LG's focus on the V30 cameras is great for pros and amateurs

Almost every phone these days comes with at least an adequate camera. Some, like the Samsung Galaxy S8 have exceptional cameras, but it takes a phone like the LG V30 to say that it was designed with camera buffs in mind. The Galaxy S8's camera truly is exceptional, but it's designed to be great for the average phone user, somebody who just wants to open the camera app, take a few shots, and then tweak it with Instagram and start collecting those likes.

The V30 has ease of shooting quality photos down pat. The camera launches quickly and shoots with no lag, capturing great photos with nearly every press of the shutter button. But for people that want to take the time to frame up their shots and make sure the lighting is just right, the manual options available on the V30 are second to none.

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White Balance2300K - 7400K
Focus Range571mm - ∞ (main camera only)
Automatic, Manual with Focus Peaking, or Tracking
Exposure Value adjustment-2.0 - +2.0
ISO50 - 3200
Photo Shutter Speed1/3200 second - 30 seconds
Video Shutter Speed1/3200 second - 1/30 second
Video resolutionUHD 26:9 3840x2160 / 1, 2, 24, 30fps
FHD 21:9 Cinema 2560x1080 / 1, 2, 24, 30, 60fps
FHD 18:9 2160x1080 / 1, 2, 24, 30, 60fps
FHD 16:9 1920x1080 / 1, 2, 24, 30, 60fps
HD 21:9 1680x720 / 1, 2, 24, 30, 60fps
HD 18:9 1440x720 / 1, 2, 24, 30, 60fps
HD 16:9 1280x720 / 1, 2, 24, 30, 60, 120fps
Video Bit RateUp to 52 Mbps

For the Pros

A number of the V30's headline videography features are carried over from last year's V20. Those include the use of focus peaking when using manual focus, electronic stabilization for video, and tracking focus. There's also something new, and a first for any smartphone: a special recording mode called LG Cine-Log that will get the video nerds really excited.

Focus peaking is a feature typically available on high-end DSLR and ILC cameras, used in conjunction with manual focus. It highlights the portion of the image that is in focus with a green line, allowing the camera operator to easily see what's in focus without having to jog the focus dial forward and back. Focus Peaking is only available on the main camera, as the wide angle is fixed focus.

Steady Recording is LG's implementation of the third-generation electronic video stabilization tech Qualcomm built into the Snapdragon 835 processor. Steady Recording works by cropping in the video on the sensor to provide a surrounding buffer margin of pixels to move the recording area into should shake or bumps hit the camera.

There's a trade-off, though: the buffer margin required on the sensor means that it's only available for standard 1080p HD video — 4K's pixel area demands mean the software cannot crop in enough to provide sufficient buffer space for the stabilization.

Focus tracking is a feature that's long existed on high-end video cameras and is now filtering its way down to smartphones. This feature allows the videographer to select a focus point (tap to focus, here) and the camera will maintain focus on that object even as it moves around the frame and closer and away from the camera. This allows for more dynamic filming, both from motion of the subject, but also in the camera, while keeping everything sharply in focus.

LG Cine-Log format is possibly the master stroke for video recording on the LG V30. This special video format takes after the popular (with video pros) S-LOG and V-LOG formats you'll find on high-end Sony and Panasonic cameras. If you were to graph the standard video recording brightness and saturation profiles, what'd you'd get would basically be a straight line, with the same value weighting applied to pure black as pure white and 50% gray — all colors and brightnesses are equally represented in the table of values.

In a LOG format, more of that weight is transferred to the middle brightnesses and saturations, giving the videographer more flexibility when editing their footage. It looks rather flat unedited, but when tended to by an experienced video editor you can see much greater dynamic range and image fidelity that might otherwise by lost.

LG's Cine-Log video format is meant for the pros out there, allowing editors more flexibility in producing a quality, professional color balance.

Our early tests with LG Cine-Log have revealed quite a bit of noise in the footage, particularly in the dark at 4K, but noise is hard to avoid at this resolution on a sensor this small (and even high-end Sony S-LOG footage is super noisy in the dark). But then again, the whole point of LOG formats is to give the video editor more control over the final result — if they want to filter out the noise in post production, they're more than welcome to do so, but now they have control over how strongly and in what manner that noise is filtered. LG Cine-Log format is not available on the wide-angle camera which, while not a shock, is also a bit disappointing.

