Too close to call: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus vs LG G7 ThinQ camera shootout

galaxy s9 plus vs lg g7 thinq
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is an established, well-regarded camera phone. It takes great pictures, whether it’s day or night, and is an excellent purchase. The LG G7 ThinQ follows a long line of capable camera phones from Samsung’s competitor, and unusually has a wide-angle camera on the back. How do the two compare?

We found out during a trip to Rome, Italy, to see the Longines Global Champions Tour showjumping event, as well as take in some local sights at the same time. It challenged both phones to take photos in fast-moving environments, when the night fell, and in extremely bright sunlight.

Which phone turned out to be the one we were happiest to have by our side? Let’s find out.

Camera tech specs

Here’s how the two cameras match up on paper. The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus has two camera lenses on the back, both with 12 megapixels, and an unusual variable aperture. This swaps between f/1.5 and f/2.4, to best cope with changing lighting conditions. It has optical image stabilization, a 2× zoom without quality loss, and 960fps slow-motion video. It also has a bokeh portrait mode it calls Live Focus.

The LG G7 ThinQ comes with some artificial intelligence to enhance photos using scene recognition. We have not used it in the test photos here, but often took comparison photos at the time. We found the resulting picture was an alternative, and not necessarily better of worse. The feature is good, but not for the purposes of this challenge. On the back are two 16-megapixel lenses, the main lens with an f/1.6 aperture and f/1.9 aperture on the secondary wide-angle lens. The camera has optical image stabilization, and the wide-angle lens can take photos with a 107-degree angle.

Swimming pool

An obligatory photo of the swimming pool at your hotel is a sure way to turn your social networks green with envy, so which camera is the one for the job? It’s a hard decision. The G7 makes the water very inviting, with a beautiful deep blue color, but there is a little more noise in the sky than the Galaxy S9 Plus’s picture, where the green trees are more striking too. That said, we prefer the color of the blue sky in the G7’s photo.

These two images set the tone for this comparison. The G7 and the S9 Plus are closely matched, perhaps more so than we initially expected, and the G7 comes out with some cracking pictures when the S9 Plus makes some very odd errors. Here, both photos are going to have the desired effect.

Winner: Draw

Portrait mode

LG caved with the G7 ThinQ and introduced a portrait mode, something it previously left out, while in the Galaxy S9 Plus, Samsung refined the portrait mode it launched with the Galaxy Note 8. The results varied, often depending on the lighting. The first example is of the Bluetooth Marshall Kilburn II speaker, taken in daylight upon returning, and the LG does a great job, but it did not perform as well outside the hotel in Rome.

We took a photo of a Longines clock, and the result was frustrating. The LG G7 ThinQ picked out the lines well, and blurred the background more effectively than the Galaxy S9 Plus, and also has more visually realistic and pleasing colors. However, the clock and its body are blurry. It’s not by much, but still noticeable. The S9 Plus’s picture is pin sharp, although we don’t like the overall image as much as the G7.

What’s also interesting is the G7 does not crop the image like the Galaxy S9 Plus, allowing you to maintain distance and still get an effective bokeh shot, something OnePlus has used in the OnePlus 5T and the OnePlus 6. The S9 Plus did the best job in the moment, and that’s what’s often important.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Horse

Attending a showjumping event meant seeing a lot of horses, and while they prepare they’re constantly moving around. This makes capturing the same horse, in the same pose, in the same position almost impossible. Despite this, the strengths and weaknesses remained consistent across all the photos from both cameras while standing in the same position.

Taking place at the epic Stadio del Marni in Rome, we had the chance to see the riders warm up the horses just moments before the start of the show jump. The Galaxy S9 Plus’ 2x hybrid zoom helped, as often the horses were a little far away to remain the focal point of the picture. It was also very bright at around 3 p.m. for an extra challenge.

Here, the LG G7 excels with color. The blue sky is wonderful, as is the blue on the Longines banner in the background, and the horse’s dark hair has a beautiful sheen. The Galaxy S9 Plus’s sky is much less blue, but the horse and rider pop more in the photo because of it, we think. It’s unfair to comment on the shadows, due to the bright sunlight and different directions of the horses.

We’re pleased with both here, but concede the Galaxy S9 Plus’s zoom mode made it easier to frame a good shot. That doesn’t stop us liking the G7’s colors and contrast though.

