Best low light camera: Galaxy S8 vs Google Pixel vs LG G6 vs iPhone 7


Low-light performance has not traditionally been among the strongest suits of smartphone cameras. However, with the wider adoption of OIS (optical image stabilization) over the past couple of years, and thanks to the great advances in camera software that we've recently witnessed, smartphones are becoming ever more capable of coping with less-than-optimal light conditions.

Whether it's taking a spontaneous picture in the streets late at night, or shooting in the minutes just after the sunset, getting sharp, noise-free photos with your pocket camera—err, smartphone—is much, much easier than it ever was! Why and how that came to be, we will be discussing in short later on, but first, let's introduce the four contenders that will take part in this comparison, the current top smartphone cameras on the market: the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Google Pixel, the LG G6, and the iPhone 7.

All four may be great choices for shooting during the day—well, some may be better than others—but how do they perform in less-than-optimal light conditions? That's what we're about to find out!


Camera Specs
Galaxy S8Google Pixel
LG G6iPhone 7
Resolution,
aspect ratio
12MP@4:3
4032x3024px
12MP@4:3
4048x3036px
13MP@4:3
4160x3120px
12MP@4:3
4032x3024px
Sensor and
pixel size
1/2.55"
1.4μm
1/2.3"
1.55μm
1/3.06"
1.12μm
1/3"
1.22μm
ApertureF1.7F2.0F1.8F1.8
Focus and
stabilization
Dual-pixel AF
OIS
PDAF/Laser
DIS
PDAF
OIS
PDAF
OIS

Camera specs sheet for quick reference

Scene 1


Click image to expand gallery and view the photos in a larger size. Use the "" button to zoom in. EXIF information is provided for each image


It's not quite dark out yet, but we're entering the so-called “blue hour”, which is the perfect starting point for our comparison. This way, we'll be able to see how the performance of the four cameras changes dramatically over the course of the next hours—from late at dusk, til after dark.

All four phones do a good job at capturing this scene, with some minor caveats, but let's see how each one handles the waning sunlight.

  • The Galaxy S8 produces a good-looking image with warmer tones (as is usual for Samsung cameras), that represents the overall look of the scene better than the rest, in my opinion. In this scenario, the S8 chooses to shoot at 1/60 sec. and at a low ISO, which leaves us with a sharp, noise-free image, with well-preserved highlights.

  • The Pixel, on the other hand, which is the only phone in this comparison not benefiting from OIS, opts for a higher shutter speed in order to compensate for the lack of image stabilization. This, in turn, forces the camera to choose a higher ISO value to expose the scene correctly, which then introduces more noise in the frame (most visible in the clouds). Still, the relatively low ISO value of 236, combined with the noise filtering that the Pixel applies to each shot, results in an overall good-looking image. I'm not overly pleased with how the highlights in the sky are blown, but that's likely because the Pixel didn't employ HDR+ for this scene. Neither did the S8, for that matter, but considering the technical differences, the Pixel may have benefited from some software trickery.

  • The LG G6 manages to produce a very sharp, essentially noise-free image with well-balanced shadows and highlights. The G6 is neck to neck with the S8, although the LG camera has a slight edge in terms of resolution (13MP vs 12MP) and manages to deliver an all around sharper foreground.

  • The iPhone 7 shot at a very low ISO, but this does not necessarily help it produce the best image. The photo from the iPhone is contrasty and with a lot going on in the clouds, which helps add some much-welcome dynamism to the scene. However, when examined in full-size, the image from the iPhone fails to impress. It's soft-ish and surprisingly noisy, especially given the low ISO value.

Scene 2


Click image to expand gallery and view the photos in a larger size. Use the "" button to zoom in. EXIF information is provided for each image


This time around, three out of four phones did a great job, while one of them lagged behind.

  • The Galaxy S8 produces a vibrant and well-balanced image with little to no noise in the sky. 

  • The Pixel does its HDR+ magic to even things out and keep noise to the minimum and also leaves us with a good-looking image.

  • The LG G6, however, does not fare so well in this scenario. Although taking advantage of LG's own HDR processing engine, the G6 fails at bringing out detail in the shadows and leaves us with a soft, murky-looking image that shows excessive amounts of sharpening.


  • The iPhone 7 does an admirable job at preserving detail in the shadows and fares decisively better than the G6 in this trial. However, when examining the photo in full-size, the clouds and water don't look as smooth as they do on the photos from the Pixel and the Galaxy S8.

Scene 2.1


Click image to expand gallery and view the photos in a larger size. Use the "" button to enlarge. EXIF information is provided for each image


This scene is very similar to the one before it, in terms of light intensity, at least, but introduces a more prominent foreground. All phones fare similarly and expectedly to how they did in the previous scene, although here we can see that the G6 delivers a somewhat worse dynamic range than the rest. The G6 shot has the darkest shadows with the least detail.

Scene 3


Click image to expand gallery and view the photos in a larger size. Use the "" button to zoom in. EXIF information is provided for each image


  • The S8 is spot-on here. The photo is sharp (in fact, it's the sharpest of the bunch), with rich detail on the stone fence and the ship. The rigging remains well-defined against a noise-free sky, although the sharpening mask has left some jaggies on some of the ropes. Still, the S8 has the best take on this scene.