Manual controls offer the same sort of fine-grained control that was present on the V20. You can adjust the shutter speed (a faster shutter will result in sharper footage), ISO (how sensitive the sensor is to light), exposure value compensation (adjust overall brightness), hop into manual focus, and play with the overall blue or orange coloring of the recording by adjusting the white balance.

Hi-Fi Audio controls allows for detailed adjustments to what's recorded by the microphones. The gain slider allows you to adjust the overall volume, LCF (Low Cut Filter) lets you cut out low frequencies (such as HVAC systems, the sound of a train, etc), and LMT sets a maximum volume to prevent loud noises from blowing out an otherwise reasonable recording.

For the rest of us

Beyond all of the pro-level video features, LG has built in a few new enhanced video features for the more pedestrian videographers among us. Those mostly surface in the Cine Video mode (yes, there are three video modes here: Auto, Cine, and Manual).

Point Zoom is an enhanced version of traditional zoom — instead of simply zooming in on the center of the frame, you can specify any point the screen to zoom into. Tap, drag up on the slider to zoom in, and drag down to zoom out. It's worth noting that this doesn't determine the focus point or use tracking focus, so if you move the camera while zooming in, you'll still be zooming in on that point of the frame versus following a subject in the frame. As with any digital zoom, the more you zoom the more the picture quality will rapidly degrade.

Cine Filters are, well, cinematic filters. These let you replicate in-camera a selection of cinematic styles. Some are fairly obvious — "Classic" replicates black-and-white film, including how the color red comes through darker than similarly-bright blues or yellows, while "Flashback" is basically a sepia filter — while others replicate the color grading you'll see in various styles of movies. Want the [blue-and-orange look] of Marvel, Transformers, and DC? Hit the "Summer Blockbuster" filter. Tapping "Romantic Comedy" will give you more reds, "Noir" goes heavy on the blues, and "Thriller" turns down the brightness and washes everything in dark blue. They're all neat effects, and LG thankfully included sliders to let you adjust the intensity of each in case going full Michael Bay wasn't the look you wanted.

All of this combined leads to what should make the single best video-recording smartphone on the market. LG positioned the V20 in that position, and the V30's additions on top of that — Cine-Log, improved lenses, and more — make it a worthy successor.

Oh, and it takes photos, too

While LG has done much to position the V30 as a videographer's delight, they didn't forget that this is also a camera you can use to take pictures. There are a number of modes that will satisfy the needs of nearly all photographers, though your mileage may vary on the usefulness of each, and it's helpful to know what these modes do because the name isn't always descriptive enough.

Auto is exactly what you think and how you'll likely use the camera most of the time: point, then shoot. The phone handles all of the shutter speed, exposure, and focusing for you (though tap to focus is here) and all you have to do is frame up the shot. Auto also encompasses auto video record (tap the red button and video begins) and is the default mode on launching the camera app. Auto is perfectly adequate for 99.9% of shots.

Manual for the other 0.1% of photographic opportunities, manual mode is fantastic. Not only does it allow fine-grained control over the white balance, focus (main camera only), exposure, ISO, and shutter speed, it also gives you the option to capture photos in a DNG RAW format. Every other mode, and practically every other smartphone, captures photos in JPG, which is a compressed image format that takes what's on the sensor and reduces the files size by fiddling with the fidelity of the colors and brightness.

An image is simply a grid of pixels with assigned color values that correspond to the light received by the sensor. If you go across a row and a set of five pixels have varying values of red, but they're quite close, a JPG file will say they're all simply the same red because the human eye won't be able to tell. So instead of saying Pixel 1 is this color and Pixel 2 is this other color and Pixel 3 is that color, the JPG says that Pixels 1-5 are all this color. Spread out across 16 million pixels, that can save a lot of space.

