Is the LG G3's laser-equipped camera better than the Galaxy S5's?

The LG G3 has a great set of specs, but perhaps most interesting is the camera, which uses a laser to autofocus. We see how it compares to the Galaxy S5.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The G3 is LG's latest flagship phone, hoping to tempt your cash from your wallet with a strong lineup of specs, including a ludicrously high definition 5.5-inch display, quad-core processor and a camera that uses an infrared laser to assist its autofocus.

That's right, a laser. That may seem like a bizarre addition and one that LG has only included to differentiate its phone from all the other flagship Android devices knocking around, but LG reckons it's actually pretty useful. By using light to focus, rather than the sensor trying to detect areas of contrast in the scene, LG argues the camera can focus much faster, meaning you're less likely to miss the shot of your kid taking their first steps. At least, that's the theory.

I put the G3's camera head-to-head against the Galaxy S5's to see which one takes the better shots.

LG G3 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera comparison Andrew Hoyle/CNET

On my first shot of Borough Market, both the laser-enabled G3 and the Galaxy S5 achieved a good overall focus and exposure on both shots was adequate -- the bright sun coming from the roof would be difficult to control without using HDR mode. The Galaxy S5's picture had slightly better contrast however, giving a richer tone, particularly on the green metalwork in the top left.

LG G3 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera comparison Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Moving inside the market to these delightful garlic, both cameras achieved good exposure with pleasing colours. At full screen however, the G3 doesn't seem to have focused as well, resulting in slightly blurred details, particularly on the orange netting on the left.

LG G3 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera comparison Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There's almost no difference between either shot of the alleyway leaving the market. Both had good exposure and plenty of detail on the brickwork.

LG G3 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera comparison Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Inside Monmouth coffee shop however, the G3 played a blinder. The brickwork on the far wall is considerably sharper, with much more detail and a more natural colour tone.

LG G3 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera comparison Andrew Hoyle/CNET

LG reckons that the laser-assisted focus allows the G3 to focus and take pictures much faster than other phones. It certainly focused extremely quickly on this bus as it went past me near St Paul's Cathedral. The S5 was also able to focus quickly, although the slight motion blur means the bus's edges are a little less crisp.

LG G3 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera comparison Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Indoors, I asked my esteemed colleague Luke Westaway to run around. Why? Well, the benefit of a fast focus means that when your hyperactive kids -- or pets -- do something funny, you're less likely to miss the action while your phone searches for focus.

As the pictures clearly show, the problem here is not with focus, but with shutter speeds. The G3 was able to focus and capture Luke right as he passed the middle of the frame, while the S5 took a little longer, taking the picture once he was almost out of shot. The slow shutter speeds of both phones meant that Luke is completely blurred though.

LG G3 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera comparison Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In slightly lower light, the results were much the same. The G3 was again the slightly faster camera, capturing Luke off-centre, while the S5 almost missed him altogether.

LG G3 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera comparison Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In my low-light still-life tests, both cameras offered mixed results. Although the S5's image had slightly richer colours and more even exposure, it suffered a lot from image noise, which is particularly noticeable on the green background. The G3 kept image noise to a minimum, which also helped keep fine details sharp when zoomed in.

LG G3 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera comparison Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You can see the same again on this close-up shot of the champagne bottle. The S5's photo is full of image noise, which makes details like the edge of the playing-cards box look fuzzy. The G3 meanwhile did a much better job of capturing the scene with less noise.

LG G3 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera comparison Andrew Hoyle/CNET

With the flash turned on, the G3 again came out the victor. The flash on the S5 was so strong that it cast a very harsh, cold light over the objects, turning the yellow banana an unpleasant green colour and making Droidy look positively ill in the background. The G3 had far more natural colour tones thanks to its softer, warmer flash.

Both cameras performed well in terms of focus. Neither camera failed to focus, even in the low-light situations. Even with its laser, I'd say the G3's focus was only marginally faster than the S5's -- certainly much less than a second between the two. If you're moving up from an older phone like the Galaxy S3, you'll definitely notice more of a difference. The speed of focusing will help you capture quick action, although as the running tests show, factors like fast shutter speeds will play a bigger role in getting a crisp shot.

Overall image results were fairly mixed. Although the S5 achieved marginally richer, sharper results in Borough Market, the G3 definitely took the crown in the low light tests with much less image noise and a better flash. Even so, there's again not a big difference and both cameras are undoubtedly among the best you can get on a phone, so you can't really go wrong with either.

The S5 may be the better option to go for if you want to play around with the masses of extras Samsung loads on its phones, such as the action sequence photo, while the G3 may be more suited for you if you compulsively take photos of your meals in low-lit restaurants.


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