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Low Light Shootout: Galaxy S7 vs HTC 10 vs LG G5 vs Nexus 6p

April 14, 2016 - Written By Nick Sutrich

So you’ve heard the news about the brand new HTC 10 and it’s UltraPixel 2 camera sensor, but are wondering how it compares to other phones out there?  We’re so glad to hear that, because we’re here to bring you an epic shootout between the hottest phones available right now in 2016.  If you’re looking to pick up a premium smartphone you want a premium experience all around, and the camera is one of the biggest ways to judge that premium status without a doubt.  All four of these phones sport new generation sensors and lenses that are designed to accept more light and bring you brighter, more balanced shots quicker than ever.  Which ones comes on top?  Let’s find out in tons of different situations including night time, day time, indoors and more!

As a reminder the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge will product identical images since they are the exact same camera sensor and affiliated hardware.  The same goes for the Nexus 5x and Nexus 6p which share hardware as well.  This means folks who want a Galaxy S7 over an Edge version will get the same quality as the S7 Edge, and folks that are buying a Nexus 5x will achieve the same results as the Nexus 6p.  Another note is that the LG G5 uses a 16:9 wide ratio sensor versus the 4:3 sensors used in the other 3 phones, so shots will not line up 100% towards the edges in particular, however every effort was made to center the same elements on screen in each shot.

Night Shots

We’ll start with the hardest situation at all, since this ultimately will tell whether or not all these advances in sensor and lens technology are actually paying off.  Do larger pixels and lenses with a lower f-stop actually work as well as we’ve been told?  Let’s see for sure.

Shot 1

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This particular scene features some white garbage trucks in front of an extraordinarily yellow street light, presenting a fun challenging for white balance.  In addition to this the extra bright sign in the back coupled with the darker building poses some exposure challenges if there isn’t enough available dynamic range.  The LG G5 and Nexus 6p get the exposure dead on here, as the truck isn’t overblown at all, neither is the sign but there’s still plenty of shadow detail on the building in the background.  Both phones exhibit incredible amounts of detail, with the G5’s shot containing a little more detail in foreground objects like the truck’s license plate and exhaust pipes on the top, while the Nexus 6p shows better stabilization and detail on the buildings in the background.  The Galaxy S7/Edge is the brightest of all the shots but it doesn’t really do anything for the image quality, which is smudgy and over-processed here to say the least.  Comparatively there’s very little detail in objects when zoomed in, and it only beats the HTC 10 by a small margin.  The HTC 10 loses this particular one without a doubt, showing an overexposed picture with little detail anywhere in the scene.

Winner: Tie – LG G5 and Nexus 6p

Shot 2

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Night time construction scenes are a fun challenge for sure.  There’s plenty of detail to suck in with all the beams and equipment, and lots of bright light contrasting with dark surroundings, not to mention plenty of ways to throw off color balance.  The Nexus 6p shows the best overall balance, especially when it comes to exposure and color accuracy.  Meanwhile the LG G5 is a bit warm, the Galaxy S7 is a bit cool, and the HTC 10 is way too cold looking.  The Galaxy S7 comes in second place with exposure levels, showing some detail inside that building at the bottom, while the HTC 10 and G5 are very overexposed to say the least.  Both the HTC 10 and Galaxy S7 have the worst levels of detail here, with the HTC 10 seeming to have focus issues here, while the Galaxy S7 held the shutter open too long to keep the image steady.  If the G5 weren’t so overexposed it would likely have won the detail challenge, but thanks to the overall incredible balance and detail levels, plus the correct color the Nexus 6p wins this one hands down.

Winner: Nexus 6p

Shot 3

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Most of the time when you’re taking lower light shots, it’s probably not going to always be outside.  Indoor shots pose plenty of challenges too, and often times you’ll find shots end up blurry or fuzzy because of a slower shutter (and hand shake), or focusing problems.  We’ve got a good mix here of issues in this hotel lobby, and a winner that switches things up a bit.  Overall the Galaxy S7 absolutely blows all the other cameras out of the water here, nailing the correct lighting color of the overhead lights here (and in those dark blue lit water cases toward the back), has tons of detail everywhere in the scene thanks to a sharp focus, and just generally looks fantastic.  The only problem here is that the chandeliers are overexposed, leaving little detail in the hanging ornamentation.

The LG G5 got the overheat lighting color right but not quite on the blue water in the back, but seemed to have focusing issues overall as it’s lacking detail that should otherwise be there.  It also way overexposed the chandeliers up top to say the least.  The HTC 10 definitely got the focus right but is not only underexposed, but has the wrong color balance in the lighting and completely messed up those blue water cases in the back (they’re not even remotely purple).  The Nexus 6p does better on the lighting and exposure than the HTC 10 did, but loses it in the detail competition because it seems to have focused on the wrong thing, leaving fuzzy details in the background.

Winner: Galaxy S7/Edge

Shot 4

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I was sure one of these cameras would have an issue with hand jitter in this scene, which is actually quite dark in real life to human eyes.  Instead every phone seems to have captured near perfect exposure and detail level, with the only real differences being in light balance.  The HTC 10 is actually the only one that got the light balance perfect, while the LG G5 and Nexus 6p are a tad warm, while the Galaxy S7 is far too warm.

Winner: HTC 10

Shot 5

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We’ve got one more outdoor scene for you in this last on, which is particularly interesting to say the least.  Standing under a construction walkway and in front of the entrance to a restaurant, which features ivy on the trusses, there’s plenty to pick out here.  Overall the Nexus 6p decimates every category except for exposure, where it sits just slightly underexposed.  Outside of that it got the lighting color perfectly and exhibits more detail in every part of the picture than any of the other phones by a fair margin.  The Galaxy S7 comes in second place and features lots of detail, however that detail is marred in plenty of areas by the aggressive denoise filter Samsung likes to use to attempt to hide natural noise a sensor makes when the ISO is raised, on top of sharpening everything to negate that effect.  This creates some unpleasant artifacting that would have otherwise made a really nice picture.  It’s also a tad on the warm side but nothing offensive, and the light sources are slightly blown out.

The LG G5 and HTC 10 are both overexposed and end up losing quite a bit of detail in areas because of it.  Bright lights in dark conditions will create halos and and up hiding the detail around them if not kept in check with a good HDR algorithm, and both of these seem to have failed there.  There’s also a distinct lack of detail on both of these cameras, and it doesn’t seem to be down to focusing this time, rather some aggressive denoise filters to hide digital sensor noise, resulting in a blurrier than normal shot.  This is particularly evident on the bricks to the left, where the Nexus 6p has an incredibly granular detail level, with the Galaxy S7 dropping behind that, and the LG G5 and HTC 10 falling far behind.  The HTC 10 does a great job with lighting color, while the LG G5 remains too cold looking.

Winner: Nexus 6p

Verdict

While we’re a bit surprised with some of the results to say the least, it’s amazing to see just how much individual situations affect photography and the final outcome of a picture’s quality.  Different settings certainly work better for each phone, and while the Nexus 6p won 3 out of the 5 shots above it’s clear that each phone has its strengths and weaknesses.  Google ends up dropping the exposure a little too much sometimes and hiding shadow detail, while LG and HTC seem to want to overexpose many of the shots above instead.  Samsung seems to enjoy warmer looking shots while LG prefers cooler ones, and the HTC 10 seems to be all over the place in general.  Check out the gallery below for every shot we took in our big camera comparison, and stay tuned for some additional comparisons including day time shots, selfies and even videos!

 

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