A RAW file goes the complete opposite direction. There's no compression — each pixel has its own original value — and instead of color values, the file stores the light value recorded by each pixel on the sensor. The end result is much greater fidelity in editing the image: you can pull details out of blown out whites and pitch-black shadows that are simply lost in a JPG where white is #ffffff and there's nothing you can get out of it. Of course, you need a RAW photo editor (like Adobe Lightroom) to edit those files, but once you get comfortable editing in RAW there's no substitute for photos that you truly care about.

Snap Shot takes advantage of the 18:9 extra-tall screen of the V30, allowing you to frame up a photo with the top half and preview the previously capture photo below. While this is a nice option, it's also worth noting that this forces you into capturing square images. But if you're shooting for Instagram and you're a square photo purist, this isn't a bad option.

Match Shot is two options in one. The first take on Match Shot better matches the name: you can take one square photograph and have that be one half of the photo, and then match up another photograph on the other side. It's not meant to be used as a panorama, instead it's more of an artistic function of matching up two images. The usefulness of this is debateable, especially when you lose flexibility by doing it in-camera. LG does allow you to zoom and reposition the photos after taking both, but once you save it, that's that. Match Shot also supports video, though the saved result tends to be a little uneven.

The better half to Match Shot is taking two photos at once, and with three cameras to choose from there are plenty of options. You can do any combination of the standard angle rear camera, wide angle rear camera, and the front camera (at its default 100° wide angle or digitally zoomed). The best use is in combining the front and rear cameras, that way you can show your instant reaction to whatever is visible through the front camera.

It's worth noting that Match Shot also works with video, so if you want to capture a video of your reaction while skydiving along with the view that you're seeing at that moment, this is the mode for you. Just hold on to the phone.

Framing and composition are everything when it comes to photography, and Guide Shot is LG's tool for photographic consistency.

Guide Shot is the serious Instagrammer's tool. Framing and composition are everything when it comes to photography, and if you've got a signature framing style (say, you take food photos and every one is a from dead above and perfectly centered) then you can load up a template photo as an overlay on the viewfinder so you can frame the current shot to match. It can also be useful for replicating old photographs (think the hilarious "20 years later" family photo where everybody wears the same cloths in the same pose) or famous images (getting that Abbey Road shot juuust right). Like with Snap Shot, you need to be cool with square photos, though.

Grid Shot is like Match Shot, but, uh, a grid. You can take four square photos or videos and they get arranged in a grid. LG's taking advantage of the tall screen here, putting a full-width square viewfinder up top and the 2x2 grid on the bottom. Usefulness is debatable here, but it's a conscious choice to use Grid Shot.

Pop Out is a carry-over camera feature from the V20, creating a photo that layers the standard angle image over top of the wide angle image. There are a few effects you can apply to the under photo (blur, fisheye, vignette, and black-and-white), but it all honestly seems more like a gimmick to show off the dual cameras than anything.

Food might be named for capturing your meal, but it's a mode with a single control and purpose: a prominent white balance slider. We've all done it: whipped out a phone to take a photo of an incredible meal before digging in, only to get an image that's awash in the yellow ambiance lighting of the restaurant. Our eyes adjust to such lighting with ease, but our smartphones haven't always been good at it.

LG put a big emphasis on the color spectrum sensor that they started including way back with the G4, but in truth it's never lived up to their hype because it could never reliably tell what color the lighting actually was. The Food mode is a concession to that, giving the user manual control over the color temperature in an otherwise full auto mode. If everything looks too yellow, drag it towards the blue side. You can't go quite as far as you can with the white balance in Manual, but it's better than nothing.

The makings of the best smartphone camera

LG has touted the V series since the beginning as being all about the media creation experience, and the V30 is the best iteration on that idea yet. LOG video files, manual camera mode, filters and framing for Instagram pros, Hi-Fi audio recording and playback… the V30 checks all the boxes for a mobile media machine.

Of course, it's no substitute for a proper DSLR or an array of high-end microphones hooked up to a sound board, but it was never supposed to be. The V30 is the smartphone for people who work with and love that kind of professional tech and want that same sort of control out of their phone. There the V30 delivers in spades.

Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm (the old one), and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.

