When a smartphone is deemed a flagship, it’s expected to have one of the best cameras on the market. In the growing jungle of Android handsets, camera performance is one of the key ways to distinguish who’s got the goods and who doesn’t. The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, LG G5, and HTC 10 are all flagships for their respective brands, and each company has taken the camera very seriously, looking to improve it in every possible way. That said, we took all three smartphones on various photography outings to gauge their performance and see who ultimately wins this shootout.
There is an irony here in that each of these devices uses a different primary design. Curved glass is the calling card for the Galaxy S7 Edge, metal with a modular design for the G5, and the metal tradition continues for the HTC 10. None of these design treatments affect camera output in any particular way, though it is worth noting that the G5 does have a separately sold camera grip that fits with the device’s modular theme.
Despite dropping the overall megapixel count on the image sensor to 12 megapixels, the micron pixels are larger on the Galaxy S7 Edge, and the aperture is wider at f/1.7. These work together to bring in more light. Optical image stabilization (OIS) helps keep images from coming out blurry, while a fast startup time (0.7 seconds) and quick focusing round out an impressive shooter. It should be noted, however, that the regular “flat” Galaxy S7 has the exact same camera specs.
Coming off what was one of the best cameras on any phone in 2015 with the G4, LG aimed to push things further with the G5. It added rather than replaced, however, choosing to go with the same 16-megapixel image sensor in the rear, along with the same optical image stabilization, wide f/1.8 aperture, and color spectrum sensor next to the LED flash. The main differentiator is the inclusion of a second ultra wide-angle (135-degree) lens that users can shoot with separately or together with the regular 75-degree lens.
After HTC fumbled the camera with the One M9 last year, the company finally brought its groove back with a more competitive shooter this year in the 10. The UltraPixel 2 image sensor moves back to the rear, with 12-megapixels, a wide f/1.8 aperture, and OIS on board.
Even though all three have astonishing cameras on paper, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge win this one.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge
Camera app interface
One understated facet of a good smartphone camera is how user-friendly the interface is. In that respect, there isn’t a huge difference between these three. The basics are easy to use, and it’s not hard to go from previewing an image and back again, nor is it difficult to adjust settings on the fly. They all offer a manual or “Pro” camera mode that puts control in your hands, too, meaning you can quickly adjust exposures, white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and focusing. Menus are clearly laid out, and you can even shoot in RAW if you like.
Which camera is best in Auto mode?
Shooting the same subjects, we leaned a little more on low-light and night shots because that’s how we could best ascertain each camera’s true capabilities. Of the three, Samsung is the only one that makes HDR (High Dynamic Range) automatic, letting it kick in whenever the sensor thinks it needs it. HTC and LG make it elective, like most other smartphones.
When shooting in Auto, as most users tend to do, the phone that benefits most is the Galaxy S7 Edge, with the G5 and HTC 10 only slightly behind. The reason is partly based on how the Galaxy S7 Edge automatically implements HDR to help compensate for situations where shadows or highlights are too deep. The wider aperture does mean more light comes in in bright settings, too, though the software proves adept at adjusting for that, thereby providing good color and sharpness in most instances.
LG G4 shooters will find little has changed on the G5, except that color saturation is different in Auto mode. Despite the same sensor, lens, and aperture, the software interpolates color balance slightly differently, desaturating in some images while producing good color in others. HDR can help offset any extremes in shadows and highlights, which has a cumulative effect on color output, and we found it wasn’t a bad idea to keep it on in really bright or low-light situations. Otherwise, the G5 tends to slightly overexpose subjects in bright settings.
The HTC 10 feels like a very different camera than its predecessors, so it doesn’t have the incremental experience that characterizes the other two. The One M9 faltered because it couldn’t produce consistently good images, especially in Auto mode and low-light scenarios. The 10 is a major improvement, outputting solid results in both cases. The muted colors of the previous model are significantly reduced, though not entirely gone. The saving grace is that those images invariably look better after being transferred to a computer.
This is perhaps the closest call between three Android flagships that we’ve seen thus far. Image quality is superb, and the consistency is easy to appreciate, particularly now that low-light shots are no longer terrible.
The Galaxy S7 Edge impressed us with its solid performance in auto, capturing excellent images and showing how a fast focus can pay real dividends when coupled with the main pieces that make up the camera. The G5 wasn’t quite as consistent shooting in auto, and neither mirrored the previous G4 or pushed past it. The HTC 10 benefits from totally different camera components that complement each other well enough to put the company back into smartphone respectability. However, the Galaxy S7 Edge was the undisputed winner.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge