The Phone Camera That Will Make You Put Away Your DSLR

The Phone Camera That Will Make You Put Away Your DSLR

Or at least that's what the salesman tried to sell it to me as. You see, LG's new G4 sports a pretty incredible camera for a phone. Its 16 MP 1/2.6" CMOS sensor has an f/1.8 lens in front of it for light-gathering goodness. If this wasn't enough, the full manual controls of Android's new camera have been implemented. This all sounds impressive. But, just how capable is it?

Inspired by the original iPhone Fashion Shoot here at FStoppers, I decided to attempt some photographs that I would normally pick up an SLR or high-end compact with manual controls for, and see how the G4's camera would hold up. I picked a couple of stress tests and a couple of photographs I thought would be fun to attempt and set out to make them work with the G4. Of course, the lack of variable focal length and quick autofocus were limitations, so I tried to pick things that would be easy to see the image quality through.

Before we get started, a couple of things I won't be showing here are ISO performance and dynamic range, because, well, they're really not worth looking at. Like any sensor of that size, a couple of stops above base ISO results in noisy images. Even the shadows in a well-exposed image are noisy at base ISO. Dynamic range, despite the ability to shoot in DNG format, is very similar to working with the JPEG files.

So, let us begin. The subjects I chose were food, a couple of different long exposures, and a flash-only scene. For all subjects, I shot DNG files so I could bring them up in Lightroom with a minimum of processing done on the camera's end. The biggest benefit of the raw files that I can see is that LG's default JPEG processing oversharpens and oversaturates for my taste.

Food

First up, I started with a simple shot: window-lit food. I put together bacon and eggs for breakfast and set up a quick shot in the window of our Seoul apartment. The tantalizing smell of bacon in the morning meant I really didn't have a lot of time to get my shot: a quick bit of styling and dialing in my exposure manually to ensure consistency and I was away. For web files, there's plenty of detail, but upon zooming in, you see that the 16 MP are more of a gimmick than anything else. There isn't enough detail resolved to really make use of them. The lens is approximately equivalent to 28 mm, which is a little wide for my taste when shooting food. It meant I had to keep all of the plates very close together.

LG G4, 1/250, f/1.8, ISO 50

Daytime Long Exposure

I was shooting a beach scene on a recent trip to Australia and it seemed like the perfect time to test the G4. The f/1.8 lens provides us with one hurdle to overcome: it isn't a variable aperture. So, in order to do any sort of long exposure, we need to cut down the light by other means. Enter "Frankenphone." I taped my ND400 over the lens of the phone and light-sealed it using gaffer's tape. By doing this, I was able to get a full second exposure later in the day and shoot a few long exposures over the ocean. The highlights look fantastic here and the phone retained a good amount of detail throughout the scene. The shadow areas, however, did get extremely noisy. I made a 10x18 print of this and put it next to a print of the same scene from my Fuji X-T1. Of course, the X-T1 has superior lenses and a much larger sensor, so there is no competition. However, from a viewing distance of 3 meters, I was unable to see much of a difference.

LG G4, 1", f/1.8, ISO 50, ND400

Night Long Exposure

This was a little easier to get a long exposure. However, as I still wanted to smooth the relatively calm waters of the Han River in Seoul, an ND8 filter was used to get a 15 second exposure. Here, I also discovered a use for the voice activated shooting I had previously thought to be a gimmick. By switching this mode on, I was able to say "smile", "cheese", or, interestingly enough, "whiskey" to have the phone take a photo without requiring me to touch it. Manual focus also enabled precise focus to be locked so the phone wouldn't hunt as I asked it to take pictures. The resulting image looks great on the phone screen, but when brought up large on a monitor, hot pixels become visible very quickly all over the image.

LG G4, 15", f/1.8, ISO 50, ND8

Flash

One of the more novel uses of the ability to do long exposures is the ability to use strobes to illuminate your subject. I say novel, because the simpler option would be to use hot lights, as in the iPhone Fashion Shoot. However, I thought it would be fun to attempt to freeze a droplet using strobes. I thought. Sitting in the dark, opening the shutter, trying to keep the droplets falling in the middle of the cup, and firing the flash at the right time was not my ideal evening in, but I managed to capture a couple of droplets. Note that this is a black cup and I kept the shadows purple to show you the color-shift, even at base ISO.

LG G4, 4", f/1.8, ISO 50, Softbox to camera right (manually triggered)

What I Liked

  • This is quite a step forward in quality for a phone camera.
  • Images are sharp and contrasty (sometimes too much for my liking).
  • The inclusion of manual controls make it a fun toy to play with and a great light meter for film shooters.
  • Voice triggering works well for long exposures.

What I Didn't

  • Lots of hot pixels with longer exposure.
  • Noise gets ugly really quickly on the small sensor (to be expected).
  • Focusing could be better in low light.

 

In Conclusion

Although I'm quite sure the phone salesman was exaggerating quite severely, the LG G4 is a great camera to have in your pocket. With full manual controls for that extra little bit of creative control, it can be used in a pinch to create great quality images.

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24 Comments

Sean Berry's picture

I think I will hold onto my DSLR for now.

michael buehrle's picture

i can't wait till there is a huge dump of all those D3's and D4's.

