn't nearly this green in real life.

g6 gs8 camera shootout g6 grass Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The browns and yellows in the grass on LG's image aren't as pleasing, but reflect the true colors.

Samsung has long been criticized for taking too many liberties with color saturation and intensity, and while its image processing seems to have improved, it's still not nearly good enough. Too often, its colors simply don't reflect reality, or it has trouble nailing the white balance of a scene. Samsung needs to aim for accuracy in its auto modes, and leave this intense color stuff for its "creative" modes. 

Winner: LG by a wide margin. 

Next, let's check out 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 take a look at this bright daylight shot in Las Vegas.

g6 gs8 camera shootout vegas Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Both cameras did a great job with detail and noise in this bright daylight shot.

We see similar detail and noise between the two phones, and they both do a great job. Just look at this close-up, where the slats around those tiny windows are easily visible.

g6 gs8 camera shootout vegas comparison Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Both phones do a great job with sharpness and noise in bright outdoor light.

How about this close-up of a circuit board in bright indoor lighting?

g6 gs8 camera shootout circuits Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Which phone will bring out the fine details of this circuit board?

Here, the Galaxy S8 pulls ahead, with more details and fine writing visible when you look closely at the chips. The text printed on the circuit board is crisper, too.

g6 gs8 camera shootout circuits compare Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Galaxy S8 has crisper text and fine lines on the circuit board.

Let's take a look at a really low light scene, with some color/detail photo targets thrown in for good measure.

g6 gs8 camera shootout lowlight Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The lighting in this scene is exceptionally dim. And it's going to make a big difference in final photo quality.

It's just no contest. The Galaxy S8's bigger sensor and wider aperture give it the advantage it needs to expose both the model and the photo targets. The G6 just couldn't keep up. It ruined the model's skin tones and facial detail, and completely destroyed the photo targets.

g6 gs8 camera shootout lowlight compare Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 couldn't keep up with this low light scene. Just look how bad the photo targets are!

In bright daylight it's pretty close, but the darker it gets, the more the Galaxy S8 shines. A larger sensor with bigger pixels, and a slightly brighter aperture, give it a real advantage in capturing detail and reducing noise in darker environments.

Winner: The Galaxy S8 takes clearer, less noisy shots, especially in low light.

Finally, let's look at dynamic 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.

In this first shot of a series of AV plugs, we see a pattern that will repeat itself throughout these tests. Both shots look good, but the Galaxy S8 exposes a little more brightly. This isn't a problem in this shot, but it will be in others.

g6 gs8 camera shootout gs8 plugs Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Galaxy S8 looks good, and doesn't lose any information, but it's exposed more brightly than the LG G6.

g6 gs8 camera shootout g6 plugs Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

LG's exposure is one or two stops darker, but there's no lost information and the image looks balanced.

We start to see the consequences of Samsung's high exposure settings in this next scene. Both cameras create a pleasing overall image, but look closely at the woman on set and you can see the highlights blown out in her hair, her sleeves, and the objects on the right side of the table.

g6 gs8 camera shootout gs8 tailor Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Samsung produces a pleasing image, but highlights are blown out a little.

g6 gs8 camera shootout g6 tailor Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 manages to properly expose dark areas while not losing detail in the brightest spots.

This shot of a lighting booth at a trade show really demonstrates the difference in dynamic range. At first glace, both shoots look good. But take a look at the round lights on the left side. You can see the black lines for the little support rods. Those are totally blown out on the Galaxy S8. Both phones manage to keep detail up in the dark areas of the ceiling, however.

g6 gs8 camera shootout gs8 booth Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Galaxy S8 totally blows out the lights on the left.

g6 gs8 camera shootout g6 booth Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 retains fine details in the lights, as well as detail in the dark areas.

Both phones are leagues better than those of years past, but the Galaxy S8 has a tendency to slightly overexpose images, and often blows out highlights in challenging scenes.

Winner: The LG G6 simply does a better job of keeping the brightest and darkest areas of a scene exposed properly.

Overall winner: LG G6

The LG G6 retains its crown in our smartphone shootout series. While the Galaxy S8 takes better photos than the S7 did, despite similar specs, Samsung still has a little work to do. Locking on to proper white balance in challenging scenes is tough, and it still over-saturates colors, especially bright greens (like grass and trees).

Again, this isn't a measurement of all aspects of a smartphone's camera. There are lots of factors to consider: dual-camera modes, special camera app modes and features, shutter latency, video quality and features, and more. But when we closely examine the color, clarity, and range of these two cameras when used as most people do (in auto mode), LG clearly comes out on top.

We think smartphone buyers will be really happy with the camera on either phone, but Samsung's going to have to do a little work if it wants to with this challenge with its next phone.

IDG Insider

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