  • The Pixel doesn't do that great of a job here, unfortunately. The image is soft and noisy. Due to the lack of OIS, Pixel's camera is forced to choose a high ISO so as to expose the scene correctly and maintain a shutter speed that's manageable for handheld shooting.

  • The LG G6 does an overall better job than the Pixel, but it's a step behind the Galaxy S8. The image is sharper than the one from the Pixel, but the noise filtering that was required to deal with the higher ISO has left its mark – parts of the rigging are not that well-defined and are almost blending with the sky behind.

  • The iPhone 7 produces an image that's a tad softer than the one from the G6, but it's also less noisy. When compared to the Pixel, in this scenario, the iPhone 7 manages to deliver a sharper image with better defined highlights in the sky.

Scene 4


Click image to expand gallery and view the photos in a larger size. Use the "" button to zoom in. EXIF information is provided for each image


This scene is a tough one. We have a stark contrast between the darkness in the crowns of the trees above and the bright counterpoint that's the cathedral in the distance. Let's see how the four contenders cope with the dynamics of this scene.

  • The Galaxy S8 again manages to strike a good balance between the dark foreground and the dazzling background. Although the street lights are a bit blown out, the cathedral is well-exposed, as is the alley where we're standing. The S8 also does an admirable job at pulling detail from the trees, especially given the very poor lighting. Further, the final result is sharp, despite the slow shutter speed (1/10 sec.), and noise-free, due to the low ISO chosen by the phone. Excellent job.

  • The Pixel doesn't do a brilliant job here. The phone chose not to use HDR+ for this scene and delivered a soft, noisy, and somewhat underexposed image as a result. Without employing HDR+, the Pixel still managed to extract some detail from the crowns of the trees, which is commendable, but the noise is simply too much to appreciate this small feat. Either way, I decided to enable HDR+ just to see what happens. And here's what happened:



Interestingly, with HDR+ enabled, the Pixel brings out less detail from the shadows, leaving the crowns of trees almost pitch-black. On the other hand, it focuses more on reducing noise and applies a stronger sharpening mask over the image, which is especially noticeable around the well-lit parts of the photo. The cathedral definitely benefits from the boosted sharpness, but I'm not so sure about the darker areas of the image.

  • The LG G6 pulls an unexpected J.J. Abrams with some crazy lens flares. The one in the middle is just too much. I didn't anticipate it at all, because the street light it's coming from is not even in frame, but it's so over the top that it detracts from the overall look of the photo, in my opinion. Although the image may appear at first glance dazzling, like a Pink Floyd light show with these crazy flares, the end result is disappointingly soft and unbalanced, with highlights that are too bright and shadows that are too dark.

  • The iPhone 7 did very well here. The photo came out brighter than the one from the S8, and not as sharp, but the iPhone still managed to strike a good balance between shadows and highlights, leaving us with a noise-free, all around good-looking image.

Since the LG G6 surprised me in the last scene—very unpleasantly, at that—and looking at the photos I took with it, I was quickly reminded of all the fuss that surrounded the Pixel's camera last year. Shortly after Google's Android flagship launched in October of last year, people started complaining about the way its camera handled lens flares, and, well, let's just say that it was nothing compared to the G6.

That's why I decided now would be a good time to check out how each of the contenders handles lens flares. To do this, I had to find bright source of light—preferably numerous—and this one parking lot floodlight seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

The mighty lens flare




Flares appear when light direct light (for example, from the sun or a street light), hits the front of your lens. This can happen with any lens, but wide-angle lenses are in general more prone to flares, because they have a greater angle of view, and are more likely to catch a light light coming from the sides. And, since most phones are equipped with wide-angle cameras, flaring is one of the problems that you'll face when taking photos.

As you can see from the images above, lens flares are very pronounced in photos from the G6. Although cool-looking at times, they can be a great annoyance (as was the case in Scene 4). Flaring is a lot subtler on the S8 and the iPhone, although each one has its own unique look to it, and is more prominent on lights toward the edges of the frame. Lens flares on the Pixel are not that annoying, in my opinion, although I prefer the way the S8 and the iPhone handle bright sources of direct light. As you can see, the two topmost lights in the Pixel photo cause flares with something of a moire pattern to them, which is also accompanied by a subtler, circular flare toward the bottom of the frame.

Since you're more likely than not to take some pictures around town at night time, I thought it would be interesting to check out how the four cameras handled streetlights. But enough about lens flares!

Conclusion


Although all four cameras have their weaknesses and strong sides, and some did better than others in certain situations, one of them managed to deliver consistently better results across the board. And this is the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Although not a huge leap forward from last year's S7, technically speaking, the Galaxy S8 benefits from an improved camera software and image processing algorithms. These software advancements, coupled with the OIS system on board, help the S8 deliver an overall better-looking low-light shots than its otherwise worthy opponents. The other three are not far behind, but as is—between these four contenders, and as far as low-light camera performance goes—the Galaxy S8 has a clear edge.

