The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is being lauded as one of the best camera phones ever made, winning accolades not just from reviewers and owners, but from notable industry sources that test cameras professionally. Launched in mid March, it was joined by a new LG smartphone called the V30S ThinQ, a revised version of the 2017 LG V30 with some artificial intelligence (AI) enhancing an already capable camera. While in Basel, Switzerland for the annual Baselworld watch show, we took both phones with us to put the cameras up against each other, using the beautiful location as a source of inspiration.
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The Galaxy S9 Plus has two camera lenses on the back. The top sensor has 12 megapixels and a 1.4nm pixel size, with a clever variable aperture mode that switches between f/1.5 and f/2.4. This helps it take great pictures in low-light, and also in bright conditions. The sensor below it also has 12 megapixels and acts as a telephoto lens, with a smaller 1.0nm pixel size and a fixed f/2.4 aperture. The camera can zoom in to 2x without quality loss, and both cameras have optical image stabilization. The second camera also helps with Live Focus, which creates a bokeh blurred background effect in certain photos.
The LG V30S ThinQ also has two camera lenses on the back, but they do something different. First is a 16-megapixel standard lens with an f/1.6 aperture that takes regular shots, and it’s joined by a second wide-angle 13-megapixel sensor taking 120-degree angle shots at f/1.9. The main lens has optical image stabilization and a 1.0nm pixel size, plus phase detection and laser autofocus.
Camera apps and software
The LG V30S ThinQ uses artificial intelligence to enhance its pictures, provided you select the AI Cam mode. It’s unusual, in that words flash across the screen while the image recognition assesses the scene. There’s no need for the words, and we imagine LG has left them in place to compensate for the amount of time the AI scene recognition takes to work out what it’s seeing. When it does, it adjusts the camera settings to produce what it considers the best picture possible.
Bright Mode is the other new feature on the V30S ThinQ, which automatically switches on when shooting in low-light, when it lowers the megapixel count but increases the pixel size and consequently, the brightness of the scene. If you don’t like the look of the photo, Bright Mode can be turned off. It’s easy to switch between standard and wide-angle lenses using one button, a swipe swaps between front and rear cameras, and the various modes are all easily found under the Mode menu. We also like how the shutter button can be swiped to zoom in, actively switching between the two lenses.
The S9 Plus’s camera has many features, but Samsung’s camera app isn’t very intuitive, and has many little buttons and fiddly menus to navigate. However, there are more toys to play with, including the Live Focus mode, the super slow motion video mode, and the chance to quickly stretch the viewfinder to take up the entire screen. Samsung has not implemented any AI in the camera that enhances the photos — there’s Bixby Vision that offers you different tools such as makeup filters and more — but the larger aperture helps take better low-light pictures. It’s a unique system we’ve never seen before on a phone.
Around the city
Let’s get to the pictures. Starting with the church and its snowy roof, both cameras take great photos, and it’s hard to say which one is better than the other. However, there are differences some may prefer. The Galaxy S9 Plus took a brighter image which while showing more detail on the spire, does lose some of the depth and shadowing that makes the LG V30S’ picture more atmospheric. The differences are even fewer when comparing the building on the corner junction. The V30S took the brighter picture this time, with arguably more realistic colors and shading.
The theme continues when we threw the cameras a real challenge, photographing another church with the sun right behind it. The brighter S9 Plus picture shows more detail in the building’s facade, while the sky is more blue in the LG’s photo. Zoom in on the central window and it’s mean and moody from the LG, and brighter and happier from the S9 Plus.
It’s role reversal when we get around the side of the church, and the blue sky shines in the S9 Plus’s picture, while the V30S’ is washed out and lacking detail. The closer you get, the worse it looks. A halo appears around the spires in the top left, but are clear and sharp on the Galaxy S9 Plus. This is the first time a clear winner out of the two pictures emerged. But this was an opportunity to show off the V30S ThinQ’s wide-angle camera mode, capturing a great picture that was impossible on the S9 Plus, without using panorama mode.
Bridges, buildings, and locks
Moving deeper into Basel, the ornate building viewed from the front is a great-looking photo from both smartphones, with only differences in coloring splitting the two. Zoom in on the roof of the tower and you can see the floral designs clearly in both pictures, and the subtle brickwork is also exposed in both. The shot over the bridge is also strong, with detail shown in the shadows, colorful glints on the water, and a beautiful blue sky. We love both pictures from both phones here.
