Still Image Performance

Now that we’ve been able to discuss the basic specs of the camera and the user experience of taking photos, we can begin to talk about the image quality of the camera system. This is an incredibly complex field to say the least, as there are many parts of the chain that have a significant impact on overall quality. In order to test this, we use relative photo comparisons which allow for some level of objective comparison in terms of optical distortions, MTF, and other factors that influence image quality. I’m still not satisfied with the state of our testing suite here, but for rough comparisons it should serve well.

In our ISO test chart, the G4 effectively has no problem resolving anything on the test chart, but the contrast between lines can get rather low by the time we reach the 20 mark on this graph. However, resolution at the center isn't the only part that matters, but rather resolution at the edges. In that regard it appears that the G4 has some issues with defocus and noise at the edges that is slightly worse than the Galaxy S6, but it's definitely possible that we're just looking at differences in post-processing as the haloing is definitely slightly more obvious on the G4 around all the high-contrast edges in this photo.

Moving past our controlled lighting tests, we use some real-world estimations to try and judge more than pure resolution. In our daytime landscape tests, the LG G4 is roughly equivalent to the Galaxy S6, but textures seem to have visibly lower resolution. Given the even more aggressive sharpening on the LG G4 compared to the GS6, it’s likely that we’re seeing differences in post-processing and possibly differences in optics as well. It’s worth noting here that the OIS has a tendency to drift even in situations that don’t appear to have any hand shake present, so this can also affect the sharpness of photos in daytime.

At any rate, resolution is effectively comparable to the LG G3, which is probably indicative that we’re mostly limited by the optics here, and that decreasing pixel size much further won’t really help with increasing resolution. HDR is pretty much similar in terms of quality to the Galaxy S6, but the use of multiple image combination affects the shot to shot latency as there’s additional processing time compared to the Galaxy S6’s instant HDR which affects the user experience. I should note that RAW output is effectively useless here as well, as there’s basically no lens or sensor profile so the colors of the RAW photo look rather off, in conjunction with vignetting and other distortions that are difficult to correct for.

In low light, the LG G4 is arguably far superior to the Galaxy S6 in terms of quality. Looking at the test images, a number of issues stand out in the Galaxy S6 that are resolved in the LG G4. The first is that the processing avoids artificially increasing exposure well past what the sensor has recorded, so there’s no purple hue in black areas like the sky and the right side of the image. The other significant advantage here is that LG’s noise reduction algorithms are much more balanced, favoring preservation of detail over smoothing out luminance noise. The speed limit sign is significantly more legible, and in general edges remain much sharper on the G4, and textures retain more detail than on the Galaxy S6. Given that detail seems to be a bit worse in daytime, it seems fair to say that LG has simply adopted better post-processing for low light photos, so these comparisons are definitely subject to change as OEMs adjust post-processing with various OTAs.

Overall, I’m actually quite impressed with what LG has done here. The camera UI is easily one of the best I’ve seen in any smartphone, and the camera is definitely much faster than the one on the LG G3. Shot to shot latency isn’t quite fast enough to feel instant, but it’s at least competitive with other devices on the market. Image quality is also competitive with the Galaxy S6 in the day, and noticeably better at night. Combined with the manual controls, I would argue that the LG G4 is a better camera than the Galaxy S6 and even the iPhone 6 Plus, although I would prefer a 4:3 sensor and a stronger focus on reducing optical distortion over chasing wider field of view and wider apertures for future iterations of the device.

Camera Architecture and UX Video Performance
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  • ZeDestructor - Saturday, August 1, 2015 - link

    Geography is the main issue for me, else I'd have done so for my Z2 already: I live in Australia. Reply
  • BMNify - Saturday, August 1, 2015 - link

    Geography is not a problem nowadays, even i don't live in USA, You can easily send phones by using Fedex Australia and DHL Australia, they will deliver within 3 days to USA, now we just have to wait for the upcoming Xperia Z5 and Z5 compact. Reply
  • Jodiuh - Thursday, July 30, 2015 - link

    Excellent job!

    One request:
    Confirmation of PWM backlights in future reviews. This is important because some of us get migraines from devices like the 2nd gen Nexus 7.
    Reply
  • hans_ober - Thursday, July 30, 2015 - link

    Checkout this site: laptopmedia.com

    They're already out with the Moto G3 review, and have probably reviewed the G4.
    They do display tests + PWM tests on phones & laptops.
    Reply
  • misteroh - Thursday, July 30, 2015 - link

    Great review!

    I noticed you said " I'm not sure if LG will support anything higher than 9 volts at 1.3 amps."

    I was hoping you guys would be able to do a test with the quick charger however. Over at XDA Forums, I think we found that even with the quick charger and the battery at 0%, the phone would only charge about 20% faster than with the stock charger. Somebody had some hardward that showed it really was pulling in 9V@1.2A.
    Reply
  • superflex - Thursday, July 30, 2015 - link

    It's summertime and you're wearing fleece?
    I guess having little hands causes one to get cold.
    Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Thursday, July 30, 2015 - link

    He does supposedly have a lack of hair on his arms to keep them warm... Reply
  • Buk Lau - Thursday, July 30, 2015 - link

    Josh what happened to your Gundam Dynames gunpla photo shots? the dark greenish color of Dynames does help to show differences in dynamic (no pun intended) range and contrasts, although you could've built it a bit better... Reply
  • onmitt - Thursday, July 30, 2015 - link

    Would be great if you start mention headphones output audio quality and presence of DAC chip in smartphone reviews. Reply
  • FlyBri - Thursday, July 30, 2015 - link

    To add to Josh's last sentence in his article, "I suspect that the real difference in the end simply comes down to size"...AND PRICE. I get the better overall build quality of the S6 is better than the G4, but with the price the G4 is selling at over at T-Mobile now, for example, along with getting another $48 off via a promotional code, and in addition to all of that a free leather back cover, extra battery, and battery charger via LG's promotion, and the LG G4 is a WAY better value proposition than the S6. The S6 is a very good phone, don't get me wrong, but it's overpriced in my opinion. Reply

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