It is the middle of July. Days are warm, long, and sunny. Weekends are dedicated to tent camping, showing off those beach volleyball skills, or just plain ol' swinging in the hammock while sipping on a cocktail mixed in a coconut shell. Or at least that's how people like to enjoy the summertime. But the year is 2016 – if you don't have the pics, then it didn't happen. And to have the pics, you need a phone with a camera. One with a good camera, preferably.
But what is the best smartphone camera out there? This question is more difficult to answer than it seems, but we can at least try by having a camera comparison. And this one's going to be huge. We're about to have a race between the 5 most exciting phones of H1 2016, namely the OnePlus 3, the Samsung Galaxy S7, the HTC 10, the Sony Xperia X Performance, and the LG G5. We're also throwing in the iPhone 6s Plus to spice things up. Here's what these six have to offer in terms of specs:
iPhone 6s Plus
Samsung Galaxy S7
Sony Xperia X Perf.
Resolution, aspect ratio
Sensor and pixel size
Focal length and aperture
Focus and stabilization
Dual-pixel AF Object track OIS
Laser AF OIS
PDAF Object track No OIS
Laser AF OIS
So, as the figures indicate, the Xperia X Performance has the most megapixels at its disposal, and by popular demand, we've used them all during the shootout. Yes, we'll be showing you 23MP stills out of Sony's handset, even though it is set to shoot at just 8MP by default. But megapixels aren't all that matters in a camera. Samsung, for instance, has gone with a 12MP camera with larger pixels and a very wide aperture – all factors that allow more light to hit the sensor. Such is also the case with the HTC 10. The OnePlus 3, iPhone 6s Plus, and LG G5 don't set new milestones with their camera specs, but we know from experience that these can also take excellent photos and will be tough to race against. So, without further ado, let's take a look at some actual photos.
Scene 1: At the park
Remember that "beach volleyball skills" part we mentioned in the beginning? We did show them off alright! Later that day, however, we had to interrupt our fun-having session to take some comparison photos. Here's a scenery we found perfect for the task.
In this case, the OnePlus 3 is definitely one of the better performers. We won't call it the best, but the plentiful detail, accentuated by a moderate amount of contrast, contributes to a very likeable photo. Color accuracy could have been better, though. The frame is dominated by a hint of green, which explains why the marigolds have turned out yellowish, not orange.
The Sony Xperia X Performance delivers a detailed photo, but color accuracy leaves a lot to be desired. Again, we see a greenish tone cast all over the image – enough to steer the color of the sky and flowers away from reality. Not a good start for Sony's contestant.
The best thing about the photo out of the iPhone 6s Plus are the colors. Sure, there's a hint of warmth added, but the flowers have retained their natural hue, and the image looks quite pleasing overall. The score would have been greater if details were preserved better.
We're strongly drawn by the LG G5's photo. Its colors are pleasing, but not exaggerated. Details are plentiful, but not oversharpened. This would have been the perfect image of this scene had colors been captured more accurately.
As for the HTC 10, it also delivers solid results – colors are mostly accurate and detail has been captured well. Disturbingly, there's a sharp drop of detail near the corners and edges of the frame.
In contrast, the Galaxy S7is leaving us disappointed. Aggressive sharpening has destroyed much of the fine detail, and the excessive contrast doesn't make matters any better. The image looks acceptable, but only if you don't zoom in.
We headed home once we were done with our coconut shell cocktails. On our way back, we snapped this series of shots for the needs of our comparison – the blend of shadows, highlights, and sunrays sipping through the leaves made for a great scene.
Again, the OnePlus 3 is demonstrating some solid photography skills. Its image is nice and detailed, with a moderate amount of contrast preserving the atmosphere of the scene. Colors have that natural warm tone provided by the setting sun.
The Sony Xperia X Performance delivers decent results, although it has toned down much of that warmth we mentioned. Exposure has been dialed up a notch to bring out the detail in the shadows. Highlights have slightly suffered as a result.
Interestingly, the Samsung Galaxy S7 has taken the opposite route. Its photo is underexposed, which is why shadows appear too dark. Details aren't great either.
From the looks of it, the iPhone 6s Plus is the best performer in this round. We're impressed by its camera's dynamics range, which has allowed it to capture both highlights in the sky and details in the shadows. Colors are also quite pleasing.
The LG G5 and HTC 10 have taken the same approach when exposing the scene. Both have captured the shadows well, but the highlights in the sky have been compromised because of that. Nevertheless, we're content with both images.
Here's the mandatory close-up shot. In this case, our subject is a pretty bunch of yellow flowers. There's not a whole lot to say about the images, other than that they all look great. The best thing about close ups is how much detail they reveal, and we'd say that all six photos reveal a lot. Color accuracy, on the other hand, tends to drift from one side to the other.
In terms of color fidelity, the best photos have come out of the HTC 10 and the LG G5. These two phones have preserved them naturally, without rendering the image too warm or too cold. The OnePlus 3 is only a step behind in this respect, with its slightly greenish image. The iPhone 6s Plus is also treating us to an eye-pleasing image, although it is a bit warmer than what our eyes could see.
Disappointingly, the image from the Galaxy S7 is slightly colder than it should be. But at least it isn't as bad as the Xperia X Performance's photo. The latter leans too much to the cold side, not to mention that the petals in its photo look washed out.