  • Sounds very impressive. Cant wait for the full review to come along. Looking like it could be the best phone this year which is good for LG.
  • Agreed looks great! It looks like they have shaken their booty loop issues.
  • My V20 hadn't bootlooped yet and it's been almost a year. I'm hoping it does actually 🤣
  • Haha it would be a nice excuse to get this but then wouldn't fill you with a great deal of confidence 😅
  • I guess most would have preferred a tele lens for the second camera. And why no OIS on the second camera?
    My guess: They wanted to save the money/space on a second OIS camera modul so they picked a wide angle because that's much easier to stabilize in software than a tele.
  • It's kinda there thing. It's been done on all the V series phones. I loved that feature on my V20 and G6.
  • The wider angle a lens is, the less important image stabilization is. Heck, even a lot of DSLR cameras don't have image stabilization on their wide angle lenses. It isn't a feature you will miss.
  • They're the only ones that offer a wide angle. Personally I like it, I feel it helps them differentiate.
  • New Moto X4 has a wide angle lens for its 2nd camera as well.
  • Right, I was more referencing phones that actually exist. Also I don't really count it since it's mid range, personally.
  • I was just pointing it out in case you were unaware Motorola went that route.
  • It seems that most people who purchased LG phones love the wide angle camera and prefer it to the telephoto. Personally I also prefer it, but I'm going with the Note 8.
  • I take more photos of my kid than anything else, so wide angle is borderline useless for me, I just like to pretend that one day I'll have time to go on holiday somewhere that I'll want wide angle photos of so I keep a G6 laying around ;)
  • LG G5 was my first phone with the Wide Angle lens and I thought it was the greatest. Then I discovered Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus and I used it constantly. I got the G6 and rarely used the Wide Angled sensor and not a fraction as much as the Telephoto on iPhone. I'm using the Huawei P10 now with monochrome and colour dual cameras and it does Portrait Mode as well as many other things using both sensors so of the 3 different dual camera set ups out there Wide Angle on the LG's is definitely bottom of the list and least used by me personally and I'd happily take Telephoto or Monochrome 2nd sensors over it any day
  • I agree, portrait mode is useless. I mean who would use it? And like you I just love the wide angle mode LG specialise in.
  • Any one who takes more pictures of people instead of landscapes and scenery, which is well....I'd guess to say most people? I love that LG are leaders in wide angle as much as the next fan of their phones but I think it's a little silly to pretend that people take less portraits than they do sweeping landscape photos of scenery.
  • I have 3 kids and the wide angle comes in handy all the time.
  • I have one and it's useless. Probably because I'm focused on a single youngling and you're trying to get 3 of em in frame at once haha! Such is life ;)
  • Nah I have three also and still found very little use for it. Even when I have used it I didn't like how the photo detail was pretty awful the moment you try and crop or zoom into the photo. I thought that was going to be fixed when they upped the MP count on the wide angle sensor from the G5 to G6 but it made little difference
  • The wide angle lens has been signature for LG since the G5 came out. Having owned a G5 and often used the wide angle I can say that it is for me an essential point for the phone. I doubt they do it because of the money and all, it's sort of just signature for LG to have it.
    And if they have done it for the money and space, then good for them as it also ensures that the device is cheaper. Honestly, with the number of devices on the market, its easer rather then comparing just to chose one that you prefer
  • It would be interesting to do a side by side comparison of similar images taken in full manual mode of Note 8 and lgv30 especially comparing the two phone cameras DNG files. I find using the raw capture files to be quite useful. I have also found on my digital SLR for example between my old Nikon and Canon cameras and old Fuji sensor cameras raw files to not all be equal.
    The LG phone seems to be really great I'm really glad that there are many amazing devices with really outstanding cameras for everyone to use regardless of their personal phone choices.
  • V20 and V30 best mobiles and NOTHING comes even close. Well done #LG.
  • LOL!
  • A nice contender in the v30. Nothing else in LGs line deserves to be mentioned though. And LG needs new leadership in mobile to be successful.
  • The Note 8 disagrees.