Still prefer the Lumia 1020, that was an amazing phone camera for it's time even if it was slow. It's heritage has trickled down to every Lumia since but never to the same degree. It remains to be seen if MS can actually make an effort to recapture much of the early buzz about the sensors like it did with the 920/1020 cameras.

This said a camera phone is no replacement for a dSLR as they often quickly fall apart in editing even the RAWs you get from the Lumia's.

Kjell Denti Gunnarsson's picture

I got the Lumia 1020 a couple of months ago and that phone camera is a beast! Shame it's got a windows OS, though, I'd much prefer android.

Njoi Fontes's picture

Just curious why do you prefer android to windows phone? Windows phone's are quicker, more stable and more secure, plus the batteries typically last longer on a windows phone. I own a Lumia 1020 just for the camera and a lumia 1520 for everything else, and can't wait for the soon to be released lumia 940 and 940 xl.

Sheng Zheng's picture

i was so tempted to buy a lumia 1020 just for the camera capability, held back coz it functions poorly as a smartphone...

Travis Alex's picture

Thanks for making this post! I totally agree the camera on this phone is remarkable. It's a photographers dream phone. I wanted to share some of the shots I got with my LG G4 as well.

Bash Bish Falls - Copake, NY - 30 second exposure, 50 ISO @ 1.8 with a 10 Stop ND taped in front.

Zipper - Providence, RI - 8th of a second, at 200 ISO @1.8

Sand Castles - Boston, MA - 2000th of a second, ISO 50, @ 1.8

Edited with VSCO cam.

I don't have any of the other premium phone cameras to test against, but it's pretty impressive the G4 can capture the Milky Way. This was also on a windy night, need to get out on a calm night to try again with the G4. Photo is untouched, straight from the phone. The 2nd pic is from the same night with my 5D3.

I really wanted to do try getting the stars as well, but we just don't have any here in Seoul. Way too much light pollution.

Travis Alex's picture

OOOO, I want to try this as well.

Ryan Bartels's picture

Hahahah. Yes, my D4, D800 and even my Sony a6000 are all about to hit ebay because a non-Apple (sorry, mine's so integrated in my daily routine it would be a nightmare to ever switch I'm afraid) phone with small sensor and fixed widish lens has made them all obsolete.

It'll definitely be much easier to lug this around to live college sporting events, weddings and on international assignments rather than the now antiquated FF DSLR with state of art optics...

Spy Black's picture

Actually, cellphones like these are having a detrimental affect on your D4 and D800, because Nikon's revenue from point and shoots is greatly diminished, as are the monies for R&D on your high-end Nikons.

Anonymous's picture

Their marketing scheme would receive less resistance from real photogs if they'd market it as a gopro/iphone competitor. The notion that something the size of my wallet can yield the photo quality of my D800 borders on absurd but had they gone after my gopro or iPhone I'd be far more likely to consider it.

Nah. Smartphones don't have interchangeable lenses; yea, there may be models available with superzoom capabilities of P&S cameras. It would take a lot of convincing for me to ditch my DSLR of shutter lag and autofocusing speed.
Even though I now own a 5D Mk III, I haven't put my A-1 and F-1N on a shelf. Why? Because they still work and film is still available.

Grant Watkins's picture

Click bait title....come on fstoppers, you're better than that!

If you thought a phone would beat out a DSLR, then that's your fault.

Rob Mynard's picture

The new sensor tech is great (esp. the stuff coming out of fuji...) but its not possible for small sensors to get nice shallow DOF. At least not with only one lens/sensor

michael buehrle's picture

i would pay money to see the look on a paying clients face if someone showed up with a camera phone. internet gold it would be. it is just a silly thing to do when you compare the two side by side. if anyone actually is thinking about selling your camera and use your phone instead ? please look for a second job.

I have done that in jest. A shocked hush fell over the room when I pulled out my iPhone and said "I'm set, got the new iPhone 5 yesterday". Of course they cottoned on to the gag quickly.

Despite its shortcomings an honest assessment would note that the vast bulk of images produced professionally now get displayed no larger than the samples here. These images actually work for so many applications where a client might write a check.

Bryon Black's picture

Almost everyone commenting here is missing the point. No, the G4 isn't going to replace your mirrorless or SLR for work or serious photography. No one is saying it should. I don't understand why people aren't more excited to have full manual (except aperture), awesome IS, and the ability to shoot raw (ish) in a CELL PHONE.

I own the G4, and I love it. I love shooting with my DSLR, but sometimes it's nice to not have to carry a bag with me, but know I can still shoot a decent photo if I see an opportunity. Before I had the G4, I would've simply NOT shot the photo, because I knew my phone camera was crap.

And sometimes it even borders on professional usage. A few weeks ago I was with some friends for an engagement party. They wanted to shoot a group photo (myself included). All I had was my G4, some electrical tape, and a light stand. Impromptu tripod + manual settings + 10 second timer = awesomesauce in a pinch.

Thank you, Bryon. This was the purpose of the article. It's a capable camera. It's NOT going to replace anything, be better than something else, be the most amazing thing in the world. It's simply a fantastic camera that deserves merit for what it is.