Winner: Draw

Food and drink

Two sets of photos from two different phones and the results are seriously different. First, the LG G7 ThinQ wins with the champagne glass and tiny profiteroles. The Samsung focused on the glass, but then blurred out the treats a little too much, reducing the effectiveness of the shot, and that’s so brilliantly demonstrated by the G7. The foreground is perfectly in focus, the background is wonderfully blurred out. For clarification, we don’t select anything in the frame to focus on, and shoot only in auto.

However, in the hotel, the S9 Plus gets the shot of a rather delicious mushroom crostini just right. The toast is golden brown, the sautéed mushrooms glisten, and the white plate remains clean and stark. It contains the food we’d much rather eat. However, the G7’s photo is still fine, and combined with the champagne image, it really stands out as a food-related winner here.

Winner: LG G7 ThinQ

Action

Here’s where the Galaxy S9 Plus’s 2x zoom comes in handy, as despite having great seats, the action was still a little too far away to be captured effectively by the LG G7 ThinQ. Yes, you can still see what’s going on, but there is a lot of stuff happening around the jumping horse, detracting from the focus of the picture. Not so with the Galaxy S9 Plus, which centers the jumping horse and rider for a more cohesive image. Even zoomed in the S9 Plus’ photo looks great, and the horse’s hair is sharp and in focus. However, we do prefer the G7 ThinQ’s blue sky, and how it captured the true color of the sandy ground.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Sunset

This was a category we expected the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus to walk away with, due to its variable shutter and lowlight performance, yet the LG G7 ThinQ produced the better picture after automatically activating HDR. The Galaxy S9 Plus’s photo looks realistic, but does not catch the eye in the same way as the bright, colorful G7 ThinQ’s picture, which is filled with emotion.

The buildings around the spire aren’t so shrouded in shadow, revealing plenty of detail when you zoom in, while the color and detail on the spire itself is revealed more effectively too. Arguably, the S9 Plus’ picture is technically more representative of the surroundings, and the cloud formation around the sun has a greater level of detail, but we’d be more inclined to share the G7’s photo without any editing.

Winner: LG G7 ThinQ

Night

Let’s look at the same scene as in the sunset photo, only now after darkness has fallen. Shot from a slightly different angle, the results are very different. The Galaxy S9 Plus’s photo is beautiful. Filled with an astonishing level of detail for a shot taken in the dark, the front piece of the building is pin sharp, but blurred in the G7 ThinQ’s picture. Notice the color and the white balance too. There is none of the orangey glow seen in the LG photo, and the black levels are excellent.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Couple looking at the building

Here’s a great example of how most high-end phone cameras take great photos in good conditions. The sun was shining brightly, and with just a quick glance both photos look great. However, look closely and some interesting differences show up. Look at the G7 ThinQ’s picture and there is more detail on the guy’s legs than in the S9 Plus’s photo. The Samsung has given them a far smoother look, resulting in a slightly less natural appearance. Look higher up in the photo, specifically at the plaque under the statue, and the G7’s photo is sharper and has more detail.

Winner: LG G7 ThinQ

Colosseum

What trip to Rome would be complete without visiting the Colosseum? Upon arrival, the sun was directly behind the incredible structure, making face-on photography a challenge. But take a look at the astonishing job the Galaxy S9 Plus did when shown the scene. The detail is breathtaking, right down the the fiery glow of the sun coming through the building. The LG G7 ThinQ’s photo isn’t terrible, but next to the S9 Plus it looks washed out and dull.

However, standing outside a building with such scale and presence, the LG G7 ThinQ’s wide-angle camera showed exactly what it can do. Standing in the same spot, the G7’s wide-angle camera captures the full scene, while the Galaxy S9 Plus can’t fit the entire Colosseum into the frame. Yes, you could use panorama, but this often comes at the expense of quality and realism, plus the ratio of the end photo can make capturing a scene difficult.

Winner: Draw

Conclusion

The LG G7 took three category wins, as did the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, and there were three draws. See what we mean about these two being closely matched? The S9 Plus had already bested the LG G7 in our on-paper spec shootout, and impressed in other camera shootouts, but given the G7 is slightly cheaper, similarly powerful, and a joy to use in the same way, it should not be passed by when shopping for a new phone based on the camera performance.

It may come down to whether you see yourself using the G7’s wide-angle camera or not. It’s not for all situations; but it was excellent in Rome, as it would be in any similar place. It’s dramatically improved over the G6 too, with less fish-eye effect and no noticeable quality loss. We miss the 2x zoom though, which captured some great photos in Rome too.

Just like in the results of our comparison, it’s very difficult to choose between the two.

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