  • Those devices are outstanding, but I certainly wouldn't say that nothing comes close. The S8 and S8+ are arguably better or at least on pace. The Note 8 *should* be better than all of them in the overall sense. However, LG might finally de-throne Samsung as the manufacturer with the best cameras.
  • They de-throned them couple years ago.
  • Your right, Samsung is so far ahead they couldn't be called close.
  • Your lol but I agree both are great and as bad as I want a V30 I must say I've had the V20 since a week before it was officially for sale in the states and I'm still in love with it. I haven't got bored with it yet, not even a little bit. It's a great all around device. I'll likely get the V30 over the next pixel XL because the camera and dac features are more important to me than getting android P the day it releases next summer.
  • Will be interesting to see. Steve Litchfield at https://www.facebook.com/ThePhonesShow is probably the best arbiter of phone camera quality. I can't wait for him to do a back-to-back against the best phone cameras ever made. It looks like they have reduced the number of mics on the V30. In a shot of the video mode's audio control panel, I didn't see the control for directionality (front-to back) that we have on the V20. Can you confirm?
  • Steve Litchfield and Myriam Joire have a great talk about cameras on phones on Myriam's podcast this week. Check out "Mobile tech podcast"
  • While cool, most settings the common smartphone user will never use.
  • Yeah but it's always good to have more features than you need than not to have any at all. Plus this phone is aimed at content creators although this one finally appears to be able to relate to the common point and shoot guy or gal as well. Heck even Samsung adopted focus peaking in their pro mode after LG did it.
  • LG's manual mode is why I've always chose them over say a Google Pixel. A stock manual mode as robust and in depth as what LG offers on the V series cannot be replicated by a third party app. The V10 was my first LG device. Then the V20. Then the V...😏
  • I've used just about all oems at this point and LG still has my fave manual mode.
  • Absolutely.
  • Sounds impressive. It will be interesting to compare the V30 to the Pixel 2 XL as all of these camera functions will probably not carry over to the Pixel. The audio dac will also not carry over as there will be no head phone jack.
  • Any macro option ?
  • So yes, we now have cameras that, oh by the way, just so happen to have a phone included. Not one single cell phone camera succesfully took a picture of last week's eclipse, that I know of, even through a filter. You needed a "real" camera, with a "real" lens and a "real" focal length for that.
  • So your problem is that physics makes it impossible to put an 800+ mm lens in a smartphone? 🤔
  • You clearly aren't on Instagram if you haven't seen any successful and creative photos of a solar eclipse taken from smartphone.
  • I took a decent pic with my LG G4. Would share here but don't see a option for that lol
  • I have yet to see any comments from anyone about focus speed and capture speed. I don't care how good the camera is if all I ever get are blurry images. Also, did LG fix the crappy processing that they used on the G6?
  • Phase detection and laser auto focus, no mention of the dual pixel tech that makes focusing faster so I'm going to assume the S7/S8/N8 all focus faster until reviews come out. Most blur in a photo is the result of shutter speed, not focus speed. LG doesn't seem to be talking about the sensor size in the V30 camera. GSM ARENA is claiming 1.0um pixel size, while an S8 has 1.4um. Basically larger pixel can capture more photons, meaning more light is captured allowing a faster shutter speed for the same exposure. Can't know with absolute certainty, but I'm guessing the S8 and N8 will focus faster and use a faster shutter when capturing the same scene, which would result in less blur.
  • Right, this is exactly what I experienced with the V20. Blurry photos when using auto more often than not. In manual mode, some of the best landscape type pics I've ever taken. But for where I am right now, I need fast focusing, and auto mode to get great pictures every time. That's what Samsung offers. I use manual mode maybe once a year.
