Best smartphone cameras

Korean giant LG's not unattractive 13 megapixel G2 smartphone, with its gently curved backplate (recalling HTC's One), hit the market on a wave of hype, and has the features to justify those expectations.

Ease of use seems to have been the ethos all the way: there's the ability to double-tap the handset's display to turn it on or off, for instance, and power and volume buttons sit below the camera on the backplate rather than at the edges.

The Full HD edge-to-edge screen display, here at a generous 5.2 inches, seems to have been developed as much for streaming visual media as for using as a camera viewfinder. As with its rivals, the camera functionality is presented as one app among many on the home screen, with a neat icon-led Android OS appearance.

Tap the camera icon and the phone immediately goes into viewfinder mode. The image relayed from camera to screen is refreshingly lifelike and displays no ghosting or lag as you pan around a scene with it, even in lower interior lighting conditions.

You can also access the camera quickly through physical or soft keys - hold the down volume key in sleep mode and you'll be taken straight there, or swipe right from the lock screen to instantly fire up the camera, with the phone ready to snap in just under three seconds, which is pretty impressive.

Best smartphone cameras

However, as LG in its wisdom has located the camera near the topmost edge of the handset it's easy for fingertips to stray in front of the lens if you're holding the handset in both hands, landscape fashion, for a group shot. Hold the camera in portrait position with one hand for the inevitable selfie and it's not such an issue.

With the handset held in this way, the shutter release button is located dead centre at the bottom of the touch screen, with a slider for alternating between stills and video capture immediately to its right. The previously captured image - or video - is then presented as a thumbnail to the left of the shutter release.

Interface

It's a simple and straightforward user interface, and as with most touchscreen digital cameras the LG G2 enables the user to specify the focus point on a given subject by tapping the screen.

Operation is intuitive: a sweep of the finger will drag this around the screen. Otherwise focus adjusts automatically and visibly as you move the handset closer to or further away from your subject. It's reasonably quick to do this, even if you can't get closer than 10-15cm before the screen blurs.

For photography in trickier conditions, the LG G2 offers a flash option - though here it's limited to auto flash, forced flash or flash off, the latter the default option. By contrast there are 12 shooting mode options, with Normal being the standard setting.

Other modes include Shot & Clear mode (which enables the removal of distracting background elements), the increasingly inevitable multiple exposure capturing and combining Dynamic Tone/HDR mode, panoramas up to the full 360 degress and burst shooting options of up to 20 sequential shots.

There's also skin and blemish softening Beauty mode, Sports, Night and Intelligent Auto functions. You additionally get a Time Catch option that shoots a sequence of images to avoid missing that crucial moment, plus a Dual Camera option whereby the person taking the picture can add themselves into the corner of the image being snapped by the main camera, using the lower resolution screen side camera - which is distinctly useless.

Like the other models here, when you use the full width of the 16:9 ratio screen as a viewfinder you don't get the camera's full resolution, but a cropped version. So on the LG G2 this results in a 10-megapixel image rather than the full 13 megapixels.

To get 13 megapixel images, you must select the 4:3 ratio option from the settings menu (represented by the cog icon at the top left of the screen if holding the handset upright, in portrait fashion).

The handset is big and wide enough to prevent hand wobble when lining up a shot, even though the glossy black surface of the review sample was slightly slippery.

The clarity of the camera settings menu is admirable, with almost postage stamp-sized icons to select from. Here you can activate the voice command "cheese shutter" option, so you don't even have to tap the screen to fire a shot - useful (and accurate) if trying to squeeze yourself into an image with no one else around to take it.

You can also adjust camera settings such as exposure, with brightness options of +/- 2EV.

Focus options can also be swapped between auto and manual, with face tracking the third available option; focus locking onto your 'target' wherever they wander about the frame.

In terms of shooting in natural light without flash, a fairly basic range of ISO100-800 is manually selectable with full auto the fallback option. White balance settings range from the artificial tungsten to sunny, cloudy or of course 'auto'.

Another inevitability is a few built-in colour effects. LG has resisted going crazy, so these are restricted to mono, sepia or colour negative: adequate for a touch of variety to shots if not overly inspiring.

The LG G2's clear capture options and user interface seem geared to keep picture taking and reviewing simple. This is fine: you are using a phone not a DSLR, and inevitably you can download various third-party apps if you want to go creative in camera.

Best smartphone cameras

Images look crisp and clean on-screen thanks to the Full HD display. The fact that light sensitivity tops out at a modest maximum setting of ISO 800 at least means you're spared the spectre of image noise/grain.

While detail starts to break up when images are viewed full-size on our desktop, to our eyes the LG G2 handles the subtleties of changing light and colour tones well under daylight conditions. Skin tones - shaving rashes and all - are one of the most realistically rendered on test.

Use of the flash produces a vignetting effect (corner shadowing) suggesting it would benefit from a more even spread of light. But other than shooting in the default Normal mode, the dynamic tone mode - increased dynamic range - is one of the most successful options here for adding visual drama to a shot, maintaining detail both in the sky and foreground for a best of both worlds result.

Yes, the positioning of the camera at the back means that we had to watch for stray fingertips in shot, but overall the LG G2 acquits itself well.

Verdict

The LG comes across as one of the more intuitive handsets on test in terms of camera functionality if all you do want to do is point and shoot.

You don't have to wade through tile-based Windows menus to get straight to the camera option either, and there aren't hidden menus that only a few confused screen prods will gradually unearth, which comes as a relief. Recommended.

Pros: A 13-megapixel resolution is more than adequate for everyday snapping, and pictures look great on the Full HD display, with plenty of contrast. By sticking to the essentials in terms of camera options, this device is really easy to use for photo/video capture.

Cons: The location of the camera means fingertips can stray into shot if holding the handset landscape fashion for a shot. There's a fairly basic array of built-in picture effects, and the flash is a little underpowered.

Read our full LG G2 review

Sample images

Best smartphone camera

Daylight: click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone cameras

Lowlight flash: click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone cameras

Black and white: click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone camera

Negative effect: click here for the full resolution image

Sepia effect: click here for the full resolution image

Sepia: click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone camera

Wide angle HDR: click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone camera

Wide angle landscape: click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone cameras

Panorama: click here for the full resolution image

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Wraparound: click here for the full resolution image

ISO samples

Best smartphone cameras

Auto image ISO: click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone cameras

Maximum ISO: click here for the full resolution image