Smartphone camera showdown: Google Pixel vs. LG G6

It's a tight race, but LG takes the Best Smartphone Camera crown from Google.

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Here we’re going to look at the dynamic range captured by the camera (the difference between the brightest and darkest possible areas captured in a single image) and the way the camera chooses to expose the image, including tone mapping and HDR.

Looking from a bright outdoor area into a dark interior is a great test of dynamic range. Here, the Pixel chooses a higher overall exposure, showing more across the entire range from light to dark. This is good for later editing, but it creates a flat and unpleasant default image. You can see on the very right edge of the histogram, the Pixel is blowing out the highlights entirely. 

pixel xl doorway Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Pixel’s higher exposure shows more, but looks flat.

The G6, on the other hand, keeps everything exposed properly. It may not be as “even” but it isn’t flat, and properly captures the star difference between the bright and dark areas of the scene, without letting the dark areas get crushed or the bright areas blown out.

lg g6 doorway Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 does a better job of representing the extreme bright and dark areas without under- or overexposing them.

Moving on to this shot of sodas in the cooler of a food truck, the Pixel crushes the dark areas a bit in an effort to hang on to the bright highlights in the reflections. Notice how the histogram runs right off the left edge.

pixel xl sodas Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

It’s a good looking shot, but detail is lost in the dark areas in order to keep highlights exposed properly.

On the G6, not only does the vibrant color of the cans come through, but detail is kept on both the bright highlights and the dark rear of the cooler, with the histogram falling off neatly on both ends.

lg g6 sodas Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 does a better job with this shot, keeping bright highlights and dark areas exposed properly.

If we look down this row of tires, we can see the Pixel once again blowing out highlights (see the spike on the right of the histogram). It pulls up the exposure of some of the dark areas, so you can see the tire treads in the dark, but its really dark areas are just crushed.

pixel xl tires Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Pixel blows out highlights and overexposes dark areas a little bit.

While the G6 doesn’t make the dark areas as easy to see, it’s more true to life, and doesn’t totally blow out the highlights.

lg g6 tires Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G6 looks more like we expect it to.

Overall, while the Pixel does a good job of making dark areas visible, the LG G6 more often gives us the exposure we’re hoping for in high-contrast scenes, and doesn’t blow out highlights or crush dark areas as quite as often. The Pixel might technically have higher dynamic range, but the G6 more often correctly exposes for the scene and has more realistic tone mapping. That gives the G6 the win in our Range category.

Overall winner: LG G6

We find ourselves in a bit of a conundrum. Both cameras are amazing. The Pixel won our color tests, the G6 won our range tests, and it was a tie on detail (with Pixel far ahead in bright light, and the G6 doing much better in low light). Neither phone can be said to take better shots most of the time—it really just depends on what you’re shooting.

But ties are boring. We have to declare a winner, so we’re going to look to some outside factors.

And that’s where we give the nod to the G6. With its second wide-angle camera, you have more options. And the Pixel still suffers from occasional lens flair, while the G6 does not. LG’s camera app is superior to Google’s, too, making good use of the 18:9 display aspect ratio and offering a bevy of pro features.

The G6 won’t go unchallenged for long. The Galaxy S8 steps up next to challenge it, and we’ll have that head-to-head matchup soon.

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