Selfie camera comparison: LG G Pro 2 vs LG G2, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy S4, HTC One (2013), Xperia Z1, iPhone 5s, and Nexus 5


Introduction


Looking at the smartphone world, it suffices to say that we're definitely not in Kansas anymore. This is a war zone, and there are billions upon billions of dollars held as prize. And that's more than enough motivation for most companies in the industry, who have rushed in, wanting a piece of the oh so seductive pie. And while us, the consumers, are lucky to be on the receiving end of this ruthless competition, it has meant that smartphone vendors have to increasingly push for more and more polished products. One such exemplary area, as you probably have guessed already, is the front-facing camera.

Now, this is still on the sidelines when it comes to priorities manufacturers set for themselves, and that is likely to continue in the future. That's absolutely normal. But there's still a palpable push in this direction. In fact, at this rate, it won't be long until pixelated selfies and shoddy video calls are a thing of the past. What's more, one of our latest poll indicates that many of you indeed are concerned about the quality of front-facing shooters. And you know us, we just love putting things to the test. Which is exactly what we did.

Today, we're pitting eight major flagships currently on the market against each other and taking scores. We will be testing several areas that we deem most crucial to any one camera, but specifically a front-facing one: amount of details, color reproduction, size of the field of view of the lens, and video capture. Before we get into this, do acquaint yourself with what each of our contestants today brings to the table by checking out the summary right below.

ResolutionVideoFeatures
LG G Pro 22.1MP1080p@30fpsVoice shutter, Beauty shot, Dual camera/Dual video recording, Night mode
LG G22.1MP1080p@30fpsVoice shutter, Beauty shot, Dual camera/Dual video recording, Night mode, HDR video
Galaxy Note 32MP1080p@30fpsBeauty face, Best photo, Best face, Sound & Shot, Burst shot, Face detection, Voice control
Galaxy S42MP1080p@30fpsBeauty face, Best photo, Best face, Sound & Shot, Burst shot, Night mode, Face detection, Voice control
HTC One (2013)2.1MP1080p@30fpsFace detection, Effects, HDR
Xperia Z12MP1080p@30fpsHDR, AR effects, Smile shutter, Soft skin effect, Image stabilizer , Burst shot
iPhone 5s1.2MP720p@30fpsFace detection, Effects, HDR
Nexus 51.3MP720p@30fpsScene modes, Face detection

Ready? Let's see what these specs translate into.

Strong light


Let there be light! Man, these are not half bad when there's plenty of sun. Sure, the pixel count is laughable compared with what you have at the back, and yet most of our contestants managed to capture enough photons to deliver a passable snap (and selfie). Of course, zooming even a little bit quickly confirms the lack of detail, but there's still enough of it with every smartphone we tested.

Prime among our contestants are LG's G Pro 2, HTC's One (2013), and Samsung's Note 3 and Galaxy S4, all of which produce stills that offer a great amount of fine detail and proper color reproduction.

Apple's 1.2-megapixel camera comes a close second, as though its shots are both detailed and compelling-looking, target colors deviate from what we were seeing in real life significantly. They're both overstated, and much warmer than in reality, and this costs the 5s.

The Sony Xperia Z1 and the LG G2 are pretty much on par, but still far behind the best. Specifically in the case of the Z1, colors are rendered fairly well, but they're still lifeless, and a massive portion of the shots remains blurry. The situation is slightly more serious with the G2, which persistently adds a severe purple fringe on top of all stills, all the while also failing to offer a detailed shot.

The Nexus 5, with its 1.3-megapixel sensor is rightfully at the very bottom of the ranking. The snaps its front-facing unit produces are of palpably lesser quality, as both detail and color reproduction are lagging behind the competition. That's the price to pay for a "budget flagship" -- shortcuts were, indeed, taken. 



Medium and low light


Low light environments continue to pose quite the challenge for even the most sophisticated rear snappers out there, so a sense of dread was definitely in the air. Obviously, we left out complete darkness scenarios out of this test, but we still went through our usual studio routine. After studying the results, we can confidently say that even very low light scenarios won't render a selfie completely impossible. There's a catch, of course -- slow shutter speed. In other words, you better freeze when taking low light snaps, for rapid movement will result in a blurry mess. 

In any case, the LG G Pro 2 proved the most capable when it came to resolving detail and preserving natural-looking colors in challenging lightning environments. Apple's iPhone 5s comes as second best, as we're able to make out even fine detail and that really is its saving grace, seeing as the attractive hues of its stills are actually quite inconsistent with reality.