  • Derek, I know you guys have early review units that are not final production. Having said that, I've got a Note 8 on order, and on theory, I think the V30 may be a better phone for me. The thing that's holding me back is that I tried the V20 for a few months and found that in manual mode, it's camera was indeed spectacular. But in auto mode the camera was good 1 out of 3 times. I missed many spontaneous photos of my daughter because of this. The same held true for the video camera, which often lost focus on my daughter while she was figure skating unless in manual mode where I would then have to shift the focus. Not very practical. By contrast, while the Samsung camera isn't theoretically as good, I found it focused perfectly first time, every time in auto mode. Same with video. It just stuck to focusing on my daughter as she was figure skating. It never got fuzzy or lost focus. I would love the manual controls and even more, the wide angle camera, and I'm an audiophile. But with the V20, this was a deal breaker. Can you speak to whether the V30 gets the shots better in auto mode? How many times do you have to take a photo in auto mode to get a great shot?
  • I've only had it for a brief time (and like you said: preproduction) but only rarely have Auto shots not turned out well for me.
  • Thanks Derek. Good article by the way, as usual.
  • This review is rather in depth and great, but you make it sound like LG is miles ahead of Samsung, other than a few of the video controls Samsung has had full manual and RAW capture since the S6. It's why I find Samsung and LG ahead of most other phones, the manual controls give much greater potential.
  • After using the G5 and the V20 I don't want a phone again without the secondary wide angle lens.
  • I couldn't agree more. That's what I look for now is a second wide angel. Interesting thing this year though. Not only LG but also the Moto X4 and Zenfone 4 have an 8 MP wide angel now. I'm curious if the bigger pixel size in the Zenfone 4 of 1.4 I stead of 1.12 will make it perform better.
  • Any phone that requires Gollum fingers to reach the fingerprint sensor like on the S8 and Note is a joke. LG nailed the ergonomics on the V30. But I'll still be getting the Moto X4 because I'm not paying $700+ for a phone, ever.
  • We still don't know still image quality and it should be said that the V30 has very small individual photo cells (1 um vs. for example 1.4 um in the S8).
  • So from reading around it turns out LG MIGHT have been misleading with the truth by advertising the main camera as f/1.6 and as such it's supposedly the first phone to have such a wide sensor BUT the sensor may actually be f/1.69 (exif data on reviewers photos) and been rounded down instead of rounded up like normal people would do. It might just be an f/1.7 like many others already have
  • You might want to do a fact check.
  • Yeah that news item appeared a few mins after I posted this
  • Finally LG made it a true flagship phone
  • This is along time coming for LG. Keeping the price down is definitely gonna help. The bootloops finally are history. The V30 has stellar features so it should be very competitive against the note8. Finally a true flagship from the barn of LG!
  • I've never been interested in phone like this, the first time I saw it, it just blew me away, and I knew that camera, it's not one which one can mess with. I hope it's going to be the best at DXO Mark.
  • Don't get your hopes up. The G6 camera was abysmal.
  • Is the 120FPS 720p upscaled from 360p or 480p? If it's "real 720p," then I have to consider this phone. If not, then I'll just stay on the iPhone (which does the same, but an LG phone would need a killer feature to even be in my thought process). The rest of the phone literally doesn't matter to me. I only care about the video capabilities for capturing sports for video analysis. It's interesting how *little* useful is contained in these "reviews" when you cut out the hype...
  • If it's like the G5 it takes pictures too large to send, text or post. And the built in apps don't do compression or pruning or downscaling. So you either bolt on a bunch of hit or miss apps or you scale everything by hand or you never send anything.
  • Can you do HDR photos in manual mode? On the V20, HDR was only available in auto mode in the stock LG camera app. You can do HDR with some manual controls by using Open Camera, but it can't access the wide angle lens, and the manual controls and UI aren't as good as the LG camera app. LG's camera app would be nearly perfect IF they added HDR in manual mode on the V30.
  • Just about fifteen years since cellphones became capable of taking snapshots (and subsequently video!). Am I the only one who's amazed at the developments we've seen in cellphone/smartphone tech since 2002? Also, who can recall (as wistfully as I am right now) texting on a clamshell phone (the Sanyo SCP-5500 stands out in memory) using the T9 word program?
  • After owning both the G4 and V20, I'm going with the Note 8 this time out. Like others have posted the V20 cameras had problems with image quality especially when it came to zooming in. I find I use this feature far more than the wide angle, and the Note has optical zoom and OIS on all of its cameras. Too bad LG didn't go this route since the cameras are supposed to be their stand out feature now ( after ditching swappable batteries, IR blaster, etc.).