While low light photography is the biggest question when it comes to the latest phones, many of your photos are likely to take place during the day. We take pictures of ourselves, our surroundings and the things we do all day, so why not put that to the test as well? We go head to head with the HTC 10, LG G5, Galaxy S7 and Nexus 6p to see which top-tier smartphone has the best camera right now for daylight shooting, and also take a look as which phone has the best selfie camera in a few different lighting conditions. We’ve also got a low light shootout between the same phones to see which camera does best in less than favorable lighting conditions.
For the front facing cameras keep in mind that the LG G5 features a 16:9 wide sensor, while the other three phones contain a more traditional 4:3 sensor for a more square image. Also worth noting is that there are no differences between the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge’s cameras, so either phone will net you the same results below. Nexus 5x owners will enjoy the same image quality as Nexus 6p owners on the rear facing camera, but the 5x has a different front-facing camera than the 6p.
Daytime shots are a completely different ballgame than night time shots, if for no other obvious reason than lighting conditions. Now the sensor has the opposite problem from before, so instead of having too little light to work with it may now have too much light and need a photography trick, called High Dynamic Range (HDR), to get the most out of the brightest and darkest spots in the image. Let’s find out who’s got the best image balance and color reproduction in this series of tests!
This first shot is all about the minute details, from the fuzz on the budding flower to the subtle highlights on the white flower and green leaves. Immediately you’ll notice a stark constrast between color balance of all four phones. The most correct is somewhere in between the LG G5 and Nexus 6p, while the HTC 10 is far too warm and the Galaxy S7 is just a hair on the warm side. Moving into the fine details we can see that the Nexus 6p’s tendency to underexpose the shot actually comes at an advantage here, as it brings out details in the petals of the white flower not found in any other shot. The best overall exposure is likely the LG G5, although this is a very tough one to call as the slightly overblown highlights on all photo’s except the Nexus 6p’s are obviously an issue, but overall the Nexus 6p’s shot is still a tad too dark. Finer detail on the stems can be best seen on both the Nexus 6p and HTC 10’s shots, while the extra processing on the LG G5 and Galaxy S7 muddy them up a bit.
Winner: Nexus 6p
Now going for the complete opposite measure of detail is distance detail in this nice and bright lake shot. The Nexus 6p would have the best overall detail here, however it really crushed the shadow detail under the trees and ends up losing quite a bit of what it would have otherwise had. It nailed the color of the sky though, something none of the other phones did, and shows massive amounts of extra detail in the grass in the foreground. The LG G5 has some pretty incredible detail distance, especially on the trees on the right side by the canoe, but other objects become fuzzy or detail is lost in processing, like the number of panes in some of the windows. The LG G5 also seems to have some double imaging going on with a few birds, a side effect of slower than usual HDR processing between exposure brackets. As a note HDR generally works by taking multiple shots at once and combining them, so if shots aren’t taken by the software in fast enough succession you will see this effect.
The HTC 10 has phenomenal foreground detail but gets fuzzy around the edges and some places in the background, which seems to be a trend among photos taken with the device. It’s difficult to tell if this is an issue with the lens or with the laser autofocus mechanism, but there’s something funky going on with that for sure. It’s also just a tad on the warm side, but overall still a very pleasant image with less processing than the LG G5 or Galaxy S7. The Galaxy S7 is the definite loser here, with clouds that have lots of blown out highlights, some weird color reproduction in the distance and horrendous amounts of denoise and sharpening going on. So much detail is completely lost due to Samsung’s poor processing in these sorts of lighting conditions, which is bizarre given that it’s such bright light. Look at the grass in the foreground as well as the trees and houses in the background to see what we’re talking about.
Winner: Tie – Nexus 6p and LG G5
Here’s the toughest one of all, and it comes in the form of a picture in direct sunlight of a neon pink Bougainvillea. If you’ve ever seen one of these plants before you know how bright and colorful they can be, and that’s tough work for a camera to get just right. Right off the top you can see the massive difference in exposure levels, with the Nexus 6p way underexposing the shot, while the HTC 10 and LG G5 overexpose it quite a bit. The Galaxy S7 is most correct in its exposure balance, although there’s still some severe blown out highlights in the white flowers, but it absolutely nailed the correct color of the leaves on the plant itself. Yes it’s a neon pink, but it’s not what you see on the HTC 10 or LG G5, and it’s definitely not a dark pink like you see on the Nexus 6p.
What the Nexus 6p gets perfect that no other phone got right were the details on the white flowers. They’re completely overblown and nonexistent on all the other phones, but the rest of the shot is so underexposed it’s just not possible to call this one a winner. Most of the phones made the shot far too warm too, something the Galaxy S7 got absolutely perfect. Outside of those white flowers the Galaxy S7 wins handily here.
Winner: Galaxy S7 / Edge
Just taking a look at these three examples will give you some fairly recognizable patterns. The Nexus 6p, for all its detail-laden imagery and excellent overall balance and processing, tends to underexpose a bit too much and needs to be pulled up. The HTC 10 seems to have focusing issues sometimes but usually comes out well balanced, if not slightly skewing things to the warm end of the spectrum. The LG G5 usually gets the exposure right in these kinds of shots, but sometimes can be marred by over processing that makes details a bit fuzzy. The Galaxy S7 follows Samsung’s traditionally processing heavy route, which can be a positive thing in scenes like the last one where you’ve got extreme color and balance conditions, but in most shots it’s too heavy handed and ends up producing an image that doesn’t hold up as well when zoomed in.
