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We put the LG G4's camera to the test in Paris

We tour the French capital to see how the new phone's raw-shooting camera fares in a variety of conditions -- and how it compares to the Galaxy S6 Edge and iPhone 6.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The LG G4 is the Korean company's latest flagship phone, packing a supercharged quad-core processor and a higher-than-HD, slightly curved display into a body that you can have wrapped in real leather. One of its most impressive features is its camera, which has been given a decent boost from last year's G3 -- that's what we're taking a closer look at here.

The resolution, for one, has seen a bump from 13 to 16 megapixels, the lens is brighter, with an f/1.8 aperture, and the image sensor itself has seen a size increase to 1/2.6 inches. I took the camera for a spin around Paris to see just what it's capable of and how it compares to the iPhone 6 and Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge.

LG G4 camera test with HDR (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I'm pretty pleased with this first shot with the G4. There's loads of detail at full screen, and the auto HDR mode has helped achieve an extremely even balance between the bright sky and the shadowy bushes on the left.

LG G4 camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There are strong colours in this river scene and the bright sky hasn't been blown out. The shadows on the bottom right are rather too dark, though.

LG G4 camera test with HDR (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET
Galaxy S6 Edge comparison (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

With HDR mode enabled, the scene is more balanced, with more visible detail in the shadows. The Galaxy S6 Edge's attempt was similarly impressive, with very little to differentiate the two.

LG G4 camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This cafe scene has thrown the camera somewhat, with a bright, overexposed sky on the right, and a lot of shadows on the cafe itself.

LG G4 camera test with HDR (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET
Galaxy S6 Edge comparison (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The sky is a little better with HDR mode enabled and the shadows have been lifted a little, too. The S6 Edge's HDR attempt is marginally darker in the cafe entrance, but the sky is more controlled and colours are slightly richer.

G4, S6 Edge and iPhone 6 camera comparisons (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Looking at this graffitied building, it's clear to see that both the G4 and S6 Edge have slightly darker images than the iPhone 6, although the iPhone's shot has overexposed the sky more than the other two. Detail and colours are comparable across all three shots, however.

G4, S6 Edge and iPhone 6 camera comparisons, with HDR (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The HDR mode has worked very well on all phones here, with much more controlled skies being shown. The G4's shot has the most detail when viewed at full screen, certainly better than that of the iPhone 6, which has half the resolution. The iPhone's is a little brighter again and there is more contrast on the graffiti art.

LG G4 camera test with HDR (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The G4 has done a great job in capturing this bright riverside scene in Paris. Colours are excellent, the exposure is very even (thanks to the auto HDR mode), and there's sufficient detail to crop in a little closer if you wish.

LG G4 camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET
Galaxy S6 Edge camera comparison (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET
iPhone 6 camera comparison (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

All three phones snapped an evenly exposed shot of this classic Fiat 500, although the iPhone 6 and S6 Edge captured the most natural colours. The G4 has opted for a warmer, less natural white balance.

LG G4, Galaxy S6 Edge, iPhone 6 camera comparison (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

LG made a big fuss at the G4's launch event about its wider f/1.8 aperture and its physically larger image sensor -- both of which should allow the phone to capture brighter scenes in low light. On this shot of a building at night, it's clear that the G4's tweaks have allowed it to capture a brighter shot than both the S6 Edge and iPhone 6, without too much image noise creeping in.

LG G4 low-light camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET
Galaxy S6 Edge low-light comparison (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET
iPhone 6 low-light comparison (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

On this second building shot, the G4 again produced the best results, with a well-lit scene and the most natural colours. The iPhone struggled to achieve a sharp focus, and a lot of image noise means the image lacks clarity and detail at full-screen size. The S6 Edge's shot, meanwhile, has a very warm, unnatural hue.

LG G4 raw photo, unprocessed (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

LG has equipped the G4 with manual camera controls, allowing you to independently change ISO, shutter speed and white balance settings. In this shot, I was able to slow the shutter speed to 2 seconds (I supported the phone on a tripod), in order to capture the trails of car headlights below and achieve smooth waves on the river.

G4 raw image, processed in Adobe Lightroom (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Raw: What is it good for?

The G4 is also among the first flagship Android phones that has allowed for raw image shooting. Raw photos are essentially images that haven't been processed by the phone -- they're simply taken directly from the image sensor. As white balance data hasn't been saved, it allows you to change this afterward in editing software such as Adobe Lightroom. Raw photos typically record more detail in highlight and dark areas, letting you rescue blown-out areas more easily than you can with JPEG images.

By shooting in the G4's raw format, I was able to greatly increase the brightness of the image, as well as alter white balance and a couple of other basic tweaks to produce an image that wouldn't look out of place coming from a dSLR.

G4 unprocessed JPEG image (left) and processed raw image (right -- click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Similarly on this shot of the Eiffel Tower, I've been able to increase the brightness of the sky, as well as tone down some of the strong highlights on the tower's lights.

G4 unprocessed JPEG image (left) and processed raw image (right -- click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The G4 does save a lot of information in the photos that would be otherwise lost in JPEG. Here, I've taken a sky from nearly black to a nicer blue, as well as brightening the green grass in the foreground.

It's important to note, however, that photo apps such as Snapseed don't yet work with raw files, so you will need to use a computer with photo-editing software to tweak the raw images. The file sizes are much larger too -- around 20MB per file for raw images, against around 4.5MB for a JPEG -- so using a microSD card to store images will be crucial.

LG G4 low-light camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's not all good in low light, however. When you're using the phone in auto mode, the camera increases the ISO speed in order to shoot at a fast shutter speed to avoid blur from your hands moving. This results in a shot that, while bright, is plagued by image noise when viewed full-screen.

If you want to take the best low-light shots, you'll want to use a tripod and put it in manual mode. You can then select the lowest ISO possible and slow down the shutter speed to let in more light.

Using the camera

The camera's interface is simple and easy to get used to. Even when shooting in manual mode, the available settings are clearly displayed along the bottom, and when a setting is changed, the image on screen changes immediately to show you whether your shot will be over or underexposed.

Double-tapping on the volume-down button on the rear of the phone fires up the camera immediately, which I found very handy while walking around the Paris streets. It uses the same laser-assisted auto focus from the G3, although in my time with the phone, I didn't find it focussed any quicker -- or more accurately -- than the iPhone 6 or S6 Edge.

Overall impression

The G4's camera is capable of taking some superb shots in a variety of conditions. Outdoors, it captured bright skies with strong colours, although wasn't always able to balance bright and dark areas. It's the low-light skills, in particular the manual controls and raw image shooting, that really make it stand out from its competitors.

Keep in mind, however, that to get the best from the phone at night, you'll need to use a tripod and play with manual settings, all of which will take a certain amount of planning and time.