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
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
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
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
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.
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.