The HTC One and the Galaxy Note 3 also had a pretty good run, though it should be noted that Samsung's phablet is far less predictable, and its camera shifts between offering great and then some poor results. 

Finally, and despite its dreadfully lifeless color reproduction under very low light conditions, the Nexus 5 is actually almost on par with the Z1, which is just always mellow in its approach, as if uncertain of its exact purpose. That said, the Z1 remains a perfectly usable selfie cam. The G2 and the S4 occupy the bottom, as, among other things, they occasionally turned up with blurry snaps, and that's just not good enough when compared with the rest.

Note: "studio" samples are shot using a tripod, and are not part of the final score.



Field of view


The size of the field of view (FoV) of the lens is not something we usually talk about with rear cameras on smartphones, but front-facing snappers are a different topic altogether. A large FoV means more people in the shot, and if Bradley Cooper used an LG G Pro 2 instead of a Galaxy Note 3 in that wildly popular mass-selfie at the Oscars, perhaps Jarred Leto wouldn't have to settle for having half his face cut off in the most tweeted picture in the history of, well, tweets. Oh, well...

As for the test itself, it's hard to really cast a certain winner, though the LG G Pro 2 and G2, along with the Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy S4 all offer an identically healthy field of view, with the Xperia Z1 coming just a notch shorter. The HTC One also deserves a mention, as it offers a downright impressive vertical sweep of capture area. The iPhone 5s and the Nexus 5 unsurprisingly finish last -- they offer the narrowest of selfie areas and by far.

To arrive at the above conclusions, we framed the shots from the eight flagships one hundred percent identically. Check them out.

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Video


With stills out of the way, we better take a look at another fundamental of any camera: video capture. Thankfully for all of us, pretty much every flagship on the market today sports a front-facing camera capable of 1080p video capture at 30 frames per second. 

As always, however, there are exceptions: Google Nexus 5 and Apple iPhone 5s users have to make do with 720p capture, for example, and that means a palpable hit in the amount of detail. In the case of the iPhone 5s, we're again pleased with the results, even though the lack of detail keeps it from a higher spot on our chart. However, the same can't be said for the Nexus 5, which again finished last due to the overall lowest quality of its footage and messed up color reproduction.

Looking up, we have the G Pro 2 at the very top, followed by the Note 3. Both offer good amount of details and resolve colors properly, though the Note 3 in particular occasionally has a hard time dynamically tweaking its exposure levels. This sometimes results in a footage that is notably darker than reality. Samsung's other contestant, the S4, also proved to be a great all-rounder, though LG's G2 proved a bit underwhelming. There's just this persistent and really annoying purple hue to footage that pretty much reduces the hard-hitter to its 720p rivals.



Conclusion


This kind of comparison has been long overdue, or that's how we felt at least. With the advent of the smartphone, we're increasingly running into ever more subtle facets of the total package that are becoming more and more relevant as the innovation gap between rival vendors gets narrower and narrower. 

And the results? They speak for themselves, and they actually fall in line neatly with the consumer consensus: the front-facing camera is still mostly a secondary concern. You really see that with a device like the Nexus 5, whose budget price tag obviously forced Google and LG to pick their battles. On the other hand, the traditionally thorough manufacturers, like HTC, Samsung, LG, and Apple, are all slowly but surely picking up the pace. What's interesting, however, is that, as always, you shouldn't blindly go after more pixels, a notion cemented by the iPhone 5s' performance in this particular area.

In the end, the key takeaway from this comparison is that flagships' front-facing cams are now, by and large, capable enough to offer passable results, both in stills and video.

FEATURED VIDEO

34 Comments

1. datphoneguy

Posts: 155; Member since: Sep 15, 2013

Maybe it's just me, but the HTC One M8 pics didn't turn out too bad here versus the competition...

2. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

It's the M7.

11. Arte-8800

Posts: 4562; Member since: Mar 13, 2014

nice long article by CHRIS P

23. PAPINYC

Posts: 2315; Member since: Jul 30, 2011

Great article, too bad it seems so biAss'ed. I agree with the LG G Pro 2 being "number 1", but that QuasiThing being "number 2"????? Just look at the pics; proof is in the pudding (or, in this case, the "selfies")!! Good job, though, Chris; we can overlook your slight iTransgression in putting the iThing at "number 2". BTW, might iSuggest you practice your "Beauty Shot Selfies" on the LG G Pro 2!! (this coming from the PAPI with a Note 2) .. lol

13. datphoneguy

Posts: 155; Member since: Sep 15, 2013

D'oh! Well on the bright side, at least the pics on the M8 can't look any worse!