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63 Comments

1. AmashAziz

Posts: 2923; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

Milen Y doesn't seem to know that here at PhoneArena, a scoring system has already been established for camera comparisons. It makes our life easier since we can just scroll at the end to see who won according to the author. I hope the scoring system would be used in the next comparison, since it's more preferred by many PhoneArena readers.

2. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

And the Google Pixel's low-light shots have impressed me, even better than the Galaxy S8, as I see in scene 1.

11. Macready

Posts: 1821; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

@ trojan_horse: In general the Pixel does well too, but the one with the ship came out surprisingly noisy.

17. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

It still baffles me that Google pulled off an outstanding camera with the Pixel phones... The previous Google phones (Nexus) weren't this good, not even half as good!

21. danny_a2005

Posts: 361; Member since: Oct 06, 2011

Nexus 6P was really good tbh, I had it until tendays ago, and upgraded to pixel, I have almost the same results.

22. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

Yeah, the Nexus 6P's camera was top-notch too, but the Nexus 6's camera was subpar, and the Nexus 5's camera was flat-oout aweful. Google has come a long way, for real. I still find it hard to believe the Google Pixel beats the Galaxy S8 in low-light??? Damn.

26. Xperia14

Posts: 1208; Member since: Sep 01, 2015

And that without OIS...

5. AmashAziz

Posts: 2923; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

And also, each scene should have photos, from each phone, side-by-side, in a quad-window box. Just like in previous camera comparisons. It makes it more convenient to compare them.

9. Milen_Y

Posts: 113; Member since: Jun 09, 2016

Hi AmashAziz, I know about the scoring system, I was just trying something new. Instead of scores, I thought I'd give you my opinion on how each phone did in every scene (hence the bullet points). Sorry, didn't mean to make your life harder! You can still scroll to the end and read the conclusion to see which phone, in my opinion, won the competition.

20. danny_a2005

Posts: 361; Member since: Oct 06, 2011

Hey Milen_Y Those are not even the specs for the google pixel camera, the sensor size, pixel size and aperture is wrong, check your own specs in the phone, or visit google page. -_-

34. hung2900

Posts: 966; Member since: Mar 02, 2012

Milen_Y, in one scene, iPhone showed up the shutter value of 1/4, which is way to unreliable without the tripod. And if you can next time can you show the EXIF data right in the post, not just in the photos.

37. submar

Posts: 713; Member since: Sep 19, 2014

PA, could you please also capture with DSLR for references next time.

41. TerryD

Posts: 546; Member since: May 09, 2017

No, please dont. From the DLSR vs Phone article recently it was apparent that they had no idea how to use the DSLR. It would be good to have a professional photographer take the same shot with a decent SLR for reference so you can see what the scene actually looks like

38. cheetah2k

Posts: 2254; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

I like the review without the scoring system. Good work @Milen_Y

40. AmashAziz

Posts: 2923; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

I appreciate your response, Milen Y. It's good to try new things but I still prefer the scoring system. Thank you for the explanation.

54. BlackhawkFlys

Posts: 914; Member since: May 07, 2014

You did great. Well balanced..

14. danny_a2005

Posts: 361; Member since: Oct 06, 2011

You don't have to scroll to know who wins, it's either apple or samsung, depending on who paid the bills that month

58. Phonehex

Posts: 763; Member since: Feb 16, 2016

Clearly the S8 wins , beating the other junkyard phones out there.

3. haruken

Posts: 306; Member since: Nov 06, 2013

So Samsung released a slightly increased S7 camera and yet the competition still can't catch up ? They're not ready for the Note8's !!

6. AmashAziz

Posts: 2923; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

increased?

33. bossman

Posts: 264; Member since: Jan 27, 2016

43. vincelongman

Posts: 5691; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

The Pixel manages to win dispute lacking OIS and a narrower aperture Can't wait to see Note8 vs Pixel 2

52. sissy246

Posts: 7111; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

They are all pretty good but no, the Pixel didn't win. SO the best

53. sissy246

Posts: 7111; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

Edit , S8 FTW

4. thetruthhasbeenspoken

Posts: 83; Member since: May 02, 2017

Viva Samsung

7. nikhil23

Posts: 441; Member since: Dec 07, 2016

hmmm interesting. I kinda like the pic from LG G6 in the scene1. Image from S8 is a little lighter and the contrast diff on iphone is bad. I agree with OP on scene 2 In Scene 3, I agree that S8 is much sharper but the clouds are better on iphone. G6 and pixel are very noisy In scene 4, if only exposure was better on pixel, I would have chosen pixel. Curious to see U11 vs s8 vs xz vs pixel

8. AmashAziz

Posts: 2923; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

Xperia XZs*

10. Mfco7

Posts: 11; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

Awesome pixel!

12. Macready

Posts: 1821; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

I can't get over the paintery effect in the iPhone 7 shots as a result of heavy handed noise reduction, even at these small sizes, never mind at 12 MP.

13. danny_a2005

Posts: 361; Member since: Oct 06, 2011

biased

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