LG G3 camera

Our first look at the photographic capabilities of LG's flagship G3 smartphone

With 24 hours of LG G3 usage under our belt, we've had just enough time to get to grips with the phone's camera — a 13-megapixel optically-stabilized shooter with a faster laser-powered autofocus. LG is one of the few manufacturers using OIS as a major point of differentiation, and with high-end smartphones increasingly competing on focus times, LG's updated AF system brings something new to the table. A fun aside — according to LG's head of smartphone planning, Dr. Ramchan Woo, the autofocus tech draws on LG's expertise in other areas, having been adapted from laser-based sensors in LG's robot vacuum cleaners.

Enough about lasers and robots for the moment, though. The G3's main camera is a 13-megapixel unit, the same size (and pixel size) as the G2, however LG tells us the sensor itself is more advanced than last year's model. What's more, the G3 has grown "OIS+," and the new stabilization system with a wider angle of compensation than its predecessor. Meanwhile the front-facing camera has been revamped, with larger pixels on its sensor, for better low-light performance.

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LG G3 photo sample

An important note before we go any further — all our pictures were taken on a pre-production Korean G3, so bear in mind what you see here might not be representative of image quality from final, production devices when they arrive over the next month. That said, we haven't come across any bugs or glitches in the camera setup so far, and we've been generally impressed by the G3's photographic chops.

LG's push towards a simpler user interface has resulted in a camera UI devoid of options the first time you load it up. Instead, Moto X-style, you simply tap anywhere on the screen to take a picture. But getting back to a more traditional camera UI is easy too — just tap the menu icon in the top left corner, and you'll get the usual array of controls — flash, front/rear switching, mode and settings. By default you'll take 10-megapixel shots in widescreen orientation. If you want to the full benefit of the phone's 13-megapixel shooter you'll need to switch to 4:3. It's also interesting to note the addition of an "auto HDR" mode this time around, and helpfully, it's enabled by default. Like Motorola's Auto HDR setting, the camera will toggle into HDR mode as and when it's needed. You can of course manually toggle HDR on and off in the usual way if you prefer. And HDR exposures themselves look excellent, blending bright skies seamlessly into landscapes, and bringing out highlights in darker areas. As on the Nexus 5, the G3's HDR mode seems to bring out richer colors in what might otherwise be washed-out pictures.

LG G3 photo sample

On the whole, the G3 is shaping up to be a great all-round cameraphone. In daylight, it's pretty close to the quality of Samsung's ISOCELL-toting Galaxy S5, the main difference being slightly softer edges in shots from LG's flagship. Regardless, the G3 produces some enviable daylight shots, with accurate colors and very little noise. As we saw on the G2, LG's camera tends to be a little over-aggressive when it comes to noise reduction, which might be contributing to the slight softness we're seeing in some pictures.

Capture speeds are extremely quick; there's a short but noticeable delay when taking HDR shots, as you'd expect. We've also been impressed with the the camera's laser-based autofocus, which has been extremely quick to lock on in most instances. Should the G3's barrage of lasers be unable to give it a firm fix on its subject, we're told the camera falls back on traditional contrast detection autofocus.

Camera app

In low light, the G3's optical stabilization gives it an edge, compensating somewhat for the relatively small (1.12µm) pixel size. Whereas competitors like the Sony Xperia Z2 tend towards noisy low-light pictures, LG's aggressive noise reduction leaves images a little blotchy, but this effect is nowhere near as bad as night shots on the Samsung Galaxy S5. The GS5's software stabilization also means you'll spend a few seconds holding the camera in place before taking a photo, whereas the G3's optically-stabilized captures are much quicker. Edges in night shots also seemed better defined on the G3 than the GS5 in our casual testing.

Elsewhere in the camera app you've got panorama and dual-capture modes, as well as "Magic Focus" — LG's take on a background defocus effect. And in selfie mode there's a novel way of taking captures without pressing the shutter key — simply hold up your hand, then close it into a fist to trigger a countdown timer.

When it comes to video, there are a few options at your disposal — standard recording at up to 4K resolution, though the app defaults to 1080p. There's also a "fast HD" mode which captures 720p footage at 120fps.

In daylight, the G3 produces great-looking 4K And 1080p video, with bright colors, even exposure and no noticeable artefacts — not to mention smooth panning thanks to the built-in OIS. In low light, the phone seems to boost sensitivity, creating sharper but grainier images than we've seen from rivals, while maintaining a consistent 30 frames per second.

So far the LG G3 is looking like a strong competitor in the Android cameraphone space. We'll have more to say on the phone's imaging performance in our full review. Until then, check out a selection of our sample and comparison shots below.

More: LG G3 hands-on, Win an LG G3!