18. sipha

Posts: 440; Member since: May 12, 2012

The Medium and low light from the iPhone 5s is obviously the worse of the bunch, yet its the 2nd best with 8/10 ...why??? O.o

34. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

Mainly because it's not. :)

4. tech2

Posts: 3487; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

Yup, its just you because M8 isn't there in the comparison.

5. mr2009

Posts: 34; Member since: Mar 26, 2013

pretty sure that the old HTC One... only 2.1MP? HTC One M8 have 5mp ffc...

6. nestea unregistered

OMG, are you blind? It is written that it is HTC ONE 2013 (M7)....

8. Ashoaib

Posts: 3298; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

Really? Was m8 there in the comparison? I think, I read this news with closed eyes

19. downphoenix

Posts: 3165; Member since: Jun 19, 2010

I wonder why they didnt put the M8 here. I am curious how much better it is with a 5MP camera... and if it's better, why the eff did HTC only use 4MP for the back? Is HTC doing this because of selfies?

29. xche78x

Posts: 101; Member since: Mar 11, 2014

Probably because the HTC One (M8) has not graced the hands of phone arena yet. And so are the S5, Z2, G3 and other upcoming 2014 stylish flagship phones, Im sure PA would do a separate battle for those once released, along with Nubia X6 if they acquire it. A 5 Megapixel sensor will probably be a little bit better than 2 megapixels. and for the last question, HTC is either over trying their luck with 4 Ultra Pixel Camera (No OIS on M8, M7 has OIS) or because they don't have tie ups with other companies that can make better cameras for them.

3. Ashoaib

Posts: 3298; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

ZTE nubia x6, 13mp BSI front facing camera... should be tested here

31. The13thKing

Posts: 849; Member since: Feb 26, 2014

No one cares about zte whatever and megapixels just give you mor ability to zoom and never a better image and also it gives you a huge file that eats up the storage.

7. tech2

Posts: 3487; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

Although front camera is not something you compare too critically as its mostly only used for video chats but Xperia Z1 and LG G2 are just plain horrible.

9. greyhulk

Posts: 184; Member since: Jun 30, 2010

If they were going to do this comparison, why would they not include the M8? The 5mp front-facing camera is one of the few things it actually has going for it. Fail.

12. papss unregistered

I wondered why its not included as well

21. SellPhones82

Posts: 569; Member since: Dec 11, 2008

Wondered the same thing but the S5 isn't part of this either so I guess the test is more for the 2013 flagships.

24. npaladin2000

Posts: 165; Member since: Nov 06, 2011

Probably because the thing just came out yesterday and clearly this article took a little more than 24 hours to prepare. I call fail on your fail.

27. g2a5b0e unregistered

Actually, PA has had the M8 for a while now hence the review yesterday on the same day the device was unveiled/released. They probably could have easily included the M8 in the comparison. I doesn't seem as if the comparison was meant to include this year's new crop of flagships. As a result, I call fail on your fail while calling fail on his fail.

28. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

The review M8 unit wasn't at hand, so to speak. No other reason.

10. Anshulonweb

Posts: 468; Member since: Feb 07, 2014

waiting for in depth comparison of Samsung s5 and xperia z2 and HTC one.......

14. Lauticol

Posts: 404; Member since: Jun 25, 2011

I just wonder why most of the HTC One's pictures are in a 4:3 ratio. 16:9 is the default and there you can see the 88° FoV shine!

15. Astoni

Posts: 649; Member since: Sep 28, 2013

Now my question is how the f*ck is that the Z1?! my Front camera is horrible... its worse than a freakin' walkman from 2005.. also mine give off a yellowish tint so i never use the front camera only backcamera :p.

16. 1ceTr0n

Posts: 549; Member since: May 20, 2012

Shoulda gotten a hot girl, more would read article.

17. srgonu

Posts: 557; Member since: Feb 13, 2012

I see purple hues (videos) on iPhone when sunlight is from behind. Looks like they haven't fixed that yet.

20. Jason2k13

Posts: 1469; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

why does Sony really suck on camera optimization? I hope they don't disappoint on the Z2.

22. ady_lad

Posts: 83; Member since: Jul 17, 2013

What's the point of this article?

25. 1ceTr0n

Posts: 549; Member since: May 20, 2012

Not sure if trolling or just stupid...

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