We used the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus’ Live Focus mode for the image of the locks, emphasizing the center of the image. The LG V30S doesn’t have a similar mode, so we focused on the closest padlocks, and it neatly blurred out the background. The effect is more dramatic in the S9 Plus’s picture, and the software does an amazing job of picking out the edges and individual locks. However, the V30S’s picture provides more scale and less artificial depth to the image. We like both, but it’s an interesting illustration of how a fake bokeh mode isn’t always needed to create a striking image in these situations.
When the sun began to set, we took a photo of a mirrored building with the beginnings of a sunset in the distance. The sky is more fiery on the S9 Plus’s photo, and the gold of the building itself is far deeper in color. The V30S took a brighter image, at the expense of the sunset washing out and obscuring the cloud formation.
Sunsets and night
Walking along the riverbank at sunset, the LG V30S’ AI Cam understood it was taking a photo of a sunset and adjusted its picture accordingly. This is the end result you see here. The orange sky is intense and hyper-real, and the reflections in the water are the same. It’s evocative, but not entirely accurate. The Galaxy S9 Plus shows a subtler, more realistic view of the scene, but it’s much less dramatic. We’d be tempted to add a filter before sharing it, which effectively is what the V30S does for us.
Here are two photos from the LG V30S, and it should be obvious which one was taken with the AI Cam. The intense orange sky and even more orange water makes it a giveaway. Put alongside the standard V30S picture taken without artificial intelligence changing the settings is still attractive, and the water has real shape and depth to it. We like both, but we’d share the AI Cam’s picture. An important point to understand.
Arriving at another bridge, the Galaxy S9 Plus pulls out another winning shot, looking over the water at the dying sunset. Check out the stunning glassy water, compared to the muddier less inviting water pictured by the V30S. We also used the Galaxy S9 Plus’s 2x zoom feature here, which enhances the shot even further.
How about LG’s Bright Mode? It only activated a few times when we were out testing the camera. Looking down the river to a distant bridge was the most effective demonstration of both it, and the Galaxy S9 Plus’s night time ability. These are hard pictures to take. It was dark, and the S9 Plus switched to f/1.5 aperture, giving a very pretty picture with plenty of depth and emotion. It’s far from perfect in terms of detail, but it’s still a great picture for the conditions.
Using Bright Mode, the V30S also creates an excellent picture. There is less detail — look at the almost individual lights on the shore in the S9 Plus picture, compared to the V30S, for example — but they are very close, and both are pictures other phone cameras would struggle to take at all.
Clocks, watches, and food
When Bright Mode doesn’t activate, the V30S can struggle a little in low-light environments. Inside Basel station, the picture of the famed clock’s dial is orange, and the red second hand is less noticeable, unlike in the Galaxy S9 Plus’ photo, where the dial is white, the hand red, and the clock case is metallic. More detail in the station’s roof is visible in the S9 Plus’s picture too.
How about getting up close to a watch? While learning all about the amazing Longines Conquest V.H.P. GMT, we took some pictures of its non-GMT sister watch. Light and reflection caused both cameras problems here, but the V30S’s picture is more accurate, has less blur around the crown, and the 5 Bar rating text is far more readable. It was difficult to get exactly the same angle and lighting here; but of the two pictures, the V30S’s is superior.
Finally, after a long day, a shot of an evening meal should have been a chance for the V30S to shine with AI Cam, but it never established it was looking at food. Therefore, the Galaxy S9 Plus’s f/1.5 aperture came into play and stole the show with its perfectly focused meat, and crisp white plate.
The LG V30S came into this test as the underdog, after the Galaxy S9 Plus managed to win so many accolades and praise for its camera following release. The truth is, the V30S ThinQ does a superb job at keeping up with the S9 Plus in almost all situations, and at times surpasses its ability to deliver a picture we would want to share. However, because the AI Cam didn’t always work, and Bright Mode didn’t always deliver, they feel gimmicky. AI Cam in particular needs plenty of work, as the effect it gave the sunset photo could be replicated with a filter.
The Galaxy S9 Plus does come away as the phone we’d rather have in our pocket during a trip, but the V30S ThinQ is a close second.
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