Winner: Nexus 6p
While there will be plenty of eye rolling at this section, underestimating the importance of selfie shots to many users would be an unfortunate mistake to make for a phone manufacturer. Almost every phone that has come out in the past two years says something or another about having a great selfie camera, but who’s got the best? We put these four phones through a couple of different lighting conditions to crown a winner. As a note Nexus 5x owners will not see the same results as the Nexus 6p in this test, as the front-facing camera on the Nexus 5x is different from the one in the 6p. Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge owners will continue to see the same results from both phones, however.
All of these cameras now feature HDR for both the rear and front-facing cameras, and where better to try that than outdoors during the day with a bright background while standing in the shade? The colors and saturation levels on the Nexus 6p certainly make it the most attractive shot overall, but it’s difficult to focus on background clarity when the point of a selfie is the person in the foreground. It’s a shame it underexposed me so much because the background absolutely kills all the other phones, with more detail, accurate colors and less overblown highlights than the other three.
Next up are the LG G5 and HTC 10, which seem to tie in every regard. Both of them had a hard time balancing keeping me light enough to see while not completely blowing out the background. Colors are a bit muted because of the higher exposure level, but the overall detail in the scene coupled with the fact that you can actually see me well make these winners. The Galaxy S7 has a wider angle lens and picks up more in the environment around me, but the lower resolution and overly heavy processing (especially on the leaves of the tree) put this behind the LG G5 and HTC 10.
Winner: Tie – LG G5 and HTC 10
Taken on the NYC subway while it’s stopped for a while, this selfie contains plenty of light in an indoor situation and shouldn’t pose an issue for a quick status update. Once again though the Nexus 6p is full of detail and is sharper than any of the other shots, but is underexposed. This one could actually be touched up in photo editing very quickly on the phone without losing any detail due to overexposure, but when we’re taking quick snaps we don’t usually edit. The Galaxy S7 seems to have had the opposite problem though and overexposed the shot, bringing out some overblown highlights behind me. On top of that it seems to have kept the shutter open for too long, creating blur from just holding the phone out.
The HTC 10 also overexposed the shot, blowing out even more in the background than the Galaxy S7. Unlike the S7 though it’s a nice sharp picture and is free from blur due to hand shake thanks to that OIS module built into the front facing camera. The real winner here is the LG G5, which balanced out that shot in an incredible way and got plenty of detail. The different lens and aspect ratio worked to frame this particular shot better too, and it even got the background detail that the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 lost.
Winner: LG G5
Last but not least is the truly dark shot, one taken outside at night with almost no real usable light around, plus a nice bright window behind me for good measure. This one really tests the low light capabilities of the sensor and show how much better the HTC 10 and Nexus 6p’s sensors are. The Nexus 6p is the winner here but not by a huge margin, as the HTC 10 plays very close second fiddle to it. The Nexus 6p’s image is slightly darker, which should be considered normal at this point, but it gets more detail, can easily see both me and the contents of what’s inside that window behind me; something no other phone did.
The HTC 10 is brighter but not quite as sharp, losing detail both in the overblown highlights in the window and on my face in general. It’s still an excellent shot though and exhibits some great balance. The LG G5 is nice and bright but has some pretty terrible resolution here, something that’s immediately noticeable at any zoom level. The Galaxy S7 sits somewhere around the same brightness levels as the HTC 10, however has the same resolution issue as the LG G5.
Winner: Nexus 6p
Despite the resolution gulf between the LG G5 and the Nexus 6p’s front-facing cameras, the LG G5 comes out better balanced in every situation except for the lowest of light. Resolution isn’t as big of a deal for a front-facing camera, rather getting the balance right and having enough brightness to actually see yourself when trying to take the shot. Background detail is obviously of utmost importance too, but since the Nexus 6p underexposes the person in the foreground so much it’s simply not possible to prioritize background detail and balance over foreground for a selfie, no matter how good it is.
Winner: LG G5
Overall it’s fairly clear who’s the winner here when tallying up the results. The Nexus 6p seems to reign supreme in the rear-facing camera department, with the most detail in almost every picture and great overall image balance, however the crux of the phone is in the fact that it always seems to underexpose shots. This can be remedied with light editing but should be something Google works on in the future. This extends to the front-facing camera as well, where underexposing the person in the foreground causes the Nexus 6p to lose out despite all its positive aspects. The LG G5 picks up the slack here with great overall balance and exposure levels despite being a much lower resolution sensor. The HTC 10 does a good job but can’t meet toe to toe with either the Nexus 6p or LG G5 in their particular strengths, while the Galaxy S7 loses in almost every category with its front facing camera but balances out things a bit with its rear-facing camera in some situations. Check out our low light test and its accompanying video to see how these cameras hold up in the dark, or just hit up the Flickr album below for every shot we took for all the tests. Stay tuned for a full video analysis as well as we continue to bring more Spring 2016 phone comparisons!