Taken with the Sprint Optimus G

A lot of folks want to know how the 13MP camera in Sprint's Optimus G fares when it's time to take some pictures indoors. Forget the MegaPixels, camera technology is about the sensor, the lens, and the software that assembles the data into a finished image. A good camera on my smartphone is important to me, so I took a few minutes, a frosty malted beverage, and checked it out.

Hit the break, and have a look at the camera with three different lighting scenarios and see how it does.

A word about these images

First off, they are resized for easy browsing. For the "real" look at them, download the three images in full 13MP glory right here.

Ambient lighting is provided by a standard overhead fixture, with two 23watt screw-in Daylight CFL bulbs at 5000K.

Studio lighting is provided by two Hamilton Reefstar HID aquarium fixtures, one with a 150watt 14,000K HQI lamp, and one with a 4,200K lamp. Overkill, I know, but it gets the job done and I get a tan at the same time.

Flash was used with the ambient lighting on so I could see what I was doing.

All images were shot at full resolution, at default settings.

The Buddha has a name, I call him Zeke. I've had him for years and he's my good-luck charm.

With "studio" lighting

Under studio lights

This picture looks pretty nice. Under awesome lights, the Optimus G takes a fine picture. Things could have been a bit better had I used a mount to keep things perfectly still, but all in all this picture is exactly what Zeke looks like -- including the dirt and dust. Of course, under $600 worth of lights things had better look good.

With ambient light

Ambient lighting

Grainy is the name of the game. I took about 15 shots like this, and they all are grainy and soft. In particular, Zeke's lower half lacks detail and is cast in a pretty rough shadow. The dark blue areas in the backdrop really show the noise the default settings generate. While this picture is fine for sending via MMS or posting on your favorite social network, it's not going to win any awards.

This is where most cellphone cameras are lacking. Low light pictures indoors means high ISO and slow shutters, and that always equals noise. 

With the flash

Flash

The good news is that we lose a lot of the noise. We also lose a lot of the color and detail. As a bonus, the dirt and dust in Zeke's tiny crevices stands out nicely under the harsh glare of the LED flash. Taking pictures of close objects with your flash on is a big no-no with any smartphone camera, and the Optimus G is no exception.

With custom settings and some editing

Taken with the Sprint Optimus G

This is the same picture that started the article. The ISO was locked at 200, and Adobe Lightroom was used with a white balance card to color correct. It's nowhere near as good as the picture would be from a quality stand-alone camera. There is a noticeable focus issue near Zeke's head, but it is plenty good enough to keep -- or use for a blog post. 

The verdict

Most smartphones take great pictures outside in natural sunlight. Even my Galaxy Nexus (whose camera I constantly complain about) can take a great picture when the conditions are right. When you get indoors, things tend to go downhill.

The Optimus G's camera is no exception. It's 13MP on the Sprint version, but it's 13 average MegaPixels. I have a feeling that more time spent learning the quirks of the sensor and lens would help things get a bit better, but if the camera is the deciding factor of your next smartphone purchase, you'll likely find better.

 

Reader comments

An indoor test of the Sprint Optimus G camera

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I wasn't planning on getting this phone anyway so no harm here. Hey Jerry, what Sprint phone takes the best pictures?

You mean the HTC EVO 4G LTE, not the One X. He said Sprint. Otherwise, all of those are great camera phones. The one you (excusably) left out: the Galaxy Note II. Its camera is basically the same as the GS3.

I agree about Nokia's Lumia 920.Especially with low light/night photos. Within the Android world I'm waiting to see pics taken with the Sony Xperia T. Sony has always used the best possible camera software & hardware in their high-end phones.

What are the chances that the Nexus 4 will use the same camera as the Optimus G? Everything else seems to be identical besides the body shape, assuming the rumors are correct. I was really hoping Google would step up the camera in the next Nexus, but if this is what we're looking forward to, Google better hope the camera isn't the deciding factor for many people. Here's to hoping that the Nexus 4 has a better camera than the Optimus G.

Why have to many megapixels when they obviously cause so much noise? Ridiculous to play the mp game when you end up losing.

Image noise is not caused by more mp's. Image noise is usually just a crappy sensor and or lens that cant handle the "low" level of light and increases ISO.but i agree 100% its not about the MP! I have seen 6mp images that BLOW these away... granted it was from an entry level DSLR, but it just goes to show that MP's dont really matter unless you are planning on printing a poster!

It seems AT&T's version of the Optimus G takes better pictures with its 8MP sensor. Maybe there's hope for the next Nexus if what we are seeing spec wise is true and LG actually makes it.

It's really a bummer LG didn't focus more on this 13MP setup and put out a real contender of a camera. Ultimately the pictures are probably good enough for most people, hell I get plenty of good enough picture's out my Gnex.

Jerry how is the shutter time?

the pictures from this 13MP sensor seem really underwhelming, especially compared to what samsung and htc have done with now 6 month old hardware already, LG needs to do better than this. Almost all the sample shots I've seen thus far are sub-par, even the Optimus G's 8MP sensor gives better results. Everyone harps on the GNex camera, and while it definitely isn't the cream of the crop, it did get better with the 4.0.4 update, and has been good ever since, and I'll take my Gnex camera over this one any day

Jerry nailed it in The Verdict: the sad truth is that all smartphone cameras have trouble in low light. All point-and-shoot cameras, and most DSLRs have the same trouble. Only the high-end, full-frame sensor model DSLRs can handle it. Right now the best smartphone cameras are starting to invade the territory of low-end point-and-shoot cameras. It will be a few more years before they get as good as top-end point-and-shooters, or entry-level DSLRs that use smaller sensors.
The bottom line is that if you want really good photos, you need to carry a real camera. Remember not to get fooled by the megapixels, it's the sensor size that produces great photos.

Not the Nokia 920. While Windows Phone OS is not that good (IMO), the camera on the Nokia 920 takes as good lowlight pictures as this LG's studio pictures.

I'd of liked to have seen comparison shots taken with eg the GS3 or One X as points of comparison